I’m flattered by the fairly regular requests I get on my flickr site to use one of my photos. Unfortunately, the flattery wears off pretty quickly when, more often than not, the request is to use the photo for free.
It’s still great that they have the courtesy to ask; after all, anyone can steal any image they see up on flickr, simply downloading it to their desktop. Folks who can convince me to make them a contact get full access to the high resolution images I upload there and could easily print the better ones poster size or use them in glossy brochures if they’re so inclined; there’s nothing to stop them.
Due to this ease of downloading, I’ve embraced a shareware attitude for my pictures, asking a fee commensurate with the use. You can download it for free, but if you really like it, it’d be nice if you paid me something. If someone emails me saying he’d like to print one out and hang it on his office wall, I ask a pretty low price; maybe five or ten dollars (depends on the picture). He can choose to pay me or not. Surprisingly, folks do.
When the art director for, say, an American Express Travel website contacts me to use a photo, I inquire about the expected traffic the site is going to see and for how long they intend to use the picture. They have to pay more, for this professional use. After all, they’re using my photography to bolster their brand. (American Express was kind enough to pay for a picture.)
Still, many more art directors state that it is not their policy to pay for the photos and suggest that I will get exposure to thousands or even millions of individuals. According to Eduardo Porter’s The Price of Everything Google “suggested to illustrators that providing…art [for the new Chrome browser] for free would be in their best interest. ‘[W]e believe these projects provide a unique and exciting opportunity for artists to display their work in front of millions of people.’”
Sure, but the guy who wanted to hang the picture in his office and American Express were both willing to actually pay me, can’t Google afford it? I described this problem in my lament about the death of travel photography Google and others have little reason not to try this ploy—many, many excellent photos are to be had, for free, simply by asking (or, of course not asking). Photographers are all too willing to devalue their own work in the hopes that exposure will be just the ticket to a professional future.
I’ve probably just been able to pay for my flickr pro membership with the volunteer payments I’ve received from fine honest folks out there, but I am gratified that people would think so much of one of my images to pay for it, and nothing proves that you’ve got something of real value more than actually getting paid. Otherwise, you know, why buy the camera, if the photos are free?