I have to tackle a tough...tough issue today. It's had me twisting in my sleep for weeks now. Frankly it's been bothering me for quite awhile and I took my time coming to the blog with it because I want to get it right.
Lately there has been heated discussions around a relatively new photo service named UNSPLASH. Check it out... www.unsplash.com Basically it's a site where photographers or even "non-photographers" can submit images which they in turn allow ANYONE to download for use in anyway they please. The idea behind that is the photographer...or "non-photographer" will get "EXPOSURE" or "RECOGNITION" in return.
Now, this isn't a new thing as I've stated before. I've heard from fellow photographers for at least 6 years now that they provide free photo/video work in return for the promise of a paid gig later on. Others who are even more dishonest..or delusional will even say that they are "giving back". I'm going to linger on that one for a moment. The concept of giving back..to "me" is when you have achieved a certain amount of success and you can't use another dime of income. You have too much already. How do you "give back" when you are still paying a mortgage/rent, your children's education fund isn't filled or your retirement account isn't fully funded?
My network of like-minded professional content creators/photographers is substantial. Very few, if any of them are in a position to turn down paid work. I'm certainly not there, every single cent counts. Free, giving back, exposure/recognition doesn't get me an inch closer to my financial obligations.
Back to Unsplash.
They bill themselves as "Beautiful FREE photos for Everyone". That means anyone, including businesses can go to their website and download unlimited amounts of photography (and some of it is very good) work without attribution or payment to the individual(s) who created them. Furthermore there is no requirement for Model or Property Releases which guarantees that the photographer and end user are likely to get sued. Don't believe me? Do a search on that website of any popular brand you can think of...sportswear, etc. You will not see a single RELEASE for those images in sight. Large companies like Apple will sue the pants off you should they get wind of their products/logos etc. being used commercially. That "EXPOSURE" you got in return for the image of a Nike sneaker you posted (and was subsequently downloaded and used commercially) won't be worth an ounce of mercy when that first lawyer letter hits your mailbox.
And Here We Are...
I'm not coming down on UNSPLASH in particular. Misguided as they are in that business model, they aren't doing anything unique. Over the years many of these companies have come and gone. Actually my issue is with this whole concept of free work or service in return for exposure or the promise of paid assignments later. This is one of the reasons the photography industry is going down the drain. If we present no value to potential clients/customers for the work we create, how can we expect them to respect us as valuable professionals. I've seen images obtained for "FREE" being used in major magazine publications without a single dime or recognition to the person who created it in the first place.
To put this who thing into perspective consider this: Magazines charge you for advertising space in their publication. Some of these magazines have a very wide and active distribution stream. Advertising in their pages will cost you thousands of dollars. Would it then be fair if said magazine obtained your image for "FREE" and used it on the front page without any consideration for you...and made millions each year?
Of course not...but that's exactly what's happening. Art departments that used to pay photographers to create images for their publications are now downloading "FREE" images from sites like UNSPLASH and using it to make money for themselves. They are doing it because WE ALLOW IT!!
In fact when you go unto UNSPLASH' site you don't need to log in and provide your credentials. Simply click on the image you want and go. No capturing of emails or company names, no notification to the photographer that his/her image(s) has been downloaded for commercial use...not a damn thing. I've heard tall-tales from the odd photographer about how providing free work got them so much exposure that it turned into a financial windfall. First off, those stories are mostly baloney. The one or two photographers that actually derived some benefit from that arrangement are few and far between. Most of the time they are never aware of who obtained their images and how they were used. I read a story just this morning about a photographer who claims to have "come across her work by accident" being used by a major company. She actually wrote to 'THANK" them for using her image...are you kidding me??!!
Listen, I've done plenty of free work and never under the guise of expecting exposure or future paid work. I've provided services to charities, non-profit organizations and even individuals. Years back a few friends and I offered free portrait services to groups of young single mothers living in halfway homes. These women and I should really say girls..are anywhere from 15 to 19 years of age. Kicked out of their homes by family members who disapproved of the pregnancies, abandoned by boyfriends who didn't want any part of a baby...no money and no prospects with a new mouth to feed. The charity provided only the basics for a limited time..food, shelter and clothing. My friends and I provided the very first portraits of mom and babies. That made me feel good and it was worth the price of FREE.
I'll continue to provide free work for causes I believe in, for projects I like and to people I choose. I will be in complete control of how those free images will be used and by whom. Any other work for which the recipient is deriving a financial benefit for themselves will be paid. I would rather get another job or sit on my camera gear smoking a cigar than work for free.
If this article sounds "pissed"...well that's because I am.
I'll be damned if I spend hours on end, dollars to bare wallet just to give away my best work for free or without some tangible benefit. It infuriates me when fellow photographers and even the "part-timers" who don't depend on the craft for their living, complain about how the industry is dying and how hard it is to convince clients to pay what the work is worth. When I have a legal issue I can call up my lawyer and get basic advice for FREE. When it comes time for work to be done he leads off with how much it's going to cost me. No apologies, no excuses. Why should photography be any different?