We have no budget for photos

[quote]I don’t require applause earned by being a sucker. If free matters more than good, ask someone else.[/quote]

There are quite a few blogs I like reading and one in particular is Don Giannatti’ posterous stream (@wizwow) where not too long a go I came across a wonderful link to a post on a photographer’s website called ‘We have no budget for photos‘. I’m sure many of you have received this kind of mail in the past. Needless to say I never give my images for free but I absolutely loved Tony Sleep’s post as it was right on target and saves me the time to write all of it again in reply to these clients.

[quote]”No budget” is a euphemism for “we think photographers are mugs”. This offensive interpretation can easily be verified by trying the phrase at your local restaurant, eg “I have no budget for dinner but I’d like to eat”. Adding a promise to tell all your friends where you ate will not deflect your head from the kerb as the manager throws you out.[/quote]

I knew I’d one day come back to that wonderful post but I have just done more than that. I have answered a mail with only a link directing to this post! I’d like to share the little correspondence with you all to see how smooth the person on the other side was. I am not going to be apologetic about sharing the full details of this ‘client’ so feel free to write to them if you so please.

here it is:


Subject: Greetings from Wedding Affair magazine

 On 16-Dec-2011, at 3:57 PM, Priyadarshini Das <priyadarshini.weddingaffair@gmail.com> wrote:

 Hi Sephi,

 I am writing to you on behalf of the Wedding Affair magazine, New Delhi. We are a bi-monthly magazine concentrating on Indian tradition that encompasses wedding rituals, weddings of the season and lifestyle stories.

 For our Feb-March issue, we are doing a story on the Kashmiri (Hindu Pandit) community wedding. I happened to chance upon your work on the same on the internet. I would like to know if it would be possible to get the images featured on the website (we would require high resolution images) to facilitate the story. We would like to confirm that our magazine will give image courtesy to all the images used.

 Looking forward to a positive response.

 Warm regards,

 Priyadarshini Das

Editorial Assistant


On Fri, Dec 16, 2011 at 4:51 AM, FotoWala | Sephi Bergerson Photography <sephi@fotowala.in> wrote:

 Dear Priyadarshini,

 Thank you for this mail. Is your magazine distributed free of charge?

 Sephi Bergerson

Fotowala | Photography & Archive


 On 17-Dec-2011, at 3:26 PM, Priyadarshini Das wrote:

 Hi Sephi,

 Thanks for your response. This is to inform you that our magazine is not distributed free of cost and is priced Rs. 100 per copy. If you allow us to use your pictures, we will surely send you complementary (free of charge) copies for your reading pleasure.

Warm regards,

Priyadarshini Das

Editorial Assistant
Wedding Affair


Did you get this?  they will send me complementary (free of charge) copies for my “reading pleasure”. I might be wrong but the last time I looked in the mirror I had nothing on my forehead saying “Mother Teresa”. I was going to write a really nasty mail back but instead I simply replied by directing Ms. editorial assistant to Tony Sleep post. After all, what a lovely post it is. read it HERE
Another great post is Reasons Why Professional Photographers Cannot Work for Free which is maybe more polite but conveys the same idea.
[quote]Getting credit isn’t compensation. We did, after all, create the images concerned, so credit is automatic. It is not something that we hope a third party will be kind enough to grant us.[/quote]

Happy to hear your views and comments on this.


(Featured image of pile of money via Meta B)

  • Hi Sephi,
    I think photography in India is a little underrated and undervalued.
    I think what you did was absolutely correct!

  • Madhu

    I think one should take out her phone number..never know who is reading this and who might call her….being a woman and all I would not put her phone number in the post. 

    • Thank you Madhu. I agree and removed the telephone number. cheers

      • Sephi, your point is a fair one but better made without exposing an individual.

        Is this about getting back at her or about photographers not getting compensated properly? At the moment this is unclear. 
        The post itself is very funny, but you don’t fully do it justice here. 

        • Thanks for this comment ‘Green party’. I have to disagree with you on this one. I think the point is much stronger because there is a name on the correspondence. It is not about ‘getting back’ at anyone as I really could not care less about it. The point is not about photographers as much as about the kind of clients that feel the images are not worth money. An example of such a ‘client’ is important and makes this a real case rather than a theoretical discussion. Cheers, Sephi

          • Rajmadao

            Hi Sephi,

            This is really a great post and you are bang there on target. Actually I got a taste of it just a few days back. One of my so called friend who had come from USA and was earning in dollars expected to do a favour for him by shooting his sister-in-law’s SANGEET PARTY free on the pretext that his budget has maxed out. This was really nasty and it took a little time for me get hold of it first. But afterwards it was strictly “NO” “NO” from me. I think when we work for free we are not only downgrading our self but at the same time our profession too. This is not a insult to us but to our art for which we take great pains and invest our hard earned money. I sincerely request all my photographer friends to be careful from such money sucker opportunist  though they may be your friends. Cause they don’t deserve your work and neither to be your friends. And Sephi thanks again for such a wonderful post.



  • I just happened to read Tony Sleep’s blog post today. Glad to know that you sent it to the magazine editor. It’s high time photography gets valued in India.

  • ED

    Why the hostility? I feel the point could’ve been made without attacking/insulting those ‘clients’.
    Yes, people need to be educated about the value of photography. And yes people who start with a low-ball offer are just annoying. But both these scenarios can be tackled maturely and respectfully.
    Moreover, I do not see why it should matter to you (the producer) if the client (the consumer) can afford more $$$ and is simply taking advantage of you. It’s your choice – if what you receive out of the project (money, visibility, satisfaction) is worth the value of the project, do it. If not, say No, and maybe re-educate the client politely.
    I am a hobbyist photographer. I admit I do not need the money. Someday I might start charging for it or maybe I’ll just do it free for the joy of doing it, as well as the pats-on-the-back that make me feel good. That’s my value system and mine alone to judge. It Does encroach on your market and that’s just something every photographer is going to have to learn to deal with. That’s how markets work.

    • Thank you for this comment Ed. I’m glad you bring in the ‘other’ side as it opens the topic for a debate. I know how the market works and I am aware that there are many hobbyists out there happy to give usage rights (or more) for free just to get the exposure. I think it is bad for the industry but like you said, I have to learn to live with it. Not like you, photography is how I pay my bills and send my children to school. It is very obvious from my website that it is more than a hobby for me. The magazine editor still felt that offering a byline in the unknown magazine is enough but fro my experience of more than twenty years I can tell you that very little work, if at all comes just from a byline in a magazine. As it is a commercial venture where everyone is paid for their job, including the photo editor, it is only fair to pay for usage rights. Respect for my work is not something I need to take instead of payment. Some people ate softer then me in their response but me, I am harsh and brutal in the face of such cases. I honestly do not think I was less respectful than the person on the other side. To me offering “free copies for my reading pleasure” is a spit in my face and I really held myself back not to answer with a slap. Not everyone likes it but this is me. I am nor judging you but maybe if you were making a living in photography you’d also loose the patience in the face of these so called ‘clients’ who think they are doing you a favore at one point after twenty years. Cheers, Sephi

  • Bravo Sephi. I’m with you all the way. I’ve replied to many such emails with links to Tony’s blog post and other blog posts from John Harrington as well. But I’ve never blogged publicly with the person’s name – which, in retrospect, I could have done and in the future, will be doing. You’re right, it isn’t just an “Indian” problem. I don’t work for free but I have given away a few of my images to never-heard-of-magazines because a friend was launching the first issue etc. The problem is, there’s no “just once”. they always come back to you asking for more, for free, and then if you ask them for compensation, they behave as if I’ve stabbed them in the back 😀

    • Naina, some are legitimate cases and honestly do not have money but mostly these are thieves in disguise and should be flushed out and exposed as the exploiters they are. I volunteer to be the biting dog while so many bark while the wagon keeps rolling on…

    • Please post the link to John Harrington’s post. Thanks

  • Hi Sephi,
    I *heart* your photography and think you are brilliant at what you do. That said, do you think your response would have been different if Vogue India had been the one emailing you for images for their website if they were running a feature on ethnic weddings in India (as this magazine would be doing)? I guess I’m a little bit confused about your reaction because surely publicity is good and being featured on a magazine’s website might net more clients. I ask because, here, in Toronto, a request like yours would not be considered offensive at all and would likely be considered an opportunity to reach out to new markets and audiences. As well, the fact that they asked permission from, and said they would credit you, are both good points considering they could otherwise easily have right-clicked, saved and featured you unknowingly as people online are able to do. To me, it seems the article you’ve linked to is referring to use of stock photography, whereas your request is specific to running a feature on a particular subject and not a shot of a telemarketer on a phone. I would, however, agree with you that the request for high-res photos for a web feature is unnecessary and this could be resolved by providing web-ready, watermarked images in a size that would ensure they would really only be able to use them in the article they speak of and not elsewhere.
    Looking forward to hearing from you,

    • Hi Naushin, Thanks for taking the time to comment. First let’s ut things in order. The request was for high-res images for a printed magazine selling in shops for Rs 100 and not for an online use. Now that this is said, would you say that I’d get less exposure if aside from credit a check was also drawn for the usage rights? Getting paid or not has nothing to do with the credit line that must be there anyway. It is a photographer’s moral right to be recognized as the author of his work regardless of how much money, if at all, is paid for the use of his work.
      If the feature was specifically on my work and featured me I would, as I’ve done many times in the past, give images without charge but this was not the case here at all. The magazine wanted to use images that I photographed as part of my extensive research on Indian wedding for my book that will come out next year with Harper Collins. These images are hard to get and this is why they contacted me. I spent my own time and money to attend this wedding and the images are a part of my archive. If these were a part of Corbis or Getty archives would the client even dare to ask to get them for free? What is the difference?
      And as for Vogue; a magazine like Vogue would NEVER ask for free images for a feature story but if they did they would get the same response or even worse. This kind of behavior has no place in the business and photographers should know better than to be exploited like this. No one pays the bills with a credit line. Hope this answers your question. Cheers, Sephi

  • Naushin

    Hi Sephi,
    I see your point. I had mis-read the email from the client. I didn’t realise she was asking for pictures from your website for their magazine; I thought she was asking for pictures from you for their website.

  • “”””” I was going to write a really nasty mail back but instead I simply replied by directing Ms. editorial assistant to Tony Sleep post”””””
    I actually did replied to one such mail couple of months back, and trust me, it was the nastiest i could go……..:-)

  • Navdeep

    Funny situation .. they approached me for kashmiri wedding pictures .. yes.. again .. they want it for free 300DPI

    • you should point them in the direction of this blog post 😉 simply send a link!

  • Nice one, Sephi.  Photography must be one of those professions where folk think we do it as a hobby and are just waiting for their emails suggesting we donate our work (we’ll give you credit blah blah blah).  These folk, of course, are paid for being a graphic artist/producer/CEO/book publisher etc etc and don’t quite understand that we are attempting to make a living too.  I have a similar post in my blog where our National Broadcaster (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) emailed me asking for permission to use one of my images in a “webinar” for their staff development.  I quoted a reasonable fee which elicited the response “We don’t have a budget for photography” wherein I responded “The ABC has a budget for your salary, your producer’s salary, the web developer’s fee but you don’t have a budget for photography?”  I received no response, of course.  We are expected to live on air but hey, we will be credited for our work and those looking at the credit will then email asking for a freebie.  Sigh.  

    • Dear Sheila, they never answer and from my experience also never change their ways. They will only call you names and go looking for the next sucker!

  • V Kaul

    The Lady probably had no idea how these things works. She works for a magazine that uses gmail for official mail after all. No point putting her name out here like this, its the magazine thats at fault. Why not go after them?

    I was one of those people who didn’t really understand the value of quality photography before I actually saw the difference. I think most people in India are in the same boat. I am sure you are aware of that. Weddings in India are lavish and after mine, I feel the best money I spent was actually on the Photographer. I am sure when someone decides to take up photography as a full time profession in India they are aware of the challenges that come along with most people being ignorant about good quality photography.

    I don’t think she meant any disrespect. Its just a case of being ignorant. I don’t think thats a problem that can be solved by exposing the assistant editor of an unknown magazine. People need to be educated about how things should work. There are plenty of people who think you are a God with the camera (me included) and there are bound to be people who dont know you that well.



    • Thanks you for the comment V, but I have to disagree with you. WHo is “the magazine” if not the people that work there? How can I take it up with “the magazine”? It is our job to educate the clients and she needs to know her job before approaching a photographer. This is where I draw the line. cheers

  • Dan

    Why you people all talking about India. This is a problem world wide, not just in India.

    • Dan, ‘you people’ is only one people which is me. I live in india so I write what I see in India, however, you are right. This is a worldwide phenomenon.

  • hari

    I am a lawyer and a hobbyist photographer and I fully concur with your views. I know the value of a professional’s work and as a lawyer, I get so many sob stories from clients to reduce the fees. I feel the same as you do. Does the government give professionals any subsidies? Do they sell petrol and diesel at lower rates to us? It’s amazing how little respect there is for professionals or their work in India.

    Sometimes I feel like throwing their files on their faces.

    As for copyright violations, I suggest making an example of those violators and shame them in court. Too many publications in India think that any image on the internet is free-for-all. This attitude must change…