A recent discussion thread in an online group for professional photographers raised the question of working for free. A photographer asked if others were receiving calls from assignment editors seeking free photography of people, events or both. While I don’t think it’s a good idea to take on such assignments, I’m not opposed to providing free photography in some cases. In fact, I’m all for it.
In our business, we photograph events and people regularly for free. We take photos for friends and for causes that we believe in, for example. What we’ve found is that this free work pays for itself many times over. It’s also the right thing to do.
So in this, the season of giving, I offer you five reasons to photograph for free:
1. Goodwill. Offering free photography naturally generates goodwill towards you and your business. Everyone can use a little goodwill — and it seems to always opens doors to new opportunities. This year was our second year photographing the neighborhood kids on Halloween. We offered to e-mail free digital images, and by tracking the logins to our shopping cart, we know that families were very appreciative of a professional photograph of their children. We expect to see an increase in family sittings as a result.
2. Free promotion. Photographing events or people for free in return for free promotion is a win-win. Experience teaches me that marketing like this is more effective than traditional paid marketing. For several years, I have been involved with a non-profit that raises money for needy families that have loved ones deployed overseas. Every year the organization holds an awards banquet that I photograph. Donors — made up of prominent community and business leaders — are recognized and the promotion of my own business at this event has resulted in several assignments and at least one wedding.
3. Referral business. We almost always generate referral business when we practice free photography. This referral business is paying business that might never have happened if we hadn’t done something free to begin with. Every year I donate a free sitting at auction to a non-profit that serves victims of domestic violence. And every year, this sitting has resulted in referrals for additional family sittings and product orders.
4. Return clients. One free photography session can turn into a paying customer who keeps coming back. In fact, a client at a free sitting often brings up a future need for photography during the session. When the time comes, they call us.
5. Karma. It sounds cliche, but it’s true. When you do something for free with no strings attached, someone else will return the favor. It also makes you feel good about yourself and your business. Whenever I get into a funk, my wife tells me to go out and photograph and it always cheers me up. I would be a photographer even if I wasn’t paid to be. Photography makes me feel good — and giving photography to others makes me feel even better.
So far, we have done a dozen free shoots this year, with too many to count over the past 10 years. As a result, I’m better off as a business owner — and as a person.
What other reasons can you think of for offering free photography, and how has the practice enhanced your own business?