Michael E. Gordon - Photographic Artist

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, especially with projects or efforts related to areas such as education, social issues, and conservation of natural resources. 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, such are the practicalities of life that I am often unable to respond, or that when I do, my replies are brief and do not convey an adequate sense of the reasons underlying my response.

Circumstances vary for each situation, but I have found that there are a number of recurring themes, which I have set out below with the objective of communicating more clearly with you, and hopefully avoiding misunderstandings or unintentionally engendering ill will.

Please take the following points 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. If I gave away my images for free, or spend too much time responding to requests for free images, I cannot make a living.

I Do Support Worthy Causes With Images
Most professional photographers contribute photographs, sometimes more, to support certain causes. In many cases, I have participated directly in projects and with organizations that I support with images, or we may have a pre-existing personal relationship with key people involved with the efforts concerned. 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.

I Have Time Constraints
Making a leap from selective support to responding positively to every request I receive for free photographs, however, is impractical, if for no other reason than the substantial amount of time required to respond to requests, exchange correspondence, prepare and send files, and then follow-up to find out how my images were used and what objectives, if any, were achieved. It takes a lot of time to respond to requests and time is always in short supply.

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 organisations 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 gets 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” Doesn’t Mean Much
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 required to reinvest in my photographic equipment and to cover all related business expenses. On top of that, 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.

We Have Real Budget Constraints
With some exceptions, photography is not a highly remunerative profession. I have chosen this path in large part due to the passion I have for visual communication, visual art, and the subject matter in which I specialise.

The substantial increase in photographs available via the internet in recent years, coupled with reduced budgets of many photo buyers, means that my already meager 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, and more on a regular basis. Things break and need to be repaired. For all of us, investment in essential hardware and software entails thousands of dollars a year, as I need to stay current with new technology and best practices.

In addition, travel is a big part of my business. I spend a lot of money on transportation, lodging, and other travel-related costs.

And of course, perhaps 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. Snapshots only require a mere press of the shutter release. Creating my photographic art - which you have sought - requires skill, experience, talent, and judgement.

So the bottom line is that although I certainly understand and can sympathise with budget constraints, from a practical point of view, I simply cannot afford to subsidise everyone who asks.

Please Follow-Up
One other experience we have in common is that when I do provide photographs for free, I often do not receive updates, feedback, or any other form of follow-up letting me know how the event or project unfolded, what goals (if any) were achieved, and what good (if any) my photos did.

All too often, I don’t even get responses to emails I send to follow-up, until, of course, the next time that someone wants more free photographs.

In instances where I do agree to work for free, please have the courtesy to follow-up and let me know how things went. A little consideration will go a long way in making me feel more inclined to take time to provide additional images in the future.

I hope that the above points help elucidate why I sent you to this link. 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