A Man Can’t Live on Image Credit Alone


 Saint of the Wildflowers — Mount Saint Helens, Washington, USA

Saint of the Wildflowers


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’s 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 uprinting.com).  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?



This entry was posted in Uncategorized.


  1. Andii April 5, 2012 at 9:16 pm #

    Totally get it and agree. As a person who has had photos stolen and used on websites without so much as a credit or permission, I can’t agree much more than I do already!

    Ask people like that what it would cost them to FLY to that location at the right time of year and get a picture like that. ;)

    Keep up the good fight. The picture, by the way, is gorgeous.

  2. Keith April 5, 2012 at 9:34 pm #

    I totally agree. Its unreal how many companies think they can get artwork for free.

  3. Michael Goetzman April 5, 2012 at 10:37 pm #

    Companies expect the everyone to bow to them these days… Cut every budget down and wonder why customers leave.

  4. Donald April 5, 2012 at 10:42 pm #

    I understand your point but I can not agree with your main conclusion. I am a strong advocate of intellectual property rights. It’s the first of your two concluding messages that does not sit well with me. Your argument parallels that of the MPAA and RIAA.

    Bottom line: My intellectual property = my rights to give it away without any guilt that I’ve somehow harmed a professional. I have no obligation to cater to the professional’s financial interests. On the contrary, the professionals need to step up their game if amateurs are winning over their share of the free market.

    • Jeff Swanson April 5, 2012 at 10:47 pm #

      Donald, there’s nothing stopping you or anyone from giving away their work. I do that for non-profits fairly often, it is when you give it to for-profit companies that it harms the industry.

      It’s not an issue of amateurs winning over a share of the free market, it is the amateurs completely bypassing the market by giving their work for nothing who are the problem. As an amateur I have no qualms about getting a fair price for use of my images.

      • Donald April 5, 2012 at 11:04 pm #

        Again, I understand your points: 1. If a for-profit company is making money, I want a slice of it and 2. giving away IP harms people who do it for a living. But what if I don’t care about either?

        Intellectual property has no intrinsic value beyond what the market dictates. If the demand is there, the supply will follow and vice versa.

        Oh, and churches are not for-profit companies. :-)

  5. Donald April 5, 2012 at 10:52 pm #

    I also want to mention that your profit analysis of what the church may gain is unfair because it is based on unfounded assumptions. I can absolutely believe the church has no budget and will not profit from these sales (chances are their main incentive is to spread their religious message through these calendars). The language they use in their emails (which you brutally dissected) is likely simply to make their endeavor appear more professional. For all we know, the “lead graphic designer” is a pastor’s 70 year old wife.

    • Jeff Swanson April 5, 2012 at 10:54 pm #

      This is absolutely not a church. It is a retail store with a substantial footprint. I state that in the post. I don’t want it to be about this one example. This particular store is not the problem, they are just a tiny part of it.

      I also quoted the emails word for word besides removing the name of the establishment and the woman I was corresponding with.

      • Donald April 5, 2012 at 11:06 pm #

        Ah, my apologies on the bad interpretation.

        • Jeff Swanson April 5, 2012 at 11:10 pm #

          No problem, I have clarified those points in my original post.

  6. Seabass April 5, 2012 at 11:06 pm #

    Couldn’t agree more Jeff. Getting these ridiculous image requests is laughable. Nice picture and way to stick up for yourself (and all the other photographers) not giving away their images.

  7. Philip Werner April 5, 2012 at 11:36 pm #

    I’m a professional blogger. I ignore all of those “we’ll give you exposure offers.” What a crock. Google gives me plenty of exposure without compromising my copyright.

  8. Jake April 6, 2012 at 12:38 am #

    Totally agree, but I’d let any urinal cake manufacturer use my images for free. With or without credit. Because, yeah.

  9. Lyndsy Simon April 6, 2012 at 2:34 am #

    While I completely understand your frustration towards this company, I think your expectations are where the problem lies.

    Work is only worth what the market will bear. In the case of photography, there is so much work out there that is “good enough” that frankly, your work isn’t special in the eyes of the buyer. That’s nothing against your work at all – it’s just that to an art buyer, photography is a fungible commodity. They don’t care who took it, if it’s framed perfectly, if the lighting is just right, if the flowers are exactly at their peak – they care that it will sell calendars, and that it’s cheap.

    There are plenty of people out there that will give them their work for free. That means that all work in this context is literally worthless.

    That’s just how the market works.

    The fact that they had a budget of $100 is what’s insulting, though. That means that they felt that a photo was worth, on average, $8.33.

  10. KieranMullen April 6, 2012 at 7:43 am #

    Were you on a designated trail when you took that photo or did you go off the trail? Going off trail is restricted to scientists and reasearchers on the monument.

    • Jeff Swanson April 6, 2012 at 2:50 pm #

      Yes, this image was made from the trail.

      • KieranMullen April 6, 2012 at 5:14 pm #

        Which one thanks? I have been up there frequently.

        • Jeff Swanson April 6, 2012 at 5:22 pm #

          That was my first visit, so I don’t remember the actual name of the trail. Looking at google satellite it was somewhere along the trail that connects the large parking lot at the top of rt. 504 with the parking lot at the first switchback. You can see the ridge that leads to the observatory in the LHS of my image.

        • Jeff Swanson April 6, 2012 at 5:35 pm #

          I remember it being particularly difficult to find a group of flowers near the trail that would span the bottom edge of my wide angle lens. I adhere to regulations like the one you list in your original post because I have a deep respect for the landscapes and ecosystems I love to photograph, stomping all over them today doesn’t leave much for others to enjoy tomorrow. But even beyond that, the terrain seems especially loose in that section of the mountain and stepping off the trail would be a dangerous proposition.

  11. Jon Sparks April 6, 2012 at 8:11 am #

    Yes, lots of people are giving their work away – and it’s time these talented people woke up and realised their work is worth something.

  12. Dan April 6, 2012 at 9:37 am #

    First question i’d ask is how are they going to print 20,000. That would cost quite a bit. me thinks they DO have money. Just too cheap to part with it.

  13. Cindy April 6, 2012 at 1:53 pm #

    Hi Jeff,
    I read your blog…I looked at your galleries, your photographs are so beautiful and breathtaking. You should not ever give them away for nothing. You publish them in a book whether it be hard copy or some kind of Internet book that people could purchase. Or make up some calendars…sell them online.
    I wish I had your eye and your talent. I love taking pictures but they are not even close to looking like yours.
    If I ever get contacted for any of my prints I will not give them away for free. Thanks for the eye opener.

    • nathan mccreery April 7, 2012 at 5:58 pm #

      At that point the cat, as they say, is out of the bag. You need to talk very seriously to the owner about his financial responsibility and the very real possibility of treble damages in court. Once he’s published it he’s at your mercy if he doesn’t have an agreement.

  14. Steve April 6, 2012 at 6:16 pm #

    I went into a hot sauce shop and saw one of my images he had downloaded being used as a label. I asked the owner of the shop if he would like to re-enburse me some money for use of the image. He pulled the bottles from the self and gave them away for free rather than pay the 10 cents per bottle I was asking.
    That’s why I’ll always be a hobbyist .

  15. Denise April 6, 2012 at 9:42 pm #

    I would like to mention, and I don’t know who the company is so I can’t say I know 100% this is whats going on, but my parents are religious and follow a mailing list from a man who sends them very beautiful calendars every year Free, and monthly news letters. If it were the same every thing they do is not sold but given. just though I’d mention that they could not be making anything on them.

    • Jeff Swanson April 6, 2012 at 9:49 pm #

      Hi Denise, the initial contact from the company in the original post states that this is a calendar for customers to purchase. If this were a non-profit organization this entire post would never have happened.

  16. Libby April 7, 2012 at 5:07 am #

    Seems to me you need a better marketing plan than Flickr. I was stupid enough to post some of my good work there several years ago, and I used to get the freetards writing all the time. I deleted that account. Now I only post some B roll shots there just to keep an account open. And for every one who will actually write, there are another 10 who have already snatched your images. Start watermarking right across the middle. Your work is good enough to overcome it. Serious editors and art buyers will overcome it as well. They know how to read past a watermark.

  17. Michael Mulcahy April 7, 2012 at 5:06 pm #

    I totally agree with your views.
    Try walking into the bank and asking them for some money because it would look nice in your pocket?
    What a load of crap. No pay, no play.

    These people are worse than thieves.

    Thieves just want to rob you, these people want to slap you up the side of your head and treat you like a fool, to boot.

  18. nathan mccreery April 7, 2012 at 5:55 pm #

    I recently caught a national publisher using one of my photographs. I’m not sure where they got it since that image has never been online, however it was one of mine without any question. I finally have gotten them to agree to a payment (lower than I thought it should be and a lot higher) than they thought it would be. No check yet however. On another occasion I caught a U.S. Government agency (NOAA) using one. That one has never been resolved. Tough to take a bite of Uncle Sam.

  19. Gary Crabbe April 8, 2012 at 1:44 am #

    I totally appreciate and understand what you’re saying and how you feel about that. Just like some companies that run horrendous Rights-Grabbing Photo Contests. I wouldn’t hesitate to name the company. Sometimes a public outcry or a little bad media attention can spur a corrective action. Afterall, they could have given this person a $5,000.00 photo budget, and she’s allowed to keep whatever she doesn’t spend. That happens, too.


  20. Everardo Keeme April 8, 2012 at 6:44 am #

    Curious if after this post you have heard any response from the company?

    • Jeff Swanson April 8, 2012 at 3:07 pm #

      I wouldn’t expect that, they definitely don’t follow my blog. :)

  21. Geoff April 8, 2012 at 3:55 pm #

    The same thing happened to me, and a fellow photographer blogged about it and it went viral!

    Many people have strong opinions about this issue, but I do feel that giving your photos away to for-profit entities is eroding the industry.

  22. Root April 9, 2012 at 7:05 pm #

    This sucks for you, but think about this:

    The very same mechanism – cheap access to very, very sophisticated technology – that allows you to be a photographer producing high-quality work, and to share it on Flickr for anyone in the world to see and enjoy – is also what is destroying the market value of your work.


    Because you’re not the only person in the world with access to that technology.

    You need to internalize that, and understand it at the very core of your being: You were contacted about this in the first place *because* you have access to this great channel through which we can all very cheaply present our work.

    I think it’s sad, but unless you adapt to this reality, you will die. Don’t be that guy! Be Smart, and adapt to this reality.

  23. spud April 10, 2012 at 9:47 am #

    Why protect them if you are telling the truth?

    Name and shame, i Say

  24. Paul Cochrane April 10, 2012 at 3:05 pm #

    This is a very beatiful image. You can never beat mother nature for perfection like this. It is good that you were there to record it. Your photography is very interesting, and that’s mild. I’ve said enough. My Best.

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  1. […] A lo que le respondieron que tenían un presupuesto de unos 100 dólares para todas las imágenes. En su  narración, Swanson medita sobre las implicaciones de este enfoque absurdo. En mi opinión la subvaloración […]