A Photo Credit Doesn’t Pay the Rent

In the belt-tightening world of editorial photography, many media outlets now offer a photo credit, rather than monetary compensation, for the use of your photo. “It will be great advertising for your work,” they tell you, “and getting published by us will help you professionally.”

Should you buy this argument?

Here’s what I can tell you from my experience:

    1. The vast majority of readers never look at photo credits. They glance at the photo and then jump over to read the story. So much for “great advertising.”

    2. Editors generally don’t look at where you’ve been published, unless the publication is very prestigious. Assigning photo editors are more interested in the quality and breadth of your portfolio. They want to know if you are consistent, if you are dependable, if you can overcome obstacles to pull off a shoot. These things all mean far more than whether you have been published in a particular outlet.

Ultimately, the best way to help yourself professionally is to do what professionals do — get paid for your work.

In standard stock uses, a quarter-page photo in a small, regional publication should bring in enough for you to buy a nice, new iPod touch. And that’s worth a lot more than a photo credit.

Thanks, But No Thanks

Recently, an editor of a local magazine called asking to use my photos of a popular country music singer. I inquired as to the publication’s usage rates.

“We don’t pay for photography,” the editor said in a snotty, entitled tone.

“That’s nice,” I replied. “And I don’t give away my work for free.”

End of conversation.

Guess what? Five minutes later, the singer’s publicist called to apologize for the magazine’s rudeness. The publicist had attended the original shoot (which I’d done on assignment for another publication) and had recommended the editor contact me for use of my photos.

The publicist asked my fee and paid it, and the photos appeared in the magazine. In the end, I got a photo credit — and a check.

Stand Firm and Set Your Own Price

The lesson here is to stand firm. Don’t let publications walk all over you and use your work for nothing.

If you’re not getting paid, how are you different from the millions of hobbyists uploading their photos on Flickr and all over the Web? How do you plan to put food on the table?

Set pricing on your photos that includes usage terms — one-time, English-only, no Internet, and circulation size are good places to start. FotoQuote software is an excellent tool for pricing your photography, as is Jim Pickerell’s book, Negotiating Stock Photo Prices.

Remember: if your photos are good enough to be published, they are good enough for you to be paid for them.

82 Responses to “A Photo Credit Doesn’t Pay the Rent”

  1. Excellent article. We also have frequently this probleme in France 🙂

    Never never never any credit will give you new clients. I saw that with a recent big serie well sold through the world (dozen doubles pages, posters and cover) : nobody no my name because of these pix 🙂

  2. Great article. And about time too! As often as i hear people saying "but it will be great promotion for me", the only people that actually look at the credits are other snappers … well mostly. The irony in all of this is that the publications (web or print) don't give their product or advertising space away for nothing. Supply of quality content improves a publications overall look and feel, if not make it. Imagine publications with out imagery! Don't forget our value people.

  3. This reminds me of a story I read some time ago about web design, often lopped into the same category. Here's how it went (from what I remember):

    Web Designer (WD) and Car Dealership (CD) discuss getting a website built.

    CD: We'd like a website, but in this economy we can't pay you. What we'd like to offer you is the ability to put your name and a link to your own website at the bottom of our site. That way, whenever anyone goes to our site, they'll see how amazing it is and get referrals to you, and in turn you'll make money! How's that sound?

    WD: Hmm. How about if you give me a car, but I don't want to pay for it. In return, I'll let you put a sticker with the name of your business on the back of it and I'll drive all over town every day with it. Everyone will see how amazing the car is and that I bought it from you and will in turn come here and you'll make money! How's that sound?

  4. Thank you Harrison. I really enjoyed this post and it is surprisingly timely for me. I was just pondering these questions and ideas last night. Thanks again!

  5. Credit do not fill our stomach but can fill theirs ... OUR photos that will give credit to their publications and not the contrary.

  6. I can understand this for photographers covering commercial events and dealing with newspapers and other print outlets. However, I don't think it makes sense for wedding photographers sharing their photos with wedding websites. Brides-to-be are much more likely to look at the photographer's name under an image, especially if they can click on the name and be taken to his/her website. You can't expect payment from a website for that when you really are getting free advertising.

  7. A pertinent article, and excellent timing as far as I am concerned since I am just embarking upon a new career in photography. Thanks for these words of wisdom.

  8. Great advice - even if it's hard for some of us newbies to swallow. It can be easy to be excited that a magazine actually likes your work well enough to ask to publish it - but actually getting paid for that publication is even more exciting!

  9. your article is on point.
    Publications say to me "Can I give you credit?" I respond YES I do, VISA, MC, and AMEX as credit.

  10. Great post--have linked it in three different places already. People need to understand---we do this as our JOB and that means needing to be paid for what we do.

  11. "we do this as our JOB and that means needing to be paid for what we do."

    Personally I think the "this is my job" excuse, is an incredibly weak argument to try and state your case to a client. Many clients couldn't care less about that (this article and subsequent thread would not exist if they did!).

    The whole argument needs to be turned around so that clients are sold on the benefits to them rather than the benefits to the photographer - what are we providing to clients that's of value to them, that benefits their business to an extent that they are prepared to pay for it?

    Trying to win the argument with "it's my job" is pointless because clients will simply reply that they'll go to someone who doesn't do this for a living but who would be happy to see their name published beside their images.

  12. This is a fantastic article. Great points put forward, Dominic I am with you even down to the charity gigs 🙂

    Also folks the whole point is to stick to our guns as professionals and not give our images / files for free. Shops won't give out their items for free. Why should we? A credit was great when we were starting out and we were delighted to see our name in a mag. That soon wore off when the got the name on the credit wrong or left it out but more so when we realised that credits do not put the food on the table.

    I love the point about taking an ad in their mag and telling the mag that they can write it off against the use of your image 🙂

    There can be anything from 2 to 5 days or more work in any one wedding from meeting the couple pre wedding, to meeting the couple after, editing all the images, designing the wedding book and printing it. FACT! Put a price on that! (Per hour 🙂 )
    Thanks for this article.

  13. Does anyone have any advice on putting together a contract regarding usage and payment etc.? I have been contacted by a travel magazine regarding a photo I have on flickr and I am unsure about the proper way to allow them one-time usage of the image while legally protecting my rights to the photo and getting credited/compensated. Thanks in advance for any advice!

  14. Thanks great post. I always see up and comers shooting for free to get published. Great way to ruin the industry.

  15. A great read for everyone! Not only are some "professional" photographers working for free for editorial magazines but most are low-balling too. I'm based in Toronto and I know for sure some editorial photographers are charging as little as $150 for editorials(for Cover photos + usage and all). I know this because I received a call from one editor after receiving my estimate and she told me exactly that.
    My response was "Thanks, but no thanks"!

  16. Sometimes saying no to photo credit as sole payment can lead to actual payment. A recent shot I licensed was initially requested for free, then they said they had a photo budget of 50 dollars. They ended up paying 300 after some negotiation.

  17. This really spells it out:


  18. Hi folks.
    I just had to share this email with you, after I received it yesterday. It sums up the way some people done even seem to consider that photography is our profession and how we try to put bread on the table. I really am still laughing at this one. Also note I paid this model for 2 hours work myself and they were not taken for any salon but for my own website 2 years ago.
    Here is the actual email as I received it:

    "Hi Cormac,
    My friend would love to use 1picture of me which you took for his tanning studio,but there is one problem, there is your logo in the middle of the picture..would you be PLEASE so nice and send me that picture without your logo and as well could you please change my skin little bit darker and change the colour of swimsuit to orange??

    I'm sorry for bothering you with this, but i would love to have that picture in his tanning studio :o)
    Thank you VERY MUCH for your time
    Kind regards,
    *** *****.

  19. Ok as I am on here I said I would share another one with you all which also really happened.

    Last week after just finishing a wedding, I was sitting in the hotel near the lobby, downloading all the images and preparing a slide show for after the wedding meal for the couple. I had my lights still set up just beside me turned off, but put in out of the way in case someone might fall over them and try claim 🙂
    A young couple came over to me and this is what the girl said to me.
    "Hi i just noticed your lights there in the corner and I hope I am not being to bold in asking if my friend here could use them for a little while as I have an interview with an airline on Monday and I need a good photograph of myself. We already took some photographs upstairs in the hallway but I would like better ones. Can we use the your lights?"
    I was in disbelief and replied, I am going to be bold also in saying that I can take a portrait of you and I will charge you for it.

    "oh right well I need them straight away and you wouldn't be able to do that so"
    after a few whispers to the lad that was with her, she turned and yet again asked " So can we borrow them or ......? "

    I said "That would we be a no"

    I can only laugh at it now......

  20. Ahhh Cormac ye should have offered them your camera as well and a few posing tips along with a little airbrushing on your laptop, I mean it's not like it would have cost you any money!!!!

    PS. Did you ask them if they owned a Tanning Studio?

  21. Thanks Dominic. I suppose I really should have done that. God I feel bad now... I hope she got the job. If I ever meet her in the airport I might ask her if she could let me have some duty free good ever free-er 🙂

    On a serious note I think it is a good point we spoke about, how the magazines and some wedding websites are putting the "make sure you ask for the disk of images" idea into the brides heads and these same mags and websites will still ask us for to advertise with them, without even blinking and eye 🙂
    Think I might go and get a spray tan done, surely they won't charge me. 🙂

  22. Once a producer called me to work for a couple of days. I was driving. She asked for the price of a half-day job and I told her. I said, "well, price gets lower in case you hire me for a week, 2 weeks... kinda of a discount" I said. Then she called me again. Still driving. "We don't have that money for you but we really want to work with you" and I said that for 2 weeks I would give a 15% discount plus that I didn't need to go with the crew for that amount of price, only for some selected scenes (movie stills).She called me again. I was effing driving again and she was effing driving me crazy. She said "Andre, we have XX/day plus you'll get a photo credit"... did I mention she was driving me crazy? I'm a very polite, patient person but not that day. She really pissed me off... I had to ask and I did it "Dear, do you want me to shoot with my mobile phone or my snapshot?"

  23. I recently shot press images for a local artist.I was payed by the artist and gave the images to be used as she saw fit and asked that photo credits be assigned each time an image was used.Her press page on the web has full credit applied to my images.To date any media entity who has lifted and used any of those images has assigned my photo credit.
    This week our local news paper ran an article about an upcoming concert for that musician and lifted one of my images from her press page.They did not assign the photo credit even though it is clearly given beneath the image on the web page.
    I don't need to pay my bills with my photography however I do believe one should receive credit for their work.Had this been a small image I wouldn't be so upset however this is not the case..it is a 4x6 color print.I will be contacting the editor on Monday.
    Does anyone have any suggestions.Whether or not there is a law regarding this is not that important.It should be the right thing to do.I intend to ask for the photo to be re run with credit applied and a paragraph about my work.

  24. Chris: No difinitive law in volved here. But you’re in luck. Here’s a way that you can get special attention to your freelance photography business plus a good plug for your artist friend.

    On email or your postal mail stationery, write this letter. (You can find the address of the right person on the newspaper’s masthead, or Google it.)
    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    Dear Editor: (This one is to you personally and not to the public)
    I’m a freelancer and live by word of mouth. Also by credit line.
    Friends showed me my photo by the artist [ ] recently.
    Since I’m assuming your art director must’ve borrowed the photo from [ ‘s] website, he/she probably mistakenly omitted my credit line. (PHOTO: CHRIS BUTCHER).
    The problem I see is that the general public assumes one of your staff members took the photo. As I say, I live by word of moth.
    In your Omissions and Corrections” column, kindly make reference to this. For example.

    Omission: The photo on page __, date: _____, of the artist ______, was provided by Chris Butcher.

    Thank you.

    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    Other notes:
    1. Some studies have shown that the “Corrections” column is the most read section of magazines and newspapers.
    2. If you don’t get a response within 10 days, send the editor a statement for $250.
    I know this might be high for the average newspaper, but it’ll get your ‘correction’ published. (Attorneys fee for them are munch higher.) BTW Send your invoice (statement) not by email, but on professional-looking stationery.

    PS It might be asking too much to ask them to re-run the photo with proper credit line.

    Rohn sellphotos.com

  25. Before you get so sweet & polite, bear in mind that you are dealing with a Newspaper not the Sisters of Charity.
    The sad reality is that they omitted your name not by mistake but quite deliberately in an attempt to avoid having to pay you for it, that’s how they operate; it takes the odd lawsuit to get them to change their policy, anything less will only serve to amuse them for a brief moment as they add your email to the junk mail folder.

  26. Thank you Dominic & Rohn for your input .Dominic you are right I am not dealing with the Sisters of Charity but then again I could never be mistaken for St Theresa.If a principle is important to you it's worth standing up for.

    So I did get to speak to the editor,who did not answer his phone til after I spoke to the next in command.I was told it is not their policy to give photo credit to handouts.When I asked for the re print the response was they don't want to set a precedent.My response to that was..If you had decent minded policies and did the right thing you wouldn't have to worry about setting precedents.This was after he realized which photo we were discussing and informing me it was one of the better ones he had seen of this musician.They have previously sent their own photographers out to her.
    We had a lengthy discussion about the importance of recognizing people for their work either in payment or other form of credit.The statement was made several times that he had to see...how this had happened...and is supposed to call me back today.

    Oh I nearly forgot...He said he had never had anyone call him with this kind of complaint !!!!!

    Have I achieved anything yet ?

    Most definitely..I have learned a lot about copyright though most of it does not appear to apply to this situation.I have taken steps to ensure everyone knows..there are restrictions to the use of the images and just as important I messed up someones morning for a brief period of time.Rohn is probably right that I'll get into that little correction box and I have also asked that all web files they have be corrected to show the credit..he apparently agrees to that...I'll be checking later.

  27. Hi all. I totally agree with Dominic.
    Also I feel that a photo credit does not pay the bills. It is nice when starting out to see ones name under a photograph in a newspaper or mag, but in my view for professional images, that is not a good return for us if the newspapers or magazines getting to use images for free. They might even be happy to print a photographer's name under an image, if they don't have to pay for it, sounds like a good deal for them.
    Until they realise that our bread and butter is getting paid for images, which is unfortunately unlikely, then I don't see things changing much 🙁

  28. Hell YES! Preach it!

    I had a rough experience recently where a I had taken a great image of a building in my city and the company wanted to use it. They are a non-profit and I was very nice to let them use the image online with credit.

    Then the image appeared in a local paper soon after. They claimed it was an interns mistake when sending images for the article but it seems a little odd. Mistake or not, the image stands out a lot and the paper was clearly going to grab that one first.

    I then said it's time to pay. After back and forth emailing of them trying to get a lower price due to non-profit, I finally got a cheque in the mail. I'm glad I stood my ground though.

    I'll also not look at non-profits as anything massively special. I know they run close to budgets all the time or have small budgets but it doesn't mean photography is free or cheap. I did a nice thing for the venue and then I almost got burned. I bet the image will actually help them raise much more money over the long term because of it's quality. Now that venue needs a new website! LOL

    Thanks for this because it helps to reinforce my stance. It's like they could have gone and tried to recreate the photo but it would have been so tough. I can now take pride in my work because of it.

  29. Scott, glad you stood your ground as well. We all like to help charities that is for sure. We might even need them ourself sometime, but hopefully not 🙂 However think of it like this: Selling photographs is how we make our living.
    Take any other profession or business and it is not so easy to ask them for free stuff. You can't go into any shop and take something without paying and say you will credit them or tell everyone where you got the item. The shopkeeper would call the police. So we have to think the same way. It is so easy for mags and local papers to take our images and use them and not pay for them.
    So the more they are made to think twice, the better 🙂
    Happy shooting.

  30. Great post. It seems like no one wants to pay for creative goods be it music (play at my party...it'll be great exposure), literature (woohoo...99 cents on Amazon), healing work (you can't be spiritual if you take my money), or apparently photography. I'm reading Sacred Economics by Charles Eisenstein, and I love what he say: We'd be happy to give it away...if only we didn't have to pay the rent and eat! It's true. I love what I do. I wish I lived in a world where I could give it away to anyone who wanted it and still have the things I need in life.

  31. I agree with this post in earnest and hoped that as we take photos, industries using them will be able to recognize us pass the "credit" phase. It takes more than just a skill to take one great photo and that one has to be paid.

    "Credits indeed do not pay the rent"

  32. Great write up. I have been screwed before in the past...most recently with a band. I gave them a handful of prints, which they loved. They wanted them immediately for their website. This was a referral from a friend. Long story short, they said a check would be in the mail and I'm still waiting....5 months now. They don't return calls or emails. I'm getting legal involved. It's not so much the money, as it's the principal at this point. From now on, no matter who it is, nothing is released without payment. This is incredibly upsetting.

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