The NUJ says amateurs should demand payment
Charging boosts photographers
“WE LOVE YOUR pictures and are really keen to publish some of your work" - it was the kind of unsolicited phone calls that any amateur photographer dreams of.
I was still composing my exclamation of delight when the reality check arrived. "I am afraid that we don't have a budget, so we won't be able to pay you".
Twenty years ago, such calls were a rarity - cheapshot publishers taking a chance. Today, an extraordinary proportion of all published images are not paid for, and professional editorial photographers have had a correspondingly hard time. Hundreds have had to seek out new lines of work.
"Lots of photographers I know, many of them enormously talented, dedicated professionals, have struggled as a tide of free images has locked them out of markets on which they have depended for years", says Nick McGowan-Lowe who represents the NUJ's 2000 photographers on the union's National Executive.
Hoping to improve this situation, union photographers have launched a campaign - #useitpayforit - to encourage talented amateurs and those lucky enough to catch newsworthy moments to seek payment from those who use their photos.
To do this, they are highlighting individuals who have been savvy enough to charge. Joshua Latchford, for example, was just 17 when he snapped a crumpled £215,000 McLaren supercar that came a cropper ten minutes after its owner had picked up the keys.
He sent the picture to his local weekly paper, offering to allow them to publish it for free, so long as they credited him.
Alas, the picture appeared without his name and the paper syndicated the picture to a third party, ensuring it appeared in several national newspapers and websites around the world.
Latchford threatened action and after several exchanges of letters found himself a few hundred pounds better off. Today where the picture appears, so does his credit.
More fortunate still was freelance writer Tanya Gold who caught Ukip leader Henry Bolton and his on/off girlfriend Jo Marney riding the tube. Gold made more than £1500 for her three pictures, taken under the pretence of "doing a selfie".
To help those inexperienced in selling their works, the NUJ has made available a suite of free-to-access guides. At the heart of these are a basic set of rules-of-thumb to ensure that you are not ripped off and get the best price for your work. These link to the union's Freelance Fees Guide and to the Rate For The Job database that details actual prices paid for work going back over 30 years - tell everyone to visit useitpayforit.info
"For a lot of jobs, particularly news, the NUJ believes that it is vital to use a genuinely experienced professional - quite apart from getting the shot, there are legal and ethical demands when taking pictures for publication", says McGowan-Lowe.
"We recognise, however, that there are great photographers out there who are not professionals, and a lot of moments when someone at the scene of an incident gets the crucial shot. If more of those people charged, it would halt the tide of images offered for nothing crowding out those by photographers who demand a fee."
For myself, I politely declined the flattery of the budget-less publisher. Only occasionally have I been paid for my photography. Receiving even a modest fee, however, feels so much better than fretting that the publication of my pictures illustrates only how little I value them.