The Value of an Image

Value of an Image - Val in Real Life

What is the value of a photograph? In the digital age, unauthorized use of an image doesn’t seem like a big deal. It’s just pixels, right?

No, it isn’t.

What gives an image value?

great smoky mountains national park - Val in Real Life
What did it cost me to make this image? A lot more than you likely imagine.

What would you pay for art to hang on your wall? An image that brings peace, inspiration, or beauty into your life? You wouldn’t walk into a store, pick up a print, then walk out without paying would you?  Does a physical print have value simply because of its tangibility? Is the value only in the glass and frame?

I’ve had repeated conversations with non-photographers. Conversations trying to raise awareness of what it means to “steal” an image. And yes, downloading any image, even for personal use, is theft.

To the user, it’s just a pretty picture for their wallpaper on their computer, at best. Or at worst, someone uses it for their own profit without giving the creator credit or a share of the revenue.

What are the factors that give that image value?

Great Smoky Mountains National Park - Val in Real Life
When you add in the costs of specialized equipment like infrared gear, expenses go up even further.
  1. The investment in equipment is not insubstantial. The cameras, lenses, accessories, computers and software used to create the image are costly. In the thousands of dollars range even if you keep it simple.
  2. Travel expenses to get to the place the image was created. Again, very likely thousands of dollars depending upon the trip.
  3. What value do we put on training? The classes, seminars, and workshops we attend to hone our skills. The time, money, and energy invested in those? Again… thousands of dollars.
  4. Now consider time? What’s your salary or hourly rate at your job? Add in the time a photographer spent to capture the image that took your breath away and the price tag goes up even more.

I think you see what I’m getting at. A “simple” image you see online is a labor of love for a photographer. One that, beyond the subjective of beauty, holds a very real objective expense for the person who captured the image. Even when we consider prorating those costs over all of the images we capture, the cost is substantial.

It isn’t just pixels. 

What can you do?

injured feet - val in real life
The physical costs of my profession are sometimes high as well.

Do I mind if you want to download one of my photographs for your wallpaper on your computer. No, not really. I hope it inspires you. I’m glad it brings you joy. But in the digital age, artists need your help…

  1. Share your love for our work with your friends! Share links to our websites, Facebook pages, and Instagram. It helps. It really does. This is our profession. Word of mouth, social proof, sharing… this is what our world is made of. People like me don’t get paid when we click the shutter after learning our craft, investing in equipment, researching locations, and taking our trip. We pay our bills when you buy our images and click on our ads and links.
  2. If you see a person’s work being used by another site, let them know. It may be authorized, but often it’s not. The web is a vast hole no writer or photographer can police for copyright infringement alone. I know more than quite a few people who have found out about misuse from a follower recognizing their work and giving them a heads up. (Just consider Nomadic Matt’s latest tale to give you an idea.)
  3. Buy prints, books, and other offerings from us. Better yet, give them as gifts.
  4. If you work for a company that uses imagery in your publications and online presence, make sure they are properly licensed through the artist or stock agency.
sunflower - val in real life
Love an image? Show the creator some love back. 🙂

Coming soon…

With all that in mind, I’m honored when someone falls in love with one of my creations. It means a lot to me. So coming soon, you’ll have the opportunity to have some of my images for your guilt-free personal use. Plus I’ll be sharing the stories behind them that I hope will further inspire you and give you a better sense of the effort it takes to capture these scenes.


  1. Hello! I liked too much what you wrote, I know that to take a photography needs a lot of time and dedication. In the personal thing it’s very complicated be able to take a ohto that has all the elements that I want and that I want to demostrate to the others. An image says more tan thousand words and it’s necessary that we recognize the work behind.

    1. Yes, exactly. I know a lot of people don’t know how much goes into it. Hopefully this helps paint the picture. 🙂

  2. That’s an awesome essay Valinreallife! I wish we could plaster the internet with the wisdom you’ve captured here. I would share it if I only knew how. I’ll figure that out when I get back home! Until then, keep up the great work! #itisntjustpixels

    1. Thanks, Stevie! 🙂

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