Saturday, April 14, 2012


So, from time to time, I receive requests to use my images for various purposes — like on a blog or a pamphlet or a calendar or the side of a zeppelin or for a urinal cake. Typically, if they are nice and they’re not going to be making a load of cash off where they’d like to use my image then I’ll let them use it as long as they give me credit. I’m especially generous with environmental interests and non-profits and ice cream manufacturers offering vouchers for all-you-can-eat tours.
But then there are the chumps (and chumpettes) who will be making a substantial amount of money off of the use of my image and I send them packing unless they pony up a fair amount of money. The latest version of this repetitive saga really got caught all up in my craw and so I felt the need to write a bit about it.

I should say here that this is 100% legitimate, the company that contacted me exists and has a rather impressive retail footprint in the US. The emails below are word-for-word with names removed to protect the company. The underlying issue I discuss does not begin and end with this example or company, it is much larger.

So, Monday morning I awake to an inbox message on Flickr that reads:
SUBJECT: Saint of the Wildflowers
Your photos are breath taking. I work a a company called [Company Name] located in Michigan. We always produce a landscape calendar for our customers to purchase. We match up scripture with the beautiful landscape images that God has provided.
This is a very low print run and only around 20,000 calendars produced. I was wondering if you would give us permission to use some of your photographs? I would be able to give you credit for your photograph. Please look at this an opportunity for you to reach a possible customers.
I have a meeting at the end of this week to present images. I look forward to hearing from you.
Lead Graphic Designer
20,000 calendars is a low print run?! Can you see the dollar signs lighting up in my eyes? Wooooo!! Surely they must have a budget for the artwork — they have a lead graphic designer after all! So I reply after checking out the going rate at Getty Images to get an idea of what the market should bear:
SUBJECT: Re: Saint of the Wildflower
Hello L,
Thank you for the kind words regarding my photography and for contacting me with this opportunity.
I would love to be a part of your calendar, but I can’t allow my work to be used without monetary compensation. (It is work after all!)
I believe that fair compensation for use like you’ve described above would be $550 per image. That would cover use of each image at full page size for a one year run of your calendar.
Thank you,
Jeff Swanson
I hear back quickly.
SUBJECT: Re: Saint of the Wildflowers
Thanks Jeff
Your very talented photographer and thanks for taking the time to respond. I completely understand your point of view and I do realize how much time and equipment you have into each photo.
This price is out of our budget for project.
So I’m thinking, hmm, they have a budget after all. Let’s probe a little more and see what it is.
SUBJECT: Re: Saint of the Wildflower
Hi L,
Thanks for understanding that there is indeed a lot of preparation and skill involved in landscape photography.
If you’d like to make a counter offer that will fit your budget, I might be able to work with you on the price.
Thank you,
Jeff Swanson
And again, she replied quickly and this is where the my jaw drops:
SUBJECT: Re: Saint of the Wildflowers
Hi Jeff
I have a very little budget. I don’t think we will be able to work together.
I have 100.00 for all photos. I’ve been finding some of them for free.
Thanks again
$100 for ALL THE IMAGES! WHAT!? That is HALF A CENT for all the images in each calendar. Let’s do some math here to show how painfully out of whack that is:
The calendar run is (only) 20,000. Say they can sell the calendar for $12.99 or so and have to pay $1 each for the printing of the calendars (a rough estimate from That leaves $11.99 to cover the rest of the costs associated with producing and selling a calendar and some profit for the company. That comes out to $239,800 left over to cover the rest of the costs and some profit. Of that amount they have only reserved a little more than four one hundreths of one percent for compensating the artists that produced the artwork that will actually sell their calendars (when’s the last time you bought a calendar because you liked the font?)
This is appalling and I’m sure it happens all the time.

So here’s the message: I’m not a professional landscape photographer. I’m not relying on this business to feed myself and cover my rent. So, in theory, getting credit should be plenty for me. But here’s where that doesn’t work anymore: I know many landscape photographers who ARE making a living at this and every time I (or you or ANYONE) accepts an image-credit-only offer for publication it is effectively taking food off of their plates. What happens is that more and more companies start resorting to this method all the time because they are successful at it. So I implore you to think twice about your actions the next time you are approached with a similar deal. Don’t help to erode the market for high-quality artwork just because you’re not relying on that market to feed yourself.
Next, don’t believe the schtick they feed you about exposure. When’s the last time you saw an image in a calendar or on a urinal cake and said “Gee whiz! I like that enough that I want to track that artist down and send them money!” See what I mean? They already have your image to look at (or pee on) anytime they want. Plus, you can’t take image credits to the grocery store or gas station or zeppelin store. “Sorry Bill, I can’t pay you for this gas, but I will tell anyone that asks why my car is running so well that I bought it here from you at Bill’s Gasoline and Urinal Cake Emporium, that cool?”
See how absurd that sounds when you aren’t talking about art?

About the author: Jeff Swanson is a California-based photographer who specializes in dynamic landscapes. You can check out his work by visiting his websiteblog, or online gallery. This article was originally published A MAN CAN

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