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Tuesday, January 1, 2013

"Can I Use Your Photograph For Free"?

"Can I take your image and put it on my website? It's really good" The old "I like your image, but i don't have the money to pay for it" gambit. There is an impression in the general public that "wildlife and nature photographers" are not as good as "portrait/wedding photographers". That anyone with a point and shoot camera can go out and shoot a sunset and make it look good or that anyone can whip out a superzoom camera (like the Pentax X5 - what we photographers call a "bridge camera" - meaning it has the sensor of a compact but the superzoom capability of a supertelephoto lens) and take a photo of a wild animal. Talk to any image stock agency. They will not take an image from a "bridge camera". If they see Nikon P800 in your EXIF data file, they will not take your image. Why? Because they have a standard and to them, the gold standard is a DSLR body with a lens. A good wildlife photographer costs just as much as a good portrait photographer.

Why? Namely because of the knowledge that we have learned in dealing with wild animals or knowing our environment and how to create a compelling photo out of an environment where the factors are constantly changing, most often not in your favor. Animals don't hold still and we have to often compensate for the sudden movement of an animal by using the photography knowledge that we have gained from years of shooting images. We often have equipment at higher costs than the average portrait/wedding photographer. Have you seen just exactly how much a decent super-telephoto lens costs these days? In May of 2014, I will be making a $10,500 investment in my career just on a single lens that will allow me to photograph raptors from far enough distance away that I will not stress them. That is how committed I am to the quality of my images.

Any wildlife photographer will tell you that technique and equipment matters.

In the business world and I spent 6 years in real estate (a career I have no interest in going back into) selling businesses: Knowledge costs money and assets cost money. As a creative, the same holds true. Our knowledge gleaned from years and years of photography experience should hold the same standard as a MBA who has completed a 4 year baccalaureate business degree and gone on to pursue and obtain his Masters degree. Our equipment and our photographic output is equivalent to the assets of any business and thus subject to COGS as would any business. The ultimate upshot of any request to submit our consent for the usage of our photography for free is the "respect factor". We are not accorded the same respect as any other business person. Because we are creative, we get the old "pat on the back and a 'good work, ol'chum'." and then they ask us if they can make a print out of our hard work "for free". I don't think that would fly with a CMA accountant"Hey, how about you do my books for me, and if I like the job you do for me, I'll see about referring more people to you." More than likely, he would tell me where to go and how to get there.

Photography is an art-form and those of us who are striving to make a business out of it are paying our bills with the money that we earn. I wouldn't go to my friend who owns a landscaping business and ask him to do my front yard for free. Instead of trees, a back hoe and nursery assets, we use photography to put food on the table. And that should be respected as much as any other occupation. We don't work for free and We shouldn't be expected to work for free.

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