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    Do you have to work photography for free?

    The post Do you have to work photography for free? first appeared at Digital Photography School. It is written by Carl Spring.

    Sharon McCutcheon

    There are normally two points of view that come up when you raise this topic:

    • Version 1: Never, oh my goodness, you ruined the industry, NOOB! Exposure does not pay the bills. You would not expect a doctor to work for free. You are the reason photographers cannot earn a decent income.
    • Version 2: Yes. You have to gain experience and you cannot expect people to pay for it. You are not the reason people cannot make money with photography. If you don't need the money, why would you charge people? Do what you want to do and ignore everyone.

    Well, as with all things, it is a bit more nuanced than the arguments you hear on internet forums. At all levels of photography happens for free at every level. From those who are just starting out, taking photos of your friends' children, all the way to superstar photographers doing a favor for a friend at an advertising agency. Sometimes it pays to shoot for free. Sometimes you just want to shoot for free, and whatever some say, there is not always a problem with this.

    Chase Jarvis wrote a great blog post about this year ago that always stayed with me. If it doesn't bring you two of the following three things, it's probably not worth photographing:

    • MONEY

    It's a simple approach that makes it really easy to help you find out if you should shoot for free. Now, as much as I wish I was at a Chase Jarvis point in my career, I am not. That's why I changed it; does it pay me, build contacts or build my portfolio? It has done me pretty well so far. So let's see how you can use it for free in your favor.

    Pay to play

    I'll be honest here; if someone is willing to pay me my rates to paint dry, I will do it.

    As much as social media flood our feeds with photographers who "lead their best lives" (god, I hate that sentence) and only choose jobs that feed their souls, most will (and many still have to) take everything job paid they. They simply forget to add it to their Insta story. Of course you only put work in your portfolio that you want to photograph, but if they pay and you need the money, you take the job.

    I was paid to photograph things that my portfolio will never make, but they meant that I could pay my mortgage. The old saying is that money cannot give you happiness, but it can give you freedom. If by doing boring tasks, you can travel to create the project you always wanted, then you get your creativity out of the job, only in other ways. However, this article is about when you need to photograph for free, so let's move on to the most obvious reason to work for free – to build your portfolio.

    Headshots are something I always count on. I have a solid portfolio and there is no reason for me to do them for free anymore.

    Build your portfolio

    You must create a portfolio to get customers to pay for your work, but you do need customers to get a portfolio. It is the classic chicken and egg scenario. When you start and think that you may want people to pay you for your services, you must be able to prove that you can do the work that you want to do. The simple solution is to offer photography in exchange for portfolio material.

    This option also means that you can end up in situations with specific people and locations that you may never have reached or paid for yourself to shoot with your current portfolio. In the music world I have photographed a lot for free. I saved all rights to the images and sent them to a photo agency to make money that way. Although the website for which I shot did not pay; they gave me access.

    It is unlikely that you will go to a music festival for an internship with a recording for a desk. Shooting for the right publication, free. The opportunity to get five minutes with a person who would look great in your portfolio is priceless. Unless there is comparable work in your portfolio, you will have trouble getting paid for this. This is the kind of free work that leads to more paid work and builds a kick-ass portfolio for you.

    Shooting for a desk would never have brought me here. Free shooting for a "cool" blog, did.

    The sensation

    Let us not forget that being published is an important buzz, especially when you start. Unfortunately, many photographers could be paid for assignments in the past. You should never underestimate this type of boost in your self-confidence.

    My photography started in Skateboarding. That was the reason that I picked up a camera. I shot everyone who came to me and sent photos to magazines all the time. Then something great happened – the magazine published one!

    Very few replace the sensation of being published for the first time. A photo I took was in the magazine I had loved since childhood. That was the best feeling ever! What does it matter if I get paid? I was young and I had done the only thing I always wanted to do – appear in a magazine. This one thing was a signal that I could really do something with my camera. I was good enough to shoot alongside photographers that I looked up to. I still have that magazine somewhere in a box and I will never get rid of it.

    However, this type of free shoot comes in a very fine line. If you shoot for free, you are always at the right price. Try not to continue to make it a habit, especially for the same publication.

    Testing, 1, 2, 3

    Even more established photographers sometimes need free shoots. It can be as simple as testing a new camera or trying out a new technique. I plan to take on a few cameras ' s soon and I will take the time if I have a few jobs in a weekend. However, I will also offer a free shoot for someone during my time with the camera.

    When someone has paid for your services, ask them to join you while you scratch your head and try to figure out which menu setting you don't need to build their confidence or profile. That means that I can only really experiment with the camera in the shoot when I know I have some great photos for the customer.

    However, by organizing a free shoot, I can experiment with the camera on all shoots and test how I want. The person who receives the free shoot will not mind (or will just have to grin and expose) the time I spend figuring out which menu setting I need.

    After a quick game, this little man caught my attention. The next step is to hire one and take a free photo so I can try.

    Time for print / gym membership / whatever

    Barter has been around since the beginning of time. The exchange of modeling in exchange for the final images has been around for almost as long. You get great images for your portfolio and the model also gets the same great images for theirs.

    There are, however, more creative ways in which you can trade your photography for services. Just like when putting together a portfolio, this can be a way to build a portfolio, but also to get something for your time, but not money.

    I really have to be back in shape and haven't been to a gym for years. I am getting older and I think I should get fit again. Now I could just go outside and pay for a gym membership. Instead, I will approach gyms in my area and try to trade a photo shoot in exchange for an annual membership to the gym.

    Why are you doing this? Well, I will save money by not paying for a starter membership. I have my camera equipment and if I book them for a while that I have no other work on, all I lose is the time for the shoot (plus processing). It also helps me to build a portfolio in this area of ​​photography, which is missing just like my fitness.

    The gym may be interested because they will get some shiny new photos for their website / social media and it will cost them nothing more than having someone use the already open gym (plus an induction session of 30 minutes).

    Yes, I could get paid more for a promotional shoot. However, how many companies respond to a cold call from someone without a portfolio in this area, asking if they want to pay hundreds of pounds for a photo session? In my experience, very few. If other gyms see my great work and the response to it, they will stay in touch. This is when I can use that shoot to make sure I get paid.


    Depending on what kind of photography you do, there will be people you need to impress. This can be business owners, record companies or presidents. By doing work for these people, it can be a way to get to where you want to be faster.

    You can take family portraits as an example. One family that you photograph is wearing clothing from the local children's clothing boutique. The store asks if you would mind if you use one of your images on their social media account. How should you proceed?

    Most importantly, you must get written permission from the family to use the images in this way. But, assuming you did this, why would you give them the picture for free?

    There are two ways to look at this, and neither is wrong. You can let them know your commercial rates and let them decide if they want to use them. You can also allow them to use it for free, but make sure they tag you in the messages. You could even get them to take your photography flyer in the pockets of their customers. This means that you get great, targeted advertising for your photography. Even if the company wants to arrange a photo shoot, you are the first name that comes to mind.


    Photograph things you believe in. If I can help a charity that I believe in, I will do it for free. This is the karma side of photography. If your talent can help people, you have to do it. As much as it won't pay the bills, working for a good cause will give you a sense that money can't replace.

    So that gives you some good reasons to shoot for free. Do you have any more? Or am I completely crazy forever, suggesting that people should shoot for free? Post a comment and show what people think.

    The post Do you have to work photography for free? first appeared at Digital Photography School. It is written by Carl Spring.

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