Just wanted to give a quick update on my previous post where I asked you Southern California folks help out with the model shoot I was asked to do for a local San Diego company: Green Man T-Shirts. When I posted it, I was hoping to have a good response, but maybe the “no pay” thing was a turn-off.

I did get one response from a fellow by the name of Michael Walborn and he’s actually a perfect match for this event! Be sure to check out his ModelMayhem profile and his Flickr photos. Not only does he have experience in the studio and photographing models, but he has experience in the same studio that we’ll be using! This is awesome news and I’m really looking forward to learning the ropes with him.

Definitely check out Michael’s stuff — I owe him a big “thank you” for jumping in to help me out with this thing. I also owe Oscar Medina a “thank you” for referring him to my previous post. You see, Oscar is my local San Diego printer and Michael is a fellow customer/contact of his — we both also have photos listed on two of Oscar’s other websites: San Diego Artists and Artist Direct.

THOUGHTS ON WORKING FOR “FREE”

As I said, maybe I didn’t get a huge response on the call for photographers because I was asking people to basically work for free. The word “free” has become a bad word among photographers in recent years, mainly because of the various professional photographers and photography blogs preaching that you shouldn’t give anything away for free as a photographer. If you do, you’re devaluing the marketplace and doing a disservice to yourself and your fellow photographers. While most of these discussions have been aimed at licensing of existing photos (which I generally agree with), the idea of not working for free for any reason whatsoever seems to have attached itself by association. This is a bad outlook to have if you ask me.

I’m not going to preach on this topic of working for free under the right circumstances, mostly because other have made much better arguments than I ever could (see the articles from David Hobby and Chase Jarvis).

DAVID HOBBY: FOUR REASONS TO CONSIDER WORKING FOR FREE

CHASE JARVIS: WILL WORK FOR FREE?

For this Green Man T-Shirt thing, it’s a no-brainer on my part. The company is a local startup, they’re “green”, they donate 25% of their proceeds to charity, they’re enthusiastic, I’m in a position to learn a great deal from this experience, and I need to get out and shoot more often. I have everything to gain from this except for a few dollars (which I wouldn’t be able to charge anyway because of my inexperience). And the only reason I can do this is because Michael has agreed to help out.

I can’t speak for Michael, but I would guess (and this is only a guess) that he’s also interested in gaining more experience, adding to his portfolio, helping out a local company, and having a good time. Whatever his motives, I’m very grateful that he jumped in and offered his time and experience (and I’m going to repay him by providing whatever exposure I can).

So next time you have an opportunity to “work for free” as a photographer, maybe think twice about it before dismissing the idea. In the long run, you just might gain more than you sacrificed. The end of our story with Green Man T-Shirts here in San Diego has yet to play out, but I’m very enthusiastic about what could come of it. I’ll update you guys after our session this March.

What say you? Is working for “free” a bad thing? Would you ever consider doing it yourself? And under what circumstances?

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Brian – glad you were able to find someone to help out with your project.

On your question of working for free – yes, I do think it’s a bad idea. You may not benefit from the few dollars that this gig would have paid you, and you probably have a day job that you use to pay your bills, so it doesn’t matter if this job pays you or not. But because you’re willing to do it for free, you taught one more client that they could get something for free.

In real life examples of what effect that has: I recently talked to a small boutique designer, you once a quarter works with a photographer to shoot her lined for her online catalog. That would be a good business for a photographer building his business and working his way up. Thing is, she always finds someone to shoot it for free, so she isn’t willing to pay anymore. Being a small business herself, she’s better off not spending that money.

Second example: We were working with an agency model the other week. I overheard her talk to her mom on why she should pay $350 for a test shoot when she can easily shoot with all kinds of photographers for free. Another opportunity for a photographer who is starting out to earn some money. Not anymore.

Go on your local Craigslist. You’ll find plenty of ads where people ask for all kind of professional level photography, and have learned that if they use the key word of ‘build your portfolio’ that things should be free.

My recommendation – when I worked with another jewelery designer the other day who also was on a tight budget. Instead of charging her the full amount, I added gave her a discount in return for being able to use her jewelry on a future shoot of my own. That is one way of making something work for a cash strapped small business without shooting free, and making sure that everyone understands that your work has value.

January 9, 2010 12:40 am

Shooting nonprofit special events for “free” was how I started shooting portraits and people associated with those agencies were my first clients. I learned from those shoots. I built my portifilo. Most importantly I felt good about helping my community. In turn, I gained fans and others who encouraged me to pursue my passion.

January 9, 2010 7:08 am

As a general rule I frown on the idea of “working for free”, unless . . . . and that is a BIG “UNLESS” there is a benefit to the photographer in doing so. Sometimes that benefit is that the photographer believes in the cause. I’ve donated my skills or stock images to not-for-profit organizations whose cause I believe in.

Other times the photographer wants the experience without all the associated costs.

I think Jan’s post is very well written and on target. Professional photographers that earn a living with their work rarely if ever work for free. If they’ve been in the industry for awhile they already have their portfolio and won’t be working for free. But wannabe pro photographers who need experience and a portfoliio will always exist. Cash strapped companies will always seek out the “photographer who is developing a portfolio” and will find someone. Sad to say but that is how it works nowadays. The introduction of the “digital camera” made working for free, much more likely to occur . . . . and there are a LOT of wannabe pros.

Mike is NOT a wannabe photographer. He is well established and has won Emmy Awards for some of his videography work, but he is taking his photography in a new direction and I recommended he take this gig as it will give him an opportunity to oversee a studio shoot without having to go the expenses of developing it himself. That is a win-win for both the start up and for Mike.

If this company likes Mike’s work, they may pay for his services next time around and that would be great. But if they decide to be cheap and seek out *another* work-for-free photographer next time around, the quality of their shots will probably be lower (as Mike is a great photographer) and they will learn a valuable lesson on when it is a mistake to go cheap. Either way, Mike will gain additional experience in this area of photography and a portfolio he can show other potential paying clients.

If I didn’t believe it would benefit Mike, I wouldn’t have recommended he take the shoot.

Please note: Even though I was aware of this shoot, I did NOT offer my services but I may drop by to gain some experience in this area of photography.

January 9, 2010 11:54 am



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