By Sara McNutt on | No Comments
I'm a member of many photography-related groups & forums. I often see photographers complaining about being asked (and even being expected) to work for FREE by close friends, family members, worthy causes, or any number of other groups.
There are so many opinions on this topic, and I've read some great reasons why working for free isn't realistic.
But, one response that resonated with me was that "a professional photographer is one whose PROFESSION IS PHOTOGRAPHY." And by definition, a profession is "a paid occupation."
It's true that most photographers love what they do and usually have a lot of fun doing it, but at the end of the day, photography is still a profession. To be successful (or even just stay in business), it must generate a sustainable income.
Here are three important reasons why photographers cannot work for free:
Photography equipment is expensive to purchase (and maintain), and photographers will need most (if not all) of these items to run a successful business:
Photography is your business, and like any business, start-up costs aren't cheap and will need to be covered by ongoing business income. In addition to the photography equipment (discussed above), here are some additional start-up costs:
Most importantly, photography is time-intensive, and a photographer's time is valuable. Between the time spent shooting, editing, business development, workshops, etc., most photographers work long, long hours... more than most clients realize.
We do ALL of this to make our clients happy and provide images our client's LOVE. Of course, we hope they love them so much they will hire us again and even refer their friends and family.
So with all the time and money, we put into our profession, why are we asked (even expected) to work for free? Let's try to identify the root cause.
As I mentioned at the start of this blog post, some people don't consider that an individual (this can be you, a friend, a relative, or whomever) is a SEPARATE ENTITY from their business. Some of them are clueless and don't even realize what they are asking for. Others DO REALIZE what they are doing but don't appreciate your work as a photographer and can't help trying to save a dollar.
The key to solving this "work for free" dilemma is to arm yourself with good communication and a few examples to educate them.
Be upfront and reiterate that as photographers, we are separate from our professional business entities, and we can't make a profession out of something done for free. Share some examples like this: I have a friend who owns a clothing boutique, but I would never expect to be able to shop at their boutique for free. Similarly, I wouldn’t expect a free car from my friend that works at a car dealership, free jewelry from a jeweler, free meals from a chef, or free airline tickets from a pilot.
Yes. It can sometimes make sense to photograph for free! It's perfectly fine to work for free if YOU REALLY WANT TO. Does a particular cause inspire you? Will your heart be fulfilled by providing your service for free?
Personally, I have volunteered many times to shoot and edit photos (for free) and felt really good about it. That's the key. Make sure YOU feel good about it.
But what if someone offers to give you "GREAT EXPOSURE" instead of paying you for your work?
This can certainly sound appealing, especially if you're new and looking to grow your business. FORGET ABOUT IT. I'm here to tell you that there is almost zero chance that any exposure you gain from a free photography job will lead to many other actual paid photo sessions. If anything, you may just get inquiries for MORE FREE shoots that promise to give you exposure. Don't go down that path.
YOU'RE A PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHER, AND YOUR TIME IS VALUABLE, just like everyone else in this world!
Do you have any questions about Why Professional Photographers CANNOT Work for Free? Just leave us a comment below - we would LOVE to hear from you! And PLEASE SHARE this post using the social sharing buttons (we really appreciate it)!
Sara McNutt lives, writes, and photographs in Missoula, MT. You can find her on Facebook and Instagram.