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How to Respond to Requests for Free Photography (And Say No)

Last updated: March 13, 2024 - 6 min read
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For many amateur photographers, it’s only a matter of time before someone approaches them with requests for free photos. It might sound flattering to get attention. However, attention will not pay your bills.
How to respond to requests for free photography? Is it worth it to offer your pictures for free? We discuss everything you need to know in this article.

When To Accept Respond To Requests for Free Photography

There are certain situations when it is worth it to offer a free photoshoot. When you build your portfolio, you can ask people to model your photos and offer them a free photoshoot. This means that you do not have to pay money for the model’s work. Instead, you offer them free photos.
It’s also a smart idea to take on a free photoshoot if you get credited in a famous online magazine or a platform with many readers. This can boost your career and offer you unexpected opportunities. Plus, it is a great way to build your network in the photography industry.
Before you agree to work for free, you should consider its costs and benefits. You are using your equipment and gear. You spend time taking and editing the photos, and nobody compensates for it. Your photos might be used in a context that is not good for your brand and business. You can also miss out on taking work opportunities that would pay you.
an image of a woman sitting on the floor reading a magazine with oink sunglasses on

Common Inquiries for Free Photographs

Let’s look at some common reasons people will ask to use your photos for free.

  • ‘We Will Offer You Photo Credit, and Link to Your Website’: This is something you will see a lot, and it’s often worthless. Photo credit is never going to pay the bills, and it’s something you should receive if they pay for your photos anyway.
  • ‘Hundreds of Thousands of People Will Wee Your Photo’: Again, exposure is great, but it’s not going to pay for your groceries.
  • ‘It’s for Charity’: This is one of the few times that I will allow my photos to go out for free. It’s a way in which I can give back that others cannot.
  • ‘There’s No Budget for Photography’: I often find it to be false. Publications have a budget for photography. If they do not, they will not be providing you with the level of exposure that would make it worth your while to give up a photo for free.
  • ‘But I’m Family/Friend’ or ‘We’ve Known Each Other for So Long’: That is a tricky one. Saying no to a friend or a relative is never easy. But if you want to make a living from photography, you need to be logical. Your friends or relatives also have jobs that they do no do for free.

an image of a man sitting at his computer holding a coffee mug shot through a window at night

How to Respond to Free Photo Requests

The first thing you do not want to do, and that’s launch into a rant. It’s not worth your time or theirs. I have seen various articles that people link to when they are approached for free photography. I have to say, I would not read them because their tone is often coarse and dictating. These articles are way too long and only talk about why photographers must never allow working for free.
Before we move any further, it’s important to understand the mindset of someone asking to use your photos for free. The majority of the time, they are not willing to pay for your photo. That’s why they have not tried licensing a similar photo from Getty or a stock photography website.
So knowing this, what do you say, without wasting your time? Well, I get straight to the point. Here is what a typical response will look like:

Dear Sir/Madam
Thank you for your interest in my photo.
I regret to inform you that I do not allow my photos to be used without receiving payment. I appreciate that you may be able to provide me with exposure, but I hope you can understand that this is simply not a good business model for me, as the costs associated with taking photos can be considerably high.
However, I do allow my photos to be licensed at a very reasonable rate of $X per photo, for one-time, non-exclusive use. If you are still interested in using my photos, please let me know which ones you wish to use so that I can prepare a licensing agreement for you.
Josh Dunlop

This way, I do not simply ignore their request. I conduct myself professionally, allowing them to see how much they would have to pay if they still want to use my photos.

How to Price Your Photos

The price per photo is dependant on who is asking and the size of the photo they want to use. If it’s a large national publisher and wants the photo to cover the front page, I will charge a lot more than I would for a blog looking for a small photo to use as a featured image.
The price I charge comes down to these factors:

  • Print vs digital
  • Commercial vs editorial
  • Circulation of the publication
  • The size of the image
  • The amount of time they will use it
  • Whether they want exclusive rights
  • The number of photos they want to use (price per image comes down when they want multiples)

Keep in mind that prices and factors also depend on the photography genre you work in. A real estate photographer might be able to ask for more money than a portrait photographer, for example.
So you can see, there is a lot to take into account, which is why I have listed it as $X in my example.
an image of a whoite board that says 'taxes' against a background of dollar bills


The fact of the matter is that most people looking for free photos are not looking to pay. That is why it’s best not to waste too much time with them. On a rare occasion, you will find someone trying their luck first before they offer payment. That is why it’s always worth replying to them, detailing your pricing for their publication.
Do not get lost in a rant about how it’s important to get paid for every photo because as much as it’s important to you, they likely do not care. Act professional and know your photography’s worth to succeed in this business is the best way to respond to requests for free photography.
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