(this is a repost of a note I wrote recently on my Facebook page)

In the light of more frequent requests for free photos and services and in recognition of the fact that most come via this page, I thought I would share this here. A line has to be drawn somewhere. Hopefully this clarifies things for all concerned.

(Adapted from Tony Wu, 2011)

Reasons Why Professional Photographers Cannot Work for Free

As professional photographers, we receive requests for free images on a regular basis. In a perfect world, each of us would love to be able to respond in a positive manner and assist, especially with projects or efforts related to areas such as education, social issues, and conservation of natural resources. It is fair to say that in many cases, we wish we had the time and resources to do more to assist.

Unfortunately, such are the practicalities of life that we are often unable to. Circumstances vary but there are a number of recurring themes set out below, which will hopefully make things clearer for you and avoid any misunderstandings in future.

Photographs Are Our Livelihood

If we give away our images for free, or spend too much time responding to requests for free images, we cannot make a living.

We Do Support Worthy Causes

Most of us do contribute photographs, sometimes more, to support certain causes. Each of us can and does provide images without compensation on a selective basis.

We Have Time Constraints

It takes a lot of time to respond to requests, exchange correspondence, prepare and send files, and then follow-up to find out how our images were used and what objectives, if any, were achieved. Time is always in short supply.

Pleas of “We Have No Money” Are Often Difficult to Fathom

Such requests frequently originate from organisations with a lot of cash on hand (which is easy to check in public records). Certainly enough to pay photographers a reasonable fee.

We Have Real Budget Constraints

With some rare exceptions, photography is not a high paid profession. We have chosen this path in large part due to the passion we have for visual communication, visual art, and the subject matters in which we specialise.

Moreover, being a professional photographer involves significant investment. Things break and need to be repaired (and insured). We need back-ups of all our data. Investment in essential hardware and software is required, as we need to stay current with new technology and best practices.

Getting “Credit” Doesn’t Mean Much

Part and parcel with requests for free images is often the promise of providing “credit” and “exposure” in the form of a link, or a specific mention, in lieu of payment.

There are two major problems with this:

First, getting credit isn’t compensation. We did, after all, create the images so credit is automatic. It's not something that we hope a third party will kindly grant to us.

Second, credit doesn’t pay bills. We work hard to make the money required to reinvest in our equipment and to cover business expenses. On top of that, we need to make enough to pay for basic necessities like food, utilities, toiletries, etc. Not too much to ask, is it? Even a cup of coffee would be a reward sometimes.


In short, photography is one of those professions which is uniquely expected to provide free product on a regular basis when this would not be tolerated in any other trade. No reasonable and competent photographer would agree to such unreasonable conditions either. We do allow for the fact that some inexperienced photographers or people who happen to own cameras may indeed agree to work for free, but as the folk wisdom goes: “You get what you pay for.”

Please bear this in mind in future. Thank you.