Worthy Of His Hire

I was surprised to find that “for the labourer is worthy of his hire” occurs twice in the New Testament, once by Jesus sending out his followers on their mission (Luke 10) and then it gets quoted by Paul in his first letter to Timothy. I prefer the second source as it goes on to say: “Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses” which also seems very good advice to me.

The labourer is worthy of his hire is a very good piece of advice so far as photographers are concerned. We seem to suffer more than most from others wanting to use our work for free. (After all we only have to click a button and anyone can do that now!) When I started in photography it was worth sending pictures to local newspapers; they never paid a great deal, but they were prepared to pay. Now you can more or less forget it, and even in those rare instances where you can get blood out of the stone, the fees are more or less the same as they were 30 years ago.

Now The Guardian seems to be getting in on the same act.   As David White reported on Duckrabbit yesterday in his post Help the world economy…give the Guardian your pics for free:

This is a generous offer from the Guardian….if you have any pics of the global Occupy Together movement, they will gladly publish them for you, without paying a fee.

Well I do have some pictures, and I put them on Demotix on Saturday, but if The Guardian wishes to use them, they can pay the going rate. It isn’t a great deal, but at least it would help to pay my expenses.

If someone phones and makes a request for free use of an image, the first question I ask is whether they are getting paid for the job that they are doing. If they are, my answer will almost always be that I need to be paid also. As too will the printers and others involved in producing the publication.

Like many other photographers I often work or supply images to causes that I support which don’t have large budgets without charge. I can then throw all or most ofthe requests to send them money into the bin as I”ve already done my bit.  But for commercial organisations or well-funded charities I expect to be paid for my work.

Another page I came across yesterday is Reasons Why Professional Photographers Cannot Work for Free, written by Tony Wu, and now signed by a very long list of photographers and available in English and seven other languages.

It starts:

Dear potential photo buyer,

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.

and goes on to explain in very clear and polite (if rather longwinded) terms exactly why photographers cannot normally agree to do so.

You are invited either to copy this statement (under a  a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License) or to direct those making such requests to it on the Photoprofessionals web page. For convenience I’ll include the whole statement but without the long list of signatories and comments at the end of this post, Click here to see the original with signatories and comments and if you would like to add your name to the list of those who have signed it or can offer to translate it into a further language.

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Reasons Why Professional Photographers Cannot 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 an image or images for free or minimal compensation.

As professional photographers, we receive requests for free images on a regular basis. In a perfect world, each of us 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, we wish we had the time and resources to do more to assist than just send photographs.

Unfortunately, such are the practicalities of life that we are often unable to respond, or that when we do, our replies are brief and do not convey an adequate sense of the reasons underlying our response.

Circumstances vary for each situation, but we have found that there are a number of recurring themes, which we 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. We 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.

Photographs Are Our Livelihood
Creating compelling images is the way we make our living. If we give away our images for free, or spend too much time responding to requests for free images, we cannot make a living.

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

We Have Time Constraints
Making a leap from such selective support to responding positively to every request we get 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 our 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 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 we 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.

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

The substantial increase in photographs available via the internet in recent years, coupled with reduced budgets of many photo buyers, means that our already meager incomes have come under additional strain.

Moreover, being a professional photographer involves significant monetary investment.

Our profession is by nature equipment-intensive. We need 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 many of our businesses. We 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 we 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 we certainly understand and can sympathise with budget constraints, from a practical point of view, we simply cannot afford to subsidise 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 commercial remuneration.

There are two major problems with this.

First, getting credit isn’t compensation. We did, after all, create the images concerned, so credit is automatic. It is not something that we hope a third party will be kind enough to grant us.

Second, credit doesn’t pay bills. As we hopefully made clear above, we work hard to make the money required to reinvest in our photographic equipment and to cover related business expenses. On top of that, we need to make enough to pay for basic necessities like food, housing, transportation, etc.

In short, receiving credit for an image we created is a given, not compensation, and credit is not a substitute for payment.

“You Are The Only Photographer Being Unreasonable”
When we do have time to engage in correspondence with people and entities who request free photos, the dialogue sometimes degenerates into an agitated statement directed toward us, asserting in essence that all other photographers the person or entity has contacted are more than delighted to provide photos for free, and that somehow, we are “the only photographer being unreasonable”.

We know that is not true.

We also know that no reasonable and competent photographer would agree to unreasonable conditions. We do allow for the fact 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.”

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

All too often, we 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 we 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 us feel more inclined to take time to provide additional images in the future.

Wrap Up
We hope that the above points help elucidate why the relevant photographer listed below has sent you to this link. All of us are dedicated professionals, and we would be happy to work with you to move forward in a mutually beneficial manner.


The above text by Tony Lu appears here with a long list of signatories and comments.

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