Do you get paid for your job?

For my inaugural post of 2012 I have a happy story.
A little out of character I know, but this one is good and is all about why you should stand up for yourself and your work.

****PLEASE NOTE – All the name’s have been changed to protect the innocent and I am writing this with consent of the person whose emails I will quote****

 

Most of us have received one of those “can we use your picture for free?” emails, and frankly recently they seem to be on the increase, to the point where I have started to get a little rude.
Below is an email I received from a well-known newspaper about a week ago:-

Hi Adrian

 I’m putting together an online XXXXXX  for (Name of newspaper) in the UK, and was pointed in your direction by XXXXXXX.  We’re doing a piece on the best photoblogs in the city, and would like to include you!
We’ve picked five bloggers/photographers, and are asking each person to pick their two favourite images of the city, with a sentence on why they’ve picked that image. I know your images can be quite dark, but we’re looking for stuff that shows the wonderful side of Tokyo, even if it’s wonderful in a weird/twisted kind of way!
I’m afraid we don’t have a budget for this, but will make sure that the image and caption credits links directly to your site (or whatever page you wanted).
How does that sound? Ideally, we’d need your choices by the end of this week.
Looking forward to hearing from you,
Thanks!
XXXXXX

 

It was to be honest a bit of a dilemma as I didn’t want to say No, but I am not prepared to give my work away for free, after consultation with some friends and a bit of thought I eventually replied thusly:-

 

Hi XXXXXX,
Thanks for your mail, which I’m just getting to now because of the time difference.I appreciate your interest in my work and interest in including me in the piece but it has left me with a bit of a dilemma.I am not really a blogger, I am a freelance professional photographer and film maker. This is my job. This is how I put food on my table.

Usually when I receive requests to use my photographs for free I reply like this:-

“Dear Sir/Madam,
In response to your email I would like to ask you a question, Do you get paid for your job?

I thought so, then please don’t insult me by asking me to do mine for free.

Yours sincerely
etc”

And yes, I usually send it out word for word.

You would be surprised how many organisations suddenly find they do have a budget for photography after receiving that mail.
Of course many don’t, but one is tempted to think that the ones who never reply were not worth the effort anyway.

So here is my dilemma.
I love (Name of newspaper), a long time ago in a country far far away I used to buy a physical print copy (oh how quaint;-) at least 3 times a week.
I read regularly online and know several people who work there.
I would love to see my work in (Name of Newspaper) , or at least on the website.

I don’t really want to send you the “do you do your job for free?” mail, but I also think it is very important that photographers stand up for themselves and their work when requests like this come in.

As far as I can see there are 3 solutions to this problem:-

1) (Name of Newspaper) suddenly finds that they do have a budget for photography for this piece, even if it was a small token budget of say XX quid a picture that may very well be enough.

2) You, despite getting paid for your job, write back saying “sorry, really don’t have any money” or more likely don’t respond to this at all and choose someone else.

3) We reach a compromise as people. You are asking me for my work for free, so I ask you for something. Not you “web producer at (Name of newspaper)” but you personally “XXXXXX”.
I say that if you reach into your own pocket and donate say £XX to the Japanese Red Cross for disaster relief in Tohoku northern Japan, then I will send you 2 pictures and agree to them being used in (Name of newspaper) on a onetime limited use licence for free.

I look forward to hearing from you and I will prepare the pictures ready for sending in the hope that options 1 or 3 are your choice.

Yours Sincerely

Adrian Storey

I was quietly proud of myself for this response and to be honest was just expecting option 2 (“sorry, still no money f&*k you”) as the reply.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
About 2 days later I was having a drink with some friends when 2 emails arrived almost simultaneously, the first informing that a donation had been made in my name to a Tsunami relief fund and the second:-

Adrian

You are unquestionably right, and I’m sorry for creating this dilemma.
A have donated to a Japan Tsunami relief charity – you should receive an email from them soon, as it was made “in your honour”.
I’m also going to offer a £XX commission to you and all the other bloggers who take part. I know this is not much, but it’s already further than we should be stretching  – but if this is not enough to justify you allowing us to use the images, I fully understand.
Once again, sorry. And thanks. 
XXXXX

 

Now I say, respect where respect is due.
I really wish I could name this guy because I feel he deserves some recognition for being such a star.
A donation and paying me and the other contributors from a starting point of “it’ll be good publicity, but sorry no money”?
Legend.
Total.Fucking.Legend.
If I’m back in the UK I so owe this guy a beer.
Thanks for being such a professional and a damn good guy brother (if you are reading this you know who you are ;-)

 

The moral of this story?
DO NOT GIVE YOUR WORK AWAY FOR FREE!!!!
Sometimes all it takes is to calmly state why you feel you should be paid and the person requesting your images will do the right thing.
If a few more people did this perhaps our industry wouldn’t be being eroded away by amateurs who buy a “nice” camera , think that makes them a photographer and are happy to give their low quality work away for the ‘publicity’.

 

I hope this is a taste of things to come this year, keep those requests coming and keep paying me when I ask.

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  • Got the gist of this on Saturday night, but in this erudite recounting it oozes class and moral authority. And the man at the newspaper is indeed a superstar. Cheers I now of course owe you a drink. Damon

  • I am amazed, delighted and happy with everything you wrote. I’m appreciative that you shared it with me. Changed me a little. More compassion, less combative. I’ve always stood up for my work just not as elegantly and genuinely as you have.

    Thanks. Kirk

  • Robyn

    Nice one. Even if it’s a token gesture, it’s good when the *work* of photography is acknowledged.

    I’m sitting on an email from a TV production company asking to use some of my photos. Without me even asking, the guy said they couldn’t normally afford to pay, but they might possibly be able to find some money. It sounds like if I cracked the whip, I’d get some cash. (But then there’s me wondering about the hassle of billing a US company.)

  • That put a smile on my face. And thank you for sharing your story :)

  • I’ve read this a few times in the last few hours and I have to say, it’s gotten me thinking about how I feel and approach similar situations I have encountered. Previously I was always blunt, and always knew it was possible for me to adopt a different stance without working for free.

    Now I know it’s not only possible, it is also possible to achieve a win-win situation. Thank you, Adrian.

  • Jon

    Once more, nicely handled.

  • Awesome story! I copy/pasted this article to my Evernote as a guide for future emails asking for free stuff.
    I wish I could go to Tokyo right now to share a drink and get all the details. Congrats!

  • I will never forget this fable as long as I am a photographer.

  • I love it. When a large corporation that can totally afford to pay you but is just trying to get something for free emails you, I totally agree that they deserve the “do you get paid for your job” response.

    And I’m so glad this particular case worked out the way it did.

    I’m curious (with all sincerity, genuinely interested) in what your stance would be if you were not a freelance photographer. By which I mean to say, I am a graduate student whose income comes chiefly from scholarships; in the future, I hope to be a professor (paid to teach) or a museum professional (paid to organize exhibits, etc.). Since in none of these situations is it my “job” to take photos, or to write blog posts, and since I’m not getting paid to do those things, does the “do you get paid for your job? I’d like to get paid for mine” argument apply?

    Cheers,
    Travis

  • hey mate. thanks for dropping a comment on my page.

    wishing you the best on the oshima documentary. its way long overdue – especially a video doco. if you don’t mind, id love to join in and perhaps take some photo stills!

    good read this and kudos for the guy for being a stand-up guy. I’ve had way too many times this has happened and it does get on my nerves.

    the worst culprits are organizations or people who are making money out of using your photos expecting shit for free. good read and ill definitely use your strategy next time!

  • Thanks to everyone for your comments.

    @kirk tuck
    LOL…thanks , to be honest combatative is my default style usually, just with this particular publication I really didn’t want to burn any bridges so had to be a little more polite than usual.
    Seeing it worked I will be using this more carefully worded approach more!

    @Callan Tham
    Glad I could be of some assitance by sharing my story.
    Not often I get to be helpful so it means a lot that your came and commented.

    @Travis
    Sorry but, I’m not entirely sure I understand your question.
    If you mean because it is not your job to take photos and someone asks you for a photo for free would the argument apply then my reply would be we should always value what we do regardless of wether it is our “job” or not, it took time and effort and if someone wants to use it to make money for themselves (or even just save money by not paying someone whose job it is) then I would say you shouldn’t give it to them for free.
    There is also the consideration that you would be devaluing the work of others.
    If for example I decide I LOVE teaching to the point I will do it for free and advertise my services as such then wouldn’t that devalue the market for teachers who would like to earn a living teaching?
    Just a thought ;)
    Anyway thanks for your question.

    @ontoshiki
    Thanks for popping by! Enjoyed your interview very much and will definitely stop by your page more often now.

  • Simon

    Good on you !!! I have worked as a photographer for twenty years and I’d be rich if I had $1 for every time I have been asked to supply my work for free . At the current rate I get asked 2 or 3 times a week for ” free ” shots . I have to say most of the time I say no !
    Every person who works at a magazine or newspaper gets paid and so should we for our work !!!