Woman Taking Picture Outdoors

Should You Work For Free?

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As a photographer, you have probably been asked to work for free before. This is a bit strange and beyond insulting, to say the least. After all, you wouldn’t go to the cashier at Walmart with a big screen TV and ask if you can just have it for free now, would you?

There are certain reasons why people have this mentality and there are times when you should or should not work for free. I’ve done both and in today’s article, I’m going to answer these questions and get behind the psychology of it.

Photographer taking photo of newly married couple
Photographer taking photo of newly married couple in park

When You Should Work For Free

There are in fact times and important reasons for working for free and I have done them all.

When You Are Starting Out

I’ve seen countless “photographers” who are starting their photography business by ripping off (aka stealing) photos from the internet from other photographers to advertise for their own business. This is a VERY bad idea! 

I’ve had this happen with my own photos many times. I’ve talked with many of these photo thieves to try to understand their thought process behind doing this (and to ask them to take my photos down immediately if they want to avoid a lawsuit) They all say the same thing. “Oh, I’m just starting my business and I don’t have any of my own photos to promote my work.”. This shocked me! I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! So I recommend to them the same thing that I did.

If you are just starting and you have no photos of your own to advertise with than it is simple. Do a couple of free sessions with the agreement that you can use those photos to advertise your work. If you are too embarrassed to use your own work to advertise for “your own work”, then you are most defiantly not ready to do photography as a business! Go out and keep practicing until you are more confident in your photos. Believe me, it would be WAY more embarrassing having to explain to your clients why their photos don’t look even remotely similar to the ones you used to advertise.  

For Charity 

This is one that is near and dear to my heart. When there is a family with a loved one who may not be with them much longer and they can’t afford to higher a photographer to take professional photos to capture the short time they had with each other. 

I’ve done a couple of these now and they are the hardest but most important sessions to me. Words can’t express the gratitude a family will have to be able to have the memories of their loved ones captured and preserved.

Studio Photographer in Action
Studio Photographer in Action. Caucasian Photographer Taking Picture Using Professional Photo Gear.

When You Should Not Work For Free

There are most defiantly times when you should not work for free. After all, this is your business and you have bills to pay and a family to feed, just like everyone else. You shouldn’t do a session for free when someone asks you to because, well, here is why.

Pensive man reading a book at the table.
Pensive young man reading a book at the table. Learning and studying concept.

Education 

First off, just like with any profession, you have either spent years of time and hundreds or even thousands of dollars getting an education or educating yourself in understanding and mastering photography.

A photographer also never stops learning, our education is continuous. Clients only see you come to the session and snap some photos and leave. But before you could just do that, you had to learn not only the ins and outs of a professional camera and any lens, but even how light works and effects everything and can quickly change everything throughout the shoot, and how you can manipulate the late in different ways to get the exact photo that you want. 

You also have to learn about posing people where they look normal and not awkward or uncomfortable (which can change drastically from person to person). You also have to learn how to interact with people during a session to keep everyone comfortable and having a good time because we know that the mood on the day affects everything!

Maintenance of photo camera after cleaning
Maintenance of photo camera after cleaning, top view. Professional photographing equipment care, technology concept

Equipment 

Oh yes, and then there is the equipment we bring. If you are serious about your business and your photography, you will spend $10,000 or more easily on equipment. And that’s not because we are getting the best of the best of equipment, (most of mine I got used), it’s just that this stuff is NOT CHEAP! Just ask my wife! 😆

Editing

Yep, more education stuff! You could literally take an entire college semester on learning how to use a program like Photoshop and Lightroom. I’ve been using Photoshop for probably well over a decade and I still learn new things about it to this day!

Young confused father sitting with his little son photographing.
Image of young confused father sitting with his little son outdoors in park nature holding camera photographing.

Why People Ask You To Work For Free

So why do people even think it is ok to ask you to work for free anyway? Where does that mentality come from? Well, there is a lot of reasons, some of which I kind of already touched on. 

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Number 1 I think is because, as I said earlier, all they see is you pushing a button on a camera for a short amount of time and then send you the photos a bit later. A lot of people don’t see what is actually going on and has already happened between that time and they don’t think they should be paying you so much for such little work.

I’ve gotten in the habit of telling people “look, you are not paying for the session, that is free. You are paying for the finished product, the retouched images.”. And it’s true, the actual session can be rather laid back and can go pretty quick sometimes. I’ve literally had sessions only last 15-20 minutes before when things go extremely well on the day. 

Number 2 People can see and sense that you really enjoy what you are doing and something inside them says “you should not be paying someone to do something they love to do. So just ask them to do it for free”. It’s a super weird phenomenon and I think it’s because people are not used to actually seeing someone doing a job that they actually legitimately love and that is sad to me.

Photography Hobbyist Silhouette
Silhouette of Photography Hobbyist with Camera on a Tripod During Sunset.

Conclusion 

I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve been asked to work for free, and not just sessions either! I’ve had people ask me to just give them my training classes, even my equipment because they are good people and I should do it from the goodness of my own heart!

The moral of this article is to stick to your guns, don’t let people pressure you or make you feel bad for not doing work for free. You worked way too hard to just give your professional and artistic abilities away! Believe me, when I say, they won’t appreciate it anyway! Don’t only charge for your work, charge what it is worth. If you don’t charge enough, you and your work won’t be appropriate or respected. The people that have paid me the most appreciate me and my work the most. Keep that in mind and have a great rest of the week!

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