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Requests for Free Images

Reasons Why I Cannot Work for Free

Dear Potential Photo Buyer / Design Client,

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

As a professional designer and photographer, I receive requests for free images or concept designs on an almost daily basis. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these requests are variations of the following – ‘We love your photos, but don’t have a budget.  Can we have them in exchange for a link or credit?’

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.

Unfortunately, such are the practicalities of life that I am often unable to respond – or that when I do – my brief response does not convey an adequate sense of the reasons why I cannot offer my work for free and ask for proper payment.

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 avoid any misunderstandings or feelings of 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 again and establish a mutually beneficial working relationship. Please feel free to contact me.

To illustrate – here’s a humorous video:

Photographs and Designs Are My Livelihood
Creating compelling images is the way I make my living. If I give away my work for free, or spend too much time responding to requests for free images, I am not earning a living.

There Are Time Constraints
Making a leap from such selective support to responding positively to every request I receive for free photographs, however, is impractical. It takes a substantial amount of time 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” 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 gets paid. Given considerations like this, you can perhaps understand why I frequently feel slighted when we are told that: “We have no money.” Such claims can come across as a cynical ploy intended to take advantage of gullible individuals.

I Have Real Budget Constraints
With some exceptions, being an artist is not a highly paid profession. I have chose this path in large part due to the passion I have for visual communication, visual art, and the subject matters in which I specialize.

Being a professional photographer involves significant monetary investment. Our profession is by nature – equipment-intensive. We ned to buy cameras, lenses, computers, software, storage devices, and more on a regular basis. Things break and need to be repaired. We need back-ups of all our data, as one ill-placed cup of coffee could literally erase years of work. For all of us, investment in essential hardware and software entails thousands of dollars a year, as we need to stay current with new technology and best practices.

In addition, travel is a big part of my business. I must 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 we have invested to become proficient at what we do, as well as the personal risks I often take. Taking snapshots may only involve pressing the camera shutter release, but creating images requires skill, experience and judgement.

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

Getting “Credit” 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 actual payment.

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 related business expenses. On top of that, I need to make enough to pay for basic necessities like food, housing, transportation, etc. for my family.

In short, receiving credit for an image I created is a given, not compensation, and credit is not a substitute for payment. I’m well aware that some inexperienced photographers or people who happen to own cameras may indeed agree to work for free, but as the folk wisdom goes: “You get what you pay for.”

I Do Support Worthy Causes With Images
Most of us do contribute photographs, sometimes more, to support certain causes. In many cases, I may have participated directly in projects that I supported with images, or I may have a pre-existing personal relationship with key people involved with the efforts concerned. In other words, most photographers can and do provide images without compensation on a selective basis.

Please Follow-Up
Often when I do provide photographs for free,  I 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 we send to follow-up, until, of course, the next time that someone wants free photographs.

In instances where I do agree to work for free, please have the courtesy to follow-up and let us 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 clarify why you have been asked to review this letter. I am a dedicated professional, and will would be happy to work with you to move forward in a mutually beneficial manner.

Kindest regards ~
Stacy A. Niedzwiecki

Creative Commons License
With acknowledgement to: http://photoprofessionals.wordpress.com

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