Free vs Paid: Donald J Trump

Free vs Paid: Donald J Trump

College student Gage Skidmore has been in the news for his prolific contribution of free political photos. His Flickr feed makes all his photos available via Creative Commons (including commercial use) and a number of politicians are taking advantage of these free photos. One of the most high profile uses? Donald Trump’s homepage, which features a photo of Trump speaking at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, MD.


Photo by Gage Skidmore


In a Facebook thread about Skidmore, Atlanta photojournalist Melissa Golden writes:

…I do begrudge the news outlets using the sub-mediocre work of a non-journalist covering the most important thing we cover as the watchdogs of America and presenting it as photojournalism. I also think the candidates need better consultants for their optics- the photos are not flattering.

I previously wrote that most of the presidential candidates had terrible use of photography on their respective campaign websites. It hasn’t affected Trump’s poll numbers and popularity, but in a time of Instagram and visual curation, it’s strange that campaigns aren’t employing better photography and better photo editors.  President Obama, by contrast, has the employ of Pete Souza, who has created a pretty fantastic photographic record.



But back to Skidmore. The economics major is reportedly living at home and when he first started photographing politicians, his parents were responsible for driving him. In other words, his Cost of Doing Business is zero. He considers himself a hobbyist, therefore turning a profit, let alone revenue isn’t a concern.

This could be a piece about economic harm, but I’d like to go back to the quality of the Trump image.


  • Trump is smiling and waving a peace sign
  • Free


  • Poor white balance; Very orange which only reinforces the spray tan stereotype
  • Not particularly sharp
  • Distracting background

Compare this image to one available through Getty Images:

Trump might not be smiling but this is simply a better image. The cost for a political campaign’s homepage according to the Getty Images calculator? $1290 for one year.

With a largely self-financed campaign, should billionaire Trump choose the better photo for $1000? Or the free one for free?

Unfortunately, we already know the answer.

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Allen Murabayashi is the Chairman and co-founder of PhotoShelter.

There are 8 comments for this article
  1. Steve Pellegrino at 9:11 am

    You cannot possible compare what Pete Souza is doing compared to a photojournalist at a campaign event. Souza has unrestricted access to the President, so of course his photos are going to be outstanding. If you’re a PJ at a campaign, you are corralled, sometimes at the back of the room.

    That being said, I don’t see anything wrong with what Gage Skidmore is doing. His photos are very good and it sounds like there are a lot of jealous photographers because he isn’t a pro. He may not be getting paid, but he shoots just as well as many of the paid photographers.

    • Allen Murabayashi Author at 11:56 am

      A campaign could choose to hire a staff photographer with unfettered access, who (assuming they were competent) could create much better photos than the free ones from Gage.

  2. Stanley Leary at 1:36 pm

    I think the one thing to learn from all of this is you need to have original work to be able to make a living. Being part of a pack of photographers unless you are on staff or sent there by a media outlet your images have little value, because so many make them available for free.

    You take on arguing quality of image is quite ironic because even billionaire Donald Trump will choose free over your technically superior images if another is available for free. If those who can pay for photography are not going to then realize this is not a good subject to make money shooting. Move on to something else.

  3. Nick at 3:50 pm

    I have to say that the second image is far too distracting. The first is much more appealing especially when it was used as the background header. I do have to say that neither image has even decent color balance. As far as the ‘spray tan’ stereotype, lol I’m pretty sure its a real spray tan and he’s embraced it. He is a gross looking character.

  4. David at 12:55 pm

    I think Gage’s image is the better image. While not better in it’s technical aspects, it’s a much more likeable image of Trump. Content “trumps” technical quality. And with the white balance issue; we’re the only ones using calibrated monitors, and I can’t count the number of times someone will take one of my balanced photos and run it through Instagram throwing off the “correct” exposure and white balance. Normal people just don’t care if something is “correct”.

    If you feel like you have to educate people on why something is better, it might not be meaningfully better. As a wedding and sports photographer, I feel this every day.

  5. tom at 10:55 am

    The first question i have to ask is: where is Skidmore going with these photos? Is he creating a portfolio for future use as an economics major? although for the life of my I can’t figure out why or how his future degree plays into photographing politicians. Its a good Photograph given that he may be limited on his lenses, Not everyone can afford a $25000 Nikon or canon 1200mm f/1.4 lens to pick out a nose hair from the back of the room. Also, we are not all privy to a flash sync so that we can use the studio strobes built in the ceiling so the candidate can have that beautiful white balance look.

    Sometimes we work on a volunteer basis so that somewhere down the road someone will see value in what we are doing and pay us what we are worth.

    I took a look at Ms. Golden’s portfolio and was very impressed, She has captured a lot of great subjects, I would love to put her on my follow list. But not everyone has her ability, there may be other photographers that may not be as creative but have better ability in capturing emotion. I take exception to Ms. Golden’s use of the word “sub-medicore” I don’t see a Pulitzer prize listed on her resume so I am not sure how she can make that claim against another.

    If it weren’t for cell phone cameras and the media industry thinking that if somebody can push a button they can be a photographer, I don’t think think we would be having this discussion and Gabe Skidmore would be concentrating more on his Economics degree.

    Have a great day

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