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Will you work for us for free so we can "earn" a living?

Mike Hall Clouds 05-29-14 02 small.jpg

Before I go into any details, I want to make something perfectly clear. I'm not telling you that you should or shouldn't give your photos away for free. That is an individual choice. You don't need to justify that choice to me or anyone else. This is just my personal opinion on my own work and what I choose to do with it. That being said, on with the story.

I was recently contacted by an employee of one of the major broadcast networks about a photo tweet I recently posted, which you can see below. I have had several images on the news over the years from my posts on social media. Most of them are severe weather related. I occasionally send an image to the media myself as a way of informing the public, something I voluntarily do as part of my service as a trained weather spotter. This was different however. This wasn't a matter of informing the public for safety sake, this was for a documentary series. This was for entertainment.

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Here is the actual tweet they wanted to use in the documentary series:

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I was immediately excited and began to write a fast reply allowing them to use it, then I stopped. In the past, I have let people use my photos in exchange for free promotion. That promotion has done nothing so far to help me further my career. Doing the same things and expecting a different outcome is simply crazy. Things aren't sustainable the way they are. Things have to change. I deleted what I had already typed and replied with this:

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The next day, I get a reply that really rubbed me the wrong way. Reading this still irritates me a little. I don't blame the person sending the message for that. That's one of the reasons I've blocked out any names. The policies of this person's employer however is another matter.

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Deciding to send someone an image for free on my own is one thing. A business, a FOR PROFIT business, asking to use my work and content for free is selfish and greedy. The email left the possibility open of making a sale, so I remained calm, did a little research, crunched some numbers, and shot them an amount that was slightly below the price to license a similar stock image for the same use.

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The last message I received from them is below. It doesn't take a genius to know what "let you know" means, especially after several days of no follow up message.

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I'm sure they went to someone else who had an image they were looking for and got them to license it for free. No judgement against anyone who did give them an image, but the network would not be as forgiving if you used their content for profit without them making their fair share in it as well.

I look at it this way, my work was good enough for them to pay someone to contact me about using. Think about that. The person messaging me was being paid to do so. In a way, that person was making money because of my image. If I had allowed them to use it, they would have made a profit on my work through advertising. The fact that they think that they are entitled to make a profit on my work while I receive nothing is plain simple greed. It would be like asking someone to fix my car for free because I can't afford to pay, then selling the car and keeping all the money.

This entire ordeal has left a bad taste in my mouth. I've decided to no longer allow any broadcast media to use my images on air for free. I will cut a better deal with a few local stations that I have a good relationship with, but I need to be paid a little something. I do much more volunteer photography than paid work. I'm wearing out my gear. I need to at least let the photos I send to the media cover the costs of my gear.

There are a few volunteer projects that I gladly do and still enjoy, all for non profit causes. I hope to continue that work. I need to make a living as well though. I can't do that unless I start charging a little something to those who stand to profit from my work.

I will be running another print sale to hopefully help soon. I can use all the support I can get. Details in my next blog. Thank you for reading through this story/rant. I'm sure many of you have similar stories. Please feel free to share them with me.

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