A photo credit doesn’t pay the rent (much less buy me a measly 99 cent Taco Bell caramel apple empanada)

7 11 2009

Thank you to Patty Hankins of Hankins-Lawrence Images for her photo-related links she just sent. I read with great interest an article titled, “A Photo Credit Doesn’t Pay the Rent,” by photographer Harrison McClary on the Black Star Rising website.

I do this more often than not—give away my photos for free. While I always appreciate fans of my work and am truly flattered they want to use my images, I rarely get offered anything in exchange. Can they not even spare $10, $20, or $25 to use an image? Even cheap (but good quality) stock sites such as Big Stock Photo or iStock Photo charge a few dollars for use of their images. This is merely an observation and it doesn’t usually bother me to the point of distraction—but after reading the posting and comments from other photographers, it got me to thinking about it in a different light. Photographers are often told, “We really love your image and want to use it, but we can’t pay you anything. (Even though we do profit from our newspaper/newsletter/magazine.) We’ll give you a credit line, though. And maybe a tearsheet for your portfolio. Plus, it’s free advertising for you!” While I wouldn’t ever knock free advertising, how much business will the Meat Cove Express generate for me? One must consider the publication. Is it worth the trade of a stellar image for a credit line and a tearsheet?

I liked Doug’s comment in particular: “Good work. The argument they give photographers is ridiculous if applied to any other business. I could never dream of walking into a car dealership and saying, “I like this car—if you give it to me for free, I’ll tell everyone that asks who gave it to me. It’ll be great advertising for your work!”

Heymo had it right when he wrote, “Couldn’t agree more. This ‘free publicity’ thing never worked for me. It only tells a potential client ‘hey, I’m cheap!'”

And my favorite comment was by Paul O’Mahony: “…a society that devalues the artist’s labor…when was it ever different? However, the only people who can devalue the artist’s work is the artist. No one can devalue your work—unless you let them. This view might not make you rich in money, but it protects the rest of your riches.” Well written, Paul!

From time to time, I get requests from painters who want to use my images as reference. I appreciate their compliments and the fact that they bothered to ask in the first place. I’m well aware that there are a great number who go ahead and do it without my permission—I’ll most likely never realize it. I never think to ask, “are you going to profit from the painting that results from using my photo as reference?” If so, don’t you think I should be compensated in some small way? Maybe enough to buy a cheap lunch? If not with money, why not barter your services (whatever they may be) in exchange for my images? Since I started this blog, a half dozen painters have asked permission to use a floral image as a painting reference. I agreed, with the only stipulation that they remember to send me a jpg or a link to view the final painting. Not one has remembered to do so. Is that asking too much?

I think a great majority of people in this point-n-shoot-saturated-world don’t think about what goes into creating work of this caliber. I’ve been shooting since high school, which was quite some time ago. I upgrade my equipment when needed. I own a plethora of really good Nikon glass—and if you know anything about Nikon, you’ll know they’re mighty proud of their glass and they attach exorbitant price tags to it to prove it. If you want optimum quality in your photos, you need great equipment. I constantly read about photography. I subscribe to several photography magazines. I have a nice collection of studio lighting videos. In my book library there are 100’s of tomes on the subject—everything from posing models to landscape photography to macro and garden photography to event and wedding photography to marketing your photography. You name the book, I probably have a copy in my library. I scour the web for inspiration and to see what others are doing with the subjects I love to shoot. I’ve gone to fee-based workshops to learn more. I’ve studied under other photographers and I am constantly striving to improve. I own countless CF cards, SD cards, flashes, reflectors, lenses, filters, camera and studio accessories, studio strobes, soft boxes, stands, barn doors, gel filters, backgrounds, props, makeup, clothing, jewelry, clamps, light boxes, etc. You name it—I probably have at least one. And now that I shoot exclusively digital (for the last seven+ years, at least), I own all the latest software required to process these images. The CS Suite doesn’t come cheap. I bought the first incarnation several years ago and now own all the upgrades up to CS4. Upgrades are running $300+. Occasionally I purchase Photoshop plugins online to infuse more creativity into certain images. At this point in time, I own two Mac G5’s (I’ve owned about 13 computers in the last 20 years of self-employment), a Mac laptop, several Wacom tablets, a monitor calibrator, two Nikon slide scanners, several Epson inkjet printers, a laser printer, flatbed scanners, card readers, and at least seven backup drives….not to mention all the graphic design software, fonts and clip art I have amassed. I’m sure I’m forgetting something that emptied my wallet. I pay annually for my zenfolio.com site and the other domains I own. I spend a good deal of time maintaining my blogs, both this one and the gardening-only blog. Both blogs are an intense labor of love and have brought me such joy and recognition of my work. Something/someone has to pay for all these books, workshops and equipment. “We can give you a credit line” falls kind of flat in light of the work and equipment that goes into creating these images, ya know?

I love being published. I don’t care if it’s the Meat Cove Express, the Podunk Times, the Upper Slovobia Ledger, the Hearing Loss Magazine, or the Washington Post. I love seeing “© Cindy Dyer” next to an image I’ve created. But, except for my Hearing Loss Magazine efforts, most of the images I’ve had published haven’t paid one single bill—or even bought me a burrito at Taco Bell—and they’re only 99 cents! I am a self-employed graphic design and photographer. I’ve been doing this on my own for 20 years this year. I am very passionate about my work and I love sharing it with others. I don’t want to discourage people from asking; I just wish that those who ask for more at least offer me either a small monetary reward or follow through when they say they’ll send tearsheets or show me a snapshot of their final painting or sketch. I don’t think that’s asking too much. If the request comes from an organization that charges for their newspaper/magazine/publication, then shouldn’t they pay for the components that make their publication great? If it’s an individual request from an artist who simply wants my image as an inspiration—that’s one thing. If it’s a for-profit organization, then photographers should receive some kind of compensation. Yes, even in this economic climate. A photo credit doesn’t cut it.

About a year ago, an editor/writer for the Patriot-Times Ledger in Connecticut asked if she could use one of my Osteospermum flower images in a garden column she was writing for the paper. She gushed over my work; my head swelled. She said I would get a credit line and samples of the newspaper. I all too happily obliged. A few months later, I e-mailed her to ask if I could get samples of final result and I never heard back from her. I e-mailed her twice. I took the time to respond to all of her e-mails and agreed to a no-pay situation. I located the high resolution image in my archives and prepared and uploaded it to her less than an hour after her request. She was the one who offered the credit line and samples. She never responded to my two requests for samples months after the supposed publication. How is that fair? At the very least, it was very unprofessional. I’ve since lost her contact information and can’t badger her to hold up her end of the bargain. You know who you are. I can state that I didn’t lose sleep over it, but here it is, over a year later—and it obviously still annoys me. I hope that it was a lesson learned. Maybe, maybe not. Time will tell.

This art form—my photography—is a huge creative outlet for me. It is one of the things I am most passionate about, and I truly believe that it shows in the work that I post. Photography is an essential part of who I am. I would even say it defines me. I am humbled and thrilled by the comments of my regular visitors and I try to remember to support the work of my fellow photography bloggers, too. I’ve encountered a few decent-paying assignments as a result of my efforts on my blogs. It would be nice to have more of those and I intend to actively pursue those opportunities. This doesn’t mean I won’t grant permission in the future for an artist to use my photos as reference or for some obscure newspaper writer to use my photos gratis in exchange for a credit line and samples. It doesn’t mean I won’t allow a worthy non-profit to use my images gratis to further their mission. I do hope, however, that if you do expect something for free, you honor your end of the agreement, whatever that encompasses. Try to compensate me financially, even if it is a pittance. If, in the end, you can only offer a credit line and a tearsheet…Give me the credit line, reproduce my work well, and send me those samples!

So there. Off my soapbox (for the time being) and off on some other adventure…