Steelevisions Blog Rotating Header Image

Don’t Give It Away

We all get these requests, some of us many times per week:

“We don’t have a budget for photography, but we’d like to use your photos. We will offer you credit.”

Before I go on, check out writer Harlan Ellison’s video rant below (caution: strong language). It applies to writers, photographers, or any creative person being asked to deliver their goods for free:

Early in your photography career it can be tempting to accept these freebie requests in order to get “exposure.” After all, you want to get seen, build a reputation, get links to your site.

But each time you deliver free photos to a for-profit business, you are actually destroying the photography marketplace that you one day hope to succeed in. You are helping to spread this pernicious idea that photography, and other creative work, should be free.

Many of us have become so tired of responding to these inquiries that we simply reply with a link to one of these web pages:

Reasons Why Professional Photographers Cannot Work for Free

We Have No Budget for Photos

Sometimes I even get requests from individuals or organizations who want to view (or distribute!) my flash photography portrait course or my Photoshop training course for free. You can probably guess my answer.

Of course, demanding fair compensation for your work does NOT mean you should never do free photography for friends, organizations, or causes that you choose to support, as a charitable contribution. You should! But just make it 100% clear to the client, and to yourself, that that is exactly what you are doing in those cases.

And next time a magazine, organization, or business asks you to provide free photos or accept a cheap token payment—no matter how tempting the “exposure” seems — Just Say No.

Otherwise, when you finally develop your skills to the point where you can make a living at photography—there won’t be a photography business left to make a living in.

Be Sociable, Share!


  1. This drives me insane there are one or two photographers in my town who get em in and sell em cheap. Maybe just a couple of pounds for a 10″ x8 and until they get a bad reputation people will use cause they’re cheap.

    I don’t overcharge i charge what is fair and it seems in this day and age’ that’s not fair.

  2. Ray says:

    Phil – I have a friend who writes for a motorcycle magazine for free. We have had many heated discussions about this topic and he just cannot accept that the mag editor is playing him off a break and pandering to his ego.
    Worse – I have recently noticed pictures on web sites that still carry the photographers watermark. These people are so lousy (or just plain ignorant) that they are prepared to lift the pic and use it on their site with the watermark. I only hope that discerning prospective clients will be aware of what is going on and refuse to do business with such cretins.

  3. Galen says:

    Phil- I shot a magazine for a local motorcycle mag. Never got a dime and I expected it. I did get exposure but the magazine closed due to not enough advertisement dollars (yeah right). These magazines know exactly what they are doing and how to do it. I now shoot a lot less and for my own projects etc. And the girls that I have shot with will shoot for nothing as well and as long as they get the exposure. I think this type of problem has been around for years but has only gotten worse due to the ease of digital photography and digital processing. Its great to get your name out there but really people just take a step back and look at what you are doing to yourself if not someone else. You look like a fool and the guys up top know exactly how to coax you into doing what they want or need. So before you occupy wall street please take the time to understand that you may be an artist, but you are far from a business man.PLEASE DON’T FEED THE SHARKS!!

  4. A prostitute who works for no money is called a nymphomaniac.
    A photographer who works for no money is a photomaniac.

  5. Bob Shurtleff says:

    Thanks, Phil.

  6. Raymond Thomas says:

    Phil – Its amazing to me that people, because they know you or know members of your family will ask for services for free. They think because its what we do… we make it look easy… we are good at it… thats it’s no sweat for us to do it for free. We had one orginization to ask us to go through our whole lay out and tell them everything we were going to do. We told them we were’nt going to do that. They replied they know some one that could do our quality of work for half the cost… we told them to go for it.
    Thanks Phil for all you do… (man of Steele)

  7. Darryl Bearsley says:

    If it’s ok for them to expect us to provide our work for no money, shouldn’t it also be ok for us to expect to be given money for no work??

  8. Simon says:

    Interesting topic. I have am in the position that i am wanting to maybe get into photography to actually make money. I know i am very much a beginner and therefore dont feel justified in charging much currently. I have been asked to do a photo shoot sometime soon for a local business/friend. The money issue has not been mentioned but yet. I have been trying to think about it so that i am ready to answer it when the question arises. I have decided that i am going to use the next couple of years and see what experience i can get but not charge, that way build up a portfolio, gain experiance and hopefully see if it is the route i want to go. I’m sure many of you out there will think i’m mad and maybe i am but thats the plan.

  9. I couldn’t agree more and I use that video during my workshops to illustrate that very point. It’s a little thing called perception of value and it’s a lesson I’ve had to learn more than once. I will say though that on the B2B side of things for me there is more latitude depending on the benefit of the exposure and the quality of the relationship. Every decision for me is made on a case by case basis.

  10. Scott says:

    I refused to do a shoot on some turquoise jewelery for a kinda friend. So he asked me why and I said first that isn’t the kind of work I do, next you want me to it for free. Next he asked to “borrow” a $2600. camera so he could do it himself. Also what type film he should use. Some people have lots of gall.
    My answer was not only NO but HELL NO!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Google Profile