Why Photo Artists Cannot Work for Free {Why I don't work for 'exposure'}

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 for minimal compensation, or for 'exposure'.
Photo Artists 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 issues we are specifically concerned with. 
Unfortunately, such are the practicalities of life that we are often unable to respond, or that when we do, our replies may be 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 Probably Our Livelihood
Creating compelling images is the way many of us make our living. If we give away our images for free, or spend too much time responding to requests for free images, we cannot earn the income we need to pay our bills.
We Do Support Worthy Causes With Images
Most of us do contribute our photo art or services to support certain causes that we are either directly involved in, or care passionately about.
We Have Time Constraints
Responding positively to every request we get for free photo art or services, is impractical, if for no other reason than the 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.
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 organizations, 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 a photo artist 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, photo artists 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, photo art is not a highly profitable profession. Photo Artists have chosen this path in large part due to a passion for visual communication, visual art, storytelling, entertaining, and the subject matters in which we specialize.
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 photographer can involve a significant monetary investment.
This profession is by nature equipment-intensive. We need to buy cameras, lenses, computers, software, storage devices, instructional classes, 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. Photo Art takes up a lot of megabytes and we need high powered computers or replacement hard drives. For all of us, investment in essential hardware and software entails thousands of dollars, as we need to stay current with new technology, updated software, and best practices.
In addition, travel is a part of some of our businesses. We must spend money on transportation, gasoline, auto maintenance, 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 and creating photo art may only involve pressing the camera shutter release and using photo editing software, but creating images requires skill, experience, judgement and lots and lots of time.
So the bottom line is that although we certainly understand and can sympathize with budget constraints, from a practical point of view, we simply cannot afford to subsidize everyone who asks.
Getting “Credit” or "Exposure" Doesn’t Mean Much
Along with requests for free images/services with a claim of budgetary constraints is often the promise of providing “credit” and “exposure”, in the form of 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 invest and reinvest in our materials and operating expenses. On top of that, we need to make a living wage, 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. Or you would not be requesting us to work for free, you'd be going with "all" of the others you spoke with who were happy to work for free.
We also know that no reasonable and competent photo artist 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.” And if they are so willing to work for free, why are you asking us?
Please Follow-Up
One other experience we have in common is that when we do provide photographs, photo art or services 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 product or services.
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 or services in the future.

Would YOU Work for Free?
One question to ask yourself, is if you would give away your time, product, services for free. Once or twice a year, maybe, but many of us are asked every week to work for free! Do you ask your grocer, your dentist, your auto mechanic, and your plumber to work for free? Just a thought.... ;) 

- Blessings from this Photo Artist!

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