- Black Star Rising - http://rising.blackstar.com -

Five Reasons to Photograph for Free

Posted By Sean Cayton On December 4, 2008 @ 9:30 am In Business of Photography | 17 Comments

Tweet [1]

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?

Tweet [1]

17 Comments (Open | Close)

17 Comments To "Five Reasons to Photograph for Free"

#1 Comment By Chris On December 4, 2008 @ 12:00 pm

Yes this can work if its a free photo or sitting as a prize for a charity auction or raffle.
But offering to do assignments or events for free only incurs others, to expect their event to be covered free of charge. Which makes them feel offended if you turn them down.
As have provided free class photos for school calanders, and now every year they expect this for free now! And other that are on the schools committee, take the huff if their event isn't covered for free.
So it can be a no win situation if you start covering events for free...charge them a reduced rate...but dont go down the road of freebies for all!

#2 Comment By Sherri Meyer On December 6, 2008 @ 2:41 pm

Sean - well written, but I have very mixed feelings about giving my work away. Check out my interview with professional writer and photographer Richard Wong at [2].

I have given my work away many times in the past. My experience has been that most people really don't appreciate "free" work.

#3 Comment By Stefan Tell On December 8, 2008 @ 4:16 am

Good article, and a subject that seems to be popping up everywhere now in the recent economic downturn. It's one thing to give away stuff for free, for charity or marketing purposes, but when it comes to projects where you could get paid, you should try to get paid.

I agree fully with Chris and Sherri that when you do it for free, clients tend not to appreciate it (or take it for granted). And when they don't, it is harder to use as a referal and even harder to get paid the second time you (might) work for them.

#4 Comment By Sean Cayton On December 8, 2008 @ 11:53 am

By and large the comments are coming from stock photographers. This is an entirely different business than what I do.

I don't shoot stock. I shoot on assignment and largely for consumers. I stand by this strategy as a long-term investment to build and strengthen your business.

It is just one tool in a marketing effort, but it can be a VERY effective one.

If you work in a community that is made up of potential clients, shooting for "free" is an investment that pays you back time and time again. At the same time, doing it blindly is not fruitful.

One must always remember what you're doing, why you're doing it and most importantly have a clear understanding of how it will pay off in the future.

Best of luck!

#5 Comment By John T Smith On December 9, 2008 @ 4:36 am

I agree with Sean Cayton here. I am in the UK. I not only have a budding photography business, I aslo do a small magic act. I have to say that by doing the odd free show for a chosen charity, I have had work from quite a few others in the room at the time. I have not tried "free" photography yet but, who knows what the future may hold.

#6 Comment By chris On December 10, 2008 @ 5:56 am

Hi Sean. Thanks for your input again.
I can't speak for the others here, but 99% of the work i do is for clients and not STOCK as you quoted in your rebut to our comments.
Things may be different in the states, as your client's may respect the fact that if you do a freeby that it would be nice to get some kickback from it.
As we cant live on fresh air!
I can only repeat again that over the past 15years,
working as a Photographer, it is better to charge the full rate and add in a bonus by doing a bit extra than for doing it for nothing.
I started working solely do press work, were there are lots of sharks that like to abuse the good nature of budding photographers.
Even now I had a London based agencies (that hadn't used me in ages!) called me out blue to ask a favour, to cover a job at the last minute.
As their ftog had let them down!
But they said could I do it for free as it was a favour to their PR client.
The upshot is I didn't do it, as their other ftog would have be paid to cover the event, but I was to do it for free because they hadn't used me for over a year! ( I had prevousily done a freeby for them, but you need to draw the line somewhere.)

#7 Comment By chris On December 10, 2008 @ 6:04 am

Hi Sean. Thanks for your input again.
I can't speak for the others here, but 99% of the work i do is for clients and not STOCK as you quoted in your rebutt to our comments.
Things may be different in the states, as your client's may respect the fact that if you do a freeby that it would be nice to get some kickback from it.
As we can't live on fresh air alone!
I can only repeat again that over the past 15years
working as a Photographer, it is better to charge the full rate and add in a bonus by doing a bit extra for them, than for doing it for nothing.
I started working solely as a freelance press photographer, where there are lots of sharks that like to abuse the good nature of budding photographers.
Even now I had a London based agencies (that hadn't used me in ages!) called me out of the blue to ask a favour, to cover a job at the last minute.
As their ftog had let them down!
But they said, could I do it for free as it was a favour to their PR client.
The upshot is I didn't do it, as their other ftog would have be paid to cover the event, but I was to do it for free because they hadn't used me for over a year! ( I had previousily done a freeby for them, but you need to draw the line somewhere.)

#8 Comment By Tilla Pe On December 10, 2008 @ 11:20 am

"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."

Yes, when the time comes, they call us and they want us to do the next job for free too. :(
Point 4 doesn't work in germany.

#9 Comment By Sean Cayton On December 10, 2008 @ 12:41 pm

I want to stress that this may not be for everyone. But for me, it's the right thing and people like me might find this kind of strategy very helpful.

My business has grown ever year and I'm going to gross more this year than in years past.

Let me stress another point: free photography by professionals or amateurs moving into the marketplace or moms with a camera is just NOT effecting photographer's livlihoods.

What amazes me is the insistence that this is ruining the profession. It's just not. And I've written here before about why it's not.

#10 Comment By Sean Cayton On December 10, 2008 @ 1:06 pm

Another follow up Strobist published a similar piece. "Four reasons to consider working for free"

Follow this link to read it:

[3]

#11 Comment By Chris On December 10, 2008 @ 8:13 pm

Hi Sean. Sorry for going on about this...but this sort of thing makes my blood boil!
As over the years i've tried various gimmicks like what you have said, and had my fingers burnt many a time.
I'm glad these things work for you, but alas not for me yet...not here in Scotland any way.
Don't get me wrong...I still offer a free portrait at a charity event. Or give out discount vouchers at big events to drum up trade...this seems to give me more positive work, than what may be working for you.
I enjoy reading your columns and look forward to your further input in the future.

#12 Comment By Jim Wellman On December 31, 2008 @ 9:11 am

HAPPY NEW YEAR

Sean has the right idea and I'll tell you why.

I do 12 annual sessions for non-profit (NP) organizations. In many cases, non-profits have annual award dinners or events where they call to the community for help. I provide free photography coverage of these events.

How does it work?

1. I photograph the event and provide the non-profit with a copyright free CD of all the photographs for their use along with copies of the photographs they wish.

2. In exchange for my services they provide me with a Gold level sponsorhip. The profound statement here is "This places me in the list with other Gold Level Sponsors."

Every group has some form of a printed book, brochure, program or something which will go home with the members. Many of these members will keep these books or scrapbook them. Members who can't remember my name do remember the event and will look for that book or call a friend who has a book to call me.

3. I place the photographs online for everyone to see and order along with a 50% donation for the event photographs returned to that charity.

4. Provide quick and professional 1st quality on all of the ordered photographs. Remember it is YOUR image that is going out!

5. NEVER cancel a charity once it is booked.

What's in it for me? ALL of the above mentioned by Sean. What's in it for them? The non-profit has a professional photographer on-site adding to their event.

In every aspect it is a WIN-WIN-WIN for the charity, members and me.

In 2007 I did six charities and received a phone call from a major corporation who need a commercial photographer. Guess who they picked?

In 2008 I did 12 charities and received six calls with over $25,000 in additional assignments all because someone remembering me at a charity.

Will it work for you? I don't know but you won't if you don't try.

Best of luck and have a wonderful 2009!

jim

#13 Comment By ikatari O.G Douglas On December 2, 2009 @ 10:18 am

i love this site and i will love to have more information about photography. thanks
ikatari O.G Douglas.

#14 Comment By Jay Groccia On July 15, 2010 @ 2:24 am

I NEVER do corporate work for free and neither should you. If they are making money from your photographs, then you should too.

I do shoot for certain charities and never expect anything to come out of it. My charity of choice is MARE - Mass Adoption Resource Exchange - I shoot for the Heart Gallery, National Adoption Day, and some of their events.

When I see 'charities' pitch for free photography I always inquire if all other services are being donated. If the hotel is getting paid, if the caterer is getting paid, if the band is getting paid...I think you see where I'm going with this.

There is one thing that I will donate for these events. If they are doing door prizes or an auction, I donate a Family Portrait Session that includes shoot, online proofs, and a free print. Non-commercial use only.

The bottom line is don't be a slave and if you decide to donate your work, do it because you want to help and don't expect follow-on work.

#15 Comment By john Armstrong-Millar On July 15, 2010 @ 5:05 am

Well from time to time it does make sense. I try to limit it to when I can incorporate it within an other job i.e someone is paying something somewhere.
I find that it is more appreciated that way.. As long as the original client is OK with that. I find that they often are but it's a useful route to charging for the work..

#16 Comment By Thom G. On July 16, 2010 @ 1:26 am

I've done several freebies over the years. It has been my experience that freebies only beget expectations of more freebies. The only referrals I have ever gotten have come from paying customers. And I have never had a recipient of my free services turn into a paying customer. Never. I think that it boils down to a matter of basic respect for me as a professional and as a human being. And no mature adult with more than two neurons firing between their ears undertakes a media project needing photography without putting it in their budget. That's a pet peeve of mine, when the first sentence of the email starts with "I don't have any money in my budget for this, but..."

The ONLY reason to give services pro bono is to contribute to a charitable, humanitarian, or other causes that you truly believe in with absolutely no expectation that anything will come of it other than the satisfaction of knowing that you are doing the right thing.

I don't mean to sound harsh and no disrespect to anyone intended, but I've purchased thirty grand worth of gear lately and keep getting approached by people who expect me to shoot for free. Until further notice, I'm just saying NO.

#17 Comment By Thom G. On August 30, 2010 @ 6:16 pm

My previous rant came at a moment of personal frustration. In re-reading it, I now regret having posted it. There are things that mean more to me than money and I need to keep that in perspective.

My apologies for the rant.


Article printed from Black Star Rising: http://rising.blackstar.com

URL to article: http://rising.blackstar.com/five-reasons-to-photograph-for-free.html

URLs in this post:

[1] Tweet: https://twitter.com/share

[2] : http://fieldreport.wordpress.com/2008/08/04/outdoor-adventure-baby-boomer-lifestyle-photographer-sherri-meyer-interview/

[3] : http://strobist.blogspot.com/2008/12/four-reasons-to-consider-working-for.html

Copyright © 2010 Black Star Rising. All rights reserved.