Let's Make a Deal, or Not

While reading through the foot high stack of magazines in an attempt to whittle it down, I found myself re-reading a Photoshop User magazine from a few months back.  I often re-read magazines and find hidden “nuggets” (as I call ’em).  These are fodder for blog posts right here, and last night, I came across an oldie but a goodie.  It was the April/May issue of this year so not too long ago.  Ed Greenburg and Jack Reznicki were talking about this idea that companies will often lowball or no-ball a photographer in an effort to get their pictures.

It reminded me of an eerily similar experience that happened to me a while back.  I was contacted by a fairly reputable magazine (Charleston Magazine) by an intern, saying they were doing a piece on the well-known Bull Island, and saw some photos I had posted on the site.  They’d like to use them and were willing to offer me a byline in their article.  Even before I knew about Jack and Ed, something smelled funny to me.  I responded with a letter saying that while I was honored they liked my work – a great deal of time and research as well as resources were spent in capturing those images.

Further, while I appreciated their concern for fiscal caution, I could not just simply give the images away.  I conservatively estimated their distribution at under 10,000 and using the online stock photo calculator looked for what the average going rate was for a 1/4 page editorial use.  The rate?  $150/image.  I quoted them this information and said that in the interests of amicability, and because I am not at the top of the photography food chain, I would be happy to give them one-time use rights for that issue at $50 per image and I had some great ideas for which ones they could choose from.

After a few emails back and forth, they thanked and informed me that they were going to go with some contributed images from other local photographers, unless of course I still wanted to contribute my own images.  Again, a red flag went off in the back of my head and I politely declined.  Then the person I was emailing with said something interesting…”Well, maybe we won’t run the story at all then!”  It spoke of exasperation, and my knee-jerk response was – “Why should I care?”  I didn’t say that of course, but let them know it was entirely their decision.

The article did run with some okay images (nothing like what I had even if I do say so myself), but the experience showed me that often the corporate world will always try to get you to relinquish your copyright for less than what its worth.  This same sentiment was echoed almost verbatim in Photoshop User Magazine years later!  I felt somewhat vindicated in reading this from two highly qualified attorneys long after my experience.

The lesson I learned – and the one being shared here today is to never be afraid of walking away from a deal.  If you are in negotiations and a proverbial “line in the sand” is drawn, consider why that line is even there – do they really want to walk away?  is it in their best interests to do so?  Is it in yours?  While aspiring photographers should always consider the value of contributing to charitable causes (and yes, this means sometimes giving your work away for free), a for-profit venture should never ask you to donate images to their cause.  If and when that ever happens, it never hurts to ask “why”?  Sure, in the end I did not have a photo published, but they also did not have the benefit of my images for their article.

Here’s a few images from what I sent them, for the curious in the house (click on each for a larger view):

Bull Island Sunrise

Arms from Boneyard Beach

Waves and Branches

Bull Island B/W

So, should I have given them away for “credit”?  Would you have?  Share your own thoughts on what you would have done in the comments or with me via email – I’d love to hear what others perspectives are.  (For the full back story on capturing these images, read that blog post here.  Have a great weekend and we’ll see you back here on Monday!

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9 comments for “Let's Make a Deal, or Not

  1. Michael Petersheim
    June 18, 2010 at 6:11 am

    Absolutely not. Really, anyone can give free pictures away, but every time you choose to let an entity use your photos for free you’re reinforcing their misconception that they should be able to get them for free, making it that much more difficult for you and everyone else to get appropriately compensated in the future. I guess it depends on how badly you want to be able to tell others that you have some published shots, but much of the respect for having published work (at least for me) stems from the understanding that the published work was paid for. The good thing about not being willing to give your work away for free is that you’ve got all the leverage in bargaining…

  2. June 18, 2010 at 7:40 am

    Thanks for posting this, Jason! If we are working for a non-profit, then by all means donate images, your time, etc. I don’t know about you, but I’ve found it to be very difficult to make money in any business by just giving my product away. ;o)

    Very good post. Thanks again!


  3. Myles Erwin
    June 18, 2010 at 7:54 am


    You are right on the money with this post. I appreciate your perspective on this situation. There are similar things going on, as you know, with certain contests out there. One local entity where I am is running a contest in which you could potentially win $10,000 if you win. Sounds great right! However, once you read the fine print (which you should ALWAYS read before entering your work in any contest) you’ll find the promotional company gets to keep all the rights in perpetuity for your entries. They don’t even say they’ll give you credit for the photos. So, all these thousands of photos people enter are now theirs- for free. They can use them anyway they see fit forever. I could really use the money if I were to win. I might even have a chance. But, not at the expense of losing credit for my images. Pretty shady deal if you ask me.


    • Michael Petersheim
      June 18, 2010 at 8:07 am

      I suppose you could try something with that entity similar to a network server getting hit with a denial of service; enter a bunch of junk, really crappy photos that no one would ever want to use, and get everyone you know to do the same. If they have to search through a hundred and fifty crap photos for every decent one, it might not be worth it anymore… 🙂

      • Myles Erwin
        June 18, 2010 at 10:22 am

        Well, I think they are already shooting themselves in the foot a little bit. Because looking through the photos that are there, it is almost like that. Because they left this so generic- I think it is less palatable to more professional shooters. Therefore, the level of images they are actually getting is on the lower end. Must be the risk they are willing to take. If they get 100,00o photos and 1% of those are really good- they have a database of 1000 images to use.

  4. Dieter Zakas
    June 18, 2010 at 9:03 pm

    I agree with you.

    Some years ago, I submitted a photo to a railfan magazine showing the “public” appearance of a newly-acquired locomotive by an area railroad. Sounds great, right?

    Well, yes and no. While my photo was published- and I got photo credit – my compensation consisted of a complimentary copy of the issue in which my photo appeared. Because of that, I decided, “never again,” unless I get cash.

  5. June 19, 2010 at 7:36 am

    Payment for magazines is a must. They are not non-profit organizations, but they expect you to be a non-profit photographer? Yeah, that’s going to work.

    Your post is very timely. A friend of mine who is an amazing low light photographer has recently had major issues with an image of his being used. He’s been photographing a local fire troop, and has allowed them to use images in exchange for photographing them. Well, one image ended up donated to a local function and appeared on the posters for the event.

    No photo credit.

    Then the same image was just run in the local paper without even contacting him.

    No photo credit or payment for the image!

    He’s now restructuring his website as he used to put up higher resolution images for readers to view. I’ve always kept my lower res ever since an incident with a magazine who thought I wouldn’t mind my photo showing up in an article with no photo credit…… Ugh!

  6. June 20, 2010 at 4:32 am

    Amen Jason.
    After the cost of repairs, travel, insurance for gear, liabilities, etc., these pictures cost money to produce. Magazine credit doesn’t buy groceries. I do pro-bono for some non-profit organizations I feel would benefit, have a good cause, and also would make good pics, however, my for-profit companies or clients making money off my work need to offer fair value. Free work also drags down the rates for everyone. I’ve been avoiding that more and more. I’ve always found if you don’t respect your own work (and rates), nobody else will. I don’t have any stake in the companies, but Fotoquote, Blinkbid, etc., will help with price negotiations.
    Great post Jason,

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