Free is Killing Me! Matt Brown says too many people are giving away photographs for free or dirt-cheap.

Photo by Matt A. Brown

Photo by Matt A. Brown

Stop working for free!

Next time you’re in the local hardware store, ask the salesman to give you free tools and tell him in return you will tell all your friends you got your tools from his hardware store.

Or try it at the grocery store. I can see it now, standing at the check at line:

“That we be $102.85, sir.”

“You don’t know me but I will tell everyone I know to shop at Ralph’s if I can just get my groceries for free”.

“Sure Mr. Brown nobody knows about us yet, here’s your food and have a nice day!”


Can you send me a photo? Can I get a photo for free? We will give you credit for the photo! How many times have you heard that?

Free! Free! Free!

I’ve had, Wilson Sporting Goods Global Marketing, Fox Sports,, ABC, CBS, Fox,, Baseball America, college websites and yes, newspapers, magazines, all ask for FREE photos. Some are even willing to give me photo credit.

Wow! Give me photo credit for a photo I created! So these companies can take it and make money from a product I provided free. Yes, money. The bottom line here is money. Give me your photos for free and I can post them on their company website or run it in a publication… what a concept!

I received an email the other day from a CBS College Sports Network production assistant. Here is the exchange:

I hope all is well. Can you email me six Cal State Fullerton Baseball action photos from this season?
Mr. X”

I replied that day:
“Mr. X,
There will be a charge for use of the photos.

The response:
My boss said no due to the fee…sorry.
Mr. X”

At the same time I was emailing Mr. X, he was emailing Mr. Greenlee, the Sports Information Director at Cal State Fullerton asking if he can get me to waive the fee because CBS just doesn’t have the money to buy photos. Did you know what David Letterman makes a year? Dave signed a contract in 2006 that makes him a reported $38 million a year! Why can’t CBS buy my photos ($50 each) for their website?

I emailed Mr. X and asked if CBS ever pays for photos. What he wrote back was shocking:

Photo by Matt Brown

Photo by Matt Brown

Southern California freelance photographer Matt Brown shot this during a portrait lighting class with Cal State Fullerton basketball player Frank Robinson during Sports Shooter Academy V.

Cal State Fullerton was the 1st school that we came across that charges a fee to use photos. Other schools just gladly give them to us for free and we credit the photographer or sports information from the school…whichever they prefer. I have yet to see CBS College Sports pay for photos to use.

Mr. X”

Well that answers why can’t CBS buy my photos ($50 each) for their TV show: Because you or your boss is handing out photos for free! Maybe you don’t know this is happening or you just like seeing your byline on a website. But it’s just bad business.

I never had anyone call me up after seeing my photos on and say we NEED you to shoot our annual report or our next catalog.

Maybe schools have something worked out with their photographers about handing out photos to websites. Maybe the photographer gets paid extra for the ability to hand the photos out. Just make sure you know what is happening to your work. I have a feeling a lot of photographers don’t know what happens to their photos.

I had another jaw dropping moment when a former athlete from one of my schools who now works in the SID office at a PAC-10 school, told me when athletes ask her for photos, she would just burn them a CD full of photos.

Two of my bigger clients are Division I schools, Long Beach State and Cal State Fullerton. I have established the rules for working for them and the do’s and don’t of using my work are set in writing. 1) I own all my photos, not the school. 2) Photos can go out to local newspapers and the newspaper of the hometown of the student athlete. 3) No photos go to magazines, websites, players, family or fans and all referrals go through me.

One school follows the rules with no trouble. The other school is hard headed. I have found photos on the websites and magazine and I get the line: “We should have the ability to publicize our programs.” I understand their point of view. But here’s my point of view: If the schools just hand my photos over to another source they are going to make money from my work and I am getting nothing in return. Isn’t it reasonable to expect to be paid fairly for photos?

As you know, we work in a small community, which is getting smaller everyday. A good friend of mine, Larry Goren does freelance work for Baseball America. He covers Major League Baseball, the minor leagues and college baseball for them on a regular basis. Larry covers 4 – 5 Long Beach State and Cal State Fullerton baseball games a year. Baseball America would call Cal State Fullerton or Long Beach State and ask for free baseball photos for its website or magazine. By getting photos from the schools for free they wouldn’t have to pay Larry for his photos.

Photo by Susanica Tam / Sports Shooter

Photo by Susanica Tam / Sports Shooter

Faculty member and freelance photographer Matt Brown gives advice to participant Sawitree Crowe while covering an NCAA men’s baseball game at Cal State Fullerton during Sports Shooter Academy V held in Orange County, CA.

I put a stop to it after locking horns with Baseball America a couple times. Remember we are working in a small community and we must lookout for each other. We can help or hurt each other’s bottom line.

Last week I had two schools, Purdue and Nevada, email me about shooting the NCAA Women’s Softball Regional at UCLA. I gave them a cost for shooting per game. I sent samples and waited to hear back from them. You would think if someone goes out of their way to get in touch with you, it might be a done deal and they are serious about hiring a professional.

The next day I heard from them: Both schools are going with someone else. I asked them who the photographer was and how much was he charging and I was told it was a professor from the UCLA Science Department.

I know some people at the campus and made some calls. I found out his name and did some homework on being a professor at UCLA. This Weekend Warrior makes over $90,000 a year, loves taking sports photos and regularly hands over free photos to schools. He just picked up the phone and called the schools looking to shoot for them during the playoffs. The cost he was asking: $100. Not per game, for the entire weekend! That’s 3 or 4 games for $100 total!

I emailed Joseph Rudnick, Dean of Chemistry & Biochemistry at UCLA, asking if could work at school on Tuesday and Thursday for free because I just love science. I told him I received an A+ in Biochemistry in college.

Think about it for a second. We have people who just love taking photos for free or dirt-cheap as a hobby and think that they can do what you do for a living (as a professional photographer). I went to school for photography and I have busted my ass to get where I’m at and for what? So some professor can do below average work for cheap? Why can’t I teach biochemistry for little or no cost? I never heard back from the dean, too bad … I was really looking forward to teaching biochemistry at UCLA.


7 thoughts on “Free is Killing Me! Matt Brown says too many people are giving away photographs for free or dirt-cheap.

  1. Great article. I’ve told a few up and coming wedding photographers the same thing. Don’t cheapen your craft for the sake of getting the gig, it makes it harder for the rest of us to make a living.

  2. GREAT ARTICLE….this “free” theory extends to many other areas as well. My husband and I are both “local musicians” and have been playing in bands in our area for about 20 years. You would be surprised at the number of times a year we are asked to perform for free. We get calls to do Benefit Concerts on a regular basis and could play every weekend if we wanted to “give it away”. I finally put my foot down and have always managed to be “busy” doing something else as I realized a number of things….

    1. It costs money to play for free – by the time you load up a carful of gear (guitars, amps, piano, stands…..) it takes almost an hour of our time, drive to the gig (gas). Then you get to the gig and haul it all in, get set up, do a sound check, wait for the show to start – another hour or two has now passed. The the 2-3 hour show begins so you play….THEN you have to tear down all the gear, repack it in the car, drive home, unpack it the next morning, cause it’s too dark to be hauling all that stuff out at midnight, plus, I’m just tired cause I started this at 4:00 pm this afternoon. So, Sunday morning, you get up, unload the car and haul everything back downstairs and set it back up so you can keep practicing for your “paying” gigs.

    2. Some of the people who have the nerve to call you to play for free have never attended one of your “paying” gigs before – can’t tell you how many times I’ve been called to play and I really can’t recall ever seeing the persons face at any venue for which there has been a charge to come hear me play. This is kind of frustrating, as if they don’t support me when I could make a few bucks, why should I support them when I know that I’m not going to make anything or possibly go in the hole? I know that charity starts at home and everything, but come on….

    3. It would be nice if you even “knew” the person you were raising the money for – been called several times and been asked to play at a benefit for someone that I had no idea who they were. Now, I have lived in my town all my life, so this is actually quite a feat for me to never have even “heard” of this person, but it happens.

    4. If you do it for nothing, they’ll keep asking – the more you do for people, the more they expect. Had a call one afternoon to play that night – it was 4pm, we had our grandchildren (we are “Young” grandparents) and my mother-in-law was coming for supper at 5 pm – they were miffed because I turned them down. So sorry to have a life.

    5. If you do it for free – they won’t think your good enough to charge.

    Just a few of my thoughts.

  3. The best art is done for the love of the art, not the money. In this open source, free information world we are building, information as well as photos should be free.

  4. Reminds me of a story I heard long ago, it goes something like this:

    A car dealership calls a photographer and asks they come to the dealership to shoot their new cars, photos will be used in direct mail flyers and billboards. The photographer shows up, listens to the car dealerships desires and quotes a price. The dealership replies and says thank you, but we’re hoping you could do this in trade, and that they will put the photographers name / website on the direct mailers and then everyone will know who provided the amazing photos and that will in turn generate lots of business.

    The photographer thought about this for a minute and replied with- OK I’ll tell you what. Give me a car for free, put your dealerships name & emblem on the back of it and I’ll drive it around town every day. People will see how amazing the car is and that I got it from you and everyone will want to get the same car, from you, and it will generate lots of business.

    The car dealership stood dumbfounded.

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