I recently set out on my own as a photographer after shooting a few weddings for friends and doing some family portrait sessions over the last year or two. I was able to save up enough to quit my job and do more photography work so I built a website and started putting packages together. The thing is, people ask me all the time for free photos. They don’t come right out and ask directly but they’ll share something that sounds like they’re asking me to work for free.
My friend owns a yoga studio and she wants me to photograph (and edit the images) for her teacher training program in exchange for a class pass. The thing is, a photo session with me costs 3-5 times as much as the value of that class pass. It just doesn’t sound like a fair “trade”. I’d love to do lifestyle shots more often and I don’t have a lot of work like that in my portfolio yet – so should I work for free (or next to nothing) to build my portfolio so I can get paying jobs in the future?
Thanks for your advice.
Dear Confused Newbie,
Let’s start with this: you are not alone. Unfortunately, nearly every creative is regularly asked to work for free (or trade) and it’s a tough position to be in. Sure, you want the experience, but, like, you have bills to pay. That camera didn’t just show up on your doorstep one day (or maybe it did, I don’t know). But let’s assume it didn’t and you worked hard to save up and buy your DSLR and pay your rent and still stay subscribed to Blue Apron because how do people live without that. In that case, should you work for free?
The funny thing about this column is that almost everyone answers their own question as they write it. Look back at what you said. “It just doesn’t sound like a fair trade.” Hm. So you have two choices here (since clearly this isn’t sitting right with you)
- Say thanks but no thanks. Let your friend know how much you’d love to work with her and give her your pricing for a lifestyle session. Something like “I’m honored you asked me and since I’m ramping up the lifestyle side of my photography business, I’d love to offer you my introductory price of $X for a X hour session.” That should do it.
- Figure out how it would be fair for you. If you said that the class pass is about ⅓ of the cost of a session, ask for three class passes in exchange for the work. Better yet, tell your friend you’ll pass on the pass (lol) and that there’s something about the energy exchange when real money crosses hands. Say “how about this: let’s both write each other a check for $X so that the Universe knows we’re legit business owners depositing money in our bank accounts. Plus, ya know, tax write offs for business expenses and all.”
Sure, you’re going to be asked to work for free. And you might even want to say yes sometimes. But remember that people do hobbies for free and work for money. Yeah, yeah, you love what you do so it should be free for the world but you have bills to pay, Confused Newbie. Not to mention the fact that YOU DESERVE TO BE PAID.
Oh, and if you’re still having trouble deciding, here’s a handy flow chart that should help with your decision fatigue. Because those things help, yo.
What advice do you have for Confused Newbie? Have you been caught in the “work for free” trap? Let’s talk it out in the comments!