Why Professional Photographers Cannot Work for Free

In reading various for-photographer websites, I've found that a common complaint is that photographers are often expected to work for free - for close friends, family, worthy causes, and a number of other groups. This has been something that has been addressed by photographers in various ways and I've read some great responses to why that simply isn't realistic. Elizabeth Halford recently posted a vlog entitled, What is a Professional Photographer? She made the (excellent) point that a professional photographer is one whose profession is photography.

By definition, we make an income taking pictures. Yes, it’s something we do for fun, but at the end of the day, it’s our profession. In order to have a successful profession, you have to make a sustainable income.

In this post, we’ll hit on three other reasons why we cannot work for free:

1) It’s a business and like any business, start-up costs are expensive.

2) Equipment is expensive, as is maintaining it.

3) Photography is time-intensive and time is money.

Before we dive into these logistical reasons in future posts, I think it’s important to identify a root cause behind the expectation that photographers should work for free.

This leads to the first reason and it’s simply this: I, as a person (i.e. friend, daughter, advocate, etc.) am a separate entity from my business.

For example, say I have a friend who owns a clothing boutique. I would never expect (I hope) to be able to shop this boutique for free, having carte blanche to any clothes I wanted. Why not? The business is a separate entity from my friend and subsequently, our friendship. The same is true for photographers.

We wouldn’t expect a free car from a friend that’s a car salesperson, free jewelry from a jeweler, free meals from a chef, nor free airline tickets from a pilot. But for some reason, photography has slipped the radar on this and it’s a common expectation that we can do our work for free; gratis, if you will.

With some good communication and armed with a few examples, we can help others to understand that we’re a separate entity from our business and we cannot make a profession out of something done for free.

How about you, what are some ways you’ve handled this situation as a photographer?

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Special thanks to Sara McNutt for this awesome post!  Sara is a talented woman who we love to have visit us on the blog!