2018 02 07 Asking for free photography - Andy Barnham

Asking for free photography is not a new phenomenon, I am approached irregularly in regards to it, but it seems to have cropped up quite a few times this year already in various guises. As a result I believe it's worth having a look at what headlines it has generated and reasons why it upsets photographers.

Firstly UK reality TV star Jay Hutton, who was looking for someone to photograph his wedding in April for free, was offering food and travel in exchange for credit on his social media channels including his 543k Instagram/ 207k Twitter followers and allowing some preselected images to go on the photographer's own channels.

Secondly, this appeared on PetaPixel, the photography and camera news site where photographer Raul Roa was asked for a video he had created by TIME Magazine.

Lastly, it has been suggested to me and I've been asked to hand over my images for free several times in the last few weeks.

There are a raft of reasons why all these instances were turned down and the obvious one is the fact neither Jay nor TIME Magazine are small fish. I understand a start up or small brand having next to no budget but not someone who, allegedly, starts at £100 an hour for a tattoo nor a magazine as large as TIME.

Given how much work, time and effort go into a wedding (pre shoot, the shoot day and then post production), it's cheeky to say the least that Jay expected all of this for free. Not only this, but to also insist that only pre selected images can be shown on the photographer's own site ignores all rules of copyright and ownership. By insisting on this clause Jay is assuming copyright of the images which automatically belongs to the photographer, for free.

It's very easy to believe and say that the exposure justifies the £0 (and to be honest, Jay's following is respectable). However is it? How many guests at the wedding and people viewing the images are/ will be recently engaged couples looking for a wedding photographer? I'd suggest a very, very small percentage which means the likelihood of earning a future income is low. I'd also suggest a wedding photographer or celeb photographer already has a portfolio full of work which leads you to wonder who would say yes to such a gig? Someone who desperately wanted to do it, who chances are isn't very good. Why would Jay risk having an amateur   take his wedding images? They may be fantastic but if you're great, why would you only be an amateur photographer? Maybe a novice pro who is keen to kick their career off with a bang! I'm interested to see if anyone accepts the gig and the images that result from it.

In the example of TIME Magazine, Raul's reasons are clear; namely "But, for me, my work is extremely valuable and I don’t need credit for work done. What I do need is to pay my bills and feed my children plus keep a roof over my family. And the only way I can do that is through my work and getting paid for that work."

In my instance it was suggested (by a third party) I hand over images, already taken, to a brand with multiple outlets to curry favour for future work. Simply no, it doesn't work like that. From experience, handing over images in hope of future work doesn't work. If someone likes the images, they'll buy them. Offer them for free and the images get taken and, generally, the brand push the boundaries on usage and licence beyond what is reasonable.In the second instance I was asked for images for social media and/ or web site use. As the brand have only 5k followers on Instagram, and I already have a portfolio full of similar products, it was an easy no.

Despite all of this I'm not actually saying no to the request of taking and handing over images at no fee. The creative industry is a struggle and it often feels that as a breed, photographers are our own worst enemy driving prices to rock bottom. Some industries are worse than others when it comes to photographers wanting entry (fashion for example). If you are going to accept to work for free, then be aware of what you're doing and be absolutely sure it is right for you as once those images have been released, there is no turning around and getting them back. Is the job going to offer you access to someone or something far, far outside the scope of what you could achieve yourself? Is the job going to fill a massive gap in your portfolio and is the credit more likely than not going to lead to paid work? These are decisions the photographer should make for themselves; do not be swayed by the sales pitch. The pitch is there to convince you to help the other person who is 100% going to benefit from your work, and not necessarily for your benefit. eg I was once being aggressively asked for free images, being told they would be seen by high net work individuals (HNWI). The inference was that these HNWI would like the images enough to commission me for other work. Having had images published in luxury magazines previously, I knew this was an outright lie. My images were being used to sell goods to HNWI, not to try and have photography commissioned. And despite my images representing products worth £1000s, the brand in question weren't willing to pay a fair price. "I'd like your images to help sell my products worth £1000s but I'm only willing to pay you pennies and I honestly do value your images..." I don't think so. 

Requests for free work will continue; if you're a brand, be aware of what you're asking for. When you take a step back, you're probably asking for far more than you realise. And if you're a photographer, make sure you know what you're doing and what, if anything, you're getting out of it.

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