12 Excuses for Shooting Photos for Free: Rebuttal.

I commonly read photography blogs, to see others views about the field, how they approach marketing, and so on. I found this today, which is a list of 12 reasons why shooting for free is a bad idea. Although I agree with the sentiment that you should not sell yourself short, I think it is incredibly ignorant to assume that all photographers want to make loads of cash off of their art.
First off, money isn’t everything. I consider myself an artist, who is making art, when I am taking photographs. Just because I am not getting paid to take the photos does not undermine their worth to me, and to those who enjoy them.
Most of the work I do is for free, or at the very least, at prices far below normal rates. I don’t feel like I’m selling myself short, and I definitely don’t feel like I am taking away paid opportunities from other photographers.
I did cut out some of the excuses, some because I did somewhat agree the points, others because I felt like I would repeating myself way too much.

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# I’m trying to get into concert photography, so when bands have called to ask about pricing, I’ve told them, “It’s on me.” It’s a great way for me to break into that market.
It’s a great way to break into that market known as “free.” How many times do you think musicians have screwed themselves over and given away the farm to music labels? Too many to count. Don’t make the same mistake.

Although I agree with the sentiment of this one, if I was ever called for concert photography (especially if it was a band I enjoyed) I would definitely offer my services for free… with the condition that I and my partner get into the concert for free. Just because you do a few free shows doesn’t mean that you will end up doing free shows forever. Showing that you are actually interested and dedicated to the band, that you are willing to stay for the entire time, and that you still take amazing photos even if you are in the pit says something about your passion for concert photography. Every time I go to a concert I bring my camera, and if any of the bands asked for the photos, I gladly give them copies. Why? Because I appreciate them as artists too. Especially if I took the photos without their request.

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# I just did a free shoot for a young actress trying to make ends meet, like many starving artists. It helped her and was an opportunity for me to practice my lighting techniques.
Romanticizing being a “starving artist” isn’t really a good thing. It’s nice when you’re sipping a chai tea latte with your beret in the local java house listening to beatniks recite their slam poetry, but other than that, it’s mostly a good way to remain starving. Doing a trade-for-prints/trade-for-CD deal is for C-grade models and photographers who almost never become pros. And while you may think that it helps you with your lighting techniques, it doesn’t help you grow in the area that matters most — the confidence to know that your work has value.

I have helped writers, and models with their head shots… for free. Oh no, does this mean I am a C grade photographer? Does this mean my photos really suck? You mean, I can’t actually learn anything unless I am getting paid? Fuck. I forgot that I can only value my work if I got paid for it, silly silly me.

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# I got some valuable event-photography experience shooting one of my company’s employee celebrations for free. I got to shoot an event for a Fortune 500 corporation, and my pictures received excellent exposure on the company Web site, with over 25,000 hits. I was even given a free photo printer for my effort.
A free photo printer? You mean one of the dozen printers your company got for free when they ordered the last batch of CPU’s from Dell or HP? As someone who has shot for over half of the Fortune 500, I can tell you that I’ve earned $1,000 or more per assignment shooting company picnics, holiday parties, and so forth. It’s not glamourous, but it helps pay the bills. That is, unless you have someone willing to do it for a free printer. By the way, who insured your personal gear against spilled sodas or any other accidents? Let me guess: no one.

Hahah, I think this one if funny, I guess because I’ve never heard of anyone doing or saying this. I suppose it must be true that some people say this though. I mean, I would love to get a free photo printer for taking some photos at a work event, it’s certainly better than nothing. But, if I worked for a Fortune 500 then I probably wouldn’t even be worried about money, or even worried about a photo printer I suppose.

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# I’ve been doing some free portraits of friends for fun, to use as their Facebook profile photos. When people see my pictures on Facebook, I’ll expand my network and it can lead to jobs.
No, it will lead to more requests to take pictures “for fun” — from friends, then friends of friends, then people who just don’t want to pay to have their portraits taken. And you’ll be making lots of new friends among the professional portrait photographers whose livelihoods you are damaging. Happy networking!

I take hundreds, probably even thousands of “for fun” photos. Lots of them use the images, with my watermark on them, on Facebook. I think that the assumption that if you do two free portrait shoots suddenly you will be swamped with random people begging you to take their photo for free is funny. I don’t think my close friends and family, of whom I have taken free photos for, would advertise me to other people as being free. If I was ever contacted by someone because of a referral from a friend or family member (which I have been), I would politely tell them my rates. I don’t think its unreasonable to tell people you only do free photos for friends and family. However, the last two sentences of this one just makes me laugh. I’ll definitely watch my inbox and my answering machine for messages from angry photographers that I have put out of business.

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# I like my day job in IT, but at night I am passionate about photography. I don’t mind self-funding my work because it gives me more creative freedom.
Guess what, IT guy? When India’s night work takes over your day job, don’t call me crying about it. Also, don’t bother trying to make a living from your “passion,” because you’re already doing all you can to undermine your chances — as well as everyone else’s.

Creative freedom is very important to me. I do have a “day job”, to pay the bills. Honestly, I don’t really understand the first comment, should I be afraid of outsourcing and losing my day job? Is that comment only directed at IT guys? Is that somehow related to photography, or is it just an unnecessary, off handed and incredibly ignorant commentary on the fear of losing jobs to immigrants and foreign countries? With the last half: again, don’t blame me for other photographers failing. If their photos are worth the thousands that they want to charge, then they will find clients willing to pay it. If I want to sell my photos for far less because I think that most photographers’ rates are outrageous, thats my own decision thank you very much.

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# I’m a young amateur photographer, close to graduating from college, so I’m focusing on building a portfolio I can be proud of. Money? Later.
Excellent. One more student photographer who doesn’t care about money. I predict that when Sallie Mae comes a callin’ for payback on those loans that funded your education, money will become much more important to you. And I assume you’ll have things like rent, food and clothing to worry about, too. Unless Mommy and Daddy are still paying for everything — which is really nothing for you to be bragging about.

I’m a young amateur photographer, who just graduated from university, and I’m focused on building a portfolio and producing art. Money? Just enough to get by. Yeah, I don’t care about money. I don’t need money to be happy. Am I below the poverty line? You bet. Oh and mommy and daddy haven’t been paying for anything for years. Believe it or not, some people’s goals are not simply to gain wealth and belongings.

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# Once I stopped worrying about charging for shoots, I have had offers and requests coming at me from all directions. I want my photographs to benefit the world and to help other people. It’s not about the money.
Of course you have “offers and requests” coming at you from all directions. So does the drunk girl at the club who hops on the slippery oak bar-top with a short skirt and no underwear and says, “If you see anything you like, I’ll be in the back offering it for free.” You’re surprised that a line forms immediately? So, you want to “help other people.” How about helping those who earn a living producing photographs by not undercutting them? That’s the best way to ensure that great photography continues to benefit the world.

I love how you make the connection between free photography and trashy whores. Again, just because someone wasn’t paid to take a photograph does not mean that the photograph is bad, low quality, or anything of the sort. I guess I’m the trashy whore photographer?

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If a photographer works hard, and they have great shots, then they will get noticed. You have to start somewhere, you can’t simply walk out of school and then tell a family down the street that its going to cost them hundreds of dollars for you to take a family shot for them, even if you have never done family photography. It is their own ambition that gets them there, its not charging their clients through the roof prices for shit. If you need more experience, then shoot for free as often as you can. Oh and if anyone is reading this in Southwestern Ontario, and is looking for a photographer at reasonable and negotiable rates send me an e-mail.

To read the entire list of bitter complaints about the over saturation of photographers on the market (which in reality the real cause of prices being driven down) and how they are blaming amateur photographers for this go here:

http://rising.blackstar.com/photographers-excuses.html

5 thoughts on “12 Excuses for Shooting Photos for Free: Rebuttal.

  1. This is a very touchy subject right now, and most likely will be for a few years to come. I do agree with you on most points, but not all of them and this might be because, unlike you, i dont have another “day-job” to pay my mortgage, insurance, utilities etc. Photography is my day job and so from that point of veiw payment for my work is probably a higher priority for me…

    Which is not to say that i haven’t shot for free before or never will again in the future. But there does come a point, if you do too much for free, that people just come to expect that from you.

    I shot a wedding the other day and during the course of shooting inevitably I took photos of the location, the food, the flowers, the band… for the bride and groom (the ones who were paying). But all of the above mentioned service providers approached me at some point during the day to ask if i could just “email those pics that you took of my band/my flowers/my food, just a few, we need them for the website…” and then they looked surprised when i mentioned that they would need to pay for them. “but you already took them, why cant you just sen them to me for free?”

    This pisses me off, and it happens far too often. Why do all these people not value the work that i do? Not one of them offered to play me a free gig/cater a dinner/ make me a wedding bouquet, so why do they think that my services are worth less than theirs? perhaps because they’ve had other photographers who did give them shots for free… or perhaps not.

    I completely agree with you that money isnt everything, but we all need at least enough to get by. I am a relatively experienced photographer and i’m pretty good at what I do. This is my job, and i need to get payed.

  2. I appreciate your comment, and I agree that it is certainly frustrating when people expect to get nice full copies of images for free because “you have already taken them”. When people ask me to e-mail them photos, I always give them a card and tell them that they will be able to see the images on my online portfolio. I don’t think I would ever send images to people via e-mail, especially when they admit that they are for their own marketing.

    I suppose I should have also pointed out, that my day job is not my career. I work as a waitress, just enough that I can pay my bills and not a whole lot else. Would I like to work as a full time photographer? Of course. But if it means blowing my prices out of the price range for the average person, I’m not willing to do it and I’m not willing to apologize to other photographers for supposedly hurting their business. My clients are those that can not afford “professional photographers”. Its not that they’re cheap, or think that my work is not worth the money, in fact most people are embarrassed and very apologetic at what they can afford to pay me. I think its a terrible thing that there are couples out there that simply don’t have the budget to pay even $1000 for a wedding package, and some even go without photographers because of the prices.

  3. For the original post… I agree completely…. I do occasional work for free, as and when I deem necessary… otherwise I charge an appropriate rate… not an extortionate or exorbitant rate for what is the click of a shutter…. Photography as with any business does deals and promotions and specials for friends, family etc so why should photographers be different…
    with regards other businesses i.e. bands and service suppliers asking for free images… business is business.. and its a two way thing… maybe you will give the images for free.. but what will that business give you in return… a free gig the night of your brothers 30th birthday…?? perhaps not… !!

    I have done wedding for friends for free (well at least as cost price) but that was my gift to the happy couple… but I have also done budget weddings for couples who didnt have a brass farthing to rub together… and I simply passed them a cd of photos… cost to me..?? 4 hours and a dvd costing £0.50 .. I walked away with £250 .. everyones a winner… you have to target your market and price according to your cliental …

  4. Sweatereyes – sorry I have to ask, should this be sweetereyes as in the UK a sweater is something you wear? Sorry, had to ask.

    I can see your point of view, however as someone who earns my living through my lens, I cannot agree with much of it.

    The point you were missing about the ‘IT’ guy losing his daytime job is NOT about migrant workers etc, it’s because others are prepared to pay a pittance for skilled labour and some will accept that pittance causing a drop of value and worth in that particular skilled trade.

    If you ever make it as a photographer full time, you will find your prices HAVE to rise, you will have equipment to pay for, multiple camera bodies, a selection of quality lenses, possibly business premises, staff, Public Liability Insurance, Equipment Insurance etc etc.. prices professional photographers charge is NOT because they are greedy, very few are wealthy and I will give you an example of shooting a wedding for $1000 (around £650)

    Spend at day shooting pictures at the wedding and reception. Then spend a day on post-processing. When the Bride and Groom return from Honeymoon, spend half a day to a day with them selecting their images for the album/presentation folder/book of their choice. Likely another day final post production and printing etc.

    So that is four (4) days work not including the meetings/briefs, prior to the wedding, then take into account the costs of your equipment, insurance, printing etc, etc etc and you will see why I would not get out of bed to shoot a wedding for $1,000 – I would go bankrupt!

  5. No my name is supposed to be sweater eyes, and I’m not really sure how sweeter eyes would make any more sense. However, my name is somewhat irrelevant.
    I have shot two weddings, admittedly weddings are not my area of interest, however I make exceptions.
    The first wedding I shot I was paid $100. The bride was the daughter of a family friend. Their entire budget for the wedding was probably less than some photographers charge for weddings. I did not cover the ceremony because they didn’t have one, they only had a reception because it was more important to them to spend what money they did have on throwing a party for their friends and family and celebrating. They did not have a honey moon, so I went through the photos with them the very next day. They picked out their favourites, and I did some post production on them and gave them the disc of files.
    The second wedding I shot I was paid $200 for (wow double I guess I’m moving up). The grooms were friends of mine that I met in art school. Again their budget for their wedding was rather minimal, when they asked me if I would be able to photos they were embarrassed when they said they only had $300 left in their budget (which I obviously refused). I spent a lot of time on their images, despite the fact that they said it was okay to just give them unedited images. The place they had their ceremony and reception asked me if I could give them some of the pictures of the night, because it was the first time they had a gay wedding there and it was good for showing couples interested in the site. I gave them three images to use… for free. But with my watermark on them. Now I have images in their preview book that they show engaged couples, which to me seems like free advertising. If I had been unwilling to do their photos for $300 (or less) they would not have had a photographer. At the end of the night, they were so grateful, and I was more than happy to help them out on one of the best days of their lives. Oh and at the end of the night they gave me a strand of 10 hand folded paper cranes with fancy beads as an extra thank you, which was part of the main decorations (as all of their decorations were diy). I know, completely unacceptable! I can’t pay the bills with paper cranes! So instead I hung them up all beautiful in my bedroom and they will always remind me of them.
    Oh and for the second wedding I supplied them with two discs that included all of the unedited images, a folder of edited images, a folder of edited images ready for printing, and a folder of watermarked images for them to put online.
    Like I said. I’m not cutting into all you “professional” photographers’ jobs, these are people that can’t afford your prices. If I was approached by a couple who clearly has a wedding budget of $10,000+, it would be a different story.
    Weddings are not all the same, not all couples want an over priced photo album (you can’t say that most photographers over charge couples for those books of proofs, I know how much photo albums cost to buy and I know how much it costs to print images), and people know how easy it is for them to print images themselves. Its pretty naive to think that clients do not print images themselves, especially when photographers charge ridiculous prices for prints.
    Don’t get me wrong, with both weddings I did, I had the couples sign an agreement and I told them the conditions of the images. They are not allowed to make any profit off of the images, if they put them online they have to use the watermarked images, and if other people want copies of the images (friends etc) I recommend sending the “print ready” images that are sized to small scale printing.
    About the comment about losing jobs: there is a lot of competition in photography because of digital capabilities. Photographers could get by with pretty mediocre bullshit when everything was film and still charge large fees. Now, people know that if they are willing to settle for mediocrity that they can find a photographer willing to do it for less. Professional photographers should be able to demonstrate that they are professional photographers and the quality of their work should reflect that (not the prices they are charging).
    I see a lot of “professional” photographers online, look at their portfolios and know that their quality is incredibly lack luster. They have poor lighting choices, the compositions are bland, the photos look the same, and frankly they look like photos taken in a sears family photo package for $20. Are those photographers going to be hurt by young free photographers? Fuck yeah they are. Instead of whining and bitching about it they should be fine tuning their skills to be better at what they are actually selling: photography. That way the free and cheap photographers won’t be stealing their clients.

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