I ran across an article by John Harrington over on Black Star Rising entitled 12 Excuses for Shooting Photos for Free — and Why They’re Bogus , and have to respond.
I’m trying to get into concert photography, so when bands have called to ask about pricing, I’ve told them, “It’s on me.” It’s a great way for me to break into that market.
It’s a great way to break into that market known as “free.” How many times do you think musicians have screwed themselves over and given away the farm to music labels? Too many to count. Don’t make the same mistake.
There’s a glaring hole in this argument. John tells you DON’T DO THIS! What he utterly fails to do is tell you what you should be doing instead. He also assumes your a weak minded wuss who wouldn’t charge in the future. The idea behind getting a shoot or two behind you in a genre is to get experience and build portfolio material. So rather than not doing it, go ahead. Just don’t do it more than once or twice, or you WILL be in the free market.
I just did a free shoot for a young actress trying to make ends meet, like many starving artists. It helped her and was an opportunity for me to practice my lighting techniques.
Romanticizing being a “starving artist” isn’t really a good thing. It’s nice when you’re sipping a chai tea latte with your beret in the local java house listening to beatniks recite their slam poetry, but other than that, it’s mostly a good way to remain starving. Doing a trade-for-prints/trade-for-CD deal is for C-grade models and photographers who almost never become pros. And while you may think that it helps you with your lighting techniques, it doesn’t help you grow in the area that matters most — the confidence to know that your work has value.
John misses the point again, because apparently for him it’s JUST about the money. Doing the kind of shoot described does a few things. First, it does help you develop a skill. A skill you can leverage and sell. And if the shots land the starving actress a role, that’s exposure. The key is to be up front and determine your goals in advance. Lay out for the client what the deal is. There’s no rule against putting that free shoot in writing. In fact, DO put it in writing. That’s something you should do for every shoot. This kind of shoot can show both you and others that your work has value. Not all value is immediately apparent as cash in your bank account.
I offered to shoot free family photos for all my neighbors for their holiday cards. It’s a good way to promote my business.
It’s nice to be a good neighbor. Then again, you might soon be getting lots of invitations to weddings and Bar Mitzvahs, with the suggestion: “Hey, why don’t you bring your camera? We’d love to have some photos, and you would really be saving us some money.” So now, you’re an even better neighbor than you intended to be — and you’ve knocked some local wedding photographer out of a paying gig. Or, if you respond with, “Oh, those holiday photos were a one-time thing; I charge to shoot events,” you’ll probably get something like this: “Come on, neighbor, you’re going to be there anyway!”
John seems absolutely convinced that everyone is a push over wuss of some kind. The situation above is pretty easy to manage, so long as you are professional and communicate to the client what is being done. Put it in writing. Hell, give them your rate list so they know what your work is valued at. They get photos valued at $x, and you get promotional material. As for that last bit where the so called good neighbour tries to guilt you into it… the response is pretty simple. Either you’re a guest and there to enjoy the event, or you’re the photographer who isn’t going to have time to appreciate or enjoy the proceedings.
I got some valuable event-photography experience shooting one of my company’s employee celebrations for free. I got to shoot an event for a Fortune 500 corporation, and my pictures received excellent exposure on the company Web site, with over 25,000 hits. I was even given a free photo printer for my effort.
A free photo printer? You mean one of the dozen printers your company got for free when they ordered the last batch of CPU’s from Dell or HP? As someone who has shot for over half of the Fortune 500, I can tell you that I’ve earned $1,000 or more per assignment shooting company picnics, holiday parties, and so forth. It’s not glamourous, but it helps pay the bills. That is, unless you have someone willing to do it for a free printer. By the way, who insured your personal gear against spilled sodas or any other accidents? Let me guess: no one.
I could almost get behind this one, but not quite. Again we have a photographer who needs to gain some needed experience. It’s a lot easier to get paying gigs doing a genre of work if you have examples of it in your portfolio. Want to shoot a Fortune 500 event? You’ll either have to network yourself into one and pray you nail it, or have examples of that kind of work to show prospective clients. In this bizarre example, we apparently have a Fortune 500 company who wasn’t able to get an experience pro photographer… seems a bit unlikely to be honest. It doesn’t help that John’s example starts with a photographer working on going pro but then refers to ‘personal gear’. It further assumes the photographer in question doesn’t have the brains to insure his gear.
Every photography job I’ve ever gotten has been through word of mouth — often because I did something for free first.
Right, word of mouth. As in, “Hey, I know this photographer who will shoot for free…” Congratulations! You’ve just become known all over town as the guy who doesn’t expect to be paid for his work. Maybe if you’re lucky, you’ll even get a client who offers to buy you lunch.
And AGAIN John treats his marketing savvy photographer victim like an idiot who would just bend over at every opportunity to shoot for free. John, take a look around the marketplace as a whole, and then go look up loss leader.
I’ve been doing some free portraits of friends for fun, to use as their Facebook profile photos. When people see my pictures on Facebook, I’ll expand my network and it can lead to jobs.
No, it will lead to more requests to take pictures “for fun” — from friends, then friends of friends, then people who just don’t want to pay to have their portraits taken. And you’ll be making lots of new friends among the professional portrait photographers whose livelihoods you are damaging. Happy networking!
I think I’ve addressed this argument. Even if John feels like beating it to death, I won’t.
I like my day job in IT, but at night I am passionate about photography. I don’t mind self-funding my work because it gives me more creative freedom.
Guess what, IT guy? When India’s night work takes over your day job, don’t call me crying about it. Also, don’t bother trying to make a living from your “passion,” because you’re already doing all you can to undermine your chances — as well as everyone else’s.
Uhm, what? It’s not clear at ALL what this IT guy is doing wrong. Is he selling his work after the fact rather than take commission/contract work? I don’t see anything wrong with that.
I’m a young amateur photographer, close to graduating from college, so I’m focusing on building a portfolio I can be proud of. Money? Later.
Excellent. One more student photographer who doesn’t care about money. I predict that when Sallie Mae comes a callin’ for payback on those loans that funded your education, money will become much more important to you. And I assume you’ll have things like rent, food and clothing to worry about, too. Unless Mommy and Daddy are still paying for everything — which is really nothing for you to be bragging about.
This *can* be a problem. Unfortunately John feels that mockery is the answer to the question. You’ll notice he doesn’t actually provide an answer, just some handy derision.
I did some high-profile assignments for free, and now I’m published in major magazines with a photo credit.
“Will work for photo credit” is one of the more asinine mentalities among photographers today. You’re helping no one, including yourself. All you’re doing is killing editorial opportunities for others.
John had a great opportunity here to show how to do it right. He didn’t. Well done John.
I recently graduated from photography school and have been shooting like crazy, mostly for free. I’ve been getting very good experience. I’m also making contacts, and once the economy improves, I’ll be in a much better place than had I sat around waiting for paid assignments.
That’s some photography school — where you didn’t get experience! Your problem is that you just want to shoot pictures rather than earn assignments. You don’t “sit around waiting” for work; you market yourself to people who are willing to pay for your services. Those contacts you’re making are worth about as much as your photography is worth to them.
Aside from the bitter wankery, this is close to spot on. If you’ve invested in a formal education, you need to trust that you already have some pretty solid experience under your belt. Now trust in that, get out in the real world and build your business!
It’s different now because of digital photography. Ten years ago, shooting for free meant eating the cost of film, processing and Polaroids unless the client paid your costs. Today, all a free shoot costs you is your time. Pixels are free!
No, actually, pixels are not free — but thanks for playing. Cameras and camera shutters have a lifespan of a few hundred thousand frames. Divide the number of frames you shot for free by the cost of the camera, and you’ll begin to get a sense of how much that shoot cost you. That doesn’t count the cost of Photoshop for post-production, storage of the raw files, burning them to CD for your clients, and on and on.
Finally, some GOOD points. These are things that a new photographer won’t think about, and should.
Once I stopped worrying about charging for shoots, I have had offers and requests coming at me from all directions. I want my photographs to benefit the world and to help other people. It’s not about the money.
Of course you have “offers and requests” coming at you from all directions. So does the drunk girl at the club who hops on the slippery oak bar-top with a short skirt and no underwear and says, “If you see anything you like, I’ll be in the back offering it for free.” You’re surprised that a line forms immediately? So, you want to “help other people.” How about helping those who earn a living producing photographs by not undercutting them? That’s the best way to ensure that great photography continues to benefit the world.
Unfortunately for John, not everyone is motivated by money. There are probably more than a few excellent photographers out there who have the means to pursue their passion independently. That John continues on his comparison like he does is just cheap.
And John? NONE of these other photographers owe you a living. Don’t like competing with them? Don’t. According to you, all of their clients are cheapskates anyways.