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Other Professionals React To The Absurd Request To Work For Free| #Saynotospec

By Kishore Sawh on November 7th 2015


I’m sure this short film is going to generate some slow claps, and probably deservedly so. Zulu Alpha Kilo’s Spec | #saynotospec is brilliant in its simplicity because the lack of pretense or even pre-dialogue doesn’t clutter the message, and the message is clear:

Don’t work for free, no one else does.

Actually it’s a teensy bit more nuanced than that because it’s highlighting that when others in other fields are asked to work for free not only do they respond sometimes with disdain and venom, the idea comes across almost as entirely alien, if not simply insulting.


The provocateur seeks out workers in varied fields, from a coffee shop barista, a framer, a personal trainer, an architect, and a restaurant worker. In each scenario, they are asked to either entirely provide their finished product for free or a sample, for exposure. The reactions that ensue are rather priceless, and it’s just sharp enough to get you thinking about why our industry is treated any differently.


Furthermore, the video nicely touches upon something we as creatives have to deal with constantly, and that is the almost expectant transfer of all rights to our work, even our ideas. I’ve gone against the grain of many suggesting that working for free under certain circumstances can be to your benefit (and understand here this is within a certain context), but I must say that the signing away the rights to our works is something I’ve often struggled with. 

Of course, the irony here is that it does make you wonder if the people being interviewed would ever ask a photographer for their work for exposure because I know personal trainers that have done so. Though I think the trainer here was most succinct at pointing out the inherent irony and problem here:

Do you do what you do for free? [No] So why do you want me to?

That about sums it up.

And this isn’t a plight only concerning photographers, of course, and even the performance arts suffer from the same. I encourage you to have a read of an article on ArtNews, ‘…BUT WE CAN’T PAY YOU’: PERFORMANCE ART AND MONEY’S KNOTTY RELATIONSHIP” where possibly the most renowned performance artist, Marina Abramovic, speaks about this very topic. Oh, and for good measure and humor check out this offering from the ever-genius The Oatmeal.

[REWIND: The Evolution Of Camera & Tech Leads To My Next Bag | ONA Bowery For Leica]

I should interject here, however, that I don’t by any means suggest you or anyone handle offers for exposure with the lack of politesse some of the people in the video do. Be firm, sure, but handling yourself with decorum is never out of style.

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A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. nita wright

    After laughing hysterically at the video, I must say, there is truth to the context. On one hand, the “starving artist” didn’t get’s it’s name for no reason. Perhaps had they said no to specs, they’d have enough money to EAT. LOL On the other hand, I could see where in the early stages of a career one might be eager to get exposure and practice by any means. So there is a fine line. I would say, measure each scenario accordingly. By all means, ‘your time” is worth something. Whether monetary compensation is the only form of payment is kind of putting things in a box. Compensation can be in many forms. But NEVER allow yourself to be taken advantage of. It may not be equal giving, but it should be equal sacrifice!!!

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  2. Keegan Carroll

    Photographers get the raw deal. This video is so true!

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  3. graham hedrick

    As much a we all dislike lawyers, they figured one thing out years ago. They all seem to have a constant rate card they work off of. They don’t fig “price haggling” into their price structure.

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  4. Martin poole

    OH MY GOD… They’ve got this so right..

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  5. robert garfinkle

    Boy, this hits a sore spot. I’m not in the photography business, but don’t need to be, right? I have done systems consultation before; anywhere from simple application installations, operating system / server installs / builds, to full blown architectural design. I even have done web development. Oh, small note, photography is a hobby – but do not let those facts distract the point I’m trying to make.

    People manipulate with a sense of entitlement. They walk in with the attitude that you should be glad they walked through the door, and expect you to curb your way of business in order to serve them. Answer is: NO!!!

    I have been through all of this, as a consultant. And you have to be very careful, even with a written contract, because chances are, YOU WILL GET BUPKIS FOR PAY!! – count not on the paycheck, but the fact you will get stood up. The very manipulative customer WILL manipulate you, on their terms, and watch out for, they pay a few times, then be slow to pay.

    Also, be firm. This is what you are getting for the agreed upon amount, and be very clear to state anything over and above will be discussed after this agreement is honored (you do work, they pay you) then you can discuss what else needs to be done.

    Upon the first sign of trouble, stop doing all work that does not match compensation paid. If the customer starts to hold back payments, stop doing the work.

    This is a great example of you reserve the right to refuse service.

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  6. Andy & Amii Kauth

    “You work for the government, don’t you? What’s the matter with you, eh?” So good. But, yes, decorum should rule the day. Think before you speak no matter how ridiculous and no matter how much you want to say it.

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