Don’t Like Me

- - The Future

Lots of chatter online about how photographers should embrace sharing their work and stop complaining about copyright. All started by this post (here) by the king of HDR (Trey Ratcliff) who says:

As this future becomes more and more plain to me, I see a rapture of sorts, where old-school photographers clinging to the old-fashioned ways of doing things will be “left behind.”

Which is funny because this sort of rapture, where a photo blogger suddenly loses their virginity, is pretty common. Witness the Strobist back in December of 2008: Four Reasons to Consider Working for Free.

Now, I can’t blame them for their rapture, because they and many others have discovered a perfectly legitimate business model for making a living with a camera: Selling Something Besides Photographs.

So, I want to provide a little perspective here. Making a living selling photographs will not die. On the same note photographers should look at, understand and possibly adopt some of what they are doing into their own business. Selling ebooks, dvds, workshops and giving lectures will make up part of the income for successful photographers in the future. Nothing wrong with that. Declaring that everyone will be left behind unless they share everything and make up the difference with ebooks on tips for punters is completely wrong.

The key is this: Focus your attention on the people who you have a legitimate business interest with and be okay with not being liked by everyone.

There Are 60 Comments On This Article.

  1. Absolutely. There’s nowhere where the idea of shooting for free comes to life in practical reality better than the book FREE, by Chris Anderson. Some legitimate thoughts about the ubiquity of media, and how to leverage it if you are willing to think creatively. And importantly, remembering to use a hybrid strategy of subsidizing your shooting, and getting your work paid for directly. Train’s leaving the station!

  2. As odd as it seems to me at times, many photographers are clueless curmudgeons.

    Even if you’re not interested in doing ebooks, seminars or whatever, people pin things to pinterest because they’re interested by them. Mindshare is always good for business.

    I suspect people who chase after pinterest pins aren’t really in business. They sure have a lot of time on their hands.

    • My wife is trying out pinterest for the wedding photography part of our income stream. It seems logical that a bride might look at an image on pinterest and notice who shot it and give us a look on the internet. She is in the early stages of exploring this and the jury is still out. However, we give away pictures for free to bulid SEO which in turn brings us lots of wedding clients. Pinterest very well may be another piece to the puzzle that builds SEO.

      For advertising and editorial work, I don’t know that pinterest would work very well. At present, I don’t think many AD’s are making boards, but you never know.

  3. You have it exactly right on all counts, Rob.

    There are a few photographers who have successfully created multiple income streams ( shooting / lecturing /workshop leading/ authoring ) that each enhance the effect of the others along with the creative opportunities to make the photos they want to make . Joe McNally, John-Paul Caponigro seem to have mastered this. When he was still shooting assignment work and a truly viable market for stock photography usage existed, Jay Maisel also did it by teaching workshops ( which he still does).

    It is also worth pointing out that not everyone has the right personality to be able to do this and it follows that each of us has to find an approach to making a living that is the best fit for who we are as individuals.

    Creative artists are natural entrepreneurs. Give us a chance and we will find a way to get what we want to do done. And if we can’t make it work we move on to the next thing.

  4. Trey does go on the explain how he only licenses his work for free for noncommercial uses. He still registers his images with the Copyright office, and makes money off commercial licensing, including suing for copyright infringement.

    So all he’s really advocating is putting images on the web and letting individuals use them for personal enjoyment. Sure, along the way people will try to take advantage of this by using the images commercially, but then you can sue them (I’m sure Trey make some good money off hi Time copyright infringement suit). The “free” part seems to really just be a marketing approach (and expense).

    • Bravo Tim! This is the best explanation I have heard of this and exactly how I run my current business. If someone needs an image for their personal blog, it’s theirs to use if I get credit. If Pepsi wants an image for their blog, they have to pay.

  5. Absolutely right on the money. License your work for money. Not future pixie dust. Don’t look to outliers when you are putting together your business plan. Look to the bottom line.

    Thanks for posting this.

  6. I agree with Tim.

    BTW. it takes a lot of time to rich the point where photographer will get recognized by people and the other photographers will agree to pay for his workshops. He need to proof his craft & knowledge first. And sharing his photographs across the web in small resoulution for free could be the right way … People will share his work anyway – without questions …

  7. It is an odd sort of business model for photographers to treat photographs as a loss leader. Maybe we should be a little more precise in our terminology. If your primary business is selling books, even photography books, then you are an author; if you sell workshops, you’re a teacher, etc. Lumping all these professions under the rubric of photographer is part of the confusion.

      • No, photography is not a loss leader. I’m selling my photography services to people who will buy them, but the people I’m giving the images to would have never paid me for them in the first place or they would have paid me very little and my credit line or link back to my website is like free advertising and raises my SEO ranking, which in turn gets me jobs. (This works particularly well with retail photography: weddings and portraits. But I’m sure it could work in other business models as well. Susan Carr’s recent book, “The Art and Business of Photography” covers some of these new ideas as does Chris Anderson’s book, “Free” that was mentioned earlier.) It’s just another way to advertise my services.

        • It would be a loss leader if you taught for a living. Also, the fact that you give your photos away for credits and others do not does not make you a marketing genius.

  8. Rob’s friend Chase Jarvis, last week had a chasejarvis LIVE streaming video called “Talent Imitates, Genius Steals – REMIX” He interviews “Remix King” Mike Relm who Fair Uses other people work to create his art. Very interesting, you may not agree with what is said, but worth the time to listen to another point of view.

    I find it hard to believe tat I’m pimping something from the King of Self Promotion 8-0

    Trey Ratcliff, isn’t really a photographer, he’s a producer of videos who uses FREE photos to SELL his DVDs. Any commercial sales of his photos is gravy. He also is a prolific E-book publisher FREE seems to be making him a lot of money. YMMV

  9. APE – thanks for the down-to-earth, insider with an outsider perspective on this…
    With everyone yelling “free” these days I needed that!

  10. We see a lot of this in the music business discussions. I run a label and work with many artists who are curious but not entirely sure about finding a place between the newer and older business models. I think both are viable, but it’s very important for artists (musicians/photographers/illustrators…) to understand both approaches very well in order to make the best decision for them, and that takes a lot of curiosity and work.

  11. The thing most of the anti-copyright tech people who are of Trey’s position don’t acknowledge is that corporations like google, facebook, pinterest, flickr, etc., are making billions of dollars off of photography freely posted.

    Great job!

  12. Well. as a photographer, if you are not going to advertise your work via social media because you don’t wish to loose profit which you could make selling your images – then you need to find another way how to advertise your work and get it among people. Perhaps you can spend thousands of dollars buying advertising space in printed magazines or TV channels. Photograph is a product. If you want to sell your product, you need to make advertisement. Personally I see a great advantage of sharing couple of my pictures across the social media and make money selling the rest.

  13. Trey Ratcliff has stated that image licensing is a much lucrative part of his business than sales of educational products. In theory, there is no incompatibility between providing images under Creative Commons Non-Commercial and licensing for commercial use.

    • It depends on what kind of license you seek. One well known fine art photographer told me that blogging and sharing online has absolutely hurt his fine art sales. Regardless, my point was to only poke holes in the idea that everyone will be left behind by the over sharers.

  14. Food for thought. See Trey has also sold over a million of his 100 photos app. I find his photos hit or miss, but his marketing is obviously world class.

  15. Is Trey right?
    “As this future becomes more and more plain to me, I see a rapture of sorts, where old-school photographers clinging to the old-fashioned ways of doing things will be “left behind.”

  16. The paying market for high quality photographs is a lot smaller than the number of available high quality images. That being the case, a great many photographers are destined to go hungry. Will they predominantly be those who stick to the old ways, or those who embrace Creative Commons and related ways of doing business? I suspect each segment will provide an ample supply.

    That said, when it comes to image marketing, we are in the midst of a true Paradigm shift. To fully appreciate this, ask a teen or twenty-something about which rules apply to image use and social networking. Rules… what rules? Figuring out how best to take advantage of this new world will be a challenge.

  17. Trey’s post was a bit extreme, and by embracing both being highly visible and CC in the same sentence the picture gets very cloudy unnecessarily.

    What needs to be separated is the marketing and the doing business part. Having your images highly visible (through thoughtful usage of social media) is a good marketing tactic. In this time of over-saturated visual stimulus, if you’re not seen, nobody will know to hire you. Of course good old networking, promos, etc. should be part of the mix as well.

    But being seen doesn’t mean you have to give it away – not via Creative Commons, or otherwise. It just means we can start a conversation about doing business that maybe otherwise wouldn’t have happened.

    There’s risk associated with being seen, and people taking advantage of you, and a proper risk mitigation plan needs to be in place and executed. Register copyrights, educate clients, join professional organizations, etc.

    As to photographers diversifying into eBooks and workshops – I’ve always been weary of that. It’s a math problem that doesn’t work. Given that these are 1-many exercises, it works for a few, but cannot save everyone. And it sure feels like selling out like used car salespeople. I’d rather see photographers diversify into other forms of visual asset creation and stay true to their profession. But that’s just me. Teaching a workshop sure is much easier, and there will always be a sucker for a few more years.

  18. Consider this:

    Art Wolfe
    Sells books for $75.00
    Workshops start at $1500 – $2000
    Watermarks all his stock and only has low res available for looking at.

    Trey Ratcliff
    Has a free app of his work
    Has a video tutorial for $97
    High res available of all his work for personal use.

    So, what has Trey discovered here? That selling something cheaper works? Joking aside it’s really about what type of sale you seek. I don’t think Art sells more books if he gives his pictures away for personal use.

    • The thing is that Trey Ratcliff ain’t Art Wolfe, few of us are. Photography skill/talent is on a Bell Shaped Curve – some very bad, most are average-minus to average-plus with some excellent shooters at the top.

      1,190,088 people have Trey Ratcliff in their circle on Google+, Chase Jarvis ONLY has 46,894. Mr Ratcliff may be an average-plus photographer, but seems to be a genius for self promotion. Part of this genius is saying controversial things that get him noticed, and drive people to his site to buy product.

      • “Mr Ratcliff may be an average-plus photographer, but seems to be a genius for self promotion. Part of this genius is saying controversial things that get him noticed, and drive people to his site to buy product.”

        THAT hits the nail on the head… This subject is no different than his “DSLRs are a Dying Breed – 3rd Gen Cameras are the Future” article that went viral with controversy.

        Personally, I agree that this is genius, but only to the point that he seems to be a arrogant and pompous wind-bag that takes so-so photos (just look at the softness of this photo —!i=1027298686&k=CLNPH&lb=1&s=O) that has high site traffic (according to the “numbers” that he posts).

        I guess the adage that it is better to be a poor to average photographer who is great a business, than it is to be a great photographer who is bad at business. Personally, I’d rather be a great photographer who doesn’t fall for all the Trey Ratcliff B.S.

    • I think the Volume sales model works for him. Throw together a bunch of low priced stuff sell it at a reasonable margin. He has turned a large audience into a viable market, even if he only captures 2% he will do well.

      His ego is definitely …..a turn off.

  19. It’s really sad that real photographers have let all these mediocre hacks with really good social skills dominate every photography discussion online.

    • You know what they say, “those who can’t do teach”. Or in this case, give away images in order to sell DVDs.

      On the bright side, I’d be willing to guess that less than .01% of the people who read, or “like” or buy any of this stuff will ever be competing for any of the commercial or editorial jobs that “real” photographers make a living off of.

    • +1

      That’s his skill and he has a million ‘followers’ including myself just to see what he’s up to since he’s quite prolific in showing places of interest. Not that I like HDR the way he does it[in fact I border on hate it-too gaudy]

      In this age of online entertainment- some discussion like this is food for thought. I for one never knew you could make money posting stuff online.

      I also noticed I stopped buying coffee table books and magazines. Almost zilch per year. No kidding. It’s just with google and youtube- do you really need to hold it in your hand? Saves a few trees no doubt but the point is some of us have world domination sills some of us just like to do what we do and some just want to make a living. Doing a bit of everything dilutes your focus unless you start building a team.

    • In your opinion what makes a ‘real’ photographer in todays market? It seems to me that the technical parts of photography are becoming less important by the minute while the vision and personality of the photographer is becoming center stage.

  20. I would say that we should also mention David DuChemin – who belongs among real pioneers of doing new online business too.

    In my opinion, this is mainly about how you approach your new customers and how you keep in touch with them. And obviously what you offer to them.

    If you sell digital media you can sell them cheaper than real books printed on paper. And people like to buy cheap products. If your e-book cost $5.00 instead of $75.00 it does not mean you are worse photographer? It means you are able to create your product cheaper.

    Try to click on this link:

    This is a regular result from google’s search. What is the difference to see an image here or on Google+ for example? And let people share them? You don’t loose any money as nobody is going to pay you just to watch your work within his browser anyway.

  21. I recently watched his video on this subject. I could see using a creative commons license for images as part of a marketing plan where there is a calculated cost ( lost revenue), instead of free digital images, you send out three postcards in a cellophane wrapper. You expect a certain amount of return of the investment. I think trey has found that it works for his business model.

    He alluded to a full time person who handles licensing rights, I say, it must be nice to be doing so well that you have a staffer that handles licensing for your images. I also think his plan is one where you work your ass off, producing all of this stuff, and sell a massive amount to make some decent money. Nothing wrong with it Walmart does it. It may be he pays his licensing person Walmart wages too.

    Regarding :
    As this future becomes more and more plain to me, I see a rapture of sorts, where old-school photographers clinging to the old-fashioned ways of doing things will be “left behind.”
    It is is a statement the since I am bigger than a lot of other photographer I can piss in the Cheerios and it doesn’t matter if they don’t like it. I think you HDR photography is lazy. Everyone can do it, some well done, most over cooked. Also what talent and creativity does it take to take some under and over exposed frame to capture the complete dynamic range of an image. You leave nothing for the imagination, every crack and crevasse is visible, there are no shadows, dark space or blown out light sources.
    Old photographers that get left behind have not updated their business model to fit today’s climate. Not everyone has to give away free stuff.

    • +1 Well said. Overcooked indeed.

      He can use google to look for nice places to shoot his ‘style’. Works out well for him.

      I’m just a bit jealous though. haha

  22. Ed, to be honest I don’t understand what you mean here:

    “instead of free digital images, you send out three postcards in a cellophane wrapper” – this is more expensive than free as you have to pay for it …

    “Old photographers that get left behind have not updated their business model to fit today’s climate. Not everyone has to give away free stuff.” – old photographers are sending postcards they have paid for …

    • What I mean is what he is doing nothing different than using a virtual promo with his creative commons images. It is no different than me sending out a promo mailing of a pack of postcards wrapped in cellophane. I am making a calculated decision to send out cards, he is making a calculated decision for people to use his work for free. There is no doubt he expects a certain amount of return on each of the images. When you put a large number out there you are bound to have a return.

      I apologize for the typos, the second to last paragraph second sentence should read I think HDR is lazy. It is pretty strong, I admit it, and I have to stop there because there will be those who wont like my views

      • Ed, I would like to apologize for my grammar mistakes. English language is not my first language and seven years ago I would not be able to be part of this discussion.

        My own photographs are based on Ansel Adams’s Zone System technique – as I tried to find the way how to adapt this system to digital photography. I am “an old school darkroom photographer” but I love to use Photoshop today. I mainly use luminosity masking technique.

        • Filip, not a problem, I am on pain medication for an injury from last year so I was not very clear about what I was saying. Thanks you for pointing out it wasn’t clear.

          I am with you on the zone system and the many things I learned from Ansel. The younger generation seems to quickly discard great techniques developed by great artists for fast food photography. I have seen some well done HDR photography and it would be hard to tell it was HDR, most of what I see is like a concoction of something that really is not a true sum of all it’s parts.

          Ratcliff markets well and is popular, good for him yet I think there are is a vast number of photographers who are better artists. Thanks for the conversation…

  23. Our studio invested 10’s of thousands in digital view cameras in the 90s and early 2000s. They were temperamental, slow, prone to overheating, used inscrutable buggy software, and (at first) you got a 6MP image. A lot of the other photogs around weren’t interested in learning digital, or railed about how expensive and shitty it was compared to film etc etc

    The first system (around 100k) paid for itself in 3 months as agencies realized they could walk out of the studio the same day with a disc. We also had the first website in the area with a portfolio on it that made for an easy sell to tech companies.

    I don’t think any of those photographers who refused to move forward are in business anymore. By the time they had to switch, they’d lost their clients and didn’t have the skills required to produce the image. And they just didn’t care to learn something new. Lost time, lost chances, lost business.

  24. amen! it’s nice to have the concept of monetizing thru photography put to words so well. it’s clear that selling can encompass far more that services and prints – that the web is an amazing tool between blogging and you tube and that teaching / workshops etc are all ways to stay on top of your game, give some thing and get something back.

  25. Amen Rob,
    THis is something I have been thinking for years. These people not only have the above mentioned mindset, but they also frown upon older proven ways of doing things (i.e Never even mention film/large format, even though they are better suited than 35mm digital than somethings and some of the greatest photographers today use more “antiquated” as they would say, systems i.e Dan Winters), and they jump on the newest trends. New things are good, old things are good, but they aren’t good for everything

  26. Thanks for posting that great piece. I work with a well-known photographer and get requests for free usage on a daily basis from a variety of people. I include this latest one, from a prominent person who works for a large NGO. It’s fairly typical. I reply to them all, and include a link to a article about how to respond to requests for free photography. The actual name of the person requesting the free images, as well as what he is asking for have been removed by me to protect his identity. But I think you’ll get the gist of this:


    Thank you for such a quick reply. I am new to surfing Flickr, and I suddenly realize that some people post photos that don’t belong to them (including yours) without crediting the original photographer, but I’m guessing that the shots on your pages are yours.

    I would like to ask whether you would grant me permission to use one, or possibly two, of your photos.

    I’ve written an article examining the role of rock festivals in spreading the 60s counterculture in America, and I’m now getting close to posting it on a website where it will be accessible to everyone. The site I’m considering offers no financial compensation for posted articles, but some good visibility. In order to illustrate the article properly, I’ve also identified about fifteen images I would like to include in it when I post it. Some are my own photos and some were taken by both friends and strangers, most of whom have already granted me permission to use their photos.

    I would really like to use one or two of your shots from your ________ series at They would be _________ and one of the following two shots: either __________” or the third one (un-numbered) in the series showing ___________ with the crowd in the background.

    I am still awaiting guidance from the website as to the proper size and format for included photos, and if you permit me to use your photo(s) I will let you know what they say before asking you to send me a digital copy. Also, I may be able to provide a weblink, in the photo caption, to a website or e-mail address of your choosing so readers can find you, and I will let you know once that is confirmed so you can tell me if you would like me to do that and which URL link or e-mail address you would prefer.

    Would you be willing to kindly give me permission to use one or two of your photos, at no charge, for this posting of my article?


    • If you are a photographer with a historic archive it is your choice whether or not you allow an NGO to use your photographs for no monetary compensation. I did a conceptual photo shoot about global warming and allow free use of that image by organizations that I believe in to raise awareness. If it were me, I’d take this on a case by case basis.

      • ceo,
        Thanks for the input on NGO’s- I get what you are saying about approaching requests for free usage on a case by case basis. I probably should have said that we have, from time to time, allowed charities, and NGO’s permission to reproduce a photograph for a worthy cause that we believe in for no charge. The problem with the example that I posted was that the person asking for permission to use pictures (that he saw on our flickr account) wanted free usage for something totally unrelated to his NGO and thus we did not consider it worthy of free usage, nor of our time to comply with his request.

        I also was trying to stress that I could spend all day responding to these types of requests because we get that many. But, spending all day on these requests means that we get no paying work done, and hence would not be in the business of photography anymore. The people who make these requests often don’t realize how much time it can take to locate the scan, size it, caption it, send it, or upload it, scan a negative, etc. We’re not a huge business like Getty or Corbis for instance, and manual labor is involved with each request.

        Back to the point of the original post, we spend the majority of our time focused on the people who contact us with legitimate business requests, and because of that we are able to earn a living and stay in business.

        Social media has allowed us to spread information about new projects, but it has not contributed as much to our business model, or our bottom line as we first thought it might. It has, however, contributed to the increased number of requests for free usage.

  27. It’s now common knowledge that Vincent Laforet did the first video, Reverie, with the Canon 5D MK II, with money from his own pocket, for free. Then it went viral, then he became very well known. Photojournalism has gone down from what it was. He needed a new work. Is the video still on youtube? Can you like to it from you blog and put it on your blog?

    If I’m not mistaken, he offered it to Canon to promote the 5D MK II and they turned it down at first. Then, after it went viral, they licensed it from him.

    • You seem to have taken the spirit of this post the wrong way. Everyone works for free if it benefits them. Collecting lots of friend and likes does not mean you will sell more images. Vincent is sponsored by Canon and his blog was widely read when this all went down. His ability to release new products for them is tied to how many people follow him. A Canon sponsored video on YouTube has nothing to do with someone who shoots stock on spec.

      The point was to pick your friends based on how it benefits your business and not to go out and collect as many friends as you can.

  28. Super Zimmer

    All this shit about “likes”, “views” and “follows” makes me want to
    virtually puke. Maybe I should update my Facebook status.

  29. I have to agree with the original article – “Making a living selling photographs will not die.”

    I’ve become increasingly disillusioned the last year or so with Facebook, Google+, Flickr etc and posting 800px photos on the internet. And the amount of effort it takes to keep up with the txt speak/noise of the internet etc.

    I’d like to believe people hire me for my creativity/skill in making photographs. My clients are shocked when I hand them a 12inch or 16inch print – they didn’t know photos could go that ‘big’ – they’re so used to 800px on the internet.

    TBH, I’m thinking of changing tack and NOT giving out CD’s/DVD’s of my photos… I’m thinking that, in future, you can only buy photographic prints from me?