Should I Work For Free? | Wednesdays with Leo

Business Tips December 12th 2012 1:56 PM 14 Comments

For Free

I’m sure most, if not all of us have been asked to shoot for free at one point or another. I still get asked even today! But is working for free necessarily a bad thing?

Unfortunately, it’s not a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer as it does depend on your individual situation. But for me, it has been answered as ‘no’ a few times in my Photography life.

Working for free may seem like a waste of time, but it might be worth considering doing certain shoots without compensation. Let’s talk more about it.

My Story

Earlier this year, I was put in touch with a couple who were getting married. At that point, I was not aware of their photography needs. I just knew they were getting married, so I thought I would try my luck to see if they needed a photographer. It turned out that they had already booked their photographer for the day, but they offered to me that I could shoot for my portfolio.

Again, I’m sure most, if not all of us have been told that the shoot would be good for our portfolio. I’m also positive that often times we may have just turned our noses up at that offer as we felt they just want to get some free photos.

Regardless, I had nothing planned that day. I had no shoots booked, so I decided to go for it. The agreement I made with the couple is that I would have full rights to the images to help market myself and display wherever I needed. In return, they would receive low-res watermarked images for web use.

The bride and groom uploaded the images, and it reached out to hundreds of their Facebook friends. This in turn drew a lot of traffic to my Facebook page and generated an inquiry for another Wedding which then led onto landing a full Wedding at my full paid rate.

Couple
Four months after shooting the initial Wedding, I was also approached by the original couple as they wanted to buy the images off me at full-res un-watermarked so that they could use them for print.

Conclusion

Shooting for free can seem like a waste of time and if you allow it, it can make you feel undervalued. However, it is important to remember that it is a great opportunity to network, gain exposure, and hone your skills if you are at a point in your career where that is necessary.

So depending on your situation and how established you are, working for free can definitely have its benefits.
You may not see immediate returns for your investment of time, but the more people you meet, and the more people that see your work; the more likely it is for you to land paying jobs.

There is no definitive answer to this question of “Should I work for free?”, as everyone’s situation is different. The important thing to remember is to take control of the situation, don’t let anyone take advantage of you, and do place value in your abilities.

From my own personal experience, working for free has at times benefited me. I have expanded my network, gained more experience, and ended up getting a paying job. Have any of you had any experiences of working for
free?

Please share in the comments below…

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About

Leo Hoang is a professional photographer based in London who shoots Weddings, Events and Real-Estate.

14 Comments

  1. Randy

    I will work for free before I work for a heavily discounted rate.

  2. JeremieP

    Yes i did and still sometime.
    And i don’t know when i charge if i charge too much, enough or not enough.
    I am not full time yet.

  3. ryan180becker

    When I first started doing portrait work and had nothing to show people, I worked for donation. Since I my main market was the college students where I attend, This worked well for their budgets and my portfolio, which has since led me to firm pricing, more work, and better pay since then. I am thankful for those shoots and they helped catapult me forward.

  4. Slevirn

    I was just back at my school in Vancouver Vanarts and the had a alumina night and over more then half of the people said they wished the did more free projects; because you can choose what to shoot and see if it is the type of photography you are into. This is before you make your name mud by doing a crappy paid job, having unhappy clients and now a bad reference. As well this is a really good guide to doing free work could not agree more. 
    I am 3 years in my business and my biggest paid job has come from a client that i had done free work for. I found that too you got to do free work to gain other peoples confident that you will come through on your product that your providing. I will always do free work but I am careful with who because what it will bring to my brand and is relevant to where I want my brand going.     

  5. Dwight

    Well the answer is actually quit simple. If you can work free free or no work at all, all you need to ask yourself are these three things
    #1 . Are you free that day.
    #2 . Can you get traffic from doing this job.
    #3 . Can you use the images the way you want after the job.

    If any of these three is a big fat NO. Then don’t take the job. If all of them are a yes do the job the best way you can.

  6. timoc74

    So I’m curious how you went about getting shots considering the couple already had hired a photographer? Did you work around the hired photographer’s schedule and did the bridge and groom specifically make time for shots with you? I’m not a pro, but I’ve done weddings for family and portraits for friends and family. I’m considering taking some assignments with my free time, so this story is  interesting to me. 

    • Leo Hoang

      I was pretty eager, so I actually arrived 30min before the official Photog, and I attained venue and prep shots. Once he arrived, it was a very tight squeeze, so I left to shoot the guests arriving. During the ceremony we both took venue and ring shots together and casually spoke and suggested angles to each other. I said to him I’ll stay out of his way during the Ceremony, so unfortunately I didn’t have all the angles I wanted, but I just had to deal with it. I let him take control of the Group Photos. Portrait session it began to rain, so we only knocked out a couple of shots, but he was very accomodating as he setup the poses and after he took his shot, he moved to the side and allowed me to take the same shot. Then it was all freestyle and he said he’s happy to ‘Tag Team’ it, and whilst he was with B&G, I would be capturing guests, and vice versa.

      I can imagine some Photographers may feel somewhat territorial about it all, but from my experience, this Photographer was an awesome guy and I took away some valuable lessons from the day. It was ok’d before I arrived, so and he seemed to have no issues with me there, and was more than accomodating. I was lucky that he was happy with my presence, but the important thing I would say is if you’re attending as a separate secondary as I did, it’s important to announce your presence before the day to ensure it’s ok.

      I hope with your upcoming projects it all goes ok! I’d be interested to know how you got on… Keep me posted.

  7. Ron

    Hey Leo,
    Tim brings up a good point. I was also in a similar position shooting a wedding for the coordinator and not the bride and groom, it was a free gig.  Photos for her web site and my port. The hired photographer and his assistant were purposely getting in the background of my shots, giving me dirty looks, and at one point told me that my canon gear sucked. Yehh, like his nikon beat my 5d2.  Anyway, how did you work around that?

    • Leo Hoang

      It all depends on the people. It was mentioned to their official photographer that I would be there, and he was more than willing to accomodate my presence. After he took a shot, he would suggest I stand at that vantage point after he was done and gain the same shots etc. Proper nice guy. You have some photographers who are competitive and protect what they do, but he was all about ensuring the Bride and Groom were happy and was willing to help me out. We also tag-teamed a lot as at times he would want to capture candids of the guests, so he’d ask me to cover the B&G, and vice versa. So luckily for me, I didn’t have to really work around any obstacles. My advice though, out of professional courtesy, announce our presence before the event and if they have any issues before the event, do not attend. If they say it’s ok, just make sure you stay out of their way and try get to know them. If they’re more experienced than you, they may have valuable advice to offer you which could further benefit your career.

      Hope that helps! — Leo

  8. Leo Hoang

    Glad to see your networking paid off! You gave your client a chance to see what you can do, and they liked it and because that rapport had been built up, they took you on again.

    From my experience, clients place a lot of weight into the Photographer, as well as the Photography. So I’m sure the clients enjoyed working with you and respected your ethic.

    That’s what I’ve found from my experience.

    Not suggesting everyone should work for free! But if you have the time to spare and an opportunity arises, there is no harm is working out a deal with no money involved, but still ensure you can benefit from it too.

    Thanks for the comment! — Leo

  9. Leo Hoang

    Glad to see your networking paid off! You gave your client a chance to see what you can do, and they liked it and because that rapport had been built up, they took you on again. From my experience, clients place a lot of weight into the Photographer, as well as the Photography. So I’m sure the clients enjoyed working with you and respected your ethic.That’s what I’ve found from my experience. Not suggesting everyone should work for free! But if you have the time to spare and an opportunity arises, there is no harm is working out a deal with no money involved, but still ensure you can benefit from it too. Thanks for the comment! — Leo

  10. slrlounge

    And what was the hired photographer’s reaction when you showed up to his wedding

    • Leo Hoang

      It was agreed with the Hired Photographer around about a month beforehand. So he was fully aware of my presence. We helped each other out throughout the day, he offered advice and guidance, and I helped him rally up some of the group shots.

      I would not have attended if he wasn’t aware of me coming.

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