you're reading...
photography, working freelance

Should You Work for Free?

The short answer is NO!!!



When you are starting out and need to build up a portfolio, it is hard to refuse offers of working for nothing especially when you feel there could be potential benefits and connections made. Many promises are made but often nothing tangible comes of it. I know from harsh personal experience.

As a recent graduate, I have done a couple of years of free work with the promise of more work to come. Nothing has come of this work, except offers of more free work. I have become known in the area but only as someone you don’t have to pay. I don’t want the latest BMW but I would like to be able to pay my mortgage and afford luxuries, like food.

Companies, councils and in particular charities are getting wise to the fact they can get students, graduates and keen amateurs in for nothing. They abuse the situation by paying them £Zilch. Most companies and charities do have the money to pay but choose not to because they know they don’t have to.

Ask yourself “If no-one did this work for free, would they have to pay someone?” Think of photos for a website or covering a music festival for use in future promotion. With charities, councils and companies, they usually do have a budget for whatever it is they’re doing, and will spend it on things that they feel is worth the money.

So if you are approached to work for free, ask yourself ‘Will it really be of potential benefit?’. And ask yourself ‘Will I be out of pocket doing this?’ eg travelling to and fro from the venue, food whilst away, disks, phone calls, etc. (Bear in mind that you will be out of pocket regardless because it costs you money to maintain equipment, for insurance, advertising, electricity, before you even consider taking into account a minimum wage!)

  • If no-one did this work for free, would they have to pay someone?
  • Are there REAL potential benefits?
  • Will I be out of pocket?

Often clients aren’t sure of the standard of your work and are worried that they’ll be paying for something they won’t like. So if you do decide to go ahead (after asking yourself the above questions!) don’t kill yourself doing it and at the end, don’t give them everything you’ve got from your final edit. Only pass on a limited number of free photos to the client to show them what you are capable of. Show them the rest as teasers and let them know these can bought for £x amount. Explain to them that it is your job and that you too have bills to pay so can only afford to provide a limited amount of free work.  If they decide not to go for the paid photos, then don’t worry, you haven’t let them down because you’ve have still provided them with something they can use. But it is amazing once people see the value of something, how budget priorities can change.

If I offered you a choice of two cars, one costing £500 and one costing £5000, you would probably go for the £500 quid one, right? But if you then saw that the cheaper one was a 1993 Vauxhall Nova and the other was a 2006 Aston Martin DB5, which one would you actually be prepared to pay for? It is all in the perception of worth.

So, be confident in your work. Charge for your valuable time and experience. Otherwise you might as well go work in MacDonald’s.

And what about this? When you work for nothing, you are actually doing someone out of a job and creating a harsh climate for those trying to earn a crust in photography. If you are that photographer in a few years when you are established, how is life going to be? 

And if you are feeling guilty because it is a charity, ask yourself ‘Would I actually donate £300 to them?’ or whatever the real value of the job is. If you like a charity, donate a tenner!

So keep the faith, be strong, and don’t work for free.

***Paid work, because you’re worth it……***




About alison mclean at the photo foundry

Alison McLean is an experimental photographer & filmmaker and director of The Photo Foundry based in Mold, North Wales in the UK. 

Inspired by an eclectic range of photographers such as William Eggleston, Roger Ballen, Sally Mann, Donna Ferrato, Ryan McGinley and Rankin, she is always described by clients as creative and imaginative, producing images with a strong graphic quality that are modern and edgy. Projects include "Beautiful Me" where post-production techniques such as airbrushing and body sculpting are questioned, and "The Passion Project" exploring the issues of love, passion and violence in relationships. As well as her own projects, she works commercially for artists, musicians and performers, producing portraits and images for their websites, publications & exhibitions. She also runs workshops advising artists on how to photograph their own work. Other clients have included graphic designers, actors, models, festivals, businesses and community projects for charities. BA(Hons) in Creative Lens Media (Photography and Filmmaking) North Wales School of Art and Design, UK 2010 More work can be viewed on the website http://www.thephotofoundry.com or on Flickr here http://www.flickr.com/photos/kathka/sets/


One thought on “Should You Work for Free?

  1. Alison, I came here via the Event Photo Mag thread on LinkdIn, if it’s OK with you – I’d like to share your blog on a couple of other pages there too.

    Posted by Photo Booth Hire by BoothPix | January 5, 2013, 3:00 pm

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: