For what it’s worth… (Why I don’t work for free.)

If possible, I think photographers get asked to work for free more often than any other professional service providers…

As a professional photographer, I offer competitive and all-inclusive pricing. But far too often, I find myself dealing with the issue of potential clients (or occasionally even friends) basically saying “I want you to do a bunch of work for me, but I place little to no value on your time, or your skill, or your knowledge, or your effort.”

It boggles my mind that people think they’ll convince me to give them something for nothing by saying things like: “It’ll help build your portfolio” or “It’ll be good exposure for your business” or “It’s a great networking opportunity” or – my favourite – “We can’t afford to pay much, but…”

I often wonder why the person asking me to work for free or for a fraction of my cost, thinks that they’re the only one with bills to pay and a living to earn?

For my good friends, I will offer a substantial discount, or offer an exchange of services if they can provide something of equal value. Occasionally, if a close friend just really needs help and can’t afford to pay or trade, I will shoot a few photos for them for free, but that’s only for the special few who offer me something of great worth just by being my friends.

With potential clients, if they have a service or product that is of interest to me, I’ll occasionally offer a 50% trade. Meaning they pay half of my rate in cash, the other half in trade of their product or service.

Volunteering is entirely different. As with anyone who volunteers, that is something I choose to do for free, to support causes I believe in.

For everyone else though, my standard answer to anyone who attempts to convince me that they shouldn’t have to pay me to do my job, is this:

“Would you do your job if you didn’t get paid for it? How about if you were asked to do your job for less than a quarter of the wage you normally earn? If I asked you to give me several hours or days of your time for free, or for less than minimum wage, would you? Nope? Well neither would I.”

I already have a great way to build my portfolio, to get networking opportunities and to create exposure for my business… It’s by getting paid for my work.

Even though I find these requests insulting and occasionally infuriating, I do remember that we’re each of us responsible for the choices we make.

Yes, there are always going to be amateur or newly starting photographers who haven’t yet learned that working for free is almost never a good idea. They’re the ones who get taken in by the empty promises of ‘really, your unpaid labor is going to be a big boost to your career’.

It’s largely because of the abundance of inexperienced photographers who don’t know better, that so many people do get away with paying nothing or almost nothing for photography. In that case, both parties lose… Using an inexperienced photographer, is a surefire way to get poor quality service and poor quality photos.

Oh well. Even though the pattern will keep repeating, people do figure things out eventually. As for me, I figured out some time ago, that the best choice is not to be taken advantage of. I only offer my services to those who understand that anything of value is worth paying for.

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