Author's note: this article has been edited and updated since it was first posted.
I am a professional photographer who has been working in downhill skateboarding for the last several years. I started an influential website with my friends, was on staff for the leading magazine since its first issue, and have been hired by almost every major downhill skate brand.
Lately, in an effort to keep new riders excited about skating, I have departed from my usual policy of only releasing the most technically perfect pictures of sponsored riders and started posting all of my decent photos from skate events on Skatehousemedia.com and its Facebook page. This is a lot more editing work, but I like when skaters get excited about my pictures.
I don’t put huge watermarks in the middle of my photos or charge individual skaters to use them because skaters are brokeasses, watermarks ruin the picture and don’t stop people from jacking your photos, and I make an ok living from freelance work and my steady gigs with skate brands and Skatehousemedia. I do charge for-profit companies a fee to use my photos because they are making money off my work. This is a pretty straightforward distinction.
Two days ago a longboard brand downloaded one of my pictures from an event in Canada and posted it to their Instagram account. Not having any prior relationship with this company, I sent them a message to let them know I charge $25 for social media use of my photographs and they can pay me via Paypal or Venmo. (I know this price is very low, but I like to actually get paid sometimes.)
In response, I got a perfect distillation of all the insulting shit people say when I ask them to pay me for using my work as part of their social media advertising. Let’s break it down.
(I should note here that since I first posted this article, several people have come forward to tell me similar stories about this brand using their photos without permission or payment. One person’s photo was used in a print ad without permission, with a logo covering her watermark. This company is a repeat offender.)
“We don’t pay for instagram shares.” Well, I charge for instagram use of my photos, and you would have known that if you had asked for permission before you posted my photo. You didn’t, and now you need to pay me.
“I’ll take it down.” All of your followers already saw this photo and taking it down now doesn’t change the fact that you have already extracted marketing value from my work. You still need to pay me.
“I mean, who pays for Instagram shares lol” Every other major company in this industry has paid for the right to use my work.
“We don’t post rider pics to sell our gear, we post to support the rider and, ironically, the photog too.” I am so, so tired of this “we’re all bros I’m just trying to support the scene” bullshit. You run a for-profit business. Businesses use social media advertising to help them sell more shit and make more money. You don’t want to “support me as a photographer,” you want me to work for free and be grateful for the privilege of lining your pocket. I cannot pay my rent with "exposure." If you actually wanted to support me, you would pay me so I could keep doing this work.
“We’re just a small business, we can’t afford it.” Bro. Your company has worldwide distribution. I asked you for twenty five fucking dollars. You can afford it. Think of it as an intellectual-property parking ticket. Pay me.
“I thought I was sharing [our team rider]’s pic, sure of it since we don’t follow you that I know of.” Oh, you don’t follow me? Sick burn, bro. The picture is watermarked with “© MAX DUBLER.” Your rider credited me in the caption and used my hashtag. You tagged me to give me photo credit. I’m pretty sure you know how to read. You really expect me to believe that you didn’t know that I took this photo? Pay me.
I don’t even care about the $25 anymore. I know they're not going to pay me. This is about respect.
I’m just tired of people stealing my work, then telling me it’s worthless.