Almost a year ago I posted about Asking for free photography, and almost to the day I find myself writing about the topic again albeit from a slightly different angle. It was recently reported by the BBC that today one in seven workers is self employed with research showing 47% ‘giving away their time’, a percentage which rises to 87% in the creative industries.   As a freelancer myself, these numbers and statistics do not surprise me, and while I gain some comfort in the fact I am not alone in facing regular requests for free work, it is certainly disappointing to hear the requests are so ubiquitous.

As a creative currently asking for portrait sitters, I can appreciate how my asking for people’s time to sit for free, can appear hypocritical. However in this instance, I counter with the fact that both parties benefit and gain from the experience; I have a victim willing to be shot and the sitter receives copies of the final images for their personal use. I appreciate it is a balance and I do my best to ensure everything I do has benefit to all involved. 

However if I am asked to work for free, my stance is a clear no. Here a few common requests and why, in my experience and opinion, they’re false along with other reasons why not to work for free;

“I’ll offer you the next (paid) job”

A classic example of offering a carrot to be redeemed at some unconfirmed point in the future. The future carrot is rarely, if ever, honoured and in the mean time the company has received free goods or products from you. If they are genuine in offering the next job, ask for a contract to be drawn up, shown and signed to guarantee the gig. Otherwise it is a false promise.

It’s great exposure”

At face value, and especially in an age of ‘influencers’, the idea of exposure I admit sounds attractive. The idea that your work is seen by potentially thousands or millions or people is alluring, as is the potential to then be subsequently commissioned from it. However even if the work is seen by the barbarian hordes it again rarely, if ever, translates into future work. People generally attribute credit to the influencer, brand or channel it is viewed on and do not backtrack to the creative responsible. This presumes the work is properly credited and attributed, which it often is not resulting in orphan works.

“The image is being used by a charity with limited funds”

This request pulls on the heart strings with the potential to make a photographer feel guilty for not acquiescing. However bear in mind you are not a charity and the charity will have funds being spent somewhere such as logistics, admin and potentially even salaries etc etc… By all means offer a charitable reduction but do not be guilt tripped into handing over work for free.

Something offered for free is worth nothing to those who receive it

An item offered for free intrinsically has no value to the receiver. As such, they can feel no obligation or guilt if it is not used. In regards to photography, if a client receives images for free from a photographer, it does not affect their bottom line if those images are used or not. And if not, the photographer will have wasted their time and will not benefit from the ‘exposure’. If a client has had to pay for the images, there is more pressure on them to use said images to see a return on their investment.

Won’t be proud of the work

As a photographer, rightly or wrongly, if I know I’m not being paid or I am not benefitting from the experience, my heart just will not be in it. As such I am then producing sub standard work of which I am not proud and, chances are, will not use in my portfolio.

Work has value

People’s time and work has value; therefore they should be paid for it.

Other freelancers struggle

Photographers who need to earn a living struggle when other shooters hand their work over for free. And if someone takes on a job for free, why should that business pay for it next time?

Similar to my post flagging up warning signs of Bad Clients, these requests often come paired or grouped to maximise the impact and trick you into handing over work for free. Just remember exposure does not pay the bills and it is cold right now.