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.