Picture Perfect

Water Skiers

Water skiers. Photo by Callen Harty.

Over the course of several days I recently had the following e-mail exchange with a woman representing a fairly new company here in Wisconsin in reference to the photo above. I’ve removed some of the identifying details.

Her: “We’d love to use this photo on [X company’s] social media, with credit to you! If you’re interested, could you send this to me? [her e-mail address]”

Me: “You left a message on my water ski photo [. . . ], asking to use it on social media. I would be interested in working with you on this, especially given that yours is a Wisconsin company. I also feel the photo represents the kind of energy you want to portray for your product, but I have a few questions first.

“How are you planning on using the photo? As an ad? On Twitter? Facebook? Instagram? Elsewhere? Would it be a one-time use or would you be looking to buy the image outright? Any information you can provide on when/how you will use the photo will help me out.”

Her: “Thanks for the quick response!

“[X product] is brand new within the last 6 months or so, and it’s the first and only Wisconsin-made [X product]. As you probably gathered, we really try to appeal both to locals (WI and Midwest) and to action sports athletes, so combining the two in our social media marketing is our goal! Your water skiing photo is unique and hits both of our targets, so we think it’d be a great fit with our marketing plan. We’d just be interested in posting it once on Facebook and Instagram, and we always give credit to photographers we use (with either full name, Instagram handle, website, etc).

“Let me know if you’re interested in sharing your photo! And if you have any others that you think would fit, you’re welcome to send those as well!

“I hope this helps answer your questions; feel free to reach out with any further questions! Thanks!”

Me: “Thanks for answering my questions. I am not a professional photographer, but have had a couple one-man shows and a good number of sales of my work, so I do charge for companies to use one of my photographs. Normally for an Instagram or similar post I would charge [X dollars] per post. Given that you are a new company and Wisconsin-based like me I would allow you to post on both Instagram and Facebook for the [X dollar] price instead of [X dollars] for each. Let me know if that works for you.”

Her: “Unfortunately we are not yet in a position to pay for the use of photos. Thanks, though, for your consideration!”

From the beginning it felt like she was trying to get me to give permission to use the photograph for no charge. I do have to give her credit for asking permission to use the photograph, as there are those out there who will do so without getting permission or offering payment in advance. The amount that I quoted was incredibly reasonable and I was offering a 2 for 1 deal. I have often donated my photos to non-profits, good causes, and educational organizations, but I have also occasionally sold them to corporations and newspapers. Most recently I sold one to an international company out of Switzerland for use in their company newsletter and was paid a fair price for it.

I expect companies with advertising and marketing budgets to pay for my work. If you are in the business of making money you shouldn’t expect others to help you in that effort without compensation. But businesses, particularly American ones, do not value art (or much of anything else) unless it in some way increases the bottom line. Things like photography, poetry, and other art forms are devalued in this country. When school budgets are tight the arts programs are among the first to suffer. I believe if the woman who wrote me could be shown that paying me X dollars to use the photograph would increase their sales by Y amount she probably would have found the money for it in her budget.

Would you bring someone into your office to do data entry and not pay them? Would you expect a newspaper to run an ad without paying for it? Would you contact the local copier company and ask if they would mind you using a copier for a while without a contract or payment? Then why would you expect to use the work of a photographer, amateur or professional, without fair compensation?

What made this situation a bit worse to me is that after the last e-mail about not being in position to pay for photographs I did a little more digging and found out that the woman isn’t an employee of the company that wanted to use the photo, but rather an employee of an advertising agency. Perhaps the company that hired her agency didn’t have it in the budget to pay for photos for social media, but being from an ad agency she should know and understand the value of a photographer’s work.

I spend a lot of my time shooting photographs, downloading and uploading, cropping and editing when necessary, posting, and more, not to mention what I spend on gas for travel to some of the places I shoot, camera equipment, Internet costs, etc. She made it clear that my photograph would enhance the marketing of the product. There is value in that and there is value in my time and effort. A credit acknowledging that I took the photograph is not fair compensation and every time someone gives away a photograph like that it makes it that much harder for professionals who have invested a great deal of money and effort into their business to make a living. I value professional photographers and my work too much for that.

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About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Both are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he has been an actor, writer, and director since 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events.
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One Response to Picture Perfect

  1. W. Joseph Lutz says:

    Be sure to check to make sure they don’t use your photo without permission anyway.

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