Monday, December 8, 2008

Free photos part 1

There's a lot of talk lately about the word "free" when it comes to the business of photography. Most of it is because of a posting by David Hobby of Strobist fame. I am probably 99% against working for free, but I have some pretty good reasons.

First off, about a year and a half ago I lost a friend because of a misunderstanding over the photos I shot of her for free. I gave her the photos to use for her myspace and facebook if she wanted or make prints for herself. Anything else was supposed to be prohibited. Well, her boyfriend saw the photos, liked them a lot, and used them on his website for his gym.

I tried explaining to both of them that I felt I should be compensated for my work and if they didn't want to pay to use the photos, that they please remove them.

I actually saved the e-mails that we wrote because I really wanted to avoid situations like this from ever happening again and I learned a lot from what transpired. Unfortunately it was a really hard lesson to learn and I still miss having her as a friend.

Here's some of the more important parts of the e-mails with names removed.

I wanted to talk to you about the photos I saw on YYYYYYY's website. It is extremely important for you to understand that I am not mad, actually it's quite the nice feeling to see my photos up on a well designed website, but I gave those to you for your own personal use, so you can make prints, show them to friend's and family, and if you want post them on facebook and myspace. Now you've given them out to YYYYYYY to use for his gym which is a commercial use.

I'm flattered that he would want to use my images for his website, but also I'm a professional photographer, and photography is how I make my living. I can't make my living if you go out giving all the photos I gave to you away for free. Just think of all the money that I've spent on my equipment and what it took to create those images - the lighting equipment alone was worth over $2000.00. I own the copyright to those photos and there are certain rules and laws that determine how a photograph can be used. I'm sure you probably took a class on this in school and I hope you understand that I feel like I should be compensated for the use of my images to advertise his company and website.

If you can write me back or call me back about this issue it would be greatly appreciated. Again, I'm not mad. I know you were just trying to do YYYYYYY a favor, but it wouldn't be much of a favor if you gave him images that you didn't own the copyright to and he had a big lawsuit coming his way because of it (I wouldn't do that to you because I'm your friend, but assume that some other photographer who you didn't know and wasn't your friend took those photos, he or she might actually file a lawsuit). So I hope you see this as just a lesson learned and fortunately not one learned the hard way where YYYYYYY were hit with a big lawsuit (photographers can file for all kinds of damages in these cases resulting in big financial problems for the copyright violater).

I really hope you don't get upset by this. It's nothing really to be worried over. I'm sure YYYYYYY and I can come to some kind of agreement on how to settle this issue, like maybe he'll help me build my website and I'll let him use the images for a certain length of time (usually people license images/photographs for a given number of years).


P.S. the reason I didn't mention anything about this over the phone was because I didn't want it to come out the wrong way and sound critical or harsh. So I wanted to think about what I was saying before I actually said it and that's why I'm writing it to you in an e-mail.

Now at this point in my career, I didn't have a website, so I even offered them a way to use the photos for "free." If he would help me build my own website, I would have let them use the photos for a certain period of time. Unfortunately, for some reason, they didn't want to do that.

I tried my best to be reasonable and not offend or anger anyone. I felt really strongly though about my images and my career. But I felt that since he was using the photos for his website, which is his way of promoting his business and generating money, that I should be paid for my work.

Here is the response from my friend

I first want to apologize for the use of your photos without your consent.

Secondly, I want to add that it wasn't YYYYYYY or myself who placed the photos onto the Web site.

I had posted those photos on facebook and YYYYYYY or course saw them. He and I never had the idea or intention of using them for his web site to promote his bussiness.

He had a friend of his, and a guy I know from work named AAAAAA, help fix his web site to appear more the way he wanted. AAAAAA had looked at facebook and included the photos in the web site.

I was shown and should have then, said something but to be honest, didn't think that the photos were permenant. At the time of insertion, the site hadn't even been up and running.

So not to pass the blame on AAAAAA, because he had no idea who he was taking the photos from, I will take full responsibility for the harm that they have cost. I understand copyright laws and lawsuits for publishing and am foolish to have not applied that knowledge to photography. I'm sorry.

I understand that photography is how you make a living. I understand that it is your passion. I am sorry that I didn't think of that before hand. And now, I'm asking what you would like to come out of this? Would you like the photos taken down? That can certaintly happen if thats what you would like. Would you want a photo credit on the site?

Please know that no one meant anything by it and think that we were getting away with something behind your back. I'm sorry if that is how it has come across.


Working for photo credit was really the only thing that they had offered me. But a photo credit really does no good. Most people do not look at photo credits. Also, the traffic that his website was getting was very minimal at that point. Plus most of the people visiting his website are probably not looking for a photographer, so the amount of benefit I would have received would have been virtually none.

Here is the follow up e-mail I wrote her after that.


Sorry it took me this long to get back to you again. I didn't feel hurt or offended, I figured it was an innocent mistake, and I'm glad you understand that I didn't want to upset you. Maybe you can have YYYYYYY e-mail me and we can talk about possible payment for the use of the photos.

Anyway, are you coming out tomorrow night for my birthday? I'm going to be in Boston to celebrate with my friends. You can bring people with you if you want. It should be fun. I'm trying to make it a big deal just because I'm turning 25 (sooooo old). I hope to see you there. Take care.


I really was hoping to maintain the friendship through this misunderstanding, so that's why I left the part in there about my birthday. You can see I still valued her as a friend. I tried my hardest to avoid angering anyone, but since she no longer speaks to me, I must have angered her.

Here's the next e-mail I received.

Thanks for responding to the email. YYYYYYY unfortunately can not pay to have those photos on his site because he invested a lot of money into his gym and is waiting to receive payments from members, etc. The photos were a space filler I guess on the site and so they can be replaced. It was an honest mistake and will take them down. His email is if you want to contact him, etc. for anything.

Tomorrow I am working at ###### during the day and was asked to pick up the night shift. I'm not sure if I am yet or not because I'm waiting on another girl to let me know if she needs me to or not but I will call/text ya tomorrow and see what you're up to, if I don't have to work.
Again, please know that we are both, and AAAAAA, very sorry for the use of the photos.

I will talk to you soon. -XXXXXX

Anyway, sometime after that I had a sit down meeting with my friend's boyfriend. Ultimately we decided that the photos would be taken down. I tried a few times after the meeting to call and hang out with my friend, but it became clear to me that she no longer wished to remain as friends.

This is my biggest reason for not wanting to work for free. As I stated before, I didn't have a website at this time. A short time after though, I got a friend of mine to build me one. Before he did it, I asked him how much it would cost me. He told me he would do it for free. Of course, free sounds very appealing, but I could not take him up on the offer especially after what I had just been through. We came up with an agreeable fee that I was to pay him for his services. I am glad that we did it that way. He's been a huge help to me. The website has already generated more than the fee that I paid him to create it for me, so it was well worth it! I've also passed his name on to other friend's looking to have their own websites built.

I like to think that had they used my images on the website, which were professional quality, that it could have really helped his business by making it look more professional and a like a place that cares about quality the same way my friend building my website helped me. As of right now, they have low quality snapshots taken with a point and shoot camera on the website that anyone could have taken and they don't really say anything about the business or define it as a stylish place.

I'm also guessing that his friend who made the website was probably paid. He never admitted that to me, probably because it hurt his argument for me being the only one in the equation who shouldn't be making money.

For some of the other opinions on free, check out these three links. All are from photographers whos opinion's I really respect. I've met and spoken with each of them before, and I've also seen their work.

John Harrington gives his take on the issues. This is a three part essay. I will say, that I sometimes disagree with Harrington's posts, but usually he is spot on!

Vincent Laforet who recently did a shoot for free.

Chase Jarvis took David's idea and ran with it. He came up with his own idea to do some free photo projects.

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