I haven’t been able to make money by making images. I can’t keep up with the business side of things for same reasons that I can’t ride-or-drive on a racetrack; I am disabled. Also: if it’s a choice between tires, and photos, the racer is going to choose tires. That’s OK.
I’d love to get paid, but I want to make things, because doing-so makes me feel good. Making things, and helping others, gives life meaning.
So why do I post links to products on Redbubble.com and 500px? So far, it’s because I don’t want to upset the pro photographers that get mad when someone gives an image away.
Software developers legally share programs that took thousands of hours to create. Much of the software that runs entire industries includes APIs that are free (gratis and-or libre), or on Linux. Free software is integral to Java, C++, IOS, Android, OS X, and almost everything else out there. There’s even free software from Apple inside Android.
It wasn’t always like this. Companies kept their source code secret, because they believed that was a competitive advantage. There was a strong prejudice against free software for many years. People said, “You can’t get the best work for free,” and people called free software “unfair competition.” We now live in an age where even Microsoft supports Linux for its customers.
So why doesn’t this work for photography? I am not sure that it doesn’t. Photographers often use other people’s images, and videos, on their websites. This is like the software-world; it’s just on a smaller scale.
Trey Ratcliff, and others, have been successful, in part, because they do share their photos. Trey writes about this in “Go Ahead, Steal This Photo and Make Prints“. “Steal” is a euphemism; Trey’s photos have Creative Commons Noncommercial licenses.
Here’s the thing: for the most part, people don’t buy images, because they want to support photography. Publishers buy images, because they want to produce great magazines. Couples buy wedding photos, because people want a great wedding. Advertisers hire photographers, because they want to make great ads. These are the people that pay.
Some people make-it-big by making art, but most of us don’t expect pay for doing something fun. We don’t expect pay for skiing, although there are pros. We don’t expect pay for surfing, although there are pros. We will make photos, even without pay, because that’s fun too. If this bothers you, then please don’t let it. We aren’t going away.