When David Hobby lets loose on a rant, it’s worth listening. I mean, he’s usually a pretty reserved guy, but in a recent post on Strobist, he really lets the National Association of REALTORS® have it for asking permission to reproduce his work in exchange for credit (otherwise known as free).
If you’re a photographer with your photography online, you have probably experienced a request or two to use your own work for free.
In this article, I will discuss three tips that you can use to get paid for your photography.
Y’all gonna pay for that photo right?
Who Asks for Free Photography
Before we get into strategies to get paid for licensing photography, it first helps to understand who is asking for free photography.
In my experience, the following is a summary of five distinct groups that routinely ask for free photography use.
1. Honest Non-Commercial Use
For some reason, I get a lot of requests from high school kids that want to use my photos for class projects. I am assuming that reaching out for permission is part of the assignment, and I’m always cool with that.
Occasionally, I also get requests from individuals who want a print or something like that for their home or office.
2. Small Time Commercial Use
Individuals and small companies generally won’t ask you for permission to use your photography. In most cases they figure they’re small enough to fly under the radar and will just steal it outright (otherwise known as feigning ignorance). But, occasionally they do ask.
I get requests from start-ups, a lot of blogs and general small scale internet publishers, doctor’s offices, local small businesses etc.
3. Charities and Non-Profit Organizations
Charities and non-profit organizations are notorious for trying to source free photography.
Modern charities are big business, and non-profit doesn’t necessarily mean non-budget. What I mean is that these organizations are sophisticated enough to know that they are not supposed to use your work without permission, but they are hoping that you’ll sympathize with them and give it away for free anyway.
4. Commercial Use – Unsophisticated Image Use Request
I get ton of image use requests from medium to large sized corporations that know enough not to just appropriate images from Google, but they’re still unsophisticated enough that I am pretty sure they honestly think they are doing me a favor when they ask to use an image in return for credit.
5. Commercial Use – Sophisticated Image Use Request
Large organizations with deep pockets that have an organized, sophisticated approach to sourcing free photography are by far the most nefarious.
I can excuse the person who is running a start-up tech company from their basement with no budget – or even a small business owner that grabs the occasional photo from Flickr for their website. But most corporations (such as the National Association of REALTORS®) have a clear understanding of copyright and image licensing. These types of organizations try to leverage their clout (ie. exposure for your photography) in exchange for free use of your work.
Requests from Media Professionals
One thing to also keep in mind is that often times there is a designer or media company in the middle that is requesting your work on behalf of a corporate client.
When I am contacted by a media company (who know all about licensing photography and copyright), I know that they probably bid the job counting on using nearly free micro-stock images, which were then rejected by their client (because they suck) and now they are scrambling to find a rube who will let them use something better, but without cutting into their project budget.
Remember, the person asking to use your work for free is not themselves working for free.
Honest Free Photography Use Requests
Before we get into tips to get paid, I think it is important to note that not all requests for free image use come from a desire to rip off photographers.
I usually don’t have much of an issue with honest small scale image use requests. You can usually tell pretty quickly if a potential buyer is honest about asking to use your image for free, or if they are trying to take advantage of you (or they’re if they’re just legitimately clueless).
I assess these types of requests on a case by case basis – sometimes I tell them to go ahead, sometimes I use the following strategies to get paid.
But, even when I give someone permission to use my work for free, I always send them a detailed licensing agreement so that they know in the future that there is a legal framework in place when it comes to licensing photography.
It’s kind of like a long term education strategy.
Trick or Treat – Give It Away for Free or Learn How To Get Paid
Three Tips to Get Paid For Your Photography
1. Know The Market Value of Your Work
In his piece, David Hobby mentions FotoQuote as a tool for assessing usage licensing prices for photography. I have used FotoQuote for years, and I find it invaluable for matching an intended image use to a benchmark licensing fee.
That’s not to say that you have to respond with whatever number FotoQuote tells you. Living in Canada, I often find FotoQuote’s numbers are a little higher than my local market will bear – but it gets you in the ballpark for a legitimate negotiation.
2. Have somewhere that makes it really easy to sell your work online.
If you have some sort of online retail outlet that you can direct freebie inquiries to, it really helps to convert honest free usage requests into paid sales. This could be a Smugmug account, enabling the 500px market, a stock portfolio or your own personal internet retail store.
In my case, I just tell inquiries that my work is distributed by Stocksy and I am not allowed to license it privately. I have found this approach to be remarkably successful for converting honest inquiries into sales.
I think that this approach works because it takes negotiations and arguments about value out of the equation. The store price is the store price and you can’t change it (weather thats really true or not).
3. Be Prepared to Walk Away
It can be really hard not to capitulate and give your photography away for free. After all, it is very flattering when someone approaches you to use your work (especially the first few times it happens), and there is some (small) merit in the exposure argument.
But are you really losing anything if you refuse permission? It might feel like it if you quote a $250 licensing fee and they respond with $50 – I mean you’d be losing $50 that you wouldn’t otherwise have.
But to effectively negotiate, you have to be prepared to say no.
Honest Use Requests Vs. Use Trolls
In my experience, getting paid by someone who originally requested photography use for free comes down to the intent of the original request.
If it was an honest request, and the person actually has a genuine interest in your work, it’s not too hard to negotiate a reasonable payment.
On the other hand, if you’re dealing with a use troll, once you indicate that you’re after cold hard cash – you’ll never hear from them again as they move on to their next target.
Your Photography Is Valuable
One final note on the value of photography – it is too easy to discount the value of a photograph.
Especially, if it is a mundane image that as a photographer, you wouldn’t be particularly chuffed about – like a snapshot of your cat, or a picture of a vacation sunset.
But if someone wants to use your photograph – then it has value to them, and you deserved to be compensated for its use.
Have You Been Able To Negotiate Payment From A Free Use Request?
Leave a comment below and let us know how you negotiated a cash payment instead of credit for use.
About the Author
JP Danko is a commercial photographer based in Toronto, Canada. JP can change a lens mid-rappel, swap a memory card while treading water, or use a camel as a light stand.
JP’s photography is available for licensing at Stocksy United.