When you’ve been taking photos long enough, you’ll eventually have people asking for permission to use your photographs in their own work - perhaps for a blog post, brochure or just to make a print.
I’m always thrilled whenever anyone reaches out to me to use one of my photographs. After all, we take photographs so that they can be seen and appreciated by others. For me, photography is very much a shared experience. It's a way to connect with others. In order to allow people to use my photographs, I’ve applied an “Attribution Non Commercial No Derivatives” license to most of my photographs on Flickr. This means that anyone can use my photos for non-commercial purposes so long as (1) they don’t alter them in any meaningful way and (2) I am given appropriate credit as the photographer. #2 is important because it allows people who admire the photo to find me on the internet and check out more of my work.
That desire to share, however, is not unlimited. Specifically, I have little interest in allowing commercial entities to use my work without payment. I’ve had a number of requests lately (generally from graphic designers) to use my work for commercial purposes. These requests often include language to the effect of “unfortunately there isn’t much budget for photographs” i.e. we’d like to use your shot for free.
Let’s consider what it takes for me to capture my photographs. Each of my photographs represents a significant investment in both time and equipment.
The above shot, which I took in Ireland recently (and which I received a commercial request for), was taken with a Canon 5D3 camera ($3,500), coupled with a Canon 17-40 L lens ($700) mounted on a Gitzo tripod (about $1000). So that’s more than a $5000 investment in equipment alone. The time investment is even more significant. I took the shot during a business trip to Dublin. I stood in spot for about two hours, as I waited for the light to change, so that I could get the perfect balance between the light of the sky, the lights from the theatre and the neon in the foreground - and I did this for two nights (the clouds were pretty disappointing the first night). The photo then took about an hour of processing in Lightroom and Photoshop Elements. And of course, my photography skills themselves have been honed over many years and many thousands of shots. I don’t claim to be an expert photographer (by any stretch) but I can say with confidence that I’m much, much better than I was when I first started out. That experience is worth something.
You can understand then, that when a commercial entity asks me for permission to use my work for free, it's something of an insult, not just to me, but to the skill, art and dedication that all photographers exhibit in their determination to “get the shot.” Art has value. Time has value. Experience has value.
I’ve made some exceptions to this rule. For example, my photos have been featured heavily on Google’s ChromeCast background and also on Yahoo’s Weather app. In both of these instances, full attribution is given to me, and the wide reach of both products allow me to vastly increase my visibility as a photographer in ways that would otherwise have been impossible. For everyone else, however, I’ve set a price of $100/shot for royalty free commercial use of my work. I think this this is very fair.
I don’t ever expect to make much money from photography, but equally, I don’t want my labor to subsidise profits for people who wouldn’t themselves work for nothing.