I believe that photographers should work for free. I also believe that photographers should not work for free. Knowing when to work for free and when not to is an important milestone in becoming a pro. Here are the aspects that I consider when deciding to shoot for free.
Commercial Value: photographers should not work for free when there is a significant commercial value to the shoot. If the client is going to make money from the project, then the photographer should too. If your prospective clients do not value your relationship that way, then find new prospects.
Value of Your Skills: Just because your client can buy the same digital camera you shoot, does not mean that he can do the job you do. Remember, it’s the photographer and not the camera that makes the photo. Your expertise and time have value.
Next Time: Anyone who says “do this one for free and you’ll absolutely get paid when the next job comes around” is lying. You should counter with “pay me for this job and I’ll give you a discount on the next one.”
Photo Credits: Anyone who suggests that you’ll benefit from the photo credit has not tried to pay for groceries with photo credits.
Not-for-profit Clients: Photographers should not work for free just because the client is a not-for-profit organization. Non-profits have normal operating expenses just like for-profit enterprises: rent, payroll, utilities, etc. Creative efforts, like photography, web design, copyrighting, etc. can all be considered normal expenses for non-profits.
Who Will Get Paychecks: Ask the folks who are asking you to work for free if they are getting a paycheck. If the answer is yes, then you should too.
For me, the work for free decision happens when several of the following criteria are met:
- the cause is one that I believe in, meaning I’d write the organization a check
- my work will help the cause take a big step forward
- the subjects/situations/locations for the shoot are ones that otherwise I would not have access to
- the subject is someone/something that I’m truly interested in
- everyone involved with the project is working for free
I’m looking for worthy projects to shoot for free
For 2013, I’m looking to shoot a couple of worthy projects for free. So, if you’ve read the above and know of a worthy project that could use a photographer, please get in touch with the specifics. I travel a lot, so location might not be an issue. You can reach me at the address you see below.
Bonus info: my comrade-in-arms Zack Arias talked about when and why he worked for free as a commercial shooter in this webcast. If you are a student or an emerging pro, you should give Zack’s insights a listen.