My reply to the guy who wants to use my picture for free.

Hi Steve,

Firstly, I’m glad you like the picture. Its always good to know that our work gets appreciated! Your email has thrown up some interesting points that has started quite a buzz in my photography circles. You won’t be surprised that this isn’t the first time that I have been asked if I will grant usage rights for my pictures for no fee. And you probably won’t be surprised to learn that many of my friends in the creative industries are often asked for their services in exchange for a credit or a thank-you note. What might surprise you though is how often we get emails like this.

I have no problem with charities using my work for free but, out of necessity, I choose which ones I work for very carefully. I think its very difficult for people to appreciate just how much time and effort and money goes into being a full-time professional photographer. How hard we have to work, how expensive it is to purchase and maintain and insure our equipment that, whilst seeming to be getting cheaper and cheaper to amateur photographers, becomes more and more expensive for the pros as the demands of the picture libraries like Istock or Getty Images get higher. We have a hard life, and the only reward we get, apart from the pleasure of the job itself, is when someone, either a company or magazine or an individual uses our work and pays for that usage. So when someone tells us that they love our work so much that they want to use it for free, its a little bit like me walking into a corner shop and telling the shop keeper “Hey, Me and my friends here are all really hungry. We couldn’t help noticing how great these cakes look and were wondering if you didn’t mind if we just ate a few of them for free. We won’t sell any, just eat them ourselves. Is that ok?”. It’s really easy to see how crazy that would be isn’t it? But in my murky world of online, digital marketing where no one sees anything actually being bought or sold it’s much harder to appreciate the connection between product and value. There is a now fairly famous couple of letters written by the photographer Pat Pope to the band Garbage after they had asked to use his pictures for free where he said that if they value his work at zero, then don’t use it, but if it is worth something to them, then pay what it’s worth.

Pat’s letter to Garbage

Pat’s final letter to Garbage

But Steve, I think I’m using your email to make a much bigger point about a much bigger problem. Let’s put this into perspective. It’s not for profit, it’s just a few T shirts for you and your mates and much, much more importantly in my opinion, you have actually bothered to ask for my permission to do something that so many people would have just done anyway. And that is very commendable and I am actually very grateful for that.

So, here’s my offer: Put my name on the picture, discreetly, don’t ruin a good design (I saw your design on Twitter and thought you had done a good job on that if that was you.) Make one extra T shirt and send it to me, size medium, and we will call it quits.

If you agree to that, let me know and I will send you my address.

I hope that that will be ok for you. Its a principal thing. I’m happy that you bothered to contact me and I need a new T shirt! 🙂

Kind regards.



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