Giving Your Images Away for Free is the Stupidest Thing a Photographer Can Do

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Samsung 50-150mm f2.8 OIS review product images (9 of 10)ISO 4001-40 sec at f - 4.0

The other day, I posted a Facebook status about large companies pinging us wanting to use images for large campaigns with big budgets, and it turned into an argument about why you should license your images instead of giving them away for free. In essence, what you’re doing is hurting the pro market because of the fact that many people actually produce images for a living–not just for pure sport.

Now before you go on I want you to think about that and I’m going to break it down for you specifically in terms of how it relates to my personal life. Before you read any further I’m using myself as an example because while most of my income comes from this site, part of it comes from actually shooting photos. But even then, the site is about photography and part of the job description requires me to shoot photos.

Are you ready?

My share of the $2,300 monthly rent in my Brooklyn apartment is paid for through image making.

The dinner parties that I throw for myself and sometimes 25 friends is paid for via image making.

My Metro card to ride the subway is paid for via image making.

The food I cook and order on a weekly basis is paid for through image making.

The sum that I pay my writers is paid for through image making.

The site’s server fees are paid for through image making.

When I go on dates, it’s paid for on my part through image making.

See where I’m going with this? Imagery for some folks is their lifeblood.

That further brings me to the concept of giving your images away for free. So to be specific here, I’m going to use free as a term that means that there is absolutely no compensation at all or compensation that is equivalent of the worth of the photo(s). Artists do trades that are equivalent all the time, but you shouldn’t just give your work away.

For example, if you have need of new artwork or sculptures in your home and an artist that creates these sculptures has need of your images, an equivalent trade or bargain can be arranged. But the key there is that the compensation needs to be equivalent and fair.

So if a big company is coming to us and asking us to use images for a sponsored campaign of theirs and to only give us credit, that’s not going to matter. Sure, eyeballs are going to be on the content and therefore the image, but in all honesty the average person who isn’t really into photography doesn’t sit there and say “Wow, that’s a great image. I wonder who shot it and how I can see more of their work.”

Let’s be honest here, that doesn’t happen in most cases. When I went to speak to CTV news about paparazzi work, it didn’t bring in a lot of traffic for the site. But that’s a risk that I was personally willing to take–though the same concept applies here.

If someone wants to use your work, you should be fully credited and compensated for it without any questions. And let’s take this even further now–what if I went around using the content that one of these companies created for a marketing campaign for my own uses and needs that were then furthered with commercial interests. Would they not have a right to call me a thief? Of course they would. Nor would they let me use their assets for free.

Every photographer at one point or another needs to grow a backbone lest all of us fall together.