Tips to Get Paid From Photography Use Requests

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.

Girls with Shotguns JP Danko Toronto Commercial Photographer

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.

Woman in Halloween Costume Mask JP Danko Toronto Commercial Photographer

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.

  • sam

    As usual, great tips JP. thanks!

  • Jon Peckham

    My business is also called JP Photography, weird. I have had many trolls not willing to pay me for my work. It seems hard to get anyone else to value me. This article helped, thanks. I will check out fotoquote.

  • Jake Lunniss

    I’ve only had one out of the blue request – a sunrise image. The photo of the ‘rise is of the ocean, with an outrigger in the foreground, and a small outrigger store wanted to use it on their website.

    Initially they wanted it for free (who wouldn’t ask for free first?) but when I said a solid ‘no’ they didn’t hang up. In the end I said they could use it forever if they bought it as a canvas print for the store and kept it up above the cash register for as long as they use the photo on their website.

    The picture being used on the website didn’t get me any work, but that $450 3 foot wide canvas that everyone had to stare at while they were paying sure as s**t did!

    • JP Danko

      A great example of thinking outside of the box to get paid! Thanks for sharing.

  • Penny Hardie

    Really useful. Thank you.

  • Redheadedphotog

    I had a rabbi contact me to use “a few” photos in his TWELFTH book on Judaism. Yup, he wanted them free. (I researched him. He didn’t tell me he was a prolific author!) I explained that: 1) All people would have to sign a release 2) He sure as heck didn’t “sell” his books for “free”… 3) Explained the cost of photography in an “educating” manner, and how much I’d sell each image for, depending upon use (cover vs interior, etc) IF I got the releases… His reply, in big bold letters: THIS IS NOT ACCEPTABLE.

  • Mike Lamb

    Great source of info! Initially i started taking photos for fun and to share with whomever is looking…mostly my FaceBook friends. But that all changed when I posted one photo that I like to think was my tipping point. Request started poring in from friends and family. Since i have a day job and do this for fun, i’ve never been able to put a dollar value to what I do. So i started with a very simple concept, asking the photo seeker to pay me what they feel is an honest dollar value for the photo or photo session. In almost all cases, it’s almost double what I would have asked them to pay me. This is certainly not a good business strategy for folks that are doing this as a profession. But for someone who does it for extra cash, it seems to work well.

  • Greg

    Sometimes you have to bide your time. A long time ago I performed work for a local communications company that filed for bankruptcy before I got paid, about $2,000 The guy who owned the company had done this several times over the years I later found out. Fast forward about 10 years and he is back in business and I was freelanincg for our newspaper and am at a new brewery bringing in their kettles from Germany assignment. He did not recognize me and asked if he could buy some pics for his client , the brewery. Sure I told him and dropped off contact sheets for him to select from( rmember them back in the foilm days) He selected what he wanted, I made prints and showed up at his office just before noon with a bill for $3000 . ( the prints he wanted added up to about 500) When he bitched I told him that he still owed me 2 grand from ten years ago, to which he whined about legal yadda yadda. I picked up the prints which I knew he really needed and told him I would be back in an hour and if there was a certified bank draft for $3000, I would leave the prints. He did and after 10 years I got my money, probably not all the interest I was owed but I felt good in sticking it to this guy