There is a persistent thinking in the world of professional photographers that if you are not selling or licensing your pictures, you shouldn’t make them visible to anyone other than your friends and family. That, if you put your photos out there for anyone to use for free, it is bad for their and the industry’s business, and thus immoral. This, more than a decade after places like Flickr, Instagram, Photobucket and others have successfully operated under the premise of free photo exchange.
Let me start by saying that, for most of my professional career, I have been involved in licensing photography. From pictures that I’ve licensed for over $250,000 to building and selling photo agencies, generating revenue with photography is in my DNA. However, I have never feared or demonized the large universe of photo enthusiasts that decide to share their images for free. For a few simple reasons:
- Free photo suppliers are not idiots. Nor are they being manipulated by evil tech entrepreneurs who have conned them. Free photo platforms clearly indicate that when posted, images can be downloaded by anyone for free. In some places, like Flickr, it even allows users to select the restriction level, using Creative Commons. One would have to be particularly stupid to submit photos and not be aware of their policy.
- Free photos do not hurt the market. At least not for talented professionals. Talented professionals have nothing to fear from free photos, because, well, they have talent. Their images are above and beyond what anyone else can do and thus command an appropriate pricing. Buyers have no problem paying for quality work. Those who feel threatened by free photos are usually photographers whose quality of work is the same, or under, the quality of images that can be found on those sites.
- Pro photographers would not want to deal with a free photo “buyer” anyway. The reason someone seeks free photos is that they have no budget for photography. If there were no free photos, they would not be converted to licensing images but rather stealing them. Eliminating all free photos sites will not lead to a sudden uprise of new photo buyers.
- Free platforms are not run by evil, tech savvy greedy con men. Well, they might be greedy but like any businessman, from your local dry cleaner to Jeff Bezos. In fact, some are doing very well. So much so that they hire photographers to shoot photos that are then offered for free. So while the images might be free, the photographers are getting paid. see more here.
It is a complete fallacy to believe and perpetuate the misconception that free photos ruin the photography market. Or that photographers that supply sites like Unsplash, Pexels, Pixabay, Flickr, etc are doing a disservice to themselves and the rest of the photography community. It propagates ignorance, a misunderstanding of the marketplace and a very conservative view of the photography world. Not surprisingly, it comes from the same people that initially called Instagram ‘wrong”, ‘bad”,”evil” and are now all over it. It also feeds into a popular belief that if someone cannot make a living with their photos, it is the fault of “others”. A bit like blaming “immigrants” for stealing their job. Certainly good for click baiting, not so for reality.
Free photo suppliers and free photos sites are not the cause of hardship in the photography world. Pro photographers are. Those who will sell their images or services for less than their competition. Services, like photo agencies, that bundle and license images in buffet-type pricing, mixing high-quality images with sub par production. What hurts the photo world is publications that prefer any low-cost imagery than quality, exclusive content. It is Ad agencies that believe their uncle takes better pictures than a pro or that any UGC content is just that much better. Or search engines that deceitfully comfort users into believing that all that is on the internet is free. Those are the real enemy of professional photography. Not the free photos sites.
Photo by khawkins04