About Me

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Spofford, New Hampshire, United States
Jeff Newcomer has been a physician practicing in New Hampshire and Vermont for over 30 years. Over that time, as a member of the Conservation Commission in his home of Chesterfield New Hampshire, he has used his photography to promote the protection and appreciation of the town's wild lands. In recent years he has been transitioning his focus from medicine to photography, writing and teaching. Jeff enjoys photographing throughout New England, but has concentrated on the Monadnock Region and southern Vermont and has had a long term artistic relationship with Mount Monadnock. He is a featured artist in a number of local galleries and his work is often seen in regional print, web publications and in business installations throughout the country. For years Jeff has published a calendar celebrating the beauty of The New England country-side in all seasons. All of the proceeds from his New England Reflections Calendar have gone to support the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program at the Cheshire Medical Center. Jeff has a strong commitment to sharing his excitement about the special beauty of our region and publishes a weekly blog about photography in New England.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

"No Budget for Photography", The Devaluation of Photography


A Few Thoughts on Dealing with the Devaluation of Photography

It is a common experience for many of us. We get a call or an email from a design firm interested in using one or more of our images in a project. The pattern is very consistent. They start by complementing the work, “it is much better than anything I’ve seen”. "It would be perfect for our brochure, poster, magazine or web site." So far so good. I feel great that my work is appreciated and it is nice that they are actually asking permission to use my image(s), but then the other standard lines come into play. “Our funds are slim and we don’t have a budget for photography, but it will be great exposure for you and we would be happy to include a photo credit”. It makes me want to scream, “If your design firm will agree to work for nothing, so will I!”. 

There are variations on this theme. A few weeks ago I heard from a communications firm asking to use one of my images on a calendar they were preparing for a regional finance company. They wanted to pay $20 for the license to use the image and without any photo credit. They insisted that they had many excellent photographers who were happy to provide their pictures at this rate. They seemed like very nice folks, and I told them that I would be excited to contribute to their project, but I had to ask for a more reasonable fee especially if I would get no recognition for the work. I politely suggested that if their budget was not flexible that they should certainly use one their photographers who would agree to such minimal compensation. 

Whether it is minimal or no compensation, this is all part of an increasingly familiar pattern of the undervaluation of photography which undoubtedly stems from a combination of factors. We know the great amount of time, effort and expense that goes into capturing the perfect image, but in the digital world the public has been increasing encourage by the media and marketing to think of photography as something that occurs automatically with the click of a shutter. Because folks can occasionally get a decent picture with their cell phone, they think that a professionally crafted image must take little further effort or skill.  reinforcing  this perception is easy availability of cheap images through micro-stock agencies. Over the years I have worked hard to capture many images of Mount Monadnock, in all seasons, times of day and extremes of weather. I think I have some great shots that should be of high value, but a search of the stock photo site Shutter Stock shows that I can download a high resolution photo of the mountain for only about $15 per image. 


Of course we are our own worst enemy. There are many developing photographers who are willing to accept a photo credit as compensation for their work. It is great to see your images in print, but I am aware of no studies that shows that a photo credit is an effective marketing tool.  Of course if National Geographic calls offering me a cover for only a photo credit, I would have to think hard, but the fact is high quality publications, in which a credit would have real value, would not be likely to refuse fair compensation.


None of the factors that serve to devalue photography show any signs of going away. So what can we do when faced with the "No budget for photography" scenario. 

Know Your Worth
I have struggled with this issue many time, and I don't have any magical answers. I believe that the first step is to realistically assess

Banks pay their bills

the value of your work to the customer. This is not about selling fine art prints. It has very little to do with how artistically magnificent the image is , but how it meets the customer's specific requirements. If you have an image of the precise subject that is needed, in the proper size and orientation and if it tells the desired story, then the image may be of great value, even if it is not the most stunning in your portfolio. I have been frequently amazed when images that I felt were mediocre have been selected because they complement a certain theme, or match the color scheme or because the planned text fits in the picture's open spaces. Designer's can be expected to be unapologetic about their goal to get the image that best fits their needs for the least amount of money and you should not feel uneasy about asking to be fairly compensated for your work. As much as we would like it to be about the art, it is about business.

My first thought when a potential client undervalues my work is to avoid the tendency to feel insulted. It's not art, it's business. I try to delay any specific mention of money. I try to begin the discussion
You haven't arrived until you are on Pig Ears
by showing interest in the project and telling the client that I would be thrilled to work with them. I note that my licensing fees vary depending on the specifics of the project, the size of the image, the distribution and the presence of credit. I also ask about the purpose of the publication; I am very supportive of worthy nonprofit causes and by the same token, I would not want my work associated with a neo-nazi pamphlet . If the discussion continues, my goal is to show how my image would fill the specific needs of the project, not only the beauty of the picture, but also how The size and resolution of the image would be customized to meet the specific requirement. 

Donated to a great cause
If the client insists that they can not fairly compensate me for my work, I try to avoid being too preachy about the time and expense that goes into my work. I may mention that I frequently donate my work to non-profits who do good things in my community, but that giving my images away for little or no compensation would be unfair to my many for-profit clients who pay for my work. There are numerous internet articles which detail the cost and effort that goes into the creation of high quality photographic images, but although we may feel terribly disrespected, it is all really beside the point. 

Went to Maine for a wedding this weekend
Couldn't resist a shot at Nubble Light.
Designers don't care how hard we worked to get an image. They only know what they need for their project and if you can't convince them that your work is worth paying for, you might as well thank them very politely for their interest, wish them success, and go out and photograph a lighthouse. Sometimes when you come home you may find a message on your machine offering a more reasonable deal.


As it turns out, the communications firm that offered me $20 for my image eventually decided to license three of my images for a price close to my original bid. The theme of their calendar was Festivals and Events in New England and I was able to direct them to a number of my collections that provided exactly what they were looking for. 

It doesn't always work, but after all it's only business.

Jeffrey Newcomer


  1. You should belong to ASMP as I do. They work constantly to deal with this problem, and they deserve your support and membership.

  2. ASMP is a good organization to belong to but I have to justify the $225 for an associate member... I think we as photographers (As Jeff noted) are our own worse enemy. We are happy when just starting out to get a credit or byline and when we have given the farm away enough and we're ready to charge what we feel we're worth, the damage is done.
    So Many come to me saying "I never pay more than $19 for our purposes" Then I ask why are you coming to me? I charge way more than $19...
    Good article Jeff

  3. Thank you for this excellent article, Jeff. It's good to be reminded of ways to deal with this when approached by someone who wants a freebie or close to it. A year or two ago someone started up an online magazine about Rhode Island. She invited contributions but wasn't paying anything. I said sorry, I'm a pro and expect to be paid for my work. I'm not hurting in the least that my work isn't in there. I do occasional free work for my church in lieu of financial contributions, which I can't afford. That's it.

  4. Great article Jeff. Thank you.
    Sharon Fiedler