Twice in the past two weeks, I’ve had the chance to discuss donating photos that I’ve already taken (stock photos) to causes or companies who’ve asked, and both times I’ve come up with the same answer but for different reasons. Let me preface my explanation by saying that I have donated photography in the past and also that I get that not everyone who has a use and an appreciation for professional-quality photography also has a budget for it. If it’s a cause I believe in, or if I want to help out a friend or a long-time client, then donating something for which I usually charge comes pretty easy. But in most cases, I often wonder if the people who are asking to use photos for free also get that this is how I make my living. In both of the recent cases, I’ve had to politely say no.
Asking for stuff for free is as old as the free market. Within just a few years of getting started in this business, I realized that one could quickly go broke responding to all the asks to use and publish images without paying for them. In response, I coined a phrase to help keep these requests in perspective for me, “I should never be so vain, or so desperate, to get published that I forget that the goal of getting published is to get paid.”
Now that being said, not everything of value is monetary. But honestly a link on a random company or cause webpage is rarely going to be very valuable to my business. However sometimes we can dig deeper to find alternatives that do offer value both ways. Can you also write about me in your newsletter to clients and/or on your blog? Will you help with some introductions to potential clients that we both might have in common? Will you pay me to do some additional photography for you, and I can possibly throw in the existing image? Or maybe you’re really serious about that promise of “more work down the line” (. . . if I had a dollar for every time . . .)?
Most of the time, the response to all of these is no. Or rather, it’s that the asker hasn’t even bothered to think about it and frankly I find the fact that people ask me for free photos in a situation that really only benefits them, just a bit presumptuous (or something). I’m always open to entertaining a mutually beneficial trade, but whoever’s asking needs to have put a little thought in to how this is going to benefit BOTH of us, not just them.