Should You Photograph for Exposure?

I tend to be a balanced person, so I like to avoid extremes. This week I am digging into one of those areas that divide photographers: photograph for exposure. It is when someone asks for free photographs in exchange for exposure, for visibility.
The main point of discussion is: does it work? Should you photograph for exposure? My answer is… it depends. In general, we would not accept such an offer, but there are exceptions.
As professional photographers, we need to pay the bills with our work. The images we create should make us live, and the amount of expenses and taxes we pay is high. This, of course, forgetting something important: our craft is valuable! Our art is valuable.

Professional Photographers and Exposure

As professional photographers, we need to pay the rent, the bills and make a living out of our photographs. In our world, we all need money to pay for our lives. When you become a professional photographer, meaning that you make a living out of your craft, you do not have a check coming in the 27th of every month. Still you need to bring home money to live.
Exposure is such a nice thing; unfortunately, our landlord doesn’t seem to be happy to be paid with it. Making in the world with your art is tough, and exposure flatter us, but can’t give us the money we need.

Understand Your Value

The first thing to understand is that your work as a photographer has a value.
Few months ago, a woman complained because she could have printed an image for a couple of pounds while our price is higher than that. Well, I am sorry to break the news to you, but your photos do not have the value of the paper they are printed on.
You are an artist, and you should start believing in it.

Does “Valuable Exposure” Exist?

Everyone loves exposure. There is always the possibility to be seen, to be discovered. Someone may actually see your image in that publication and hire you for big money. There are some examples of underdogs whose photos have been bought for big money.
Some.
Now I would like you to remember the last time you saw an image you loved, on a website or a magazine, and then the name of the photographer who took it. In all honesty, I cannot remember when was the last time for me, and I am a photographer, who cares about these kind of things.
I am not saying that there is no exposure worthy a lack of payment. The more I grow, the more I realise that these are exceptionally rare. When they come, you will realise they are the “one in a million“.

Free Exposure

Something else we all should remember is that if someone contacts you to use your images, they need them. When we are told that we will receive “free exposure“, that is completely wrong. We pay with not making the money we should for the usage of our images. We give something for free, possibly without needing it, otherwise we would have reached out, not vice versa.
Don’t fall for the “free exposure”, as this is certainly not the case.

The hardest thing

The hardest thing to say is “no“. It is difficult to say “I am flattered by your offer, but I don’t allow free usage of my contents“. You feel bad, partly because “I coulda’ been a contender“, partly because someone else will take the same opportunity.
My advice? Let go.
Real opportunities come from time to time, but they are easy to spot. The rest should licence our work, our style, the uniqueness we have captured. And mark my words: it is not greediness, it is about making a living.

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