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Original Photographs and the Impossibility of Everything Connected to Them

After your article proposal has been accepted your next challenge will be providing photographs to accompany the text. I hope you can take them yourself.

The world of Nat Geo doesn’t exist anymore for freelancers. You will not have a photographer assigned to you. If you want to write about Mount Etna, bring along every kind of camera to take high resolution photos on your visit. And don’t think you can wing it with other people’s photos or ones you’ve bought yourself.

Expect every editor to require model releases and a permissions note for any photo you submit in which there is a person clearly visible or if you’re using another photographer’s work. An editor may not be that strict but maybe they will be.  Check before going into the field. Their answers may be devastating.

Few people these days want to fill out a model release with their identifying information. Getting permission to use someone else’s work is a complete time trap. Finding out who can give you permission to use a photograph is dead end detective work. It can take months and months and months to get permission to use a photo. Which may be tolerable for a book deadline but not an article. In my requests, I got a reply only 5% of the time. And then the photographer or group wanted big money.

These stock photo groups and even non-profits like county history museums have no idea of the pay scale for freelance writers today. It’s nothing. Many magazines like Rock&Gem will pay $250 for an article. Yet when a group finds out that you want a photo for publication they think you own a gold mine. Let’s go back to Mount Etna.

Alamy is a typical stock photo service. Getty and Adobe are a little more expensive. They want $69.99 for a single photo of publishable quality if you are using it in a magazine. Sounds somewhat reasonable if you are getting a few thousand for an article. Which as a freelancer you’re not. But wait, there’s more!

It turns out this price is only for magazines of under 2,500 circulation. What kind of magazine is that? A literary review? Good grief. That’s small even for a regional. To get a copyright free release of high resolution, the only practical solution, you’re going to pay $245.00. These goofballs must think magazines have a budget for photos that exceed what they are paying the writer. $245 for a single photo!

This is why I have contributed many, many high resolution still photos and videos of different natural areas to Creative Commons, the first pull point for photos for Wikipedia. I have put them all into the public domain. No fee to me, no credit needed. We’re all starving artists out here. All of us need to contribute photos if you can to this cause, no matter what you think of the editorial orientation of Wikipedia.

Some contributions to these pages. All links external:

Carol M. Highsmith is a professional photographer. She has contributed THOUSANDS of photographs to the National Archive and put them into the public domain. A monumental and ongoing contribution:

I think only one in twenty writers are independents who support themselves entirely by their writing. Most professionals are those who write in their work for someone else, like a government agency or some private business. Self-supporting writers are rare and getting rarer. But I digress.

I had a bitter experience in which I wanted a close up photo of a mineral for an article I was writing for Rock&Gem. I approached the leading mineral photographer in the country for a photo that was in his stock library. He would not budge on his price even though he knew Rock&Gem well and was continuously published in their magazine by staff. His demand was so high it would have made my article completely unprofitable, I would have actually lost money. But he didn’t care even though he was in the trade and knew we writers make nothing.

So, why would a writer take on a low paying assignment? Too many reasons to list but a low paying article is still a resume builder. It gets you respect and can open higher paying doors later on. I get access to sites other people can’t simply because I’ve been published. And I assume you are interested in what you are writing about to begin with and support that trade or hobby.

Everyone is entitled to make money but writers shouldn’t be forced to lose money. Take photos yourself. Get better at photography. More cameras. The last article I wrote was for California Wildlife which is operated by a state agency. They paid for 11 photographs. I took them all. It is extremely rare these days that a magazine will pay separately for photos. Very rare. Usually you just get one price for an article. A side note.

I’m putting together composition images from low resolution photos off the net. Sometimes from fifty year old films and stills.  I’m not crediting photographers because I don’t know who they are and I _never_ get responses when I ask different agencies for help. A single collage photo might use  25 different film grabs or photos from different websites. Who are all these photographers? And would they or their agencies understand that I have never sold a single work?

What’s happening is that people are making copies of copies of copies of photos with no trail behind them. Look at eBay. You have companies making a living selling the work of uncredited photographers. Thousands of posters and stills reproduced and sold without credit. I’m not doing that. I didn’t create this environment but I am living in it. Trust me, in my writing for the web, for books, and for magazines, you’re going to hit silence when asking for permission. And if you do find someone, a miracle, they are going to want big bucks. As Dylan says, money doesn’t talk, it swears.




By thomasfarley01

Business writer and graphic arts gadfly.

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