Free

FREE

Dear Reader,

If you have been directed to this page, it is likely that you have requested the use of content for free. As a professional photographer, designer and videographer I’ve spent many hours responding to emails and phone calls about this topic. Instead of trying to explain it one more time, I decided to write this brief article so I don’t have to keep repeating myself.

An Inconvenient Truth:

Like most normal people I am required to work to earn money. I use this money to pay bills and support myself, my work and my family.  Creating content is the way I earn money. If I give my content away “for free” I cannot make a living. When the mortgage is due, the car needs gas or the refrigerator is empty, cold hard cash is required. I cannot pay bills with photo credit lines, thank you letters, or comments like “We just *LOVE *your work!!!”

Equipment COSTS:

Photography and videography is equipment intensive by nature. I’ve shelled out more money for professional-grade equipment over the last fifteen years than I care to admit. Camera bodies, lenses, tripods, batteries, backpacks, hard drives, memory cards, etc.  The list goes on and on and they’re anything but free. In addition to equipment I also have other common business expenses like insurance, phone/email, office supplies, web hosting, internet access, and electricity.

It still takes money to get places too… travel expenses such as gasoline, airline tickets, hotel rooms, park admission fees, food, rental cars and parking. Add in the latest image editing software, plugins, and powerful computer systems, plus the cost of backing up terabytes of redundant data at offsite locations. It all adds up pretty quickly. I spend several thousand dollars each year on essential hardware, software and travel.

Experience, Knowledge and Time:

Taking snapshots may only involve pressing a button, but creating images requires experience, knowledge and time. I’ve spent the last decade trying to be the absolute best photographer I can possibly be. While most people are out at the bar or enjoying a movie, I’m in my office reading, learning, practicing and experimenting with all manner of photo/video gear and techniques. It takes continual day-to-day effort to stay up to date with an industry that is in such a constant state of flux. It’s all I do, day in and day out. I’ve literally spent years behind camera lenses and in front of computer monitors becoming an expert operator of all things digital.

There are no shortcuts, no fast tracks, no matrix-like downloads right to your head. The knowledge and experience I’ve acquired can only come from putting time in – doing it again and again, year after year. Harder. Better. Faster. Stronger. Likewise, amazing things don’t just jump in front of my camera while I sit on the couch – I go out in search of them. When you’re sitting down to eat a nice dinner, I’m out in the swamp getting eaten alive by mosquitoes so I can capture scenery in that brilliant golden hour light. While you’re fast asleep in the wee hours of the morning, I’ve been awake for hours schlepping a heavy backpack full of gear up the side of a mountain so I can make it there before the sun does. While you’re sitting on the beach working on your tan, I’m trying not to drown (or get eaten by sharks) in twelve feet of riptide-laden water with waves crashing down on me trying to catch a dude shacked in a gnarly left barrel. You get the idea.

Most of the time it’s challenging and fun (and I truly do enjoy the effort involved) but it’s never easy – it’s hard work. Think that’s all there is to it? Think the images are done and ready to go right after the shutter clicks? It would be amazing if photos could magically float out of my camera and into the world looking fantastic… but they don’t. After clicking the shutter comes the post-processing. Hours. Sometimes days. Post-production eats time and that time is something that I have to be compensated for – just like any other job.

Wrapping Up:

So when someone asks me if they can “use my image or video for free”, it’s hard to not take it as an insult. I mean, imagine what would happen if you were to sit down in a restaurant and tell the waiter, “Hey Chauncey, how about you rustle me up your nicest steak dinner with the best bottle of wine you’ve got… for free?” Yeah. Chauncey probably wouldn’t go for that and neither will I.

When you work for free, you”re working on going out of business. While I can certainly understand and can sympathize with budgetary constraints, I simply cannot afford to work for free. The bottom line is that my equipment has value. My time has value. My experience has value. And most importantly, my content has value. If you truly love my work as much as you say you do, buy a print. Buy a download. Buy a license. Christ, toss fifty bucks my way… but please don’t insult me by asking me to give away all of my time, hard work and energy for free.