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"Hi there, do you have any pics to go with this?" Uh, no.
Is it ever OK to give away your photography for free? Here's Lottie with a complicated answer
I have a confession to make: I am a hypocrite. I’m about to tell you not to give your press trip snaps away for free. But reader: I have done exactly that. More than once. Please, let me explain…
I love taking photos. I get obsessive over it. I like to find unusual angles or views from alternative spots where others don’t think to press the shutter from. I like to get up close to things to capture the detail that tells part of the story, like the lichen in this photo I took of an ancient stone in Dartmoor this week, or the swirly lines of the rocks on Carne Beach in Cornwall. I don’t purport to be a Good Photographer — I leave that title to my esteemed colleagues, Nori Jemil, Diana Jarvis and Jordan Banks — but I have fun behind the lens and I love curating my Instagram feed to show the variety of shots I’ve taken.
The problem, though, is that I often get distracted by the visual elements and I forget to take notes — mental or physical hand-written bookish notes. The writer in me gets sidelined and my inner wannabe photographer takes over. Pretty silly when, really, I should be focusing on the story I’ve got to tell with actual words.
That’s why I stopped carrying a proper camera around with me a good few years ago. My writing suffered as a result of my obsession with taking pictures — and the fact that I found it almost impossible to juggle notepad, pen, phone, camera, tripod and all the rest. I know plenty of people who can do it, and they’re the real pros, but I just can’t do it all. That old coding rule we’ve talked about before — do one thing and do it well — comes to mind. That’s me. That’s why I don’t take “proper” pictures anymore.
But one of the other reasons I stopped carrying my Sony around with me is because no one wanted to pay for the privilege of publishing my photos. When I was a staffer, I didn’t get paid for my words like a freelancer does and so I just assumed it was normal to include my own photos in the piece, too. Then when I went freelance in 2018, I’d send a Dropbox or Drive link where the editor could find pictures. I was literally giving away my assets for free, without a care in the world. Only when I became a little more business savvy did I realise I was missing a trick here. When an editor asked:
Hey, do you have any pics to go with this?
I should have answered, “Sure! What do you pay for photos?” Once I started doing this, and most responded with a “Sorry, we don’t pay for pictures,” I got a little jaded. Not to mention, my friendships with photographers in the industry grew stronger over the years and I realised I was doing them a disservice by offering their style of content for free. Sure, my photos aren’t anywhere near as good as theirs, but just by giving it away, I’m devaluing their profession. If the tables were turned, I’d be livid at the idea of a photographer friend writing for free.
And so I put down my camera. Now, I rarely travel with my Sony A7ii unless I know photos are essential and I’m going to be compensated for them. That’s why I lugged it around Scotland earlier this year with Steph, so I could get shots like this (below) that I really hope make it into my Dog-Friendly Weekends guidebook.
Now, I’ll still occasionally send a photograph or two for free. The Telegraph, for example, often ask for pictures of me in situ (like this one) and so I oblige, usually with a snap from my phone. Or sometimes, if there’s an interviewee that really deserves to be pictured in my piece, I’ll make sure I get a photograph before I leave so they get their moment in the limelight.
When organisations ask for photos, I’ll still trot out the “what do you pay?” line and while most of the time the news isn’t completely thrilling, it can occasionally pay dividends. A commercial client I recently submitted copy for asked if I had any pictures from my research trip. Of course I did, I said, but you can’t have them for free. I sent them a selection to choose from and they picked out a number of photos they wanted to run alongside my copy. “How does £500 sound?” I said. “Great,” they replied. I duly sent them the paperwork and, now for the happy ending: my invoice is due to be paid next week.
Who actually pays for your pictures?
BBC Travel — £20 or US$25
loveEXPLORING.com — £12, but only for hard-to-find subjects or bespoke commissioned photography
Wizz Air inflight — £400 for full feature/£40 per image for smaller stories
Wanderlust — up to £500 for a selection of pictures (print only)
Bradt Guides — £5 per photo chosen for guidebook
Know of anymore? Share on Twitter using #TTW and we’ll RT
Who to follow
Nori Jemil — who you’ll hear from in a future edition of this newsletter — has just written the book on travel photography and shares her work on Instagram.
Tweet of the week
A deeply frustrating and little discussed issue in our industry…
This is a really interesting Guardian piece about a Black History Month tour in Bristol, which doesn’t shy away from the ugly truth about the city.
Steph’s latest piece for CNN is a fantastic story about a Medellin neighbourhood that was transformed from a trash heap to a thriving community.
And while we’re on CNN… This one’s all about a highly adorable, life-saving dog (by the ever excellent Julia Buckley).
This is edition #1 of our November photography series. Want to learn more about how selling your writing and photography works? Become a paid subscriber for just £5 a month. Here’s what you can expect from November…
9 November: Jamie Lafferty, Stuart Butler and other pro writer-photographers tell us how they balance photography and writing on the road.
16 November: The editor of Wizz Air’s inflight magazine divulges what they want from your photos, and what they’re commissioning right now.
23 November: Nori Jemil and Diana Jarvis show us how to improve our photography and take the right photos on the road.