Fantastic Opportunity to work for FREE!
Anyone fancy working for FREE?
Imagine a job request looking for someone to work for free, but not just ‘anyone’ they specifically looking for someone that is highly skilled, with years of experience, thousands of pounds of high end equipment, an extensive portfolio, ability to work independently and in groups, with their own transport and links to get articles / images / published in international high end publications.
I often come across or are tagged in a ”fantastic opportunity” that arises from someone that needing an “amazing photographer” and professional service but who does not want an amateur and at the same time to pay for professional expertise.
Reserved for Creatives
If you are not in the creative industry (including but not limited to writers, photographers, dancers, graphic designers, web designers, journalists, artists, musicians) you may have read this so far with a raised eyebrow, or a puzzled look. It doesn’t seem to quite make sense? but this offer to work for free , is an offer we (the creative community) get often.
After nearly 10 years of being full time, it kind of grates on you. Having spent all these years perfecting and improving my art (yes there is much more to it than simply buying a camera pressing a button), after having spent a small mortgage on equipment and training, having worked hard to get to the point where I have been published and work internationally, why do people continue to ask photographers (and other creatives) to work for free?
Work for FREE?
So again you may be scratching your head thinking “I’ve never heard anyone ask a photographer to work for free”. But it doesn’t present itself so direct and clearcut, it comes out in other guises, it has pseudonyms and disguises. No one (well not in my experience to date) comes to you and says “Hey professional photographer, can you come and work for free for me” .
To anyone in the creative community, being asked to work for free will not be a new story, but an age old one, rehashed again and again, but the one thing it generally has in common, the thing that does not change about this story is that your payment is usually EXPOSURE, we call it ‘exposure pounds’ in the industry. It doesn’t pay for new cameras, travel, courses or insurance. Some of the things photographers need to pay for to stay in business.
It is not accepted at ASDA when I do my grocery shopping, it is not accepted online when I want to buy a new lens, it is interestingly not accepted as payment terms by the very people offering this as a way of paying you!
The Work for FREE pitch
The sell usually goes along the lines of “everyone will see your work in our newsletter / on our instagram / website / Facebook and naturally this will bring you lots of paid work”.
So lets test this common sell. Ask yourself when was the last time you read an article in a newsletter or on a website and took time to look at who the photographer was?
If you can remember the last time you did this, then when was the last time this lead to you contacting them for business? If you knew they worked x event free, when was the last time this lead to you hiring them for paid work? Facts show that less than 1% of consumers look for the creator or any piece of online content.
I did look up a photographer from an online image a couple times. I saw an amazing image on google, it was one of those images on the holder screen when you are about deciding which Netflix program to watch, I looked up the photographer, flicked through his Instagram, didn’t even actually add him, and carried on with my binge tv day.
Are you still with us?
I expect many of you haven’t even got to this point – looking up a photographer from an image you see online or in print – let alone an image on a company page / bloggers instagram / corporate website, because in my experience, when these same people want a ‘proper’ job doing, they contact the highly paid professional, not the one valuing their work as ZERO being prepared to work for free. You see, this type of ‘pro bono’ ‘fantastic opportunity’ offer has little value or appeal for most photographers, once they are established.
It’s a LOT of work
Six hours shooting a conference could range from an average of £500 – 1000 for many photographers, is this ‘exposure payment’ going to be worth that amount? And what if you end up getting a potential booking for a big paid job on the same day? Do you turn down the paid booking to work for free? Or break your agreement for the non paying client, for a paying one? Now, if someone wants to paint my house in return for a job such as shooting a conference, that may be pro bono I would accept (painting takes so long!), but funnily enough, no one wants to work for free, not THAT hard for FREE … because that’s just outrageous!
SOME OF IT’S DISGUISES
In case anyone needs any tips on recognising when someone is asking you to work for free or even when you are asking someone to work for free, here are a few of the forms it takes:
1. PRO BONO
Payment : Exposure, portfolio images, credit
A “pro bono opportunity”
The conversation usually goes along the lines of – we have an event coming up that we would love some amazing images of that we can use across our social media and printed platforms. We have some amazing speakers and we have spent so much on the venue and food that we have no money for a photographer. You will be able to use the images for your portfolio, and we will credit you. Notice no one actually says the words ‘work for free’.
My response – “sorry I do not bring out thousands of pounds worth of equipment I use to make my everyday living with for free”.
Points to note
It is also worth noting that crediting the copyright owner (the photographer) is legal, not something the photographer is being given as part of their payment.
The photographer being able to use their own images in their portfolio is also something that is legal, not something they are given by the organisation/ person they are shooting images for. So this takes the exchange to simply ‘exposure’ and work for free.
The organisation thinks everyone will see these amazing images of a regular event like a conference (of which you probably have tons of examples already in your portfolio), contact the organisation to see who shot their images, find out you were free, but somehow want to pay for your services.
An amazing image or two
(Here are a couple of our conference / event images by the way, we do cover them, if you are blown away by this image, please feel free to contact us for our services).
I have on previous occasions suggested £600 worth of their services or products in return, which would be the cost of an average conference, but that is usually seen as an outrageous exchange.
Please shoot my line for free
I was contacted by a blogger / influencer / insta model who had a clothing line with Pretty Little Thing or Asos I can’t quite remember which one it was now, but to have a line on either of these multi million pound businesses is pretty major in my book
She wanted me to shoot this – for FREE. It would of course be an amazing opportunity to get my images on such a huge platform (which shows no credit to photographers anyway), and her instagram (which does credit photographers) that has thousands of followers. I suggested £600 worth of clothes, but this was so ridiculous to her, I could literally hear the laugh through the email message.
So in reality you are well …working for free.
It is also worth noting that a 6 hour conference would also accrue a couple hours of kit preparation at home, maybe 1.5 hours travel there and back, another 5 hours of image culling, editing, storage and delivery; so you have in fact done near on two days work for free.
PAYMENT – Exposure, Credit, Sandwiches and Drink (sometimes a free bag for life with the charity logo printed on it)
A Charitable Cause
It’s for the poor
The conversation is usually along the lines of – we work for x charity, and do some amazing work with x community. We are looking for someone to come along to shoot our event and support our cause, we will credit you on all out social media platforms and there will be drinks and sandwiches at the event that you are also welcome to have.
My response – “I respect your charitable organisation, I am a for profit business and sorry I do not bring out thousands of pounds worth of equipment I use to make my everyday living with, for free”. It is also worth noting here that many of these charities have bosses with 6 figure salaries, millions in the business bank account and not doing too bad at all. They may not be ‘for profit’ but many are in heck of a better financial situation than myself or most photographers I know!
3. AN INVITE
PAYMENT – Exposure, credit, having a great day / night out
Just come along … and bring your camera.
This conversation usually goes along the lines of – I’m having a birthday party / launch event / christening / wedding, I would love you to come if you can make it. Can you also bring your camera and “grab a few shots” while you are here.
This actually means you are the event photographer; organising groups, individual shots, wearing working clothes to the event not heels and a nice dress that I may otherwise wear; with the responsibility of making sure everything is covered.
Your work for free soon becomes very professional when the person that made the request comes back to you and ask why there is not a photo of x person, or when nan kissed her, or when x cut the cake – even though you were supposed to be just “grabbing a few shots”.
My response “I’m sorry but I can’t be a guest and your photographer at the same time, as a guest I do not bring out thousands of pounds worth of equipment I use to make my everyday living with, on a night / day out”
4. PORTFOLIO BUILDING
PAYMENT – Exposure, portfolio enhancement
As above – but it is stressed that these will be great portfolio images
This is especially so, if it is an event there may be some celebrities there. If it is a wedding it will be an amazing wedding, with a beautiful couple in an amazing venue. If a fashion show, there will be some amazing new talent showing.
You will be able to use the images for you portfolio as they will be so amazing. My response “Have you had a chance to take a look at my website, I have quite an extensive and varied portfolio” – having shot amazing weddings in the UK and as far
afield as Rwanda; public figures such as Barak Obama and celebrities such as Jamie Fox. I also shoot London Fashion Week and The Diamond League athletics – just to highlight some of my diverse work. So to date, I am pretty happy with my portfolio, and dare I say, I have some amazing content.
My response “I already have an extensive portfolio that I use to show clients the quality of my work. I am also sorry but I do not bring out thousands of pounds worth of equipment I use to make my everyday living with, for free”.
It is worth noting here that they rely on you being so blown away by the idea of shooting a celebrity, that that will suddenly mean you have no desire to get paid for your job.
If a wedding they rely on the idea that because they are a beautiful couple or are booking a nice venue, you don’t already have beautiful couples and great venues in your portfolio; Or that conventional stereotypical beauty is worth more. All established photographers will already have experience and a portfolio.
5. JUST GIVING A FREE IMAGE
PAYMENT – Exposure, credit, seeing your image in print / or a popular platform
“Can we use your x image for free in perpetuity, across all our platforms with credit to yourself”
This is usually line from newspapers and magazines, if you scroll through twitter you will often see tweets from newspapers asking to use images they find online.
It is also common with wedding and such venues after you have covered an event in their venue. Some of these usages would literally cost hundreds of pounds, sometimes thousands if there were to pay the going rate for it. I often get this after fashion shows from models, or events from the people present. I have also on occasion had this from events that did not hire me, hired someone else, but are interested in me providing them with images for free … imagine that!
It’s just a photo, its not worth anything
Somehow, some people believe that giving away something of this value is not working for free. There is also a huge misconception that because they feature in the image, they have a right to it. This may come as a surprise to many but being the subject of an image gives you no more right over than image than not being in it. Celebrities do not own the images thousands of photographers take of them, royalty do not own the images taken of them. I also remember my mom having to pay for images that featured me when I was at school. Whats the difference?
The image was created because of the equipment and education you invested thousands in to be able to create it. If you are not compensated for this investment, you are again …working for free. My response to this type of request is “I am a full time photographer, as such all of my images are licensed, as part of my income, I can send you my licensing rates if you would like / the price is x”.
6. SPEAKING TO OUR GROUP
PAYMENT – A thank you / feeling good
“We would like you to come and talk to our group of up and coming photographers, share some of your knowledge and tips”
I have spent a lot of money on education to get to my position; some of that money was spent with other photographers imparting their knowledge to me. I paid for their expertise.
I paid for the shortcut to know how to do particular things, because they had already put years into perfecting that thing. Knowledge has a value. Students pay thousands of pounds to go University …to gain knowledge.
That’s a little stingy of you, not everyone can afford to pay
This is the way of the world. We would not question BMW for not having their cars at a price everyone can afford. No one would complain to Apple for not making their iPhones at a price we can all afford. I also currently live in a two bedroom house because developers are “too stingy” to give me a four bedroom one, because I cannot afford to pay for it …
A small creative business is no different.
My response to this type of request is “I am a full time photographer, as such my time and knowledge has a value, this is my income and I do not work for free”.
7. COLLABORATION OR PARTNERSHIP
PAYMENT – Amazing images you can use for your portfolio to gain exposure and experience from
“Do you collaborate with other businesses / do you do collaboration shoots?”
If I come up with a crazy idea that I would like try out to test my artistic genes, this is a collaboration. A business contacting you for commercial images they need to market their business, is a commercial shoot, not a collaboration. A conference contacting you to shoot their event where your name will be listed in the business guide or on stage is also a commercial shoot. A question I often ask here is – when was the last time YOU attended a conference, took note of the photographer that was shooting for free (cough couch collaboration / partnership) took down their details, and contacted them for paid work at the going rate? If you answer is often or many times – that is great! This stuff really works! If your answer is never – not so great, it proves my point.
That’s a little stingy of you, not everyone can afford to pay
Yes some people can’t, they may be a small business like Lensi, and will have to do without some things they need. I recently needed trees cut down in my back garden, I could not believe the price of the quotes. Although they were worth every bit of what they were asking. Professional chainsaws cost hundreds of pounds, learning to use them takes time. Safety gear is not cheap. Insurance is not cheap. Cutting the trees into smaller pieces to allow them to be taken away takes time. The tree surgeons have to pay to take the trees to be disposed of, or they may own very expensive wood chipper machines. Despite all of this it was beyond my budget.
I had three choices
- Ask the small business to lower their very justified price.
- Ask the small business to work for free offering to tell everyone how great their service was in exchange, maybe put a plaque in front of my house with their details on advertising them. This is sure to get them extra business.
- Do it myself
- Do without
This is a couple photos of me with safety gear on cutting down trees.
Sometimes they are a huge business who wants to give shareholders extra money rather than paying a small business.
Often they prefer to spend the money on lighting and staging, because everyone wants their event to look great right?
Sometimes they are paying so much for speakers that SOMETHING has to give, and of course it will be the creative…
Sometimes they see no value in photography, therefore just don’t want to pay for it.
But you do not need to take only these few thought out examples as gospel, the internet is littered with websites exposing the same.
Madonna worth an estimated 850 million recently celebrated the fact that the whole team worked for free on her Madam X project. This unsurprisingly received some backlash.
Photographers need to make a living too. It always baffles me to wonder why some people do not feel we need real money to pay our bills and stay in business.
My response to this type of request is “I am a full time photographer, this is a commercial shoot not a collaboration / partnership, the cost would be x ”.
GENERAL CONSIDERATIONS WHEN WORKING FOR FREE
Just like a car, a camera has what I call “click mileage” a certain number of actuations and wear and tear, before it needs a major costly service, then before it dies altogether.
Yes camera’s has a life expectancy! They do not go on forever.
Enough of these free jobs brings it closer to this point, without contributing towards its repair or replacement.
If photography is your business, your living, this makes little business sense. To keep using something, building up the wear and tear and click mileage, without any payment to replace that very thing.
Imagine and Uber driver giving away free rides to charities, or for exposure because they are carrying celebrities and such. There then comes a day when they actually have a huge fare, someone that wants to travel from London to Birmingham for example, a nice payday … but unfortunately they cannot take up the offer because …their car has broken down due to the extensive free rides! Now working for free has actually ended up costing you the loss of real money! An average conference can put and extra 5k clicks on your camera.
DAMAGED OR BROKEN KIT
Another consideration when doing a free job, if something were to happen on this job, who pays? Who would pay for your kit if something is stolen or damaged at this free job?
You are already working for free, so is this organisation / person going to then say “I know we were not paying you for this gig, but here is £2000 for your stolen camera / here is £500 to repair the lens your dropped while covering our event” …
Would you simply get a sorry and an extra ham sandwich?
An insurance claim may cost you an excess of at least £250, so on top of the costs of working for free, this could cost the photographer quite a lot, all with any payment.
If the worst were to happen, and you had a paid job the next day, it would be irritating in the least, having to pay to hire a lens for a paid job, because the lens you own was damaged or stolen on a FREE JOB
RESELLING YOUR OLD KIT
I recently got some quotes from MPB for selling my old kit. Well looked after and less used cameras can be resold for four times the amount of heavily used and less looked after cameras and lenses. So even in after sales, working for free means the photographer loses out at the end of their working life too.
WHAT USALLY HAPPENS WHEN YOU CANNOT AFFORD A SERVICE OR PRODUCT?
My last general consideration here is where I ask you to question what happens if you want a service or product you cant afford.
You have a few options:
- Steal it
- Do without it
- Buy a cheaper version
- Restructure your priorities / save for it
I can think of very few cases where I would ask for it for free, or steal it. So just for fun, I have given you a few examples of putting the same exposure requests that creatives get to other businesses and services.
WORKING FOR FREE REQUESTS
GYM OR FITNESS CLASSES
I would love to have a few months worth of sessions for free to enable me to get into shape.
I need a new bathroom plumbing in. It is a lovely modern home which would be amazing on your website. A real show piece. I cannot afford to pay for the plumbing because I have already paid an electrician so much. I have also invested in some great designer artwork for the walls. You will be able to use images of my bathroom on your leaflets and website to show the quality of your work. I will also give you a great review.
Come along to my BBQ that I am having on Sunday, while you are here can you just bring your hair kit and give me a quick wash and blow dry! It is going to be a great day, great music and my famous BBQ spare ribs. It shouldn’t take you long.
SOME OF MY PERSONAL FAVOURITES OFFERS
(yes I have been personally approached with all these amazing opportunities)
1. A local council that had had their budgets cut during austerity. They were putting on a conference, but didn’t have the money to pay for this conference. They were asking everyone involved to work for free. Interestingly though, the council workers were being paid as it was part of their day job; so it was actually only small businesses that were being asked to work for free. The bigger businesses such as the one where the event was being held, had been paid. I have a policy to never ‘help’ established multi million pound organisations or companies with FREE WORK.
2. A magazine who contacted me for an image they did not want to pay for (i.e free), to accompany an article about people not wanting to pay photographers. (I kid you not).
3. A very high end fashion house (think dresses in excess of 15k), with A list celebs, contacting me to use an image for free. I am not sure why as they had their own paid photographer at the event. Maybe he did not capture the image that I did … who knows.
I have a policy of not giving free stuff to companies who have dresses that cost more than my car or what some people earn in a year.
4. This was was experienced by a colleague. He had shot a wedding a venue, the venue approached him to use a photo from this wedding. He was willing to do this and asked if in return he would use the venue for a styled shoot. The venues response “there would be an applicable hire charge for this, as a commercial venue for hire”.
So yes … we will happily have your work for for FREE, but please do not be so ridiculous as to ask to use our venue for free.
BEFORE I GO
Before all the critics rolls in, let me also clear up a few things I am expecting.
1. Everyone was new to the business once
People who are just starting in the business, with entry level kit and little experience will take up these opportunities; I did myself; but these are not the types of photographers the people who pay with ‘exposure pounds’ are looking for. Your value increases with the more experience (and kit) you accrue.
Think about how much you may pay a newly qualified solicitor compared to a Barrister. How much a Newly qualified teacher may get paid, compared to a year Head or Principal; an Actress with decades of Hollywood Blockbusters under her belt compared to someone just getting into the business. A consultant compared to a newly qualified doctor.
2. Lots of people do voluntary work.
Volunteer – “a person who OFFERS to take part on an enterprise or undertake a task” – see the key difference there?
3. Remember where you came from or started
I do. I remember starting at the bottom and spending thousands of pounds on courses, training and equipment. The same person invested thousands upon thousands of hours gaining the expertise that allows me to shoot and capture images the way I currently do.
But I see no correlation between remembering your humble beginnings and being asked to work for free.
Just like some of the professions I have named above, I have done my ‘internship’ of FREE WORK. If you were asked to earn the same in your job that you have been in for many years, the same as someone who is not even qualified in it yet, would it slightly raise the irritation levels?
4. I would be overjoyed to have my image in print / on the instagram page of x organisation / x celebrity
Thats fine, and your choice. I would rather be paid with real money.
I will update this article periodically, but as of its publication that last time I was asked to work for free was August 2019.
5. I cannot see the big deal, what are photographers going on about, it is just a picture.
Try saying this to Karen Anvil who is rumoured to have made £50,000 from a photo she took on her phone of The young Royals on their Christmas walk.
Photos are how I pay my bills. Yes in todays world they have become so accessible. But each photo is worth something to a photographer, especially full time ones. Imagine being asked to come into work at the local council for one month for free …
Would you be jumping for joy at the opportunity or working for no pay. Even if they put you in their newsletter!
6. I have seen you advertise for emerging photographers to attend gigs with you
Yes, as part of me helping someone on their journey or as part of my mentorship. See my Patreon mentoring page for this.
Neither I or my clients need or use any of their work, most times I do not even see the images until I see them on socials. If I have a job that NEEDS an assistant, I pay them, because I do not have time to explain what I need, I just need it done! I pay for the expertise.
My free work offers totalled £17,000 in 2018
My free work offers so far in 2019 total to £7,000 (August 2019)
I didn’t count my free work in 2020, 2021 or 2022. But I have in this week alone been contacted for International Womens Week, by a women’s groups wanted women to “bounce back stronger” by having me speak for free at their meeting. I pointed out that the way to help women (who are still paid less than men) to bounce back, is the value their time and knowledge by paying the going rate.’ this out and did not even receive a response from this group supporting women.
I have also been contacted by a very big business conference think NEC / Excel Centre sizes for a ‘collaboration’. I will keep coming back there to list some of these.
I would be interested to see which other average everyday people give this amount to charity in a year.
This is what some other creatives have said about it?
My hope for this article.
I hope the article reaches some of the people it needs to… it is embarrassing and awkward.
We (creatives) hope those who ask people to work for free understand their request.
I wish that professionals that work for free understand what they are giving away.
Thanks to all my clients for the respect of paying me in real recognised currencies!! (Even if some of you haggle!)
Follow us on instagram to view some of our “working for pay” jobs! With the recognised currency I am paid for these jobs I buy lovely things like food, fuel, camera equipment, courses, all kinds of wonderful stuff!