Photographers earn a living in two ways: they are paid for their time on a commission, or they are paid for their intellectual property, by licensing their copyright! A lot of people fail to understand this, and think that once a picture exists then there is no reason why a photographer can't let them use that picture for free. Unfortunately, a lot of aspiring photographers think in this way too, and seem quite happy to give away their pictures in some misguided attempt to break into the photography business.

Recently I received the following email from a designer working for the World Meteorological Organization in Switzerland asking if he could use this picture without paying for it. My responses to him should form a lesson to both potential users of pictures and aspiring photographers alike on the nature of the photography business and quite why professional photographers get so offended when people expect to be able to use our pictures for free!


Hello, I'm currently working on page layout for an internal publication by the APFM, a group within the WMO, about flood management.

Searching for cover art, I came across (on Flickr) one of your images, which I liked it a lot, and would like to submit it for the publication about Flash Floods.

I am attaching a mock up of the idea your image gave me - as you can see, it works well as a visual pun, which is something I try to make in order to add a slightly less "corporate" look to a rather dry (no pun intended here!) technical document series.

I would like to know if you'd agree to your image being used for this purpose?

Your work would be credited in the Acknowledgments page of the publication, of course. Let me know what you think, and I really hope you'll give us permission.

Best, Xxxxx

Associated Programme on Flood Management:
World Meteorological Organization:

I sent the following reply...

Hi Xxxxx,

Many thanks for your inquiry and interest in using my photograph.

I am a professional photographer, and taking and licensing pictures is how I make a living: it is how I pay my mortgage, and how I feed my two children. You are welcome to use my picture, but I expect to be paid the going rate for this usage. There is a general perception that once a photograph has been taken then it does not cost the photographer anything to allow someone to use it. That picture was taken with expensive equipment, on a trip to Laos which cost a considerable amount. I have to be comprehensively insured, and then pay get equipment serviced on my return. I have to process images on a computer which cost yet more money, and then store them on multiple platforms for security and distribution. I have to pay for alarm monitoring to keep my equipment safe, and for electricity so it will run.

Then there is my time: I have spent years learning my trade, and then more time taking, processing and selling images. I expect to be paid for that time and that considerable investment, in the same way that I am sure that you receive a salary for the work that you do. The difference is that I have make all of this considerable investment in time an money in advance; and then aim to recoup this investment subsequently. Whereas, I am sure that you receive a salary for the work that you do, that you expect to be paid on time, and that you would seek legal advice, and refuse to work if you were told that you wouldn't be paid.

I am sure that the staff working in the offices of the APFM, and the WMO will be paid for the work that they do, and that they will pay rent for the offices, for the security personnel and even for cleaners. I am sure that researchers and authors who worked on the report will be paid, and the printers who will print it will also be paid.

All of these people, will take their money, pay their tax, and then use the money to improve the lives of their families and their children. Depending on their circumstances, I am sure that some might even give money to charities, especially those who actually do things to make peoples' lives easier and happier, rather than just write about things.

I notice from a cursory look at the WMO budget for 2012-2105 which is freely available in a rather natty Powerpoint presentation on the internet, that the organisation expects to employ 270 staff for this period including 25 directors, and that your total proposed budget for the period is 451 million Swiss Francs.

And so I fail to see why I am any less deserving of recompense for my time, my investment, my work and my creativity than anyone else. Why my children are less deserving of food, shelter and even Christmas presents than anyone else who will be paid for their work on this project.

If you have an answer for this, then I would be really interested to hear it.

If you would like to talk seriously about your budget for using my picture then I would be really interested to hear that too!

Kind regards,

Steve Davey

When I didn't get a response, I did a little more research...


Hi Xxxxx,

Further to my previous email, I have located the salary scales on the WMO website(, which does cast an interesting light on your request for me to grant the WMO free use of one of my images for the cover of your internal publication.

As a designer, I would estimate that you should be between salary scale G3 and G5, which means that your annual salary would range between 61,562 and 100,161 Swiss Francs, depending on number of years you have worked for the organisation; or at least you would be if you were an employee. I notice that staff members are in line for a dependency allowance of CHF 7211 for a dependent spouse and CHF 3913 for each dependent children. I notice staff members are also entitled to a whopping six weeks paid leave annually and other benefits.

Needless to say as a freelance photographer I do not earn nearly so much; no one pays me an allowance to care for my children and I simply cannot afford to take six weeks of holiday, even though I would dearly love be able to spend such time with my children.

However, I do have a solution for this, which reflects the fact that the WMO is an organisation which is intending to in this instance alleviate the problem of flooding around the world.

The industry price for the use that you requested is in the region of 485 for a strictly internal report, rising to 905 if this is to be made publicly available. If you can let me know what percentage of your salary, allowances, benefits and annual paid leave that you are giving up to support the laudable and charitable aims of the WMO, I will happily deduct the same percentage from these prices.

I hope that you find this a fair and equitable solution.

Best wishes,

Steve Davey


Needless to say I am still waiting for a response...

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