Worth a read: Disphotic on photo contests that cost money

Members of the audience hold out dollar bills for stunt riders to grab during the performance of the Wall of Death traveling show at Evel Knievel Days in Butte, Montana, USA. - photo by M. Scott Brauer
Members of the audience hold out dollar bills for stunt riders to grab during the performance of the Wall of Death traveling show at Evel Knievel Days in Butte, Montana, USA. – photo by M. Scott Brauer

Photographer Lewis Bush, on his blog Disphotic, has a great little piece about the photo contest industrial complex, published in September of last year. Calling paid-entry photo contest the “cash cow” of photography, Bush raises a lot of valid points.

He writes, “to my mind any organisation that is overly reliant on artists and photographers to raise money for it relies on a questionable (and perhaps unsustainable) model. Equally the tired excuses that charging fees helps to filter out weaker work and keep standards high simply don’t really hold water, instead all these practices filter are those with money from those who don’t.”

He also does the math on just how much the Taylor Wessing prize generates through submissions alone, nearly 8 times the prize money they give out. And there are many more photo contests that charge substantial entry fees and don’t have nearly the size of prizes or possible exposure for the winners.

Check out Disphotic’s list of free or almost free contests and grants. And Disphotic should be on your reading list if it isn’t already.


It’s photo contest time, by the way, so make sure to check out our deadline calendar. I’ve just added a bunch of new ones this morning. Contest time means a lot of time spent considering which images to enter into which categories of which contests, but equal time should be spent considering whether a particular contest is worth entering.

Not all contests are a good idea to enter. We try to only list the best contests on our calendar, but occasionally a bad one gets through. Be careful to read the terms and conditions or rules of entry. Some contests are rights grabs. Smithsonian’s annual photo contest is a notable bad actor; National Geographic’s used to be bad, but I’ve noticed they just added language that they can only use submitted images in relation to the contest (though entrants still “consent to Sponsor doing or omitting to do any act that would otherwise infringe the entrant’s ‘moral rights’ in their entries.”). And some are just cash grabs with little return to the entrants even if they win, such as most of PDN’s contests besides their Annual.

Be smart about photo contests!

Must listen: A Small Voice podcast – Ben Smith talks with photographers

A Small Voice - Conversations with Photographers - A podcast by Ben Smith
A Small Voice – Conversations with Photographers – A podcast by Ben Smith

You have got to listen to Ben Smith‘s new podcast, A Small Voice. There have been thirteen episodes so far. I’ve only listened to one–the first, with long-time favorite Ian Teh–but that was enough to know it will be essential listening. The website is a little confusing; the email subscription and donation section sits on top of links to episodes. First, make a donation, but then scroll down to the episodes where you can find conversations with the likes of Vanessa Winship, Kalpesh Lathigra (previously on dvafoto), Guy Martin, Peter Dench, Abbie Trayler Smith, and others.

I’ve long been a fan of Ian Teh, and the episode with him did not disappoint. He speaks about how he got into photography, why he photographers in color, how he approaches subjects, the thinking and process that goes into making his books, early formative experiences and influences, and so on. But somehow it’s not a conversation about photography. Photography is a big part of the discussion, certainly, but instead the episode is more like an examination of Teh’s relationship with the world. Just do yourself a favor and listen.

You can subscribe to the podcast on itunes.


On the podcast front, check out Abbas’ recent interview on NPR’s Fresh Air. Other photography podcasts I’ve found that are generally worth a listen are The LPV Show (free-ranging discussions with photographers) and The Photo Brigade podcast (mostly American photographers and editors).

I also recently wrote about some of my favorite non-photography podcasts.

Time Inc. foists awful new contract on photographers

New Time Inc., contract is an awful rights grab
New Time Inc., contract is an awful rights grab

It’s an awful part of the job, but photographers need to be able read and understand contracts. The new Time Inc. contract, which will be sent to photographers working for all Time Inc. publications, including Time magazine, Travel + Leisure, People, Sports Illustrated, etc., is an awful rights grab that results in lower fees paid to photographers. John Harrington has published a great deep read of the new contract. PhotoShelter has a nice overview of the issues.

Here’s the new contract below, along with an introduction from Time Inc. Chief Content Officer Norm Pearlstine. Pearlstine was also editor of Time magazine from 1994-2005. His introduction starts, “Since the 1920s and ’30s, when Time and Life magazines first appeared on the scene, Time Inc. and its brands have been known for the beauty and power of iconic photograph. While our commitment to original photography is as true today as ever, we are revising how we commission and use photographs.” Ironically, the contract that follows is an affront to the very livelihood of photographers. I couldn’t continue working as a photographer without decent fees, payment for reuse, and the ability to relicense photos taken on assignment.

Writing on PhotoShelter’s blog, Allen Murabayashi notes that the contract eliminates the notion of a space rate through a perpetual right to republish photos without compensation, makes all video shot for Time Inc. work made for hire, makes it impossible for photographers to relicense work used on magazine covers, takes away photographers’ recourse in case Time Inc. violates the contract, and allows payment for work done only in case an editor deems it “acceptable.”

I strongly advise all photographers to do what I do when confronted with contracts like this: refuse to sign until rights-grabbing language is changed. This is the only way for photographers to maintain their livelihoods.

In my 10 years of freelancing, I’ve given up the copyright to a photo (a single photo!) exactly once. In that case, I was paid five figures. There is, after all, a price for everything. In every other case in which an editor or art buyer has asked me to sign a rights grab or offered a pittance for my work, I politely refuse and offer some alternative ideas for contractual language that allows me to keep my copyright and the ability to license the work in the future. If the publication refuses to budge, I turn down the assignment or licensing agreement. Often, the publication will find a way to go ahead with the assignment or licensing on my terms, but not always. In a recent deal with Time Inc., in fact, I was able to get around the rights-grabbing contract and get a higher fee than their standard space rates by standing firm on my terms(but always remaining cordial and friendly). I’ve done the same with other major news and publishing organizations, including CNN, National Geographic, The Verge, and others. It can be done.

The only way to get rid of these awful contracts is to quit signing them. If you’re presented with a bad contract, strike the bad language and politely explain why you can’t and won’t sign the contract as it’s first offered. If they are open to negotiation, that’s wonderful. The client will likely view you as a professional. If not, stand firm and decline the work. There is no other way.