Why I Will Not Work For Free


Dear potential photo buyer,

If you have been directed to this page, it is likely that you have requested the use of one or more images for free or minimal compensation.

As a professional photographer, I receive requests for free and low-compensation images on a regular basis. In a perfect world, I would love to be able to respond in a positive manner and assist. It is fair to say that in many cases, I wish I had the time and resources to do more to assist than just send photographs. Unfortunately, I am often unable to respond, and when I do, my replies may be brief and unable to convey an adequate sense of the reasons underlying my response.

Please accept the following thoughts in the constructive manner in which they are intended. I certainly hope that after you have had a chance to read this, we will be able to talk and establish a mutually beneficial working relationship.

Photographs Are My Livelihood
Creating compelling images is the way I make my living. You sought my image(s) because no other photographer has something similar or of the same high quality. A living wage cannot be made when I give away my images.

I Support Worthy Causes With Images
I have participated directly in projects and with organizations that I support with images. Throughout my career and on a selective basis I have provided numerous images and professional services without compensation. I very rarely provide free images to for-profit businesses.

Pleas of “We Have No Money” and “We have a limited budget” Are Often Difficult to Fathom
The primary rationale provided in nearly all requests for free photographs is budgetary constraint, meaning that the requestor pleads a lack of funds.

Such requests frequently originate from organizations with a lot of cash on hand, whether they be publicly listed companies, government or quasi-government agencies, or even NGOs. Often, it is a simple matter of taking a look at a public filing or other similar disclosure document to see that the entity concerned has access to significant funding, certainly more than enough to pay photographers a reasonable fee should they choose to do so.

To make matters worse, it is apparent that all too often, of all the parties involved in a project or particular effort, photographers are the only ones being asked to work for free. Everyone else is being paid.

Given considerations like this, you can perhaps understand why I frequently feel slighted when I am told “we have no budget.” Such claims can come across as a ploy intended to take advantage of a gullible photographer.

Getting “Credit/Exposure” Means Nothing
Part and parcel with requests for free images premised on budgetary constraints is often the promise of providing “credit” and “exposure”, in the form or a watermark, link, or perhaps even a specific mention, as a form of compensation in lieu of commercial remuneration.

There are two major problems with this.

First, getting credit isn’t compensation. I did, after all, create the images concerned, so credit is automatic. It is not something that I hope a third party will be kind enough to grant me.

Second, credit doesn’t pay bills. As I hopefully made clear above, I work hard to make the money needed to sustain costly photography business expenses. Further, I need to make enough to pay for basic necessities like food, housing, transportation, medical insurance, etc.

In short, receiving credit for an image I created is a given, not compensation, and credit is never a substitute for payment.

I Have Real Budget Constraints
Fine art photography is not a highly remunerative profession. I have chosen my career due to the passion I have for visual communication, visual art, and the subject matter in which I specialize.

The substantial increase in photographs available via the internet in recent years, coupled with reduced budgets of many photo buyers, means that my already limited income has come under additional strain.

Moreover, being a professional photographer involves significant monetary investment.

My profession is by nature equipment-intensive. I need to buy cameras, lenses, computers, software, storage devices, film, paper, mat board and more on a regular basis. Travel is a big part of my business. I spend a lot of money on transportation, lodging, and other travel-related costs. Most importantly, there is a substantial sum associated with the time and experience I have invested to become expert at what I do, as well as the personal risks I often take. Creating my photographic art – which you have sought – requires skill, experience, talent, and judgement.

Please accept these thoughts in the constructive manner in which they were intended. I am a dedicated professional and would be happy to work with you to move forward in a mutually beneficial manner.

The above text has been adapted and revised from original content provided by Tony Wu under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License