The Value of Professional Photography

I write this for anyone coming to us wanting a free photo for their business, advertisement, magazine or website. This is becoming a daily request and I hope my words here will serve as explanation about what it is to be a photographer.

As a photographer who created the image you desire, I am helping you make a profit. Why shouldn’t I be compensated? After all it is my business to make brands look good and desirable. By asking for a free image, aren’t you also asking me to stop what I am doing, locate the photo and transfer it to you, all things that cost me money and occupy my valuable time. For nothing, but to make you money.

What goes into making professional photos?

Investment: We are professional photographers, this did not come overnight but after a lifetime investment.

Expenses: A professional photography business has significant expenses which include; new digital cameras each year, pro quality lenses, at least one new computer a year, software, server expenses to store all the digital files, talent fees, endless travel costs, numerous types of insurance, utilities, etc, etc, etc…

Time: Our time is spent not just pushing that little button, but as countless hours editing, processing, storing, backing up, learning, and problem solving in our office.

Risk: In making images we risk our gear, our time, and often our lives. We dangle from ropes thousands of feet off the ground, linger in avalanche terrain, travel amongst crevasses and know that to get the extreme, we need to be a little extreme ourselves.

Once we have the results of all this we make it available as something that brings value to what someone else is doing. We want nothing more than to make quality work that brings value and recognition to what our clients are trying to do. Our good clients understand this. They understand that a memorable, stunning, emotional image makes them stand out amongst the competition. And, they are willing to compensate us for this quality, both monetarily and through support as professionals. A relationship is built that benefits everyone.

Meanwhile, there are those who want us to provide what we create, with all the associated costs we incur, risks we take and time we spend – for free. Or in some cases, a fee they feel is “fair” for what they see as just a “picture”.  The same picture that they believe will turn into a monetary profit.

What is a photo worth?

Today, both video and still images are saturating our daily lives. Movies become trend setters, images become icons. Who doesn’t know Apple’s graphic iPod ads? The legendary Marlboro ads? Or, in our world of the outdoor industry, the Patagonia catalogs?

Recently I browsed through numerous outdoor magazines and industry websites. My goal was to study what my natural method of looking at content would be. I believe that what I naturally do is probably, more or less, what others do. When looking at print I flip the pages until something catches my eye, typically a good photo or notable phrase. Once I reach the end I am either finished or perhaps I saved a story I want to return to.

But, when I went through the same magazine again, very slowly, and looked at each ad and story to see what I missed, I realized I never even noticed many of the ads, be they 1/4 or full page. The reason was that there was nothing to notice, terrible photos do not make one stop in this age of short attention spans. So if a company runs an expensive ad in a magazine, or the magazine itself runs a story, why not make it stand out?

Nowhere is the above example more true than on the web. Have a bad website or busy/ boring interface? Click, gone.

The reality of, “You get what you pay for”, is what I hope will allow us to continue as professionals. Perhaps rather than trying to obtain for free what may be the single most important link to an audience, many companies ought to work with, rather than against, the creative people trying to help bring value to their brand.


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