Free Photos – bull elk photo

Bull Elk bugling, Jasper National Park, Canada.

Bull Elk bugling, Jasper National Park, Canada.

Hey Folks,

I had another photo request for free use of my images today; they come in pretty regularly, it seems, particularly for wildlife and landscape photography. We nature lovers obviously love what we do, and so must have a desire to give our work away for free. How can we not?

I’ll be the first to admit it folks; these are tough times, for buyers and sellers alike. There’s no denying that truth. I thought I’d try to find some kind of compromise here. I always like to develop a relationship with someone who may potentially pay for my work, and I also wanted to help these people out – theirs is a just and worthwhile cause. And hey, maybe helping these folks out might provide the impetus for some real economic activity in the world? I hoped to do my bit to help the economy get rolling, my own little stimulus plan, if you will (I still can’t believe the government got away with labeling theirs a ‘stimulus package‘). At the same time, I didn’t really want to give away my work for free. What to do?

I tried to explain to the person on the phone; I listened closely, and sympathized – “yes, I realize you’re a non-profit organization, but  my business, on the other hand, is NOT a non-profit“. This didn’t clarify things, apparently.

A different tact:  “Well, you see, my rent doesn’t go down according to the charity work that your business does, and the food I eat doesn’t become free simply because I did a good deed for the day“. We got nowhere.

What to do? I had to think harder. How does one find that confluence of non-profit and profit, that junction of free and I can eat this week? I thought further; ‘well, when people license my images, or buy a print, they are paying for the quality of my work – they buy quality’. So, I made up a little Action in Photoshop that solved the problem (for those “non-photoshop users”, an ‘action‘ is an automated series of steps to process the image – it may include contrast, saturation, resizing, etc, whatever little steps one might use regularly – a handy tool).

If you click on the photo above you’ll see a larger version of the standard Rights-Managed version of this bull elk photo. Scroll over the image and click on the arrow, center left, for the ‘non-profit‘ version.

I presented both images to the lady, (not this exact photo here, a different one) and explained how I’d solved the dilemma; they could use the “non-profit version” for free. Within a short period of time I had a credit card #, and they had the version of the photo they liked most.

I think this might be a useful program. For fellow photographers out there who might be interested, I can email you the action, if you’d like to add it to your arsenal of digital processing weaponry. But really, I’d suggest you get creative and try to come up with your own version. And remember, non-profit doesn’t mean that YOUR business needs to be non-profit. Respect your work, respect yourself, and respect the business of photography. If you can’t do that, why should anyone else?



8 thoughts on “Free Photos – bull elk photo

  1. Carlton Ward

    Hello Carl,
    I just wanted to say Thank You. I have lots of friends that work for non-profit groups and they are always hitting me up for images or my time to work on their projects, etc..
    I have been declining my time & images lately as it doesn’t pay off. I have been guilty of allowing friends to use some of my low-res images with my copyright typed across them in hopes that they will come back and buy prints or usage rights and that rarely happens.
    I am not a professional but have produced a few quality images that I feel are worthy of my asking price and your message here is a great reminder for me to stick to my guns.
    I love the quote that “non-profit doesn’t mean that YOUR business needs to be non-profit”.
    Thank you again Carl and your work has been very inspirational to me.

  2. marijka

    Yup, mom always told me that if you give it away for free, that’s what they’ll think it’s worth. (Sounds like sex advice, but she was actually talking about my tendency to work extra hours off the books.)

  3. Bret Edge

    This is a common issue and one I just don’t see going away any time soon. It’s unfortunate because there are a lot of photographers who are willing to give away their work for free just to see their name published in a magazine/book/postcard. Something I’ve done with clients who can’t pay much or at all is trade an image for ad space. The last time I did that I traded a cover image for a $3,000 full page ad – WAY more than I would have been paid for the cover image. There are ways to get around the “free” thing when you’re dealing with a reasonable person. If only everyone were reasonable.

    As for your solution, I laughed my arse off. Classic! I might just have to try that the next time I get one of these requests. Thanks for the chuckle this morning, Carl!

  4. Mark

    I agree with Bret, classic solution to a common issue. Now perhaps you can SELL that action and not give it away for free. 😉 Love your handling of this.

  5. Carl D Post author

    Hey Folks,

    Thanks all.

    Carlton, thanks for posting, I appreciate it. I just checked out your site, you have some great work. You certainly have no need to be giving your work away freely, unless you really want to do so. And sometimes, too, I grant usage of my images to people for free – but I do so on my terms, and in those circumstances that suit me. I think it’s important to not feel like you have to do someone else a favor – because it’s not really a favor then, is it?

    Bret, yes, there are multitudes of ways around the issue of ‘fair price’ .. barter is one that can work .. but only if it’s something that might yield you some real return. An ad can be like that – kind of like saying “let me use your photo for free and I’ll give you a lottery ticket”. 🙂

    Hey Mark – I might give that action away – but not the full version. I have a watered down version that doesn’t work so well. 🙂



  6. Kerry

    Having been involved with not-for-profit organisations, I wouldn’t give anything for nothing. I have seen how little they value things that are given, and also the squandering of cash that is given. I have also seen that the people who are running some of these organisations are the last people to ever put their hands in their own pockets and help: do as I say not as I do!

    Your image is superb by the way.

  7. Sally Morgan

    I think this is a very neat answer to a perennial problem. As a wildlife and environment collection, we get frequent emails asking to use the image for free, both from charities and individuals with their own websites. I shall try this in future.
    Sally, Ecoscene

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