Photography students and recent graduates – please read this.

January 11, 2012 at 12:17 am

Here is a cold hard fact:

‘Exposure’ won’t buy you shit.

Before you look away, let me elaborate a little bit. As creatives, we do all need a certain amount of exposure; if you want those people who commission photography to hire you, then you need to get your work in front of them. There’s plenty of ways of doing this while preserving your integrity – there’s a number of good blogs with a wide reach, and you could even (gasp) just pound the pavements with a portfolio or a box of well presented prints.

However. Please, please, please – don’t give your stuff away for free to organisations that should be paying you for it.

Here is a little case study that happened to me earlier this week.

I got a mail in my inbox titled ‘Photo Request’.. this is what it said:


Hello there,

I work for global creative agency XXXXXXX in London. We love your work, and would like to feature your photo (attached) in our printed publication as the title page to our ‘Technology’ section. We just wondered whether we could have permission to use a hi-res version? We can of course give you a full credit. You can see an online version of the publication here (weblink) We distribute 10,000 of our audience surveys globally to our clients (brands ranging from Nike to Hennessy), independent shops, magazines and buyers.

We are on a very deadline with this project so would be great to hear from you ASAP!

Thanks so much for your help!

From the series 'Spin' by Ben Roberts

This was my response:


Hi Xxxxxx

Thanks for your interest in my work. I’d be happy to supply the hi-res version of this image for a non-exclusive single usage fee of £xxx.

I look forward to hearing from you. 

kind regards

Ben Roberts


Of course, I pretty much knew what the response would be to that – and sure enough, the following day i received this:


Hi Ben!

Unfortunately we don’t have much of a budget for this new publication, so were hoping to give you exposure to our clients and brands and a credit for use of the photo. However, if this isn’t suitable we understand.

Thanks for your help!



You know what? I stewed on this for a while. Of course, my expectations had been met; I hadn’t been seduced by the ‘incredible opportunity’ to have my work exposed to ‘clients and brands’. My integrity was intact. However, I’ve received so many of these crappy ‘opportunities’ from tight wadded ‘creative’ agencies, I thought it was about time that I told one of them exactly what I thought of their ‘generosity’.
Dear Xxxxxx
thanks for your response. I’ve been in this business way too long, and my ability is (obviously, or you wouldn’t want to use my photographs) too valuable to just be given away for free. do me a favour and watch this video:


perhaps it will make you and your organisation think twice about approaching content creators like me with frankly insulting ‘opportunities’ such as this;

or maybe not, but hell, sending this email will brighten my day slightly.



Students and young aspiring photographers; Whatever you do with your work, do not give it away for free to goddam leeches like these people. Don’t be seduced by false promises and the tantalising, mystical allure of your name in lights – ‘Jonny Knobhead, superstar photographer‘ – this will not fucking happen unless you are Ryan Effing McGinley. And you’re (probably) not.

Clients who truly value what you do and the content that you create will PAY YOU in ACTUAL MONEY for the work that you do for them, or the work that you have already done that they want to use.

A credit won’t buy you a new skateboard. A credit won’t help you get your film developed. A credit won’t buy you shit.

You can create your own buzz and exposure by collaborating with designers, illustrators and stylists in your peer groups; be your own publicity machine.

But when the big agencies come knocking with their cap in hand, be strong. Insist on payment in a polite, straightforward manner. If they pass this opportunity up, then move on with your head held high and your ass intact. Or maybe send them Mr Ellison’s video.