Selling Editorial Photography? Demand a Credit Line!

Posted Jan. 17th, 2012 by Daniel J. Cox

I’ve been thinking about writing this piece for over a year. What finally inspired me to get this off my chest was the image I’ve included  below. The issue I want to discus is photographers not demanding proper credit lines from their agents and the magazines they market to. I’m completely fed up with virtually all photo agencies that no longer consider the relationship with their photographers important enough to demand publishers give proper credit lines on editorial images. Case in point below. This amazing image was used in a recent edition of an airline magazine I was reading on my way to Kenya. Amazingly, for this stunning picture, the only credit line they gave was the agent who sent it to them. Nowhere is there a credit to the photographer.

An amazing image of a golden eagle being attacked by a gull. © Who Knows/Nature Picture Library

 A little history is in order to understand why this is so blatantly wrong. Since the beginning of photography, photographers have always been given a credit line in editorial publications. It was like a tradition and typically that credit is placed next to the image. That tradition was inspired by another age old tradition – publishers constantly whining they don’t have enough money to pay the photographer what it truly costs to make these types of pictures. So, long ago, the two sides decided to come up with a win/win situation that was mutually beneficial. Since the publishers were always squawking they were broke, photographers decided to subsidize them by giving them quality images at a price that was typically less than what it would cost to produce those images. In exchange, the photographer was given a credit line to help build his/her reputation and drive more business. The credit line was a reasonable tradeoff that allowed photographers to make a name for themselves and eventually have enough business to make a reasonable living. The downside is the building of a reputation that followed took forever and many phenomenal photos were sold for substantially less than they were worth. But at least the photographer got a credit line.

Unfortunately, like the Dodo bird, the photographers part of the credit line seems to be going extinct as well. In the last five years, the markets that used to pay so poorly are now paying virtually nothing AND not giving proper credit. Take for example IStock Photo, the biggest of what is known as the Microstock agents, where you can license the use of an image for as little as $3.00 USD for usage rights that used to command 100 times that amount. Yes, I said One Hundred Times! Microstock agents have been the main offenders for not requiring credit lines. That has in turn set precedent and is now being accepted by even the traditional Rights Managed stock agents such as the Nature Picture Library as we see from the image above. You would think with such a tremendous drop in photo prices, the credit line would be even more valuable to the photographer. So I ask you, are you a photographer that’s not demanding your agent share the credit? If so, is it worth it?

In the end it’s all about pride in yourself and your work. As I tell our workshop guests, anyone can give a photo away. Take pride in your photography and yourself, stand up for what is right and fair. At the very least you should be worth a credit line.

Add Your Voice!
There are 8 comments on this post…
  1. Debra H.On Jan. 19th, 2012

    It seems everything regarding photography—the shooting, the selling and licensing, the tracking, and the researching—has been devalued. After all… can’t everyone be a photographer now? The “invention” of royalty free and microstock has clearly changed the industry, as have agents who rewrote the parameters regarding rights. Photo researchers make a fraction of what they used to, if they can get work at all… the trend being that educational publishers have their research done offshore at a fraction of the on-paper cost. The hidden cost is absorbed by American researchers having to re-do the work of those who knew little about rights & permissions, etc., to begin with.

  2. DebraOn Jan. 19th, 2012

    It seems everything regarding photography—the shooting, the selling and licensing, the tracking, and the researching—has been devalued. After all… can’t everyone be a photographer now? The “invention” of royalty free and microstock has clearly changed the industry, as have agents who rewrote the parameters regarding rights. Photo researchers make a fraction of what they used to, if they can get work at all… the trend being that educational publishers have their research done offshore at a fraction of the on-paper cost. The hidden cost is absorbed by American researchers having to re-do the work of those who knew little about rights & permissions, etc., to begin with.

  3. Bimal NathOn Jan. 18th, 2012

    Who is responsible for not giving the credit of the photographer? I find the issue as a result of many factors. The photographer who doesn’t care about the metadata being provided in full including the copyright notice. The photographer who provide his creations to agencies without ensuring about the credits. The agencies which try to propagate the image as their own through their policies. The publisher who doesn’t like extended creditline. You said it right as it is the microstock agencies which deepened this issue. The major news agencies follows the IPTC and they still instruct to provide credit. Recently some microstock agencies modified their terms to include photographers name along with the agency name (only for editorial images). Hope a time will come when the photographer’s name will be made mandatory credit. Thanks

  4. Steve O'BrienOn Jan. 18th, 2012

    We specialize in aerial and commercial photography and are often published in magazines and newspapers. I always ask for a credit line if they are paying for the image and almost always get it. If for whatever reason I donate an image to be published I do demand a credit line or I will not give permission for usage.

  5. Michael J. AmphlettOn Jan. 18th, 2012

    …and the photographer gets his credit here! It was shot by Markus Varesvuo in Finland.

    More here: http://www.lintukuva.fi/markusvaresvuo/

    And here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/earthpicturegalleries/8806591/Magic-moments-beautiful-photographs-of-birds-by-Markus-Varesvuo.html

  6. Michael J. AmphlettOn Jan. 18th, 2012

    …correct captioning is important too; it’s a White-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla), as stated in the caption within the image, *not* a Golden eagle.

  7. Charlie ColeOn Jan. 17th, 2012

    I have thought the same thing for decades and just about every publication I know is guilty of it. It clearly shows how little respect we (photographers) have in the publishing world and it’s not just the picture agencies that are doing this, it’s been going on for years with AP, Reuters and AFP as well and that’s just unforgivable. Whenever I see it I always wonder how the CEO of Corbis or AP took that photo? They are the ones responsible for policy.

  8. Jo Ellen Meyers SharpOn Jan. 17th, 2012

    You make an excellent point — try being a writer, a skill anyone with Word thinks he or she can do. However, enforcement is the issue w/stock houses because the fine print clearly states credit must go to the photographer as well as the stock house…such as Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp/iStockphoto or some such figuration. On the Internet, everyone wants everything for free. I (and others) just stopped publication of a BILLBOARD w/a copyright image of an artist’s sculpture because the poor college intern putting it together thought the photo was in public domain because he found it under Google images. Thank for you sharing. I shared your link on my Facebook page and will share with the Business of Garden Writing on Facebook, too.

Add your voice to this conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

In an effort to combat spam, your comment may be held for a brief moderation period.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.