Should you do work for free?

David Hobby (http://strobist.com) has posted a thought provoking article today about whether or not you should consider doing work for free. This isn’t to say you should go on Craigslist and post that you will perform wedding photography worth thousands of dollars to everyone that emails you. Instead, what David is saying is to look for projects that will benefit you and be willing to do it for free. These are projects that you conceptualize, that you design, that you approach the people involved and you offer to collaborate with them to create something that will help build your skills and expertise.

Certainly some people think that David has lost his marbles, but is he completely off-base here? Even Chase Jarvis has some thoughts on this idea. I do not believe this idea is anything really new here, and perhaps explaining it in the way David does may make it sound like something new and unique. The fact is, many of us have done free work for a variety of different reasons. Here are some examples of what I have done, and often continue to do with any money exchanging hands.

Work with models when I need subjects for lighting tutorials or to experiment with new products
Absolutely, I don’t get paid for writing articles for CameraDojo (any potential sponsors, please contact me) so when I need subjects for shoots to try out new lights, techniques, or for a subject of an article, I turn to craigslist or Model Mayhem to find someone that will work with me in exchange for some nice headshots, body shots, or whatever they need for their portfolio. Since I am not bound by any constraints during these shoots, some of my best work has come out of some of these collaborations.

Shooting with big names in the industry
My bread and butter is wedding photography and I have had the pleasure of shooting with a number of excellent photographers which is how I learned the ins and outs of the business. I did plenty of those shoots for free in order to learn that segment of the trade. I would still be willing to second for the likes of David Ziser, Dane Sanders, Mike Colon, Frank Salas, or a number of people who are vastly more successful than me in order to get the experience working with them.

Social Interaction with other like-minded people
Two weeks ago I got together with a number of other photographers up at Robert Evans’ studio in North Hollywood to do a trash the dress shoot for a couple. They probably ended up with hundreds of images from a dozen photographers, none of which charged a nickle. Robert opened his studio, I brought fog machines and dry ice, Candice supplied several dresses, and a dozen people worked together on a project that was for the betterment of all involved. This was so fun and worthwhile, we have decided to try to do it once a month.

I suggest you take a good read at David’s article as well as Chase’s response and think about what you are doing with your photography. This will actually tie in well with next week’s podcast with Dane Sanders about figuring out who you are as a photographer. In these tough times, we need ideas that are outside the box, those who survive and push through, those who do whatever it takes to weather the storm and find ways of improving themselves at the same time will flourish as things get better.

Author: Kerry Garrison

KerryG

Kerry Garrison lives in Castle Rock, Colorado with his wife and two dogs. With 10 years of experience shooting products and 5 years of experience in the wedding industry, Kerry brings a good deal of technical know-how and can explain topics in easy-to-understand terms.

You may also like...

8 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    Excellent article! I'm all about shooting for free when both parties or all parties involved are in it for a collective good.

    But shooting a wedding for free for a client…. I would have to say no. But not to limit it there – I do believe in the barter system too.

    Thanks for sharing this & I'm going to check out the original links – cheers!

    David Esquire
    Esquire Photography
    http://www.esquirephotography.com" rel="nofollow">http://www.esquirephotography.com

  2. Excellent article! I'm all about shooting for free when both parties or all parties involved are in it for a collective good.

    But shooting a wedding for free for a client…. I would have to say no. But not to limit it there – I do believe in the barter system too.

    Thanks for sharing this & I'm going to check out the original links – cheers!

    David Esquire
    Esquire Photography
    http://www.esquirephotography.com

  3. Anonymous says:

    I could understand you not wanting to shoot a wedding for free. You and Kerry are in the wedding market. The example I gave Chase, who does not do weddings, was to go to some small church, talk to the minister and see if there isn't a couple that can't afford the big fancy wedding, let alone a photographer. Just kind of surprise them and provide some photos. No reason to go all out, but give them a little bit of something.

  4. Anonymous says:

    That is certainly a worthwhile donation of your time and everyone should do some form of charity. That is very different, that is giving to someone for the sack of giving. The point I was making and I think Chase and David Hobby were as well was that you should look at opportunities to do something outside of your normal realm for yourself which justifies not charging for the work. I do believe everyone should participate in charity as they have the means and feel moved to do so.

  5. The_Nothing says:

    I could understand you not wanting to shoot a wedding for free. You and Kerry are in the wedding market. The example I gave Chase, who does not do weddings, was to go to some small church, talk to the minister and see if there isn't a couple that can't afford the big fancy wedding, let alone a photographer. Just kind of surprise them and provide some photos. No reason to go all out, but give them a little bit of something.

  6. kgarrison says:

    That is certainly a worthwhile donation of your time and everyone should do some form of charity. That is very different, that is giving to someone for the sack of giving. The point I was making and I think Chase and David Hobby were as well was that you should look at opportunities to do something outside of your normal realm for yourself which justifies not charging for the work. I do believe everyone should participate in charity as they have the means and feel moved to do so.

  7. The_Nothing says:

    I could understand you not wanting to shoot a wedding for free. You and Kerry are in the wedding market. The example I gave Chase, who does not do weddings, was to go to some small church, talk to the minister and see if there isn't a couple that can't afford the big fancy wedding, let alone a photographer. Just kind of surprise them and provide some photos. No reason to go all out, but give them a little bit of something.

  8. kgarrison says:

    That is certainly a worthwhile donation of your time and everyone should do some form of charity. That is very different, that is giving to someone for the sack of giving. The point I was making and I think Chase and David Hobby were as well was that you should look at opportunities to do something outside of your normal realm for yourself which justifies not charging for the work. I do believe everyone should participate in charity as they have the means and feel moved to do so.

Leave a Reply