Are Free Photos Becoming the Norm?

Photo by Ludovic Bertron

You can’t deny the fact that the Internet has changed the landscape of the photography businesses. While cameras have changed a lot, it’s nothing compared with how the business of being a photographer has changed. The marginal costs, that is the cost of taking or selling one additional photo, are approaching free. Once you have a camera, you can take as many photos as you like, and as long as you ignore the wear and tear on the camera it costs nothing. Similarly, once you have a way of selling your digital files, it costs you no time or effort to sell the same photo to a second customer. Unsurprisingly, this has caused an explosion in the number of “professional” photographers out there.

In the first wave of changes to the photography world, we saw microstock sites spring up. The cost of buying a photo tracked the cost of taking a photo, and while they didn’t quite reach free, they were very cheap. This has opened up a whole new market. Blog authors now pay for photos to illustrate their articles.

Along side this, many photographers who made a living selling photos to magazines started to suffer. When a magazine needs photos for an article, it can do the same thing bloggers do. They can log on to a microstock site, and buy their photos super cheap. Even getting a cover photo from a stock photo site is not unheard of. True, some articles require specially commissioned photography, but, unsurprisingly the competition for these jobs is fierce, and only a few elite photographers can play this game.

The second wave of this change is now bringing free stock photography to the Internet. Flickr has for a long time now, allowed photographers to mark their photos with a creative commons licence. Setting this licence on a photo grants permission for other people to use your photo, even commercially in some cases, for free. But trying to find good quality photos on Flickr for a specific theme can take forever. A problem that is now partially solved by Compfight.

What I am starting to see now, are sites like FreeDigitalPhotos.net. They do exactly what they say on the tin: Free Photos! FDP is a microstock library that gives away its photos for free – but only a small sized copy. Great if you want to use it for a blog post, but no good for a magazine or other uses (though you can pay for a larger version).

The clever thing is that when you use one of their free photos you have to include a link back to FDP. It’s a great way for them to spread the word about their site, and one that Google particularly thinks is pretty cool. This trick has allowed them to get to the front page on Google for searches like “Free stock photos”. Take a look and see.

Naturally FDP are not the only guys with this idea. One look at the google search results page shows you a huge number of sites offering free stock photos. One of the big players, Dreamstime, are also starting to offer free stock photos. I can’t image that is will be long before you can get “professionally” taken free stock photos for just about any subject.

With so many photos available for free, there is a big question facing anyone who wants to earn money as a photographer: Who will pay for your photos?

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