Home > Education, Tips > Oh, The Places You Won’t Go (as a photographer)

Oh, The Places You Won’t Go (as a photographer)

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If you’ve read some of my past posts on licensing and copyright, you know I try to spread the gospel on why copyright is so important. You might remember my debacle with a contractor working for Applebee’s who wanted my images for free. So you can imagine my chagrin when I come across photographers who are giving their work away. It not only hurts them but it hurts other photographers.

Take a look at the screen grab above. Notice the line that reads “we will provide copyright free photos”. I really don’t think they understand the concept. Let’s review. When anyone takes a picture, be they a professional or not, they have created a unique work of art and the copyright remains with them. Copyright means just what it says: the right to copy. You decide who has what right to your work. By giving away your work, you are leaving money on the table and allowing someone to do whatever they want with your work.

Wedding photographers have long made a living by up-selling. Let’s say they charge $2,500 for a wedding which includes a few prints and maybe an album. If the couple or their families want prints or additional albums, that’s an extra charge. This is a form of licensing. The photographer is saying, you have the right to the prints and album I promised you, but if you want more products you may not print them yourself which would deny me income. You must pay more for more copies of my work.

The classic example I give is of the Harry Potter books. When Hollywood made the movies based on the books, do you think they did so without asking J.K. Rowling? I live in Orlando, home of theme parks like Universal which has a section dedicated to the boy wizard. In 2011, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter boosted the theme park’s revenue by 8.2% to $393 million. There are plans to expand the park next year. Do you think Ms. Rowling just gave away the rights to her work? Every toy wand, Halloween costume, DVD sale, etc. means more money in her pockets. That is the power of licensing and copyright. Imagine if she had given away her copyright and companies made millions of dollars from her work and did not have to give her a single dime!

Notice also, in the example above, how they are willing to undercut another photographer who might charge less. This is another sign of unprofessionalism. Only you can know what your business costs are. How much does it cost to keep the lights on and feed your family? That varies from person to person. If you charge less than normal, you are in essence making less than what it takes to pay your bills. How can you expect your business to survive? Read my post on figuring out what to charge.

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Here is another photographer who is giving away his copyright. Let’s take the last example of “Shoot the Band”. OK, I’m in a band and hire him to take our photograph for some promotional items. It goes on our website and flyers we post around town. The marketing attracts people to our concerts which means more money for us. We release a CD and use the images on the cover. That’s more revenue for us and none for him. Let’s say we make it big and sign a big record contract. We use the images on the new CD. The pictures are used in Rolling Stone magazine (which makes money from subscriptions and news stands). Again, money for us, money for the magazine and NOTHING for the photographer.

Are you familiar with the album cover of Maroon 5′s “Hands All Over”? Here’s the story: a 19-year old took that picture. The band’s management found it on Flickr and contacted her. They did a reshoot based on the photo and viola! She’s gone on to do major shoots for clients like Elle. But let’s say it had worked out a little differently. Let’s pretend she took that photo for a little-known band called Maroon 5. The band makes it big and uses the photo on an album cover that sells millions of copies. If she had given away her copyright, she would not be entitled to any further compensation.

Remember, when you download a song, buy a DVD or book you don’t own that work. You are purchasing a license for personal use. If you want to profit from it; like using a song in a YouTube video, charging people to watch a movie or making a film based on a book, you have to pay the artist.

Look, it comes down to getting paid for your work. You go to work Monday through Friday, 9-to-5 and you get a paycheck. That’s fair, right? So why would a photographer not want to get paid for their work? The more money someone makes from your work, the more you can charge.  You are not only leaving money on the table but you are degrading the industry. Clients like Applebee’s will expect “free” photos. Perhaps you heard about how the National Association of Realtors asked renowned blogger and educator David Hobby for free photos. It cheapens photos and trains the general public to devalue the work. I can’t tell you how many times a client has asked or argued over why they can’t use my photos for whatever purpose they want. They say “well the other photographer just gave me all the images on a disk and let me do whatever I want with them”. That is the difference between a pro and an amateur. A pro knows that being a professional photographer isn’t just about taking pictures. It’s a business and you have to know about pricing, licensing, copyright, insurance, taxes, marketing, etc.

When you shoot for a client you have to specify how they can use the images. Can they post it on social media? Can they take it to Walgreens to make prints? Is it personal use or will they profit from the work?

Protect your copyright. It’s worth something.

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  1. November 30, 2013 at 7:09 am

    Spotting a great photographer is really easy if you are a photographer but most other people can easily be taken in by ‘extras’ like those that you have highlighted Harry.
    It’s great advice in this blog, and particularly the mention about under cutting prices.
    Cynical readers might think ‘ah, of course he doesn’t want people to undercut him’, but the truth is; no good photographer NEEDS to under cut another. They always compete by offering a great service and outstanding images.

    My golden rule when looking for photographers to work with us is to check that their work isn’t relying mainly on photoshop for visual impact. In practice, this usually wipes out 90% of the pack!

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