A few days ago, in response to my post about Dell using one of my photos for some promotional purposes, a professional photographer e-mailed me. He was courteous, but wanted to know why I felt compelled to give my photos away for free, when other folks are trying to make a living at photography.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been asked about this. I’ve talked to quite a few photographers on this subject, some of them are close friends. In the end, photography is a hobby so I don’t look to derive any major income from it. If that upsets existing business models, then I’m sorry, but it’s a reality…and it will only continue to get worse.

In the end I go back and forth on the subject. I understand how some folks feel threatened by the glut of free images out there, but a few friends are somewhat glad. Why? Well either they’ve used their free images on Flickr to transition to a paying career, or it’s forced them to up their game and in the end get more work from clients that are willing to pay and understand/realize the value/quality of the work they do.

What are your thoughts?


11 Responses to Giving Photos Away – Are the Flickr Kids Ruining Professional Photography?

  1. Chuck Welch says:

    Professional programmers still make a living though there are open source coders.
    Open source photography is fine if you’re searching for a stock image, but professional photographers are still best for layout work, full-access event photography, and specific needs.
    As for photography as art, Ansel Adams still would have made a living had Flickr existed during his years.

  2. Chris Wilson says:

    Chuck make some great points. As someone with a background working in graphic design I echo his thoughts. Professional photography isn’t going away.
    As far as sharing photos for free, I find that it would be more hassle than anything else to retain the rights to my own photos. I’m not trying to make money with them, so sharing them is the path of least resistance.

  3. Agree with Chuck and Chris. There is a place for everyone.
    As a designer, I come across the same dilemma with some of my friends who find absurd those websites where you can get logos for a (very small) fraction of the market price. I don’t see a problem with it. Most of the designers that participate in those communities are students or young professionals just starting. I believe it’s a good experience and a good transition place. On the end, comes down to: I work with visual communication because I’m passionate about it, so I want to see everyone able to use the best available within their reach.
    The same happens with me working with clients that have different photography budgets. I’ll always find a way to accommodate them in the best way possible. It’s great to have options like Flickr or Istockphoto where you can obtain images for free or affordable prices, as well as Getty Images, Jupiter Images, Veer… Again there is a place (and market) for everyone.
    Photography *is* an expensive hobby, though. If you can go head and charge it ;-)

  4. David Parmet says:

    My CC terms are non-commercial, share and non-deriv. Being a wanna-be pro-photog myself, I’m loath to take away an opportunity from a professional.
    So honestly, I’ve turned down a couple of opportunities to get my pictures in publications and other commercial enterprises in return for my name in lights. I know the business model sucks but I’m not going to take a byline as payment because they don’t want to pay the day rate for a professional.
    Just my two cents.

  5. FoL says:

    I travel a lot – been to almost 40 countries on 6 continents. I’ve all but stopped taking photos unless people I know are in them. I know that saying “all the great photos have been taken” is like saying “let’s close the patent office because everything has already been invented.” But I go to Google or Flickr when I need a picture for a presentation. 99% of the time I find what I need.

  6. jharr says:

    Excellent discussion, I’ve had a long standing issue with spec work and giveaways, but honestly there’s tremendous value in the photos and content people are creating today. What’s important to remember is that you can’t go back in time and capture many of these moments, if pros or agencies failed to capture them at the time that’s not your issue.

  7. First off. Stop your whining. If you’re a photographer and you’re complaining about the digital photo revolution, or the impact that digital cameras are having on your business, you’re missing the real opportunity. It seems like whenever there’s a market disruption to an entrenched business model that someone always wants to cry…get over it.
    Instead of being a victim of circumstance, take the lead and embrace the change by creating a new market or angle that enboldens your art form.
    Now is the time to ante up, tell better stories, engage the common person and create evangelists from your work. No one will ever forget that classic picture of the protester in Tiannemen Square standing in front of the tank. Take that picture. Be that kind of photographer. Have that kind of eye. Anything less is a cop-out.

  8. There are endless images to photograph and almost as equally photographers to capture them. Photographer basically = Person that records light; that has been everyone at some point including my 4 year old daughter. I don’t think distributing images by fee or free has ever been a problem because most pro’s are hired on an assignment basis, I suppose a speculative stock photographer or agencies that broker the images may feel threatened, but the stock industry for photographers has been in the dumpers for years. Keep on shooting.. You have a great eye.

  9. MLDina says:

    I don’t think your friends should take it too personally. There’s a lot of what I’ll refer to as ‘volunteer’ services out there- whether it be free photos, consulting, ppc guides and on and on and on. People will always search for what they’re looking for, and if they really want it for free, can probably find it without too much effort. This is the internet age, after all. You can google anything!

  10. Beer Blog says:

    I say that Flickr is helping professional photography. I am not one for the culture but I would say that having competition only enhances the quality of work, and if some college students or younger people get their chance to be seen I say let ‘em have it!

  11. Hi,
    Good and informative article.
    Thanks for sharing.

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