Amateurs and hobbyists, don’t sell yourself short

I consider myself a photography hobbyist, a very passionate one. I spend a lot of time shooting photographs as well as blogging about it here. And even though I’m not a professional, I do license and sell my photographs from time to time.

When I started, I had an amateur mindset. I thought it was cool if a magazine, especially a glossy one, wanted to publish my photo. I didn’t seriously consider the issue of payment. And this is exactly what the publishers are hoping for. They frequently lure amateur photographers to offer their photos for free, with the promise of a photo credit.

I’m here to tell you, don’t fall for this trick. These guys usually troll through Flickr and other photo sharing sites in the hopes of getting something, something valuable, for nothing.

Things are different now. My expectation is that people need to pay. I price my work like it has value. And this goes for non-profits too. Some groups use “the non-profit card” to get stuff for free. Do these groups expect painters, electricians and accountants to offer their services for free?

Some of you might say, “I can’t do that, I’m not a business person”. I understand. I’ve been there myself. My perspective back then was,”well this is a hobby, any little bit of money I get is just icing on the cake”. One day, I completely changed my perspective. It made all the difference. Now I say, “Well this is hobby and if I don’t make the sale, that’s OK, but I refuse to under price my photos”.

On Smugmug, for example, where you can purchase my photos, my sales didn’t change when I raised my prices. Honestly, sales weren’t great anyway, even with rock bottom prices. When I raised my prices, I still ended up getting the sale. The difference, of course, is that I now make a whole lot more profit. My rate of sale didn’t change but each sale means a lot more, both financially and psychologically. By the way, low sales on sites like SmugMug aren’t unusual. Some of my friends, who have much bigger sites, say the same thing. Unless you are doing event photography, commercially licensing photos are more lucrative than some random sales through the website.

The bottom line is, if you don’t take yourself seriously, who else will? Certainly not a stranger. Don’t give your photos away. Put a price on them and raise your prices as you become more confident. It will help the industry, the professional photographers and it will benefit you. You will value your work more, project more confidence and start to think more like an entrepreneur.

UPDATE: Read my followup post: Paying for my photograph with a hamburger.

18 thoughts on “Amateurs and hobbyists, don’t sell yourself short

  1. Credit lines don’t pay the bills, and if a large nonprofit asks for free services, go into their parking lot and check out the cars being driven by administrators. You’ll likely find Land Rovers, Mercedes, more.

    I do some free work for a small organization here maybe about 4 times a year. The people are good and I’ve gained some good business contacts through them. They notify me well in advance and don’t ask for too much, usually some photos of an event or a quick staged shot for a brochure. My litmus test for charities is that if it isn’t an organization I would normally volunteer for, I’m not interested.

    I pulled everything off Flickr. The requests got to the point of highly annoying and I really don’t need that type of exposure.

    1. I absolutely have no problems with volunteering. Even volunteering photo services on occasion. Using a pre-shot picture for free is different of course. I have “donated” some photos for charity auctions too but that again is a different story in my book.

  2. It depends on the organization.. but NEVER prostitute one’s art.
    Your cameras, film, memory card,computer and service supplier are not free.
    the directors of some “Charity” make Big Bucks.
    Here in Toronto, a manager of Salvation Army was making Plus $100,000!
    and lifting gifts by the truckload, from Toy-R-Us etc. Nice. Oh a bout 20+ truckloads
    of new toys and clothes went retail thru his company..
    volunteer your time but not any service.
    Tax free doesn’t mean cannot make a profit..
    The more one charges the more you are a acknowledged.

  3. I have never sold a picture, but was curious if you have any ballpark figure about what is a fair price.

    1. Laurent, price for licensing can get complicated. It all depends on the size of the photo, where it is used and how large is the distribution.

      For simple sales, you can look at the prices I have under the Gallery link above.

  4. You are absolutely right. I don’t have anything worth buying, therefore nothing for sale. But keeping a tight rein on unpaid use of your work is essential to the health of the creative community in general.

    1. It seems like the concept of selling in the creative community is a touchy thing. Often times creative people don’t seem to think of themselves as business people.

  5. Very much agree with the sentiment of this article. Early on when I was getting into photography I had a couple of photos used (with my permission) for free. It didn’t take long for me to realize that was a bad idea.

    I’ve had a few occasions since where someone asked if they could use a photo. “Sure,” I responded, “let’s talk about licensing fees”. Never heard back from any of them. Which is fine by me, 100% of nothing is exactly the same as 0% of everything after all.

    The sad thing is, they all probably found some starry-eyed amateur with a suitable photograph who was more than happy to give away their work. As long as there are people who will do that, there will always be an expectation that photography can be had for free.

    1. Paul, thanks for your visit and comment.

      Yes, looks like we are in agreement and I think we need to help get the word out about this. Though, I realize, reversing the trend for free (or inexpensive) images is indeed tough to change.

  6. Nice one. As a professional it always annoys me when a client drops off the scopes because they can get something good enough to suffice from a star-struck weekend warrior happy to ‘work’ for a byline.
    I wonder if the weekend warrior would feel the same way if I was able to undercut them in their job-amateur dentist anybody? Weekend warrior accountant?

    If your work is good enough to be used,(and amateurs are perfectly capable of producing top quality publishable work), then you deserve to be paid and to pay taxes on that which benefits everybody. Don’t let cheapskate publishers and people like the BBC take you for a mug! Help end the ‘photography is easy, anybody can do it so it should be free’ mindset!

  7. Newspapers like The Guardian pay standard space rates for photos used-it depends on the size they are published. Never be afraid to ask. If a cheapskate publisher tries to get photos for nothing or a byline then ask them if they work for free and walk away if they wont pay. It really is the only way to change the current attitude that digital photography is easy so photos should be free.

    1. Some of those prices are weird because SmugMug recently did a programming change to the pricing module which created, I think, some rounding errors.

      The prices can certainly be changed to any dollar figure. I just haven’t done that, yet.

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