If you are in nature photography business here is my single most important business advise:
Do not give away your photos for free!
For three years in a row, I received an email from a phone book designer saying, “Congratulations! We’d like to use your landscape photo on the cover of our phone book. We won’t charge you anything for this.” The first time I received this, I had to do a double-take to make sure I’d read it correctly. They weren’t going to charge me to use my landscape photo? The first two times, I responded politely and told her my rates for using my photo on a phone book cover. I got no reply, but continued to get the same, identical email every year. Finally, on the third year, I replied, “Congratulations! I’ve chosen you to design my next photography book. Don’t worry, I won’t charge you anything for this.”
Competition in Landscape Photography Business
Landscape photographers and other artists are the only people I know who are routinely asked to give away their product for free. I do understand the reason for this. As a landscape photographer, I am not just competing against other professional photographers. I’m also competing against hobbyists who are just doing this for fun. If you’re a hobbyist and have never been published before, you may be thrilled at the idea of having your landscape photos published, regardless of whether you’re being paid or not. But if you’re giving away landscape photos to a company for free, remember that they are not using your them for some altruistic reason, but because they think they can make a profit off of them. I believe the person who actually put the time, effort, and money into creating the photo should always get a share of that profit.
Pricing and Selling Photos
Sometimes, rather than asking to use a photo for free, a company will write stating what prices they will pay for your landscape photos. This is often the case with interior design and art decor companies. It seems to be standard landscape photography business practice, but I still find it rather odd. I could never go into a grocery store, pick up an item, and say that I’d like to pay $7 for it, even though the price tag says $25. So rather than accept what is usually a low-ball offer, I write back telling them what my prices are. In the case of interior designers or anyone reselling photos to another company, I will usually give 40% off the print prices on my web site. This is generally about 2-3 times what the company initially offered. I’ve found that about half the time, I am able to sell photos at my price. So, while I’ve lost some sales, I’ve come out ahead in the long run.
If someone does ask to use your photos for free or for a very low price, remember that they have picked your photos out from all of the other ones on the web. They must really like your images for the project they have in mind. There’s a pretty good chance they will be willing to pay a reasonable price for the images. However, they also know that some landscape photographers will immediately accept any price they offer, even $0. So rather than accept their offer, I recommend writing back politely and telling them what your prices are for your images. Don’t let someone else tell you what your prices are. I don’t know of any other business that does this, and I don’t believe landscape photography business should be an exception.
If you sell your photos online or have licensed landscape photos feel free to share your own experience in the comments below.