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ASK COREY: Getting Paid vs Getting Exposure

Hi Corey,

I’m a photographer at the beginning of my career and am still learning how to pitch to magazines. Recently I was at a climbing competition in Toronto and have a couple of photographs which a climbing publication is interested in for using online, but they said they don’t offer payment for content. Instead, they are offering “exposure.”

I figure it’s better to let them publish for free if no one else will take these photos, but at the same time, I don’t want to undercut others in the business, and I would also like to get compensation for my work.

Have you ever successfully negotiated payment from a scenario like this? What is your advice?

-Jessica Lee


This is a great question and one that I’ve been asked about many times. And I think my answer has certainly evolved as both traditional and social media has evolved. Twenty, ten and even five years ago, I think there was a real rationale for taking advantage of the opportunity to have your pictures published in a magazine because there was value to having your photo credit appear within the pages of a respected publication. Art-buyers and marketers actually turned to print publications as being the authorities for who was the best photographer or writer at work. This, in turn, led to editors and other folks in the art-buying community acknowledging your work and approaching you with cool opportunities.

Magazines no longer carry the same weight, however. Don’t get me wrong: I still love holding a magazine in my hands. But today it’s all about social media. You can pretty easily build up your Instagram account and surpass the circulation of most core “rags” out there. Brands and advertisers realize this, and they’re pulling some of their dollars out of magazines and putting them into the hands of individual freelancers.

It’s a crazy time and the sky is the limit for those who work hard and have the talents.

The idea that simply getting published in a magazine with a circulation of 10,000, where a publisher is leveraging advertisers thanks to your hard work but not passing on those dollars to you and offering “exposure” instead, just doesn’t quite add up.

That said, it’s worth being selective and discerning when it comes to who you are talking to, and what type of content you have captures.

For example, I doubt that you were the only photographer at the climbing event. There were probably dozens of other shooters capturing similar content – even if it’s not quite as good as yours, it might still be good enough for this magazine’s 200-word online news story. The value of what you have is diminished in situations such as this, and so giving away your content, as long as you get acknowledged in social media with a byline, might be a good idea.

It’s also worth looking at the publication’s social-media network. Recently many photographers have seen their own careers catapult as a result of giving away their pictures to say, National Geographic’s Instagram channel. Getting your name and work in front of Nat Geo’s millions of followers will translate into hundreds of thousands of your own followers. And in a roundabout way, that has the potential to translate into actual value and money.

Obviously it’s not just about having a lot of followers on Instagram. Your work has to be really good, too. But when those two things align – you have a large social media following AND you have an archive of stunning, unique, exceptional work – that’s when you won’t have any trouble finding compensation.

Finally, it’s not just about money and social media! Sometimes, it’s great to consider giving work away if you believe in the cause or in helping out athletes you’re shooting. Perhaps there is an athlete you love working with and you want to help him/her out with extra exposure. Or perhaps you want to help support a cause, society, or a person who you believe in.

At the end of the day, it’s a personal decision. You need to decide what the value is, if any, to giving away your photos. If the magazine is not providing an audience and actively helping you to promote your own work through its social-media channel, then really all you’re doing is lining the publisher’s pockets with more advertising dollars that you’ll never see.


  1. Stefan Sondgerath says:

    Excellent advise Corey. I have been searching for someone to give a good honest answer to this type of question, so I am glad I came across this article. Great job! Keep on keeping on buddy!

    Stefan S.

  2. Robert Duval says:

    Corey, I saw you in OKC earlier this year at Bedford’s Expo. I love your work it’s always amazing on the shots you are able to get. Is there any way I can share my pictures with you and get your opinion on how to improve my photos?

    Thanks for your time,

    Robert Duval

  3. Solid advise!

  4. This seems to be the age old question and I find it’s a tricky road. Once you start giving photos away it seems harder to make people understand they actually have a value :-/

  5. Corey,

    Thanks for this excellent write up. I have been away from social media for about six months and am excited to catch up on all of your advice and excellent posts. And I’m way behind on your Adorama episodes… thanks again for sharing. Dave

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