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12 Excuses for Shooting Photos for Free — and Why They’re Bogus

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Ninety percent of small businesses fail within the first two years. With few exceptions, working for free is the fastest way for freelance photographers to become part of this 90 percent.

Here are a few excuses I’ve heard for working for free, along with my responses:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

  3. 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.
  4. 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.

  5. I offered to shoot free family photos for all my neighbors for their holiday cards. It’s a good way to promote my business.
  6. It’s nice to be a good neighbor. Then again, you might soon be getting lots of invitations to weddings and Bar Mitzvahs, with the suggestion: “Hey, why don’t you bring your camera? We’d love to have some photos, and you would really be saving us some money.” So now, you’re an even better neighbor than you intended to be — and you’ve knocked some local wedding photographer out of a paying gig. Or, if you respond with, “Oh, those holiday photos were a one-time thing; I charge to shoot events,” you’ll probably get something like this: “Come on, neighbor, you’re going to be there anyway!”

  7. 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.
  8. 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.

  9. Every photography job I’ve ever gotten has been through word of mouth — often because I did something for free first.
  10. Right, word of mouth. As in, “Hey, I know this photographer who will shoot for free…” Congratulations! You’ve just become known all over town as the guy who doesn’t expect to be paid for his work. Maybe if you’re lucky, you’ll even get a client who offers to buy you lunch.

  11. 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.
  12. 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!

  13. 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.
  14. 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.

  15. 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.
  16. 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.

  17. I did some high-profile assignments for free, and now I’m published in major magazines with a photo credit.
  18. “Will work for photo credit” is one of the more asinine mentalities among photographers today. You’re helping no one, including yourself. All you’re doing is killing editorial opportunities for others.

  19. I recently graduated from photography school and have been shooting like crazy, mostly for free. I’ve been getting very good experience. I’m also making contacts, and once the economy improves, I’ll be in a much better place than had I sat around waiting for paid assignments.
  20. That’s some photography school — where you didn’t get experience! Your problem is that you just want to shoot pictures rather than earn assignments. You don’t “sit around waiting” for work; you market yourself to people who are willing to pay for your services. Those contacts you’re making are worth about as much as your photography is worth to them.

  21. It’s different now because of digital photography. Ten years ago, shooting for free meant eating the cost of film, processing and Polaroids unless the client paid your costs. Today, all a free shoot costs you is your time. Pixels are free!
  22. No, actually, pixels are not free — but thanks for playing. Cameras and camera shutters have a lifespan of a few hundred thousand frames. Divide the number of frames you shot for free by the cost of the camera, and you’ll begin to get a sense of how much that shoot cost you. That doesn’t count the cost of Photoshop for post-production, storage of the raw files, burning them to CD for your clients, and on and on.

  23. 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.
  24. 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.

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508 Comments To "12 Excuses for Shooting Photos for Free — and Why They’re Bogus"

#1 Comment By Matthew Kauffmann On July 13, 2010 @ 12:25 am


#2 Comment By Michael Epperson On July 13, 2010 @ 12:43 am

So, what do you suggest a photographer to do when they're just starting out and have very little experience? Charge no matter what (even though you're not a "Pro" yet)?. It's kind of a catch 22 situation.

#3 Comment By Heike Rost On July 13, 2010 @ 1:17 am

Great post, nothing to add. Just mentioned it as "mustread" on my website. Thanks a lot!

#4 Comment By Craig Ferguson (@cfimages) On July 13, 2010 @ 4:13 am

I posted a link to this on my Facebook page that's getting some interesting reaction. [2]

#5 Comment By Paul Adams On July 13, 2010 @ 4:55 am

Brilliant! About time someone told it as it really is.

#6 Comment By Iain Morrison On July 13, 2010 @ 5:28 am

Mate, get over yourself. That's quite a bit of tension....

How many teenagers with a camera undercut you to make you sooooooooo warm and fluffy?

I did my first ever wedding for free 3 years ago. Exactly for the reason of helping a neighbour and to get see if I could do a wedding. I started charging from the second wedding and now make a very healthy profit for each wedding. I'm already fully booked for next summer.

Shoot for free? Hell yes!

Have the business acumen to not let people take the piss so you can make a profit? Hell yes!

Bitch and moan because people are doing differently then you used to and now you feel undervalued? Get lost....

#7 Comment By Carlos Boza On July 13, 2010 @ 5:36 am

Brilliant! so how do you think people would pay me for wedding photography if I have no pics of weding yet? maybe I'll have to wait till my sister get married? come on! just common sense. I don't think it's a bad idea to build a portfolio with some free shoots...

#8 Comment By north west photographer On July 13, 2010 @ 6:24 am

There is no catch 22 at all, you offer a service and you charge for it, if your a student you already have a portfolio, or did you not do anythign at College/University, people employ you because they like your style of photography, simple.

if we start to do things for free surley we are just drilliung down our prices, plus if i wount do it for free... it looks like someone will, this wil kill the art form and industry.

#9 Comment By Mark Mendez On July 13, 2010 @ 8:18 am

While I agree with majority of your rants... I have to say that I was one of these so-called "free hire" photographers. But it did help me develop my business. Though it currently may not be as lucrative as your business, what are your thoughts on 2nd shooting a wedding for free to build up a wedding portfolio? Not too many people trust you can shoot such a momentous occasion without a portfolio to back it up. Or what about interning? Is that what you would a crime against the vast community of pro photographers? I will admit, I've been burned before but progressively I've been learning how to market myself, price myself and build up a chunk of contacts who in the end have eventually come back for paying gigs. I don't mean to come off brash, just thinking it's a broad spectrum. I did enjoy your post. Creative sarcasm... Gotta love it.

#10 Comment By Steve On July 13, 2010 @ 8:35 am

Nice, John. I've done a ton of TFP shoots, and I've been finding them to be increasingly frustrating. Like you said, it's definitely not a professional environment. I really need to step off of that treadmill, because it's taking me nowhere.

And it's funny...I did a cheapo engagement shoot a couple of years ago, and I knocked the client's socks off. What did it get me? A recommendation on a wedding website -- that I did a great job for next to nothing. Rather than snagging somebody looking for high quality work and attention to detail, I got inquiries from bottom feeding bargain hunters. Definitely not my ideal demographic.

Thanks for the reminder.

#11 Comment By Louis Torres On July 13, 2010 @ 8:37 am

I disagree with so many of these excuses. You have to start Somewhere and yes, believe it or not, FREE can 100% build a hugely successful business! Trust me!!

Inspiring Photographers Everywhere
by Louis Torres
New York based Destination Wedding Photographer

#12 Comment By Ken Tam On July 13, 2010 @ 9:24 am

What now new photog all think like farmers in my country (China)?

#13 Comment By Felton On July 13, 2010 @ 10:44 am

One of the problems with noobs shooting for free is that no professional shooters offer any kind of help to a noob that shoots for free.

Most noobs run in circles where professionals are around but none of those professionals want to take time to guide or mentor a noob. If one professional took one noob aside and said, "Look, here's a basic list of what to charge for this and that," then noobs would feel more comfortable charging a rate that is comparable to their skill level and in turn, that initial noob could turn around and help other noobs.

We are not asking for your trade secrets, your client lists, your favorite Lightroom Presets or Photoshop Actions. We simply want and need guidance.

If you are so professional, then act like it and give something back.

#14 Comment By Dominick On July 13, 2010 @ 10:47 am

Just saw this on ASMP: "The Best Way To Compete With Amateurs Is... DON'T!"


#15 Comment By Frederic Wiggins On July 13, 2010 @ 10:52 am

I'm going to have to say that while I agree that most of these don't make good business practices, they can lead to exposure and paying jobs. I've only shot one commercial assignment for free and it's lead to 5 -- well paying jobs.

I shot one wedding for free, and it's lead to more than 20 paying weddings in a little over a year.

I think that people need to realize that they have to start somewhere because most people won't pay you if they can't see what kind of work you can do and simply saying "I can take great photos" just won't cut it. I learned that one the hard way.

I also want to say that shooting for free with an understanding is a lot better than cheap. As an example, if you shoot one or two things of different types for free to build a portfolio, is different than shooting a wedding which should be $1,200 for $300. That damages the market place more, especially if you're any good at shooting because then that couple will tell another couple that they got an incredible deal, and in turn you've set the entire region to a new low.

Also, shooting for free for a non-profit can be a good thing... and... nobody said that whomever you shoot for free gets free prints or CDs. That's crazy talk.

#16 Comment By sinisterpictures On July 13, 2010 @ 11:12 am

All depends who you're doing it for. I would never charge friends for work, that's just rude.

#17 Comment By Melissa On July 13, 2010 @ 11:23 am

I agree that after a certain point there's a need to charge for your work, but I think it's not a bad thing to build your portfolio when you're first starting out. Especially if all you've had are a couple college beginner's classes. I don't think that B&W photo of a rose or the graffiti on the wall is going to sell your mad skillz in the beginning. Just sayin. And here's the thing - it's most likely not stealing business away from the pro as you seem to so avidly believe. The person who asks you to shoot for free/comission/exposure wasn't going to hire a pro to begin with. They'll find someone else with a crappy P&S to get the snapshots they wanted and then go print them at Wal-mart.

#18 Comment By SteelToad On July 13, 2010 @ 11:35 am

They're all good points, and a decent amount of humor thrown in ... but. You should have said once at the beginning of the post that doing free work hurts other photographers trying to make a living. By adding it as a little comment on several of your points, you come off as sounding awfully bitter.

Would I shoot for free, absolutely, but not that I'm trying to make a career out of it. Odd's are I'm going to screw up, I would tell somebody that up front. "Sure I'll take some pictures for free, but I'm likely to f*** something up so if it's at all important to you, you might want to hire somebody else to be there who knows what they're doing"

#19 Comment By Chris On July 13, 2010 @ 11:38 am

It's all well and good stating that you shouldn't shoot for free, but how is someone supposed to get experience/portfolio without starting somewhere.

I personally stand by that you shouldn't charge less than what you're worth, either charge full price or do it for free. As long as the reason it's free is agreed to upfront then you shouldn't have any problems down the road.

Whilst you argue it isn't, it is actually a fantastic way to network and gain confidence in the field of photography you want to go into.

Only last week I shot a conference having had no experience shooting conference's at all. As there was no price involved, there was no pressure on me so I was able to fully investigate conference photography and what I should be looking out for. It's a great way to learn. It's actually now led to some paid work due to the good job I did. Would the paid work have come about if I hadn't have worked for free? No of course not. I met lots of people there, was able to network and gain contacts and I'd now be fully confident in charging for event/conference photography.

I think a one-time free shoot in whichever genre you're looking to get into is the ideal way to be able to move into chraging. You'll have encountered all the pitfalls, and it'll be clear to your client that you're doing it for free for the experience.

#20 Comment By Billy Suratt On July 13, 2010 @ 11:39 am

No. 10 was a little ambiguous. Nothing wrong with shooting self-assigned stock as long as you're not giving away usage.

#21 Comment By @Michael Epperson On July 13, 2010 @ 12:11 pm

To answer your question, Yes. You should charge no matter what. Now, what changes is how much you should charge. Obviously, if a real PRO is charging $3000.00 for a wedding, you can't. Charge accordingly to your experience. It may be very little money at first, but it sets the sense of: "I paid to get my photos taken"...they won't htink of you as the free photographer.

#22 Comment By Mark On July 13, 2010 @ 2:43 pm

I gotta say, I'm pretty disappointed that Black Star would even publish this article. I guess link bait is good for traffic, no matter if people are linking to it because it's great or because it's trolling junk.

To all you photographers that might just be starting out and don't know how to prove you're capable of producing good photos, feel free to give one or two away. Even if you're not just starting out, maybe you're just thinking about trying something new, maybe adding a specific service or targeting a different niche, free is a great price to give someone that is taking a chance with you.

#23 Comment By rcmike On July 13, 2010 @ 3:34 pm

I am not a pro photographer but have been guilty of "free" photography in the past. The problem is that you set the expectation that it will always be free. I no longer accept requests to do free photos for friends. If I am asked, I will decline unless there is some sort of trade or mutual benefit; I don't count "experience" or "content for a portfolio" as a benefit. Movie studios, grocery stores and mechanics don't give stuff away so they can get more "experience."

Like those to do photography for a living, I also spend money on equipment. Why would you take on the expense of equipment so others can benefit from your work? When your camera dies, no one is going to step forward to buy you a new one. Set a price, have confidence in your skills, and don't lower the value of the service you provide.

#24 Comment By Callie Lipkin On July 13, 2010 @ 5:03 pm

I gotta go with the haters on this one, sorry. Not because I believe people should work for free, but because every situation is different. I believe there are situations at every level of one's career where shooting for free might be appropriate. Where would my personal projects be if all the cast and crew took this same approach with me? When you give a little, you get more in return. Those who love shooting will work on projects that have little or no budget for a variety of reasons, just like models and stylists will do the same when we can only give them lunch for a portfolio shoot. Discriminating between opportunity and being taken advantage of is not an easy skill but gets easier with practice and CAN reap paid rewards in the end.

#25 Comment By Sam Obeid On July 13, 2010 @ 11:30 pm

It's one thing to work for a freind for free, I.E. a budget wedding or portraits but it's another to work for free for a for profit organization.

#26 Comment By Nathan Shanahan On July 14, 2010 @ 8:01 am

There is no value is working for free. The problem is that these days everyone is in a rush to be a photographer and nobody wants to go through the assisting route any more. How do you build your portfolio without shooting for free and at the same time learn the ins & outs of the business, you assist a working pro who has a healthy business doing the kind of photography you want to do.

All of my work, all of it for at least the first four years of doing photography on my own came from the photographers I assisted for. I took on the jobs they didn't want to do and put my all into each time trying to win that client over. As photographers move up the quality of assignment ladder they will pass off work they used to do assistants and that's your chance to build your portfolio. Why will the client hire you? Because the photographer who they trust vouched for you and they know you from his sets, they know you were his assistant and that you've practically done the job yourself before anyways.

If you want to shoot weddings, assist a wedding photographer.You will learn 10x what you would have then if you jump straight into the fire and you'll have the chance to do it without getting burnt.

I allow all my assistants to shoot with my equipment in my studio when it's not in use. I help them to hire equipment when they have a shoot of their own and I also allow them to put the work we did together in the back of their portfolios. I'll pass on work when it's no longer of interest of finatial necessity for me to shoot it and in doing all of this I'm just repeating what the photographers who I assisted for did for me.

Working for free for a couple of assignments doesn't get you to jump in front of the line. It damages your chances of running a successful business and it trains those who follow you to try and get work by undercutting and doing it for free rather than thinking long term about a sustainable business.

My business has been damaged by the work for free mentality in a very real way. For several years I was (one of?) Tokyo's only working (paid) live music photographers. I was able to shoot on average two to three bands a night and was making $250/band plus 50% of the licensing revenue. Shooting two bands a night, three nights a week was a very healthy business but sure enough every time I shot there were more and more "shooting for free to build my portfolio" kids with their new DSLR snapping away at everything that moved. At first I found them a slight annoyance, filling up the pit and cutting back on my ability to shoot while minimizing my presence to the audience (something I always kept in mind as my access was the promoter and keeping the promoters happy was the lifeline to keep my business running). With the non professionals moving in and offering free prints to mags and promoters for the chance to shoot their favorite bands and the promoters stupidly going for it the pit became more and more of a jumbled mess. Conflict between photographers and between photographers and the audience started to develop and this of course worried the promoters who in tern cut back access, for everyone. Of course by this stage the promoters want to kick out all the ametures but they have also gotten used to getting images for free, its now the promoters right if you want access and the budget they used to have is gone and not coming back. I've since moved on but I lost a great business, and live music photography is slowly becoming more and more sterile as the numbers of pros who really get it are progressively being pushed out of the busiess.

#27 Comment By sinisterpictures On July 14, 2010 @ 8:24 am

Nathan, you will just have to adapt, that's the nature of all business. I used to hand paint huge backlit banner adverts that you see at airports & railway stations, then they started making huge printers that could do it in a fraction of the time & cost with no real level of skill involved. That whole business I was involved in is now consigned to history. No point being stagnant and bitching about it, move with the times & technology and seek different opportunities, or end up like the dinosaurs. What I'm hearing from a lot of photographers these days is similar to what was coming from the old school printers when DTP started to take over. Things change, not always for the best. You'll just have to rely on your captures being better than the competitions.

#28 Comment By Nathan Shanahan On July 14, 2010 @ 9:11 am

Being open to adaptation is part of the business for sure but it doesn't change the reality that shooting for free isn't healthy for photography. Doing something once doesn't mean that you are capable and experienced enough to do it professionally and I really don't understand the philosophy behind that particular line of thinking.

"Photographers" shooting for free isn't going to kill photography all together but it is slowly picking off parts of the industry and it's the parts of the industry where you would typically get your first breaks. In reality killing off the first stepping stone to a viable photography business is kind of good for me (in a selfish way) as the next generation of photographers are going to have a much harder time getting to the good assignments with production value.

Fortunately for me I've been through the assiting path and have eight plus years of seeing the inside of other photographers businesses to help me adapt and read where I need to be in three years time.

#29 Comment By tracy On July 14, 2010 @ 9:13 am

Oh hey sinister...fancy seeing you here!
I knew from the start the whole, don't do freebies thing, but where are the guides on how to actually get someone to pay for work! Especially music photography. It appears to me there are probably only a dozen or so music photographers who do get paid in the whole UK!

#30 Comment By sinisterpictures On July 14, 2010 @ 9:28 am

Nathan, you are quite right it won't kill photography, but undoubtably will change it. I agree that people shouldn't work for profit making organisations for nothing, my main point was regarding those who say they wouldn't even work for friends for free. I have in the past worked for no cash but on a sort of exchange for services/goods I need/use, that can work out very well at times.

#31 Comment By Nathan Shanahan On July 14, 2010 @ 9:53 am

Bartering is a totally different situation to working for free. Two years ago did a shoot for a kids clothing company in exchange free clothes for my girls ( 4 & 2 ). Over the last two years the girls have received close to $6,000 worth of clothing so essetially I did the job for $6,000, approximately twice what I would have received if I had of taken payment in cash. That wasn't I job I did for free.

@ Felton. Is it up to professional photographers to chase down "noobs" and teach them the law of the land or should "noobs" overcome their intimidation and approach professionals for some help? Any one trying to run a photography business is flat out busy and while I am willing to help anyone who walks into the studio looking for advise I can't go running around every gig I shoot making sure all the "noobs" are getting the advice they need.

#32 Comment By Nathan Shanahan On July 14, 2010 @ 11:00 am

Tracy, why not contact one of the more successful music photographers and find out? Danny Clifford is incredibly approachable and runs his own blog about his exploits shooting musicians, live and otherwise.

Like all photography businesses you need to access whether it's viable or not and to do that you can't take a shoot pictures first, figure out where to sell them later attitude.

Think about who consumes music photography and who supplies it, where is demand not being met or where can you do a better job than those already in the market (while still remaining profitable). For a while, being in Japan, I had better access and a good chance of getting backstage or behind the scenes portraits to differentiate myself from the Stateside or UK based photographers. I was also able to sell myself to promoters as I also had the advantage of being able to freely and easily communicate with the bands (being that most Japanese photographers had limited English ability) and even more importantly I could read the bands non verbal communication (if I was welcome or not). I was able to turn those two factors into enough of an edge to make a go of it (while it lasted).

#33 Comment By Mark On July 14, 2010 @ 11:19 am

Please, the "free photographers killed my business" excuse? The industry is changing, you can either change with it or peace out. Don't worry, there will be 10 photographers to replace you when you're gone.

In addition to my earlier comment- doing a shoot for free means you can control the expectations of the client. You can tell them what the boundaries are, and what they should expect of you. When they aren't paying anything they don't want to overstep those boundaries because there's a chance that they'll annoy you to the point that you get pissed. Nobody wants their photographer to be pissed at them. Not to mention, they are usually thankful for any work that they can get out of you for FREE.

This is why FREE is a better option than charging cheap. People who are paying you have the same expectations no matter what they are paying. The person that is giving you $100 for a shoot feels just as entitled as the person who gave you $10,000 the day before for the same thing.

To reiterate- I'm not advocating following a band around for their entire tour and shooting for nothing. I'm not advocating to shoot a season of weddings for nothing. I'm not advocating doing the Class of 2011's senior portraits for nothing. But one or two weddings/shows/portraits, just to get your portfolio started, whether you are new to the business or branching out, is a great way for you to learn, and a great way to show others that you're capable of producing the desired results.

#34 Comment By Nathan Shanahan On July 14, 2010 @ 11:46 am

In case it was misunderstood, I have adapted and I'm still in business.

Other photographers shooting for free had a negative impact on my ability to run a profitable live music photography business in more subtle ways than just reducing the value of photography. When promoters started letting photographers who would shoot and supply images for free they started letting in more and more new faces, not the same photographers shooting for free all the time but the nest new kid offering free images and as a direct result of that policy you had more and more photographers in a situation without the experience to deal with it properly. In the end it wasn't the "free" that broke the system it was the inexperienced and poor handling of the situation by all involved.

I think photographers who think that if they don't charge for their work they have no responsibility for the outcome of your actions have the wrong idea about this profession. Doing something for free in order to lower the expectations of the client just sounds completely immature and unprofessional to me.

My position remains that instead of doing one or two weddings for free and starting out from there that you would be better placed to run a good business if you spend two to three months assisting the top rated wedding photographer in your city. During this time you will shoot images of your own, you will get work in your book and you'll be better placed to do good work that lives upto everyones expectations (and of you don't get to go work for someone else).

As for the ten photographers waiting to replace me, don't make me laugh. Having a camera is not being a photographer, it's everything you do without the camera in your hand that's really important.

#35 Comment By Steve Perks On July 14, 2010 @ 12:37 pm

Show me a pro that will share pricing guidelines with me and I'll roll with it.

Show me a pro that will not grunt at me for being in the same room as him and I'll assist him, to gain experience. (I'll charge him of course)

Show me a client that will pay me to do an assignment with no portfolio or experience and I'll snatch their hand off.

I won't be going down the intern route, after all, we should be charging what we are worth, surely?

I sympathize with the way the digital age has undermined the industry, the problem is, in my experience, pros only sympathize with themselves, so us amateurs' have to fend for ourselves to get to the level where we can charge an appropriate fee or even get paid assignments.

Don't forget, you were all 'noobs' once.

Your post only alienates you and your colleagues even further.

#36 Comment By David On July 14, 2010 @ 1:12 pm

This is hilarious.

Nothing of value in this article. It's just a disgruntled, old, curmudgeon who can't compete, and is trying to 'educate' everyone else on how not to get in his way. You can't keep up anymore, so instead of working harder, you demand everyone else runs slower.

If you were any good at what you did, your results would speak for themselves, and you'd have no trouble getting paying clients.

Imagine a chef complaining that people are using their own stoves and inviting friends and relatives over for dinner. They even have the nerve to cook for free!

#37 Comment By Al On July 14, 2010 @ 1:43 pm

Wow, makes me wonder just how "good" you are for you to be worried about these "asinine" "passionate" "IT" guys with cameras.
If you're getting undercut by these guys, maybe it's YOU that needs to re-evaluate how YOU do things.

Having now seen your work, I know why you're worried. Get the chip off your shoulder, work on ways of being better (instead of sitting on your laurels) and you'll not have to worry about us taking your job mate.
Less time bitching, more time working on creativity.

#38 Comment By Will Seberger On July 14, 2010 @ 4:03 pm

Stymied is the word I'm looking for. As in, "I'm stymied by some of the responses here."

It doesn't come down to whether or not I agree or disagree with the concept of working for free. I don't. But opinions are like certain parts of the human anatomy. We've all got 'em.

But the complete lack of logic inspires a sense of fear in me.

If you went to school/college and didn't come out with a portfolio, you screwed the pooch royally. Time to get a job and make some money while developing your skill.

If you want to build a portfolio, sure, shoot for free - for yourself. Silver does not cross my palm every time I pick up a camera. When I do a personal project, I don't give it away. If somebody wants to buy something later, or I want to move it into my stock portfolio, then great. Say it with me - you don't need an assignment to make pictures.

Most of the people I know have portfolios largely comprised of self-directed projects instead of assignment work. It's often funded out of their own pockets. But they're sure not giving the photos away to magazines or corporations.

Don't take assignments for free, and don't hand out pictures for free. Shoot whatever you want, but make others pay to use/have it. If they don't, well, keep trying, or get out of the way.

Other ways of getting experience? Assisting a real, actual professional. The university I went to (and the same seems to be true of most) offered very little in terms of business management for artists. I got my experience and some portfolio-building done working as an assistant to regional and national photographers while in school and after.

Wanna learn about lighting? Working with someone who's been doing this for a lifetime is a great way to start. It's a lot faster than trying to figure it out yourself without the right tools.

Practically everyone I ever assisted would let me play in the studio. Getting paid to learn is a pretty good deal in any field.

I would still take an assistant job with some photographers today if it was a great opportunity to work with someone whose work I really admire.

The sheer lack of understanding of market economics is disappointing too. Some said, "might as well do it for free because someone else will."

That part, at least others being willing, is true. For every shooter out there, paid or volunteering, there are 10 or more in line to do it cheaper or free.

So they work themselves out of a job and someone else steps in.

Why bother trying to compete on that level? That game cannot be won. It just can't.

Rather than trying to sell the same stuff in a crowded market, create a different product (not limited to "better" or "different") and create a new market.

The game of life is not easy. This business is not easy, and for better or worse, we don't always win.

#39 Comment By CharlieJ On July 14, 2010 @ 4:50 pm

Hmmm... my .02 is varied. I agree with your business savvy (in general). I think that some people are getting the chip-on-the-shoulder idea because of your sarcastic "wit" (which isn't very funny to me, but hey...whatdoIknow?)

However, you're being foolish if you think a new, professional can break into the market without giving something away. Maybe you've been around so long you no longer have to worry about new clients. But, those who are trying to become established can't build their business without offering a client or two a deal. And "free" gets a client's attention more than anything else. I disagree with *totally* free, though. Maybe the (as in SINGLE, ONE) sitting/session for free, then charge for the photos.

Since someone talked about ignorance... IMO, your ignorance is in assuming that one freebie defines a photographer's career.

#40 Comment By Greg Reeves On July 14, 2010 @ 9:36 pm

If you're of the opinion that the free model truly works, you're not going to have your mind changed by an article.

No worries, just do yourself a favor- measure your results. Track all of your time and expenses and run the numbers- did "free" lead directly to pay and what were the results of the paying gigs. What was the hourly profit?

Either later or even at the same time, take the sage advice from the naysayers (who also seem to be the only folks making a living at the craft) and assist, intern, barter or shoot for yourself. Run the same numbers, time, expenses, what jobs came from this and what your hourly profit was.

Don't guess- measure. And then come on over to the dark side.

Our experience is that free begets free and in eight years, we've only tracked one job back to gutter credit in a magazine, which came from a lawyer, probably the only demographic that actually reads fine print. {grin}

As for the assumption that working for free puts you in control, heh heh heh, too funny. In the absence of money, you are now trading on your reputation, which is a lot more valuable.

I don't agree with John's "for the industry" approach, too late, the industry is already gone. What I mean by this is that there is no "industry price scale".

Price has no meaning, you can find free, cheap, medium and expensive in spades, as opposed to say, landscaping, where seven companies quoted us all within a 20% spread. That's an "industry rate".

It's too late and the genie doesn't go back in the bottle. Just do it for yourself. Get paid, feel better.

#41 Comment By Martha Retallick On July 14, 2010 @ 9:41 pm

Wasn't too long ago that I contacted (via their website) the organizers of a local event. I was seeking to be hired as a photographer.

The lady who wrote back edits a local magazine. And I know for a fact that their printer and other vendors get paid.

So, I was a little taken aback when she said that this event had no budget for photography. I've heard that there's some big bucks sponsorship behind it, so where's this no budget stuff coming from?

Oh, she added that I was welcome to volunteer as a photographer. My response: "Sorry, can't afford to work for free."

I haven't heard a word from anyone associated with that event since.

#42 Comment By André Weigel On July 14, 2010 @ 9:58 pm

Some wise words... thank you !

#43 Comment By John Stebbins On July 14, 2010 @ 10:23 pm

OK, my two and half cents on this thought.

I think, like most others on here, that shooting for free in certain instances can lead to bettering yourself and your work. I have a photo shoot for TFP upcoming, only because my first shoot that I paid for (albeit as a donation to a charity for the model) turned out amazing. The shoot that is coming up is with an inexperienced model and will benefit her portfolio, and quite possibly mine. Yes I am also shooting a wedding soon, at no cost, for my niece. Now, with that being said, I have to say this, will I continue to shoot for free? Absolutely not! I will at times, when it benefits me and the model/client, but sometimes it allows you to network with others, it allows them to see your quality and work ethic, those are the two important things, not how much you charge. If your quality is good and your work ethic sucks, you will never get anywhere in this business. I have a quote, my own;

"Quantity does not overshadow Quality,
Quality should always come first.
Without quality the customer leaves." John S.

As long as the quality and the work ethic show you as an amazing photographer, you will be able to set your standards, name your price for your work. Not some other photographers work. If asked do you shoot like so and so, or can you give me pictures like so and so, simply state no, I can give you my quality and my photos, if you want their work go speak to them.

@Felton, @Nathan, @Will, @Frederick, I am going to school come this October for photography. I made sure the school adhered to MY standards of what I want to learn for classes. Of which, I will have to create a portfolio of work AND have it reviewed, as well as spend 200 hours as an apprentice with a professional photographer of MY choosing. I haven't decided on whether or not to do Fashion or Weddings yet. They also offer a full semester of business classes. Yes, I HIGHLY agree that professional photographers could help those who are truly wanting to learn and get into this business, but I think that it falls to most being scared of loosing business to those the train and protege. It's the old 80's adage, "If we train you to do this job, you will take that training and go to work for someone else making more money"
Doesn't work that way anymore. My blog is about the promotion of others, and helping others to learn in this business, while at the same time learning myself. Help the up and coming photographers, you won't be around forever. Pass that legacy on to others.

#44 Comment By Jason Collin Photography On July 14, 2010 @ 10:39 pm

If you are in the U.S. join some photography groups via Meetup.com. That is what I did in early 2009. Back then, I had never once taken my flash off camera. Via those groups I learned how to make portraits, work with amateur to low-level pro models, and met real pro photographer contacts who let me second shoot with them on weddings. Now just a year later I run my own photography business and shoot weddings with confidence. So that is how you can go from limited experience to paid work without having to do free jobs in between (though I volunteered once for my local Chamber of Commerce).

#45 Comment By John On July 14, 2010 @ 11:13 pm

Have respect for yourself and for the industry. Simple as that. If you allow yourself to be low-balled and not paid with what you're worth go ahead. Might as well sell yourself on the streets with placards as well.

#46 Comment By Jeff On July 15, 2010 @ 12:24 am

The analogy in #1 should be to bands playing gigs for free (or effectively free) when they first started out which if you asked around, I'm sure you'd find is very true.

If a professional photographer cannot show the distinction between their work and someone offering services free of charge then that's exactly the problem. If you don't like competing with "free" photographers then work to put yourself in another category (in terms of skill & style).

#47 Comment By jan On July 15, 2010 @ 1:09 am

shooting for free makes absolutely no sense... but anyway a shoot for free can lead you to the right direction... taking into account that you can sell the photo earlier or later. during my studies i took a photo, round about 15 years ago... sold it just recently to a media agency ...

#48 Comment By Callie Lipkin On July 15, 2010 @ 1:15 am

I love that this topic is so controversial! Jeff - the band analogy is perfect. Do musicians get paid to practise? Artists paid to sketch? Many unpaid 'gigs' can be sketches for your future pictures. I am a big believer that photographers pictures 'approach zero' in that we tend to take our favorite pictures and reincarnated them. This is a good thing and why our portfolios are so important in booking jobs. The more we work on our internal image the better we become.

Also - I'm sure this will be controversial too - I always ask new assistants who write to me wanting to assist if they would donate their time first on a test shoot or two. I am always surprised at how many decline. The few who accept - and actually enjoyed themselves and followed up with me - have become my regular assists and make decent money every time I have paying work for them. A few days of their time, patience and timing has led to thousands of dollars for them. And I never ask them to work for free again. Being a photographer is not that different. Show your interest in something and have patience and your efforts might just be rewarded.

#49 Comment By Nathan Shanahan On July 15, 2010 @ 1:15 am


I think you have made a wise choice in your approach and it's encouraging to hear of up and coming photographers thinking carefully about how to best establish themselves.

I also appreciated your email reaching out to me and have responded in kind. A respectful attitude and a little humility go a long way and I hope that a few of your fellow "staring out" photographers can learn something from you.

@John Stebbins, just call it "shooting personal work" and avail the wrath of those who hate the term free.

#50 Comment By Zachary On July 15, 2010 @ 5:06 am

A photographer owes absolutely nothing to the industry or to other photographers.

As a professional photographer I don't really understand all the hate for other photographers that do things differently. It is a free marketplace.

My perspective is that it is kind of nice for photographers that work in that way to take "bargain hunters" off my hands. I can focus on clients and potential clients who see the value my work and pay accordingly for that.

If some yahoo photographer who doesn't make any money shooting is taking my market then I only have myself to blame.

Glad that isn't the case.

#51 Comment By sinisterpictures On July 15, 2010 @ 7:26 am

"If some yahoo photographer"

It's the Google ones you need to watch out for 😉

#52 Comment By Tony On July 15, 2010 @ 8:16 am

I'm sure that getting assisting work, or second-shooting with wedding pros is a much better way to get the experience, portfolio and reputation than working for free.

None of the wedding pros in my town want to have a 2nd shooter from the same town helping them, because they're fiercely protective of their own business (understandably) and don't want to spend their time "training up" their future competition. There's only one actual studio, and they are pretty much the same (although they were kind enough to wish me luck). To get 2nd shooting experience, I'm having to look at wedding pros who are around 100 miles away from where I live - the amount that I'd be getting paid for the work will barely cover my travelling expenses, which effectively makes it the same as working for free..

#53 Comment By Scott Bryant On July 15, 2010 @ 9:56 am

It's funny how many responses to these photo biz posts are from semi-pros who still just don't get it. However, some of the responses make an interesting point: Often, being cheap is worse than being free.

I can understand how doing SOME jobs for free can be beneficial – as long as you receive something valuable in return. Referrals can be valuable, as long as your reference testifies to the quality of your work and not your free or cut-rate services. Perhaps you might swap work for advertising.

Work done for charities and some non-profit businesses may be eligible for tax write-offs, too. Just make sure you send an invoice stating the full value of the job so that amount can be considered as a charitable contribution. You can do the same for non-charities, too, and write off the amount of the invoice as a promotional expense.

And ALWAYS retain your copyright for future sales. That should be a clear, overt understanding with ANY pro-bono client.

Do some research and find out what the true value of your work is. It's a deep hole to dig out of when you build a reputation on low prices or free work. Consider the quality of your clients, rather than the quantity.

#54 Comment By Leeny On July 15, 2010 @ 10:40 am

You sound very much whiney when you write like that.
"And you’ll be making lots of new friends among the professional portrait photographers whose livelihoods you are damaging. Happy networking!"
Butthurt anyone?

You've got a point with this article, and I do agree with you on many things, but try to be a bit more mature+objective next time, okay? Thanks.

#55 Comment By Pete On July 15, 2010 @ 10:59 am

Good luck getting paid for concert photography. So many bands now a days have fans with nice glass that just want a photo pass and a chance to shoot their favorite band.

#56 Comment By slantyyz On July 15, 2010 @ 12:04 pm

The problem with this article has less to do with the author's position, but the tone.

To me, he comes across like an entitled child whining about others taking away his business instead of explaining why he can't get more business on his own.

The pattern I've noticed in many industries is that customers gravitate towards two polar opposites: the best or the cheapest. What this means is that everyone in between is in a major struggle to get business.

What I've also noticed is that you generally get what you pay for. Those with any skill or artistry aren't going to offer their services free or cheap forever.

So why is the author seem so threatened by people who aren't charging for their work?

Going back to my original example of the best vs. the cheapest, I highly doubt that any top photographer worries about losing business to junior photographers charging peanuts for shoots. So what does that say about this blog author?

As a tech consultant, I get undercut all the time, whether by outsourced consultants or less skilled consultants. I don't fret over it. I let my prospects know why I'm worth my rate. If they are extremely cost sensitive, usually they're not the type of customer I want anyways. As far as I'm concerned, you have to adapt to the marketplace. If you don't have a reason for prospects to pay you the premium (i.e., reputation, quality, etc) then you have to change your business model. Don't expect the world to change FOR you instead.

#57 Comment By Harrison On July 15, 2010 @ 1:19 pm

Well, I'm conflicted. I am in the process of making a career change from long time corporate IT management to photographer and I've heard the message "don't give away your work" loud and clear from my instructors at Western Academy of Photography and from the pros I've associated with loud and clear. And it makes sense.

I would not have asked, in my old like, a prospective IT hire to come work for free on a project...if the work gives value then shouldn't there be value received for it?

Having said that, I don't have a proven track record in many facets of the profession so maybe...maybe...if I want work in those areas I need to consider rationalizing some free work as marketing and promotional expense. Maybe. Some excellent discussion here, but some useless vitriol as well.

#58 Comment By Nicole On July 15, 2010 @ 3:52 pm

Guys - I have to say - with all the snark I'm reading here (especially from the author, jeez), it's not easy to see why falling fees have become a problem in the industry.

My father is a photographer and I have much respect for them but let's not lose sight: you're a service provider. You can possess all the talent in the world but if you can't have consummate respect for your clients, then you're bound to fail.

And another thing - if you're experienced and you know a "noob," take the initiative to reach out and spend a couple hours mentoring them. It's called Karma and it's good for you!

#59 Comment By marcus On July 15, 2010 @ 5:20 pm

So what you're saying is that even if you just picked up a camera, you should hang out your shingle and start charging for your work as a professional.

#60 Comment By Danne (@dcarlbom) On July 15, 2010 @ 6:05 pm

This is by far one of the best lists I've read in a while. I'm including this in my weekly roundup tomorrow, that's for sure.

Great compilation, just great!

#61 Comment By Scott On July 15, 2010 @ 6:35 pm

Let's face it; all industries have problems getting the price they need to make a decent profit. Photography / photographers are no different. While on one hand many of us bemoan the state of the market in our industry for fees, many of us also bitch and moan about the high prices of gear (Nikon D3x anyone?) and rip off software to process images (there are about 1,000 torrents on Pirate Bay alone for Photoshop!).

#62 Comment By Anthony On July 15, 2010 @ 8:49 pm

If you are competing with people who are giving their work away, then either (a) the quality of your work is "less than professional," or (b) you're simply fighting a fight that you'll never win (same quality - lower price wins). Based on what you've written, I think it's probably time for you to step your game up.

I compete EVERY DAY for my job. Sometimes I get it, and sometimes another company takes it from me. It's called competition. It's based on knowledge, service, politics (shock), and - you guessed it - price.

If I don't win, I don't eat, and I can't pay my mortgage. That means I bust it EVERY DAY to make sure I'm going to keep what business I have and try to grow just a bit more. It does NOT mean that I go to my competition and cry that they're not charging enough.

From a photography aspect, technically, since I don't pay the mortgage with it, I'm apparently not a professional. That doesn't mean that my work sucks, and it doesn't mean that there's not a market for my work.

Remember that photography is the EASIEST creative field into which one can break. The biggest step for anyone is gear. Hand someone with 6 months of photography experience a 1D Mark IV or a 3Ds, and their images will be considerably better than they were with their P&S. Hand someone with 6 months of violin experience a Strad, and they'll still suck. I'm not saying that it's ALL gear, but gear is a BIG part of the game.

That means that if I fund myself (being an amateur, right?), and my gear is better than some "pro," then my images stand a pretty good chance of being better. Is that bad? No. Why should I be put down for my experience (hobby - right?) and my investment in my own gear?

If I choose to give images away (and I do every year), that's my prerogative. Does that take money away from some starving pro? I'm not sure I care, but I can imagine that the answer is sometimes yes (because the "customer" would have paid for the shots that I provided) and sometimes no (since they might not have been in the market for photography anyway -- it's called a "gift"). If you want to sell your images to the people that are currently my "customers," then man up and show them your stuff is that much better than mine.

Your post sounds like "I don't want to compete or run a business. I just like making pretty pictures." That's called a hobby, man. Realize that you have a JOB (hopefully a career), and that a JOB means that you have to WORK.

By the way - I agree that you either charge full price or you're free; cheap is never the way to go.

#63 Comment By Steve On July 15, 2010 @ 8:54 pm

Walked past a restaurant yesterday. $30 entrees, $50 mains, didn't even look at the desserts. McDonald's give you a whole meal for $10! That restaurant will obviously be going out of business very soon thanks to the undercutting.

Or is it possible the people who eat in that restaurant would never eat McDonald's, and the people who eat McDonald's will never pay $100+ for a meal?

There are niche markets, and quite frankly if you're not talented enough to justify your high prices and continue to get work when compared with the amateur selling his images burnt to CD for $100 then you should probably try a new gig.

I hear McDonald's are hiring.

#64 Comment By Pearl On July 15, 2010 @ 11:30 pm

In general I've seen that a large majority of photographers are pretty poor business professionals. I really wonder how many people on here are running mortgage paying businesses (as in it brings in enough income to pay your mortgage) when they are saying that free or even cheap is a good way to get started. Fields like photography generally have a lower general income potential with those few shining stars who have a combination of knowing the right people, talent, hard work and business savvy to really make a business. When I see annual gross income numbers for what most would consider "large" photography studios - and compare it to any other industry small businesses, one has to realize that photography is almost a micro business. My parents small family dairy farm's gross income is almost quadruple of a few of the "big names" in the photo industry - that really put it in perspective for me. My husband and I owned a studio - excellent customer service and good business practices set our business apart and allowed us to charge a price for our services that we were comfortable with. I've met tons of photographers who bought a nice camera, called themselves professionals and gave away FREE sessions and photos at below cost in hopes of getting paying clients - I have never seen one yet that has moved on to a full time (mortgage and food covering) business. It might be a nice hobby to justify nice equipment but nothing more. I'm sure there is someone out there that it has worked for . . . but I would guess that they are few and far between. Best wishes in all your endeavors.

#65 Comment By Josh On July 15, 2010 @ 11:49 pm

"Don't take photos free of charge, even if you're doing it for fun. You're putting Joe the corporate picnic photographer out of work"

"Don't come crying to me when some Indian takes your day job"

What an incredibly consistent, well-thought-out, non-racist rant you've got here.

#66 Comment By Harrison On July 16, 2010 @ 12:46 am

What's with all the vitriolic crap? If you don't agree with John that's fine...but what is with the people slinging insults around? Have those of you saying "You're just whining because you're obviously not good enough to compete" got John's client list in 'your' back pocket?

Those of you who do should be "professional" enough not to be shoveling dirt, and those of you who don't aren't in a place in the profession that warrants you slinging crap.

The guy's obviously a) making a living at the craft, b) not saying anything not being said by many others, and c) making valid points. It doesn't mean I agree down the line...my personal jury is still out on the question. What it does mean is that I'll conduct myself with civility...maybe you should too.

#67 Comment By Scott Bryant On July 16, 2010 @ 11:14 am

Fees are certainly an emotional issue, eh?

These conversations actually ARE constructive, but I concur with the pleas for civility. I think you have to open yourself up to other perspectives and proceed from there.

I think John's original post does have an angry tone to it. But before you bash him, consider why. The market for photography is changing rapidly, and not for the better if you actually want to make a living doing it. Many, many established pros are finding themselves increasingly undercut, and often it has nothing to do with the level of talent. Some of you are saying that if John is talented, then he should have nothing to fear - it's just sour grapes. That's not necessarily true, however.

I noticed the gourmet restaurant/McDonalds analogy. I think part of the problem is that, more and more, art buyers are shopping for price instead of quality. They are willing, more than ever, to accept McDonalds-quality work, then try to dress it up with Photoshop. So, a major part of the problem is that the customer base is driving prices down to the point that photography is becoming an an unsustainable, un profitable profession.

And buyers will continue to do that as long a photographers work for those kinds of rates.

There are all kinds of business models, and there are two that seem to be at odds here. Do you want your photography business to be volume driven, like McDonald's, Wal-Mart, or Microsoft? Or do you want your biz to be quality driven, like The Four Seasons, Macy's, or Apple (iPhone 4 excepted)?

Danger, and anger, is produced when too many are charging quantity prices for quality work. It's unsustainable because eventually the whole profession becomes unprofitable.

A free market demands competition. But there is healthy competition and unhealthy competition. Healthy competition creates a sustainable and diverse market. But the win-the-job-at-all-costs-attitude is not healthy. It can hurt yourself and others because you will eventually find you can't make a decent living doing this and there is no more incentive for customers to pay living wages to anyone else.

Many of these posts are contradictory, too. Some are saying that photographers have no obligation to others when setting their fees and rates. Yet others are crying out for guidance from the same photographers they have no obligations to.

If you are new to this profession, do some homework. Do some research. There are LOTS of resources, and Black Star Rising is among the best of them. Just recently, there were a series of posts about pricing weddings. ( [5]) They cite an actual wedding web site ( [6]) that determined the average fee for wedding photography is around $2,400 – from a survey of 21,000 brides. That's an incredible sampling, so it's a great place to start. And not hard to find.

If your established competition is reluctant to share their fees with you, perhaps have a friend pose as a potential client to glean some info. While that competition might not look kindly on that if they find out, it's better than ridiculously undercutting their prices. Plus, it helps establish the REAL value of your work in your market, too.

I also think that too many "noobs" simply don't consider everything necessary to create a viable business. They jump in emotionally. But take the time to consider ALL of your costs - insurance (for your business AND FOR YOU), office and administrative costs, advertising and promotion, etc. After that, don't forget to pay yourself a salary. How much money do you want to make. How many jobs per year do you see yourself shooting? All of that should help you decide what kind of fees to charge. Here's a "Cost of doing business" calculator: [7]

Not to dash your dreams of being a professional photographer, but if you come up with fees that your targeted customers are unwilling to pay, perhaps you should consider a different profession.

I think what John is trying to say, behind the angry tone, is "Hey, be BETTER than I am – that's fair competition. But don't undercut my prices to the point that the profession is no longer profitable for ANY of us."

#68 Comment By Judith Pishnery On July 16, 2010 @ 11:21 am

to get experience:
I recommend donating your time to a charity that you would give cash to if you had the cash to donate - and then - asking to be listed as a sponsor for the event, in the same amount $$ that you are donating - or - trade out for an ad or listing in whatever they might publish.
This gives you experience - and you get something in return - not totally free.
Also - network like crazy when you are shooting for the charity.

#69 Comment By corporate picnics On July 16, 2010 @ 12:20 pm

Free sets the stage for further business which will be tough when you start charging your real prices. Talk to other photographers and find out what an average price is either per picture, per hours, per day..Go into the relationship with your eyes wide open.

#70 Comment By Eric Mastrangelo On July 17, 2010 @ 3:39 am

Wow, so this is really funny! I'm coming late to the party, but so glad I found it.

Regarding excuse #4, I'm the photographer he's refering to. His "excuse" is lifted almost verbatim from a comment I made on a blog post regarding this same issue a fair while back. Reading this all I can say is "Thank You" for the professional commentary on a situation you knew nothing about and felt free to use as an example based on incorrect assumptions and with a somewhat vindictive attitude towards someone you've never met.

#71 Comment By Ashley On July 18, 2010 @ 1:03 am


LOL. You'd better quit blogging, you effing noob! You're taking away customers who would pay to hear someone's opinion, like this article. You're destroying the magazine industry with your free commentary!

God.. What a sad state the industry is in when "professionals" start publicly making excuses and pointing fingers because they can't make ends meet. The days of cheap, high quality gear are here. Get over it. Just like the days when HTML was a mysterious and magical thing and I could charge $40/hr to write code I could have written in my sleep. Well, people woke up and realized that they too can accomplish this and I found other ways to improve my talents and make real money. If you think some teenager with a Digital Rebel is destroying your customer base, then you'd probably be better off spending your time finding ways to improve, and quit crying about it. There comes a time in the life of any professional when you've got to push the limits and step it up, or step out.

As far as "free" work... My house, my car, my education, most of my gear, the jobs which paid for them -all- started with a "free" gig to get my foot in the door. Just don't be a fool and take the next free job that comes along. If they were interested enough to call you, they're interested enough to pay. If not, they're wasting your time anyway, wait for the call which pays, and start showing off what you've accomplished on that first free gig.

For anyone who is mad at their school for not teaching them business... Well, was it a business degree program, or not? If you plan to become a professional in a largely freelance industry, logic would dictate that you should study art -and- business. You may not have a use for a business degree, but don't let that stop you from taking some classes.

#72 Comment By Free shooter On July 18, 2010 @ 4:03 pm

What David said. Grow up. If you can't take the heat, change professions. I shoot free because I'm learning technique, lighting, posing, etc. If I charged at this point, people would have expectations, and I'm not that good yet. I have to know I'm going to get good shots at a wedding or portrait shoot before I would even consider passing myself off as anything more than an amateur photographer, regardless of the fact that I spent over $5,000 on my camera and lens system.

David, You're my hero!

#73 Comment By Jeff Greenberg On July 18, 2010 @ 4:14 pm

Its not free, as in, something for nothing.
Its a trade, such as, access for photos.
I dare you to make a "cattle call" to all successful shooters who have made trades that "worked" as they had hoped.
Otherwise, this blog lacks balance, IMO.

#74 Comment By Destiney Fischer On July 18, 2010 @ 7:10 pm

I disagree, I strongly feel if you are not ready you should not be charging a penny ! Hey if you want to have a rocking portfolio I say shoot away but do it at no cost if your not in business and likewise don't start a business until you are charging!But lets be honest even then I do Free shoots for Inspiration Through Art formally known as the Littlest Heroes project not only free but my next months trip for them will actually cost me over $120.00 but I think it's important to remember a part of being a business owner is to give back and reach out:)

#75 Comment By Destiney Fischer On July 18, 2010 @ 7:21 pm

and to Sam Obeid you rock my socks 😀 love your work!I am your new site stalker in a non creepy way of course!

#76 Comment By Bruce Walker On July 18, 2010 @ 9:31 pm

I will comment primarily on your stance in #7 and #12 from the viewpoint of a passionate amateur who loves photography but has no plan to "go pro".

Do you ever home-cook meals? Stop it right now! You are ruining the professional cooking biz for all the restaurant owners and chefs out there.

It sounds like you wish to launch an attack on anyone with an SLR who isn't a practicing professional. If I completely bought your arguments I should discard all my fancy gear, get a point&shoot and stick to snapshots of my immediate family only (if at all).

I agree that you may have some points in your criticisms of pros doing free work, but there are situations for pros where it's useful or necessary to get bootstrapped, and you are going *way* overboard when you include all non-pro work in your arguments.

#77 Comment By Aaron Lindberg On July 19, 2010 @ 4:16 pm

I agree 100% with this post and am laughing at some of the comments and unprofessional attitudes people have towards this article.

Running your own photo biz is not easy, but you do need to know what the industry standard is and what is a bad deal for all of us. Notice I say "US"
not pro or amateur or someone who just picked up a camera at your local box store and calling themselves a photographer. We are all in the same boat.

I think what makes a professional photographer is someone who can make a living with their camera AND make educated business decisions to continue growth. If by doing a free shoot leads you to landing a family portrait for 200 bux than congrats. So whats next after that? Is that 200 going to pay your mortgage, car payment, groceries, insurance? How many times a year do you think that same person needs to update their fam photo, each month, every week? Probably not, so where would you be next? Sitting in front of your computer searching Craigslist for your next shoot?

I certainly am not trying to take over this comment board but I had to post this incase you missed it a few months back. I feel it goes along with this same theme.


#78 Comment By Wowowat On July 20, 2010 @ 1:21 am

You're just cranky because some people stole some opportunities from you.
I'm a highschool student with no interest in taking up professional photography. I do some fun stuff for free over the summer when I'm bored.

#79 Comment By Judith Pishnery On July 20, 2010 @ 9:46 am

@ Bruce W - you sort of missed the point, yes I home cook meals (for my personal use and the occasional dinner party), but I don't run a full-time free restaurant.

Sure take all the photos you want for your own use (like cooking at home for your own use) even give them away to friends and family if you like.

But don't put yourself out their as a pro and do free work for clients who should be paying. If they are going to make money from your photos, they should pay. If they like your work and ask you to shoot for them, they should pay.

Yes everyone needs to get experience, so practice (for free) with your friends and family - for a little while. (giving them an invoice that has been discounted, lets them know what your photo service should be worth).

Or donate your time and photo service to a favorite charity that you would give cash to if you could. And in this case, I provide the charity with an invoice for the full amount of the shoot, and then discount it 100%. I ask for sponsorship of the event or a listing as a donor in the category that I am donating my photo services.

When someone comes asking me to shoot photos for them, I'm charging a reasonable fee. I need to stay in business as a pro (or even PT amatuer). So charging for my experience (and to cover overhead, education, equipment, etc.) is appropriate. After a customer has been a good client for a while or when they do big jobs - I can give them a discount, but not before. (consider the loyalty cards you get, not for the first purchase but for the 10th purchase).

Whenever you 'give it away' with the hopes of getting the paying job in the future - the paying job rarely comes thru. The customer just finds the next 'sucker' willing to give it away.

Other industries have figured this out, photographers should too.

It is flattering to have someone like your work and want you to do something for them, but even more flattering is when you get compensated for it, when they realise the value (and talent) of what you do.

#80 Comment By Michael On July 20, 2010 @ 1:41 pm

I wrote a piece on this that some may find interesting:

#81 Comment By JenniK On July 20, 2010 @ 2:04 pm

I guess to each their own...

For all the Haters, you may disagree now, but when you have to make a fulltime living off your craft you will look back at this and laugh. For the over passionate IT guys...don't you hate it when the kid down the street who is a really good hacker starts marketing to your clients for free? And to pour salt in the wound...to all the newbies shooting everything for free...my response is

"I fix free wedding photography"

And I will make 3 times what I would have had the bride booked me origionally. So its all good...go shoot it up :-)

#82 Comment By William Johnson On July 20, 2010 @ 2:21 pm

Free photography is a great form of advertising if you know how to do it effectively, and who your target market is. We do free photography as a way to get our foot in the door with potential clients and it works like gang busters. We tell our potential clients that no one will work harder for your business, and then prove it by shooting for free. It has more than doubled our business and we are now moving into more and more markets. Free photography is nothing more than one tool in a bag full of marketing tools. Google gives away almost everything for FREE, it does not seem to harm their business at all.
Do not fear free photography, just use free photography wisely.

#83 Comment By Rusty “Sidewinder” Sessions On July 20, 2010 @ 2:46 pm

I am sorry this is a horrible article. The article is saying that you NEVER do anything for free and "why" the first ones are a "bogus" excuse. And I disagree with that just about 100%. I have listened to many many top photographers and pro's making a HUGE living off of their photography that have almost all said that everyone does the few free shoots at first and they also recommend it.

If it where not for a few free shoots that I have done I would NOT be where I am today making a FULL living off my photography. I am not saying to do them often at all or even more than just a few times but come on... NEVER? And I also have done a few charity shoots that only a creep would charge or even accept money for.

For example I am just getting into the video side of things and I want to see what I can do for wedding video business so I have offered one or two free shoots with other photographers that are going to be doing a wedding anyways and I am going to tag along and shoot some video to get some portfolio stuff and to test it out. There is NO WAY it would be responsible for me to charge someone to do video at their wedding day for me to "try it out." And I know that anyone that has shot weddings ect before would be furious if they found someone was charging even a small amount to be the videographer/photographer for a wedding their FIRST TIME... Including the author of that article.

#84 Comment By Jeff Greenberg On July 20, 2010 @ 3:45 pm

To the blogger & his supporters:

Thanks for "free" advice.

To the photo consultants who make a living
giving advice to photographers:

What is your reaction to all this?

#85 Comment By Michael On July 20, 2010 @ 4:52 pm

To add to my earlier comment, a distinction needs to be made between working for free and working for nothing. The first indicates that you are not being remunerated for your efforts, but you absolutely should be gaining in some other way that makes the effort worth while. For instance, you may be working ona long term project on a given subject and offering to do some "free" work for someone or an organisation could get you access that would otherwise be hard to gain.
Working for nothing suggests that you do not value yourself or what you do.
In short working for "free" can be a smart move. Working for nothing is for mugs.

#86 Comment By Jules On July 20, 2010 @ 9:06 pm

Wow, bitter much? Very poorly written article consisting almost exclusively of the authors whining. My favorite is when he assumes that a college student pursuing photography can have no other means of making money other than "mommy and daddy." A few of his points actually could have been perfectly valid, but once buried under his drivel lost all weight with me. Sorry, but whining and complaining like this is something I'd expect from a 5 year old.

#87 Comment By J Mills On July 21, 2010 @ 7:52 pm

Hi I am a qualified photographer and also a member of professional bodies.

I have been looking to get mine and my husband's business establised for the last year or so, changing between the area and direction we wanted to go in. In england there are companies that you can pay (quite a lot) to organise models, locations and help you build a portfolio. I have not used this option and have inevitably offered sessions for free in order to build our portfolio.

It is a good way to get images and people have more trust in your ability if you have a full portfolio to show off, I would if I were going to book a service I would naturally want examples, wouldn't you? I would just say do not let everyone spread you as FREE, set a limit of how many free sessions you are prepared to give away and then draw the line.

Hope this helps any one out there who is starting out, we are still building our profile now :-)

Thanks Jenny

#88 Comment By Ion Ion On July 21, 2010 @ 7:55 pm

Wow! What a read!

Can't help but notice that the guys on John's side are all seasoned photographers who happen to see both success and failure around them just by being there and working in that environment.

Oh, and the other side clearly expresses itself as the team of losers. Here you have more types. You have the not-even-beginner type which IMHO will probably never become something in this field of work just because they know it all. Also you have the beginner with a lot of nerve - doing it once is not enough. Heck, doing it for a whole year and you can still screw it really bad.

It's nice to be young and stupid. It's even cuter when you actually try to literally move the mountains.

My issue is with the experienced guys. Shame on you! You have families, you have worthy charity causes, you are still learning new things (in comparison with the other team which knows it all besides pricing and that first time doing something). Why are you wasting your time? You have sites, you have blogs - the same as the others. People who can understand something of what you can teach CAN contact you. Doing polemics online with these idiots does not help anyone, not even your ego.

And if you don't believe me check the list of replies and ponder. So you have your experience and you know these things are right and those who thought otherwise are long forgotten. The idiots also believe beforehand they know how things really are. You (the older and hopefuly wiser) haven't converted any of the other team. You just gave a few the fuel to insult you.

Simply put: Mr. A does a gig for a good sum (whatever that sum might be). If the client is unreasonable, Mr. A can walk away. And this is the measure of achievement - to not be impressed by the money alone. Mr. Jr is a poor student believing in the power of the freebie. Mr. Jr won't receive anything, or, at best, will have some of the costs covered. What's even more interesting - if the client is not satisfied Mr. A will be hired with new terms and with a bonus to fix what Mr. Jr did. Here comes the sweet part. Mr. Jr is that supid he thinks there's no difference between them two, only some missing business contacts. And he can do that just because he has no idea of what is going on around him.

#89 Comment By JJ On July 21, 2010 @ 9:53 pm

I do photos of my friends and their kids for free to be posted on facebook. And for me to get the experience. Since I started doing that I've had several offers from people who want to pay me to take pictures of them and/or their kids. And I'm not a pro and have never been to school. So tell me again why that's wrong? Could this article maybe be the result of someone whose business is doing so hot and they would rather blame the people who are doing what they can to get a foot in the door instead of looking at themselves?....

#90 Comment By Adam On July 22, 2010 @ 1:32 am

this is dumb.

#91 Comment By Michael On July 22, 2010 @ 3:26 am

@J Mills (and others). There is a long history of great photographers approaching people they find interesting and offering to photograph them to build on their portfolios/projects/styles. But this is categorically not the same as shooting someone for free if they have approached you. In this case they have presented a demand for a service for which they should expect to pay and we (the photographers) should charge. Not charging skews the market and says to prospective clients that photographers do not value what they do, so why should we? The most extreme example of this to happen to me was a magazine editor approaching me about an image of mine she had seen that she wanted to use as the cover and asking me to pay her! Her logic - other photographers will pay to get a cover image. I declined because I value what I do, and I have a successful practice that supports my family without my having another job. I have no problem with competition, but it does need to be based on realism. Charge a fair price for what you are asked to do, and then we can compete. But give it away and you undermine the very profession you claim to want to be a part of.

#92 Comment By Olakunle Kassim On July 22, 2010 @ 8:20 am

Having done several free photo shoots, I ensure to achieve my purpose of doing it and try as much to avoid been seen as a 'not-to-be-paid' photographer as people could take immense advantage of opportunities if 'terms and conditions' do not apply. Doing free photo shoots gives more room for flexibility and creativity which when applied on paid photo shoots produces awesome results.
Free photography is a good form of advertising if you know how to do it effectively and know where your potential market is,its actually a bag full of marketing tools and its worked for me a great deal.

'Free photography works when used wisely'

#93 Comment By Matt On July 22, 2010 @ 8:42 am

You have maybe 1 or 2 valid points, but the rest makes you come off like a whiney child having a tantrum. If your photography is good enough, you will never compete with the likes of free photographers, and craigslist photographers. Because your client will want to know that you can nail what they need, instead of gambling on some mwac or hobby shooter. And if they want that, you're going after the wrong clients to begin with. Let people willing to do stuff for free have those clients.

#94 Comment By bizior On July 22, 2010 @ 10:24 am

horrible article. If you think that the only way for you making money is other photographers not doing free assignments - you're wrong! Get over yourself and don't try to find issues with others, take that kind of photos that people would love to pay for them, simple...

#95 Comment By Ranger 9 On July 22, 2010 @ 12:33 pm

This post (and many of the responses) seem to be drawing so much controversy because the muddled thinking behind them conflates two somewhat conflicting ideas:

1) "If you do free work, it's bad for your career."
2) "If you do free work, it's bad for MY career."

An appropriate response to #1 might be, "Thanks, although some people think it's worth the risk, and I need to consider their viewpoint as well."

An appropriate response to #2 would be, "Yeah? Well, tough. If you run short of cash, I'm not obligated to help you jack a liquor store, and if you can't cut it as a picture salesman, it's not my responsibility to bail you out."

The opposed nature of these two viewpoints accounts for all the head-butting that's going on. But it misses the real point, which is: The price of ANYTHING is exactly what the market says it is, period.

A lot of people find it hard to get their heads around this concept, but there's no avoiding it. You can try to prop up prices artificially by yelling at people who undercut you, in the hope of restricting supply. In the long run, though, it just plain doesn't work.

#96 Comment By Michael On July 22, 2010 @ 1:08 pm

@ Ranger9 The points you make are logical but they don't really address the whole picture.

To your point 1 my response would be as I have written earlier, that there is a world of difference between working for free and working for nothing. If you work for nothing, you have no career. Working for free is fine provided your are gaining something non-monetary that enhances your career prospects and that you would likely not be able to gain any other way, or as effectively.

To your point 2, I would add that you are right, it is not your responsibility to help me out, you are only responsible for your own career. BUT, if you wish to have a career you cannot behave in a manner that undermines the very industry you wish to be a part of. To make this clearer, there are a great many people who are now "posing" as photographers, offering, for example, weddings at a fraction of what they would HAVE to charge if they did it full time. How can they do this? Their primary source of income is something other than photography, so from their perspective shooting a wedding for a couple of hundred dollars is earning them pin money for no outlay. But if photography was their only source of income they would go bust very quickly charging that sort of money. Some will say, "yeah, but I am just starting out and I need the experience". True, but why wreck someone's wedding so that you can practice being a photographer. Much better to get an assistant position with an established pro, and let them guide you to the point where they are ready to send you out to shoot solo. Soon enough you will get the experience to enable you to set up alone. You earn, you learn, the market isn't distorted, and the client is getting a proper job. Another way to look at it is this: suppose WalMart decides to start making cars. Is it going to sell them at only $200, rather than $20,000 just so it can get some practice? Hey, you need a car? No problem, I'll give you one for free cos I need the practice at making them! Of course they won't. But for some reason photographers seem to labour under the misapprehension that the only legitimate business stance is one of being a starving artist. Rubbish!

As I have already written, I have no problem with competition. Most of my competition around me charges less that I do, but I know I offer a better service and product and my client base is content to pay the premium for that. But as far as I am concerned that competition is valid and correct: they have set prices that they believe reflect their position in the market, and the playing field is level. If I am to stay in business, my game needs to be genuinely worth more than theirs. This is exactly your final point about the market dictating price. But remember, market economics tells us that the marginal utility of something that is free is 1. That is, if I offer you free photography, you're going to take it! But working for free should NEVER be the starting point when a potential client approaches you. They come looking for a service (they demonstrate demand). If they say they have no budget look to see what else they are having to engage for this project that requires photography. Suppose it is a brochure. Are they paying a designer, a printer, the ad execs, the wages of the person that is asking you to work for nothing? The only reason they can come to you with the "we have no budget" line is that they KNOW that so many people are so desperate to be photographers that they will simply roll over and say "OK". That is just not business.

#97 Comment By Demon Lee On July 22, 2010 @ 8:11 pm

For all those of you that think working for FREE to get experience is ok, or that it is ok to work for free for friends, answer these questions first!

1. You have been arrested on a DD and are likely to lose your licence and your job.. your best mate is a Solicitor/Lawyer/Barrister, no go and ask them to defend you in Court for Free for the 'experience'.

2. You are backing out of your garage and run into a concrete post causing £200/£300 worth of damage to your car in parts and paint, but hang on, your mate down the road has just opened a bodyshop, go and ask him to repair your car for free for the 'experience'.

3. You have an absys on your tooth, it's been killing you for ages but you can't afford a Dentist, but hang on a moment, George from college is a Dentist, go and ask him to remove the tooth for free...

Now whilst some will offer you 'mates rates' etc, I very much doubt they will work for FREE or for the EXPERIENCE, why, because they are in business and if you want to be taken SERIOUSLY as a Professional Photographer, remember it is a business....!!!

On the other hand, I just bought a set of tools for £1K, does it make me a mechanic now, will anyone let me work on their Porsche for the 'experience' I need or would you rather take it to a garage.

Come on people, get a grip and treat the Profession with a Professional Attitude and act Professional.

#98 Comment By Joe (from Minnesota) On July 22, 2010 @ 8:19 pm

You must gain more from every shoot than it takes you to do it. That gain can be non-monetary (perhaps you do, indeed, need to build your initial portfolio) but you should move away from 'paying to work' (where you a spending more doing the job than they are paying you) as soon as humanly possible. Preferably before the first job.
If you are making photographs for because it's a hobby and you enjoy it... fine. I won't begrudge you any more than the guy that helped me replace my brakes for free. However, if you are making photographs with the intention of making it profitable you need to ... make it profitable. (that means: charge more money than it takes you to do the job after calculating your TOTAL costs).

#99 Comment By Peter On July 22, 2010 @ 8:46 pm

OMG! Louis Torres please!! I am shocked after checking your website!! Not sharp, over expose images! Luck of correct composition and cropping. You lacking basic skills as a photographer I am not surprise you work for free!! I suggest land a job as an assistant for a good photographer! Gat paid from day one! . Dan open successful business when you ready!. Good luck

#100 Comment By CharlieH On July 22, 2010 @ 10:45 pm

When a new doc graduates medical school, does he offer freebies, discounts or otherwise. Get the point cheapshooters.

#101 Comment By john Armstrong-Millar On July 23, 2010 @ 9:49 am

OK well running the risk of feeding the trolls here but .. When was the last time you got anything for free that was any damn good and not inferior to something that you had to pay good money for?
There is a reason good photography is not free and never will be. It's not about taking pictures (most everyone can to that) It's about being professional (how many "Free" photographers have back-up kit and P'L insurance. Running a business is at about 20% photography (if that) It's all the other stuff that you need to consider.. Just think about it before offering your services for free, tat's all

#102 Comment By sinisterpictures On July 23, 2010 @ 4:19 pm

CharlieH said:
When a new doc graduates medical school, does he offer freebies, discounts or otherwise. Get the point cheapshooters.

Not really a good comparison though is it Charlie? Doctor - Photographer?
I mean you don't get members of the public buying scalpels just to do a bit of domestic surgery at the weekends do you?

#103 Comment By Mike On July 23, 2010 @ 5:29 pm

I agree to a good extent of this in that the market is overcrowded with stupid people who will do anything for free, it ruins it for people looking to get paid.

Craigslist for example is a bastion of people looking for photo shoots for free and thats not right. If you offer it yourself, then that is acceptable, it's YOU defining what people will receive to suit YOUR explicit needs.

When people dictate to you what will be done and that you will not get paid and then you jump at it, then you are just a bitch doing bitch work, which usually is useless garbage and not applicable for a portfolio - expecially when its just a party or something.

#104 Comment By Issie McCowan On July 24, 2010 @ 12:55 am

I have been doing the very same thing and now I'm getting all sorts of offers on the table... Now I'm doing workshops it's all great 😉

#105 Comment By Bob On July 24, 2010 @ 3:29 pm

WOW, I have used nearly every excuse and got EXACTLY the result you described. When I started charging a fair price for my work, nearly all those "time sucking" wanna-be freeloaders vanished and I have replaced them with pride, professionalism and paying customers.

#106 Comment By Cathy Benton On July 24, 2010 @ 6:18 pm

I love this sir. You hit the nail on the head again and again and again.

Fot the folks who want to get good so they give it away, I always use the example of: if you book a wedding for $5000 - you would instantly get good because there is more at stake. Experience cost you no matter how you look at it.

#107 Comment By Peter On July 25, 2010 @ 12:45 am

What a very bitter man. He obviously forgot what it is like to start out.

#108 Comment By Jonathan On July 26, 2010 @ 5:23 pm

This sounds like someone who is quite bitter. It's not the 80's anymore folks! Budgets are smaller! It's sad - but right now, NOBODY knows what the photo budgets of the future will look like. Who knows if they will exist at all... All the bitching in the world is not going to stop the YOUNG, TALENTED, and PASSIONATE photographers of tomorrow working for $0. In terms of gear/money, all you need is a consumer level camera and cheap computer...

#109 Comment By Peter On July 26, 2010 @ 8:00 pm

To all Photographers wannabe please STOP!! Working for FREE!! You only ruining your INDUSTRY!! Budget game is Simple for last 30 years Customer goes to 10 or more studios and compares prices!! If one of us work for FREE!! They will NOT! Pay for Our services NOW OR IN THE FUTURE!!! STUPID!! YOU only ruining the INDISTRY You hoping to work in the FUTURE!! ALL Professional Business people now the game, what is wrong with –PHOTOGRAPHERS-??????

#110 Comment By Michael On July 27, 2010 @ 9:36 am

@ Jonathan. Your comment is astonishingly ill-conceived.

Yes budgets are smaller than they were. True, no one knows what the budgets of tomorrow will look like. BUT, there is always going to remain a demand for professional photography in whatever form that it exists. As long as there is media of any type, there will be a demand for professionally crafted images. The key word in that statement is "professionally". If a person or organisation approaches a photographer to ask them to produce images (be they social, editorial or commercial in nature), then they exhibit a demand. It is, always has been, and always will be the case that anyone expressing a demand for a commercial transaction should be prepared to pay for the service. Absolutely every other person involved in the provision of a website, brochure, magazine, advert, TV programme, print etc will have been paid for their input. For some reason it is ONLY photographers that seem to labour under the misapprehension that it is OK to work for nothing. Why? Primarily becasue they go to college to be taught how to take pretty pictures of trees and leaves and rusting car wrecks, but no one thinks it is necessary to teach them anything about running a business. As a result, when they enter the big bad world of commerce they feel as though they shouldn't really be there, and are embarrassed to talk about money.

I have lost count of the number of times I have heard "photographers" start a negotiation by saying "my rate is $xxx, but I am prepared to negotiate". For goodness sake, don't undermine yourself by saying that before the client has had a chance to respond to your "rate".

Jonathan, you state: "All the bitching in the world is not going to stop the YOUNG, TALENTED, and PASSIONATE photographers of tomorrow working for $0." My response to that is that if they are not being paid, they are not working. Remember, there is a qualitative difference between working form nothing and working for free. It is normal for photographers to approach others and offer to work for free for someone because it gives them access to something tangible and significant that helps their careers. But if someone apporaches you there have to be very very compelling reasons for agreeing to work without pay.

It's all very well saying that all you need is a consumer level camera and a cheap computer. I disagree with that statement, but even if I agree with it, these things still have to paid for. How exactly are the "YOUNG, TALENTED, and PASSIONATE photographers of tomorrow working for $0" going to pay for these things (and that is without mentioning PI, PL, EL, and equipment insurance, or all the other costs of business, and don't even think about paying rent, feeding yourself, having a life etc etc.)

The real reason that this problem exists in the industry is there is a perception of glamour. There are so many people who want to call themselves "photographers" and they just can't get a break by charging, so they prostitute themselves instead and do it for nothing. But that act undermines the industry they want to see themselves as a part of. It is more of an issue since the digital revolution becasue they can strafe the subject and hope they get a few acceptable hits. When I started out you actually had to understand exposure and compostition and film characteristics because you could not afford to waste materials. I used to have an annual lab bill of $40,000. You can only afford that if you are charging to do the work. Just because there is no film cost does not mean that there are no costs. My pro spec cameras get worn out in about two years. In practice, everytime I press the shutter release it costs about 3 cents. If you buy a consumer level camera it will actually cost more, not less. Then start looking at storage costs, backing up, software and computer upgrade costs. How are you going to pay for that if you work for nothing?

In the UK for the last few years there have been 10,000 people annually gaining some form of photographic qualificaton, chasing at best 500 jobs (and that is being generous). The competition is already really huge. Neither I, nor any other good photographer I know, has any problem with competition. But the reality is that whether you charge or not, if you are setting out, the likelihood is that you will NOT succeed. It is not enough to be a great photographer, you have to be a good business person too. In fact, the vast majority of successful professional photographers are not and never will be considered to be "great", but they are good business people. That, whether you or anyone else reading this post likes it or not, is an absolute irrefutable fact. Where there are execptions, those people employ agents or managers to look after their business affairs - and you show me an agent that sells their photographer to a client for free. In fact, it is well known that the reason for using an agent is that they will get a MUCH higher fee for their photographers than the photographers would get themselves. So much higher, that even with a 50% commission the photographer is usually better off.

So, where to do we stand with this whole working for free thing? I'll tell you where I stand: a customer approaches me and asks what I charge. I tell them. If they say that they cannot stretch their budget that far, I will discuss with them what they can pay and what, realistically I can offer them. If we cannot reach a compromise, I walk away. I know that they will go to someone who works for less, and I have no problem with that. What I hope is that they do not go to someone who works for free, but if they do, in the long run it is ALL photographers that suffer.

There will be some people who read this that will disagree in a very visceral way. If you are one of those, ask yourself why you feel like that. Then ask yourself if you would do a different job for free. The fact that you like being a "photographer" is not a justification for doing it for nothing. The only justification for doing it for free is as a passtime, in which case the client is you, not some third party.

For myself I am busy and well paid, and I KNOW that that is because I conduct myself professionally and produce good work. I employ professional services to assist me (lawyers for contracts etc), and as a result clients know that I am serious and in business.

Yes I negotiate, but in a business like manner.

For example, I have just taken on a commercial job that the client thought was three days, I made the case strongly that it was simply not possible in so short a space of time, and told them it was at least six days, more likely eight days. After negotiation they agreed to eight days, and I made some concessions on the rate, but they are paying more than three times what they originally thought it was going to cost. Why, because they see that the value I can add to their project will pay them back at least a thousand fold what I am charging them (and trust me I am earning well from it) - in short it makes commercial sense.

And that, in a nutshell, is what every photographer should be asking themselves before they commit to a job: does what I am about to engage in make "commercial sense"? If the answer is always yes, then with luck you will still be a photographer 20 years from now. If not please post back in a few years time and tell us all what you are doing instead... and whether you do it for free.

#111 Comment By Jonathan On July 27, 2010 @ 1:43 pm

If you don’t like the term “working” than consider the term “volunteering”. Whatever you wanna call it, I speak truthfully when I say that I know of many many cases where a photographer has produced images for a commercial body or magazine for nothing other than a photo credit and bragging rights.

Here’s a pink elephant, my vision of the future (I’m sure this will be very unpopular): Out of all of the folks who call themselves “professional photographers” about 0.1% will be actually paying for all of their costs of business, their mortgage, their assistants, (everything) and turning a profit to boot. They will be shooting for big business clients, ones who want the very “best of the best”. Then there will be about 5% of the “professional photographers” out there who work another job to make ends meet (such as IT) and shoot jobs about once a month. They will be paid, but poorly. Why? Their competition will be so fierce from about the other 94.9% of “professional photographers” who shoot for free or next to free. Oh wait, I’m not talking about the future anymore but rather the present... Hmm..

M, maybe we are coming from different worlds. I shoot fashion. I assisted some quite well known fashion photographers in the early 2000’s. After looking at your site, I see you shoot different things than I do. I like your pictures and I can see your talent would be an asset to a commercial client. However, the fashion budgets are horrific right now. I am assuming that the rest of the markets are not doing so well either, judging from the comments above.

All you really do need is a consumer level camera and a cheap computer. These kidos generally already have a computer. The camera can be gotten. The part time job maybe could finance it? Bank of mom and dad? Or Visa? What about the cost of doing business? Well, you said it yourself; these people are not actually working. So, they’re not actually doing business. Equipment insurance? Why insure a $1000 camera? Paying rent? Feeding yourself? Uh, thin is in... Bottom line is though, these kids are talented and produce images at no cost to clients. So yeah, “clients” are happy and (most importantly) not using the other “professional photographers” (who cost more).

Hey, it sucks. This is what’s going on in my world though and all the photographers out there who read this take warning, it’s coming your way. Try and be in that 0.1 percentile and you’ll be OK. OK?

“It is more of an issue since the digital revolution becasue they can strafe the subject and hope they get a few acceptable hits. When I started out you actually had to understand exposure and compostition and film characteristics because you could not afford to waste materials. I used to have an annual lab bill of $40,000. You can only afford that if you are charging to do the work. Just because there is no film cost does not mean that there are no costs.” You sound just like the guys I assisted and I totally agree with you. However, it also sounds like you’re upset. Again, I don’t blame you. But please, don’t contest what I’m saying. I’m living it. You don’t have to understand film exposure anymore and composition is subjective. Even though pixels do cost money, a lot of people don’t know they do (like a lot of clients) and let’s be honest – they are cheaper, less than a $40,000 lab bill. Storage costs? Computer upgrades? Uh, my MacBook Pro (the 2004/5 model) along with my pirated copy of Photoshop can handle a file from a P45 no problem let alone my digital Rebel. Yeah, it’s a little slower than your MacPro but who cares?! I can’t afford a new computer and it works fine!

“You show me an agent that sells their photographer to a client for free” – I could, but we’re in public. OK, I couldn’t tell you how much the client paid the agent, but I could tell you that the photographer shot the job for free/bragging rights.

“What I hope is that they do not go to someone who works for free, but if they do, in the long run it is ALL photographers that suffer.” Already happening, see pretty much all the comments above as proof.

“The only justification for doing it for free is as a passtime, in which case the client is you, not some third party.” True. We’re going in circles. The clients, in the end, gets nice HighRes photos for free. Neat.

I think you have a good business sense (probably better than mine!) but you are a little in denial about what is happening and where we are going. I know I sound very defeatist. I just hate surprises. I mean, there’s a reason this blog post got written in the first place.

#112 Comment By Michael On July 27, 2010 @ 6:37 pm

Jonathan, you suggest that I may be upset and in denial. I am far from upset, my business is lean and efficient and turns a decent profit. I own my own house and have a wife and three children, al paid for by photography. My business is growing, and every year I improve my margins by finding more efficient methods of practice. My software is legit, my equipment is top end. In the next three months I expect to upgrade my studio lights, my computer system, my data archives, and my cameras and some lenses. All of this is paid for through a profitable and reasonably well run business. There are still things I could do more efficiently and I address each issue that bothers me in turn. In short, I am far from upset. The digital revolution has been difficult, but I have come through it well placed. Next up is the stills/HD video revolution. Where will that take us I wonder?

As for denial, I have no illusions about what is going on in the industry, and like I said, there are occasions when shooting for free (not for nothing) can make commercial sense. For example, you say you are in the fashion world. Well, I know a photographer (very well known in the fashion world) who shot an entire campaign for a top drawer designer for free. Actually, the shoot cost him about $20,000. It involved A list models, sets, makeup artists, retouchers etc. Why did he do it? Because the designer was so high profile that he was GUARANTEED a ten page spread in every edition of Vogue in the world. It was a loss leader that generated an enormous amount of business for him. Naturally it was a contractual obligation that the designer did NOT tell anyone that he had shot for free. The thing is, he was already shooting for some of the biggest names in entertainment and fashion anyway, and that is how he got the chance to pitch for such a big account.

So what then is my problem? What is it that is making people write blogs like this one? It is the simple fact that I feel like I have come across a group of people who are complaining that their house is burning down, and yet their solution is to pour gasoline (petrol) on the flames!

I am fed up with hearing people moan that there is no money in photography anymore, and then blaming the market, the editors, the art buyers, the PR people... everyone they can think of except themselves. The simple fact is that the people who are screwing the photography industry and making it impossible to earn a living are the photographers, not the buyers. The buyers are responding rationally to a situation created by the glut of people who want to call themselves photographers so much that they will pay for the priviledge. Every time a photographer agrees to work for free, or starts a negotiation by saying that they can negotiate on price before the client has responded to the quoted rate, they hammer the nails into the industry's coffin a little further. It is that that pisses me off.

It is time for photographers around the world to wake up and smell the coffee. It is not that the business has gone sour, it is that they are not treating it as a business. Instead of going to another free Photoshop seminar they should be paying to go to a negotiations workshop. I know of one company that was approached by one of the biggest companies in the world to do some work for them. The company's response? "You can't afford us!" Red rag to a bull. It made the approaching party more convinced than ever that they could NOT afford NOT to use them.

Stand outside the world of photography for a moment and look at it dispassionately: none of the arguments make any sense. Yes budgets are getting tighter, that is the reality of the world we are living in at the moment. But in every other industry it mean restructuring to meet the changing climate. Some companies will fail, and others will actually grow through recession. But in no other industry will you see companies working for free - it is a luxury that they cannot afford. As a result, although most sectors have seen falling demand, the industries themselves remain properly balanced. Now consider photography, lets consider fashion specifically, since that is the area you mention. Budgets are constrained, but they still exist. Designers are still trying to run a business, the fashion magazines are still selling and drawing advertising from design houses and companies with lifestyle products and services. Fashion shows are happening, models are being paid, as are set builders, chandlers, make up artists, lighting companies, events coordinators, caterers, security companies, PR agecies... I could go on. All of these people are being paid. So how come when it comes to the photographs - the very things which the fashion industry absolutely needs in order to maintain consumer interest and as a result cash flow - there is suddenly "no budget". Of course there is budget. But if you were in their position and you KNEW that "young talented and passionate photographers" would work for nothing, what would you do? You would say you have no budget, book someone, and then laugh about their gullibilty with your colleagues over a bottle of Bollinger paid for out of the money you saved by not having to pay the photographer. I repeat: it is not THEIR fault, it is OURS.

The facts are these: not everyone that wants to be a photographer can be one. Just like not everyone can be a Hollywood A lister or drive a Bentley. If ALL photographers stopped this working for nothing (not free) bullshit at once, and started to behave professionally, the future of the industry would start to look very different very quickly. Do you seriously think that if we all charged or refused to work that we'd just have no pictures anywhere anymore? Of course not. The budget would suddenly appear because it was always there, lining the pockets of the clients that should be giving it to you.

You gave me a vision of the future. I'll give you mine. The number of "professional photographers" will shrink, but there will be plenty of paying work for all of us that treat it as a business, not just as an art. Even the art photographers I know that are successful treat marketing and business very seriously, that is why they are publishing books every year and getting funding. That is why I have signed a commercial contract in the last three months that is worth a quarter of a million dollars over the next three years. What will it take to make my vision come true? It will take everyone that is a photographer, or wants to be a photographer, starting from the basis of believing in themselves and believing that what they do is important and adds value. Know your worth and stick to it. If you think the state of the industry sucks, then do something about it, because our future really is in our hands.

#113 Comment By Dinesh Sharma On July 28, 2010 @ 5:57 am

Hi dear thanks for the article. These r the same sentiments i shared with a doctor friend of mine who did the same mistake of shooting a friends wedding for free since he earns his own livelyhood from teaching and is passionate about photography but after hearing my side about the issue he realised his mistake and he has forwarded this article to me . Thanks again for the article cause if we can change the way people approach maybe we will all have more clients at our disposal. Yours truly a professional photographer form INDIA.

#114 Comment By HWZ On July 29, 2010 @ 5:42 am

I agree with you Michael, and the author and all professional photographers who support the author's view. While reading all comments what I can clearly see is that it is not the author who presents a bitter view about the photography profession; it is the haters who are really bitter and I'll tell you why: They do not like to see the reality. They do not like to be reminded that they are not there yet. It makes them think that they are not good enough which is a feeling they want to hide from continuously since their confidence is very low as a photographer. You'll find them eager to review your photography so that they can criticize it and prove to themselves that their own work isn't that lacking in quality. They're not defending "free" or "work for nothing", they're defending their lack of confidence in their photographic abilities and that's why sounding so bitter. And they will keep denying you (what do you expect?). It is a reality that most of the people who argue they support "free" or "work for nothing" because it will help build their portfolio, are those who have not even gone to any school and only been trying to learn photography and "look like a photographer" by trial and error. Since real paying clients don't and won't allow them to do trial and error with their money, they are big supporters of "free / work for nothing" ideology. Why I'm using both terms is many of these haters don't even know the difference between "free" and "work for nothing". Some of them really hate you for being a professional photographer but at the same time are quick to ask you "How" to do it.

The profession of photography has received much damage from the hands of these "trial and error, attempting, blaming-others'-work, I-will-do-it-for-free-because-I'm-smarter-than-all-professionals-who-are-fools-because-charge-money-for-something-I-can-do-for-free" types of people.

I tell you the reality: These are NOT professional photographers. period.

And I suggest the solution here (which the professionals should take seriously):

Define clear criteria to distinguish professional photographers from these "self proclaimed I-will-do-it-for-free" type people with cameras. Its like maintaining a policy that to be called a professional photographer you have to have X years of experience, including apprentice-ships/assistant-ship(s), certain knowledge of the photographic processes, basic business ethics and business awareness, and portfolio(s) as minimum requirement. It is the professional's responsibility to make such policies and have them implemented instead of just "advising" non-professionals to behave professionally (they will not listen).

If a doctor or a psychologist needs qualification plus licensing to practice why shouldn't a photographer do the same? The reason the non-professionals are damaging the whole profession is that there are no clear policies as to who can call themselves a photographer. That results in everyone with "any camera and a cheap computer" call themselves a photographer. Well believe me, to save the profession, you have to limit the opportunities of work to only the professionals. Haters are going to hate me even more for this, (should I care?) but that is how all other service-providing businesses work.

The analysis on part of the professionals for not having done that so far is that most are primarily concerned with doing what they are passionate about: professional photography. And like all artists, are busy creating art. But they should not let the nay-sayers take advantage of them or devalue their services. Form some international and national organizations, establish clear-cut policies, issue licenses or have the local administrations acknowledge professional photographers with licensing, raise your voice against "fakers" and discourage anyone who wants to take a short-cut onto calling themselves a professional.

To art loving photographic community, these might sound like very bizarre and biased suggestions, but they are actually real world practices of almost all organized businesses all over the world. No one becomes a doctor just by "practicing for free", they go to school and do placements and internships and never work for free.

Dear professional photographers of the world, if you want to be in a respectable and organized profession, you have to struggle to make it one. Don't just leave it at mercy of those always willing to steal others' dignity. Otherwise, professional photography will definitely see its downfall sooner than later.

#115 Comment By Tom On August 1, 2010 @ 6:12 am

What other professionals don't charge when they're just starting out? And when was the last time you asked or expected anyone to perform a service for free? Even a trainee gets paid minimum wage.

#116 Comment By Jeff Greenberg On August 1, 2010 @ 2:33 pm

Free sample = basic marketing technique.
Via mail, via coupon, via sidewalk handouts, etc.
(Starbucks, McDonalds, art museums, events)
All in the name of future sales.

#117 Comment By Greg E. Mathieson Sr. On August 2, 2010 @ 9:56 am

When your a multi million dollar corporation like Starbucks, McDonalds and others you can afford to hand out "free samples" but they are costing pennies and coming out of a marketing budget tied to a marketing plan for making money. Your not Starbucks or McDonalds. Try calling up your power company, water company, phone company, insurance company, bank, mortgage lender, camera store and ask anyone of them to give you services for free and see what they say. Enough said. If you say no, it means your in business. If you say yes, then your a student or hobbyist and not looking to be a professional.

#118 Comment By Shad On August 2, 2010 @ 11:29 am

Ok, this has really struck a nerve with a lot of people. There are many views out there and one should really take it or leave it. I have been a "professional" photographer most of my life.(I'm 45) I still don't understand why so many shooters are so stuck up. I got over myself years ago. It's a business, it's a hobby, its a creative outlet and anyone can do it if they love it and keep at it. For years all the how to books and "pro's) said offer to shoot for free (they pay for processing) to get some experience. That advice has been around for ever. There comes a time when YOU CHARGE. In see no issue here, just don't take for ever to do so. If your great and you shoot for free more power to you,just remember while your shooting for free everyone else will be enjoying the wedding you too were invited to. I stop shooting family and friends weddings period. I want to enjoy myself too. Bottom line do everything and anything to get your work and name out there, just don't go broke trying. Have a goal, a plan and keep at it. We shoot shoot for ads all the time, don't forget to advertise yourself. Competition will always be there so stop complaining and start competing. Digital has change the world in which I live and grew up on , but it has really help out in ways I didn't think possible. It's easier and cheaper. Just a point I shoot film as well and charge a whole lot more for it because....well they'll will pay for it. So keep yourself flexible.

#119 Comment By Demon Lee On August 2, 2010 @ 2:47 pm

It continues..

I cannot speak for the meaning of 'Professional' in the U.S. but in the U.K. to call yourself a 'Professional Photographer', most Trade Organisations will require you to provide evidence that it is your trade, that at least 80% of your income is from your photography, that you hold Professional Liability Insurance etc etc...

I have a bit of a 'niche' market and can often sell a 'Limited Edition' Print in excess of £1K each, but I could not do that if I did not take my PROFESSION seriously and understood business acumen...

Over the years I have tried to help 'up and coming' photographers only to later see them attempt to quote my clients HALF of the price I charge. Luckily for me the Bulk of my clients know with me they will get what they want or more and are willing to carry on paying the price for it because they know their business benefits overall.

... and on a final note, for those of you asking why I will not tell you what I charge, it's because I see you as a competitor and will not give you the chance to undercut me... if you want to learn 'prices', there are enough Organisations that publish 'the going rate', do your friggin homework and stop expecting everyone to carry your arse around all your life...!

#120 Comment By Jeff Greenberg On August 2, 2010 @ 2:52 pm

"Author: Greg E. Mathieson Sr.
Starbucks, McDonalds...can afford to hand out "free samples" but they are costing pennies... Try calling up your...water company..phone company..camera store and ask anyone of them to give you services for free..."

1. pennies per person = hundreds of thousands $$$ per promotion -- they get it back plus much more
2. water companies offer free "green" showerheads in exchange for old showerhead; phone companies offer free phone, free months in exchange for 1 yr or 2 yr plan; camera companies offer free loaners for testing...

Photographers with common sense marketing skills may offer a "freebie" when there is reasonable expectation it will really be in exchange future $$$. If one is newbie, one should learn all about how to do it best -- just like any other skill.

Many pro photographers have no problem with using free interns -- where's the outrage from anti-freebie pros against this "in exchange for" strategy?
Many pro photographers have no problem with buying free lunch for potential clients -- IRS promotes it -- so where's the outrage from all the angry anti-freebies? Are they protesting by NOT taking business deductions...?

#121 Comment By Greg Mathieson Sr. On August 2, 2010 @ 3:12 pm

One may get a new shower head from the water company or a free phone from the phone company or even a camera loner, but odds are the shower head is cheap, the phone is the one they have tons of an trying to get rid of in that it's not the best and loners are for those that can't afford to have the equipment needed for their business, though there is rare times for that one special need and not worth the investment. But yet we believe in camera companies supporting those that support them. Yes, we buy a lunch or two and in many cases, the clients do the same. But we have yet to ever meet a client that wants something for free and then takes you to lunch. If they do, then the lunch is your payment and not worth taking. And with interns, I see students needing time for college credit, but you get what you pay for. Someone that needs to learn and may take time away from your business. There's a cost associated with everything in business and it's laid out in a proper business plan and budget.

#122 Comment By chrisP On August 4, 2010 @ 1:54 am

Hmm shooting for free for that "exposure", "experiance", etc.

I have shot new concepts/directions for people at a reduced rate, but not free. I always state the real rate for a shoot, then show the discount/trade involved.

I actually get more trade in kind on both services and product from those who want lower rates than what I am willing to do. Example, CS5 master Suite for Adobe emloyee price for a family sitting. Free labor on car repair, house install of solar panels, etc... Usage and Prints still at regular cost and stated up front, so no suprises to either side.

One client using this method had wanted a look that ultimetly failed, we tried 5 different looks/setups. In the end the final one won and was .highly successful. Counting all the trades, etc, income was more than equal to what straight pay would have been
Trying new lighting ideas? grab the rolodex with cool friends, clients, invite to a photo shoot party. All prints bought at regular price. Discount (small) on those sold on location, this feeds the impulse buy.
You want to learn how to shoot something, then assist with someone who knows how. get some real practical experiance, not book.

#123 Comment By Kelcey On August 10, 2010 @ 10:21 pm

I started doing photography when I was 15 and ALWAYS charged. Sure, I was far from great, but that's why I charged less than I charge now.
At first it felt like I should be shooting for free just to get some more experience, but I didn't want to fall into the trap of second-guessing myself constantly and the worth of my work. Overall, I'm beyond happy that I started charging even for my first shoots. You just gotta fake it til you make it!

#124 Comment By Susan On August 10, 2010 @ 11:56 pm

Hmmmm, I don't really buy into this. In very crowded markets you must build a strong portfolio. And it's just a fact that if you don't do some pro bono work you'll have a hard time.

You also fail to mention charities and non-profits: I've done a lot of shooting for no fee for many local rescues and shelters and aside from the satisfaction I get, I get referrals that pay. Giving is good business, and developing a reputation as someone who is not driven solely by money can only help your business.

#125 Comment By Brandon On August 11, 2010 @ 1:30 am

I would think that if a person slapped the title of photographer under their name and set a fee for that service without 1 photo to their credit as an example of their ability they probably arent getting very many jobs offers. Perhaps the trick is to build your portfolio by whatever means and then simply know when to say no to free shoot requests. Photographers who do not get paid for their services are most likely too mediocre to do so anyways and the only people that should be upset by this are other photographers who also aren't good enough to make any money from that line of work. A good photographer will make money no matter what. If people want average photos from amateurs for free then so be it. If they want quality work, they know they will have to pay for it.

Also, I am not a photographer, I am a wardrobe stylist and it has been my experience that although photographers may frequently scoff at free shoots they are also often the first to ask for free services, such as wardrobe. Photographers frequently request "test shoots" which is basically saying that they do not value your profession or find you vital. It is an insult. If the photography community is so concerned about being "undercut" by some of their own offering free services, it might be nice to give that same respect to all the others involved in creating their art.

#126 Comment By Michael P On August 11, 2010 @ 3:08 pm

First off, I will state outright that I am an aspiring photographer and not YET a true professional. I don't earn a living from photography. Truth be told, I'm the "IT guy" described in John Harrington's blog post, except that I'm not so naive. I actually think John Harrington is an incredibly knowledgeable person in regards to the photographic industry and should be respected as such. I've purchased and studied his book, Best Business Practices for Photographers, Second Edition; it has made me aware of so many things I would never have even considered about the business side of photography. I think that, the technical and artistic aspects of photography aside, anyone who would call themselves a professional photographer ought to do everything in their power to have a firm understanding of the business side or hire someone who does. I feel that this is essential and cannot be neglected if one wishes to have a sustainable presence in the industry. This is what your favorite pro would say.

So, with that said, I UNDERSTAND and RESPECT what many of the "pro-pay" photographers are saying--especially those photographers who are earning a good living from their work. Nothing succeeds like success. I agree that, as a general principle, a photographer, be they amateur or professional, should not work for free if approached by a potential client. I'm sure that there are valid exceptions to this rule, but, as others have stated, most any other professional who provides a valuable service would not render it for free (unless it were for charity, perhaps), the moral being--"if your services are good enough to be solicited, then they are also good enough to warrant compensation." No argument there. I get it 100%. It's the law of prosperity--he (or she) who would become rich must in turn enrich others. Just think about it--the only reason anyone earns money from *any* occupation is because of the value it provides. I'm not saying that the "pro-free" or "pro-cheap" photographers are wrong, but I do know that free and cheap are not sustainable business practices unless you're operating on a mass scale (e.g., Wal-Mart). It's safe to presume that none of the "pro-free" and "pro-cheap" photographers hope to reach that scale.

My stance on the matter is this--and, again, bear in mind that I'm the IT guy Mr. Harrington describes. I agree that there are the bottom-feeders who will charge little to nothing for their work. I do not feel that people for whom charging little to nothing is a long-term strategy are cause for concern for a respectable professional in any field; if your work is really of professional quality, then you are NOT in contention with the bottom-feeders by virtue of the quality of your own work and the fact that, again, free and cheap will not sustain a business on the micro level. If there were a way to take what Annie Liebovitz does and make it free and cheap, well, then the industry would be doomed. But that likely won't happen. So, good work still commands a premium. As others have stated, the clients who seek out bottom-feeders are not the same clients who will solicit your services because they already know that they can't afford you. Even if this sort of client were to seek you out, you'd likely turn them away because you know the value of your own work and also know that these would-be clients cannot afford its cost. Summa summarum: a good professional photographer probably doesn't attract clients who can't afford them in the first place.

So, if you're producing professional quality work, I presume that you are probably not in contention with bottom-feeders.

Well, I'm not a professional photographer but also feel that I'm not in contention with the bottom-feeders, either. Nor would I count myself among them.

I don't work for free in the sense that I am approached by would-be clients and agree to render my services for nothing. It's quite the opposite. I approach models, many of whom have professional experience working with major brands, and experienced makeup artists and request that we collaborate. There's no exchange of cash and, to be sure, I am the one who initiates and coordinates the entire shoot, the purpose being to build my portfolio. I may even come out of pocket for things like wardrobe or set design, but that's because it's *my* vision that is being persued. I have vision, know my goals, and will NOT sit idly waiting for someone to hire me to produce the type of work I'd like to see in my portfolio. This is radically different from being approached by a client and being asked to shoot for free. The modeling agency doesn't call me up and say, "Hey, Michael We need you to shoot some portfolio images for the new talent we've recently acquired. Could you do it for free?" No, *I* peruse the agency's talent, handpick the models with whom *I'd* like to work and who would benefit *my* portfolio, and then contact the agency, saying, "Is this person available for a shoot?"

Q: Who selects the model?
A: I do.

Q: Who chooses the shoot's theme?
A: I do.

Q: Who picks which and how many images are produced from the shoot and in what format they are delivered?
A: I do.

Q: Does cash change hands?
A: No, but then, no one's making any money and the shoot is mutually beneficial to all parties involved--the model; the makeup artist; and myself, the photographer.

Q: If the agency contacts me to shoot their new talent, would I charge?
A: I sure would.

Why do I do it? Precisely because I'd prefer not to be in contention with the bottom-feeders. Nor, for that matter, am I aiming to be a middle-grade photographer. I want to shoot a specific type of photography, working for a specific type of client. I want my work to be regarded as boutique and know that, just as shooting for free won't help me reach my goal, neither will shooting anything other than what I choose and self-assign get me there.

Pro photographers--Keep pushing! Enhance your craft! You're actually not in contention with the bottom-feeders, because your work distinguishes itself as professional grade and is likely inimitable by the likes of rank amateurs. But know that you're not in contention with guys like me. Truth be told, just as you probably wouldn't want the type of client attractive to bottom-feeders, I probably wouldn't want the type of client attracted to many of you, precisely because my goal is clear. And, make to mistake about it, I do intend to be compensated--and WELL.

#127 Comment By stephen On August 11, 2010 @ 3:58 pm

@Peter from artphotoonline.com

Wow. Insulting Louis Torres like that? Your stuff is just as average.

#128 Comment By Lou On August 11, 2010 @ 7:08 pm

The key point you are missing is there is a “friend economy” that exists. Friends fix your fence, watch your dog, and pick you up at the airport. In the process they take away business from fence builders, pet sitters, and taxi drivers. If I want to take free photos for friends I do it because I want to, not because I have to.

If my “product/service” is equal to a pro then the pro better find a new line of work. (In addition, I don’t have to pay business taxes, lie about income, get a business license, or stress about an audit)

#129 Comment By Jennifer On August 11, 2010 @ 10:59 pm

For those "starting out", it should be shown to clients that you will have a TEMPORARY discount. Figure out your pricing structure, (I recommend reading "The Lucrative Photographer" to help with that) Then offer a limited percentage off of your pricing. This is how I and many others I know of have done it. I even started to low to begin with and once ready to charge more (and that happens very quickly!) you have to keep raising your prices and then marketing to a whole other market of clients. It's a lot of work and very frustrating. You also realize how quickly your time is worth when you don't have much of it left and people waste it.

#130 Comment By Paul On August 12, 2010 @ 7:50 am

While I agree for the most part, a majority of these type of rants, be it for photography or writing for publications, is centered around established photographers/writers trying to protect their interests, because they know anyone willing to take photos or write for free will be "hired"/used before a charging professional. So don't be totally fooled by articles telling newbies they shouldn't sell themselves short, because sometimes being able to undercut an established photog/writer works as an advantage. If you're starting off, offer a discount or say you're willing to work the first job for free on the agreement you will be paid an established rate for a guaranteed second job and builds rapport with an employer.

#131 Comment By Alexandra On August 12, 2010 @ 9:36 am

You kind of just sound like a super douche. Congrats.

#132 Comment By Art On August 12, 2010 @ 12:29 pm

Then there was the studio owner A who gave a bride a $300.00 discount.
When studio owner A sold to owner B, the sister of the previous bride came in to talk about her wedding. Since owner B would not GIVE AWAY his work for $300 off, sister storms out in a huff.
Proof that a referal from free work is worth more FREE work.

#133 Comment By Carlie Parfitt On August 13, 2010 @ 5:30 am

educate me.

#134 Comment By aaron On August 13, 2010 @ 12:04 pm

I think is not polite to say that you have to grow balls..... if you really want to make a living of photography nothing will be for free....

Even those guys that do it for free, they dont realize that all his or her equipment has cost thousands of dollars and where that money come from huh!!! there's always a cost.... :) happy hunting......

#135 Comment By Paul On August 13, 2010 @ 3:35 pm

I'm afraid the cry of "what do I do I'm new" just doest hold water as an argument. If the argument goes...
"I haven't done it before so I cant charge" Then follow it to its logical conclusion in other jobs and professions.

3 Examples

1 -Bus Driver
would give him (or her) Bus and passengers, pay no wages and say "get on with it Ill pay you when you can do the job"

2- Lawyer
let them try Death penalty cases and only pay when he/she considers themselves competent enough to ask for a fee

3- Soldier
Hand out out a weapon, ammunition, some grenades, a bayonet and uniform saying we will work out what we owe you if you make it home

Up coming Photographers. Do what every other person does.... get some training then act like a professional and charge for you're work.

"Intellectual Property is the oil of the 21st century" Mark Getty, chairman of Getty Images.

Remember every picture you take is you're Intellectual property why give it away, you wouldn't give away an oilfield if you owned one would you?

#136 Comment By johndoslensos On August 13, 2010 @ 6:13 pm

I want to be a New York hotdog vendor. I see them in films all the time and think they look really cool - they always get to chat to pretty girls on the street and personally I think they must have a rich wonderful life full of interesting characters and fleeting flirtations.
I don't feel confident enough just yet though to actually live the dream, so first off I'm going to hang out on the street near the other hot dog guys. Maybe they'll give me some tips. Then I'll use my IT job wages to buy a cart. I can't pitch it in the street without the permit but my boss has said that if I cook all the food for the rest of the staff at company events then he'll supply the food and let me make hotdogs!!! I don't charge him of course...I'm not convinced that I know how to make THE perfect hotdog just yet. Oh, the guy that used to be paid to do the events has just had to close up his pitch on the street because the events used to enable him to pay for his stock in bulk. Once I get enough experience I'm going to start working his old pitch. And I'm sure my boss will start paying me to do the events by then, simply because I'll make the absolute BEST hotdogs. It's not like he would just try to get another amateur dogger like I am now, I mean how could he - I'm unique!


I want to be a hotdog vendor because I think it's cool etc. I'll ask the guys how they got there, if they need a part time guy, I'll check it out online and get proper advice. Then I'll weigh it up and decide if I should leave my decent paying but unfulfilling job. Maybe it will be worth it to pursue my dream. In that case I will make sure I learn the business sense to make it happen. Otherwise I might be better off buying a hotdog cart with my savings and have great parties for my family and friends without the pressure to succeed in business.

That's how these things happen; rightly or wrongly.

#137 Comment By Alexandra Giamanco On August 14, 2010 @ 10:11 am

To: "Michael Epperson said:
July 13th, 2010 at 12:43 am

So, what do you suggest a photographer to do when they're just starting out and have very little experience? Charge no matter what (even though you're not a "Pro" yet)?. It's kind of a catch 22 situation."

This is simply NOT true...or should NOT be....photography is a VISUAL ART! You can see it, it doesn't matter if you're new or 40 years in the business, pictures don't lie. If you want experience then work as assistant, NOT advertise or do gigs as a "photographer".....dentists are in the same boat, a crown is a crown is a crown either coming from someone new right off college or someone that's been in the business for 40 years! the end result is something that you CAN SEE/USE.

We as photographers create CONTENT, that CONTENT is used in advertising, marketing, to promote SOMETHING....OR to CREATE ever lasting MEMORIES for people......There is no short cut in our business, once you click that shutter poof...same picture can be taken by 10 photographers, the ones who will stand out will be seen right away...Nothing you can hide. Either you're good or you're not.

"Being new" has nothing to do with price schedules...NOTHING. People can SEE your work. Plus, who goes around and tells customers they are new and are looking for "experience"??? if I were your customer I would NOT want to take a chance with my "memories" at all.......you don't get experience on people's events, THEY NEED those photos to be perfect......you get experience on your own, on your family, your own kids, then you go out and take photos of others....when you're comfortable that you won't screw up...that's why I said, if you want experience you work as an assistant and see "what" the pro does! if you can't get an formal education.

When I started this as a business I re-searched MY market and what it can handle, as I didn't want to be the most expensive or the cheapest in my area. You do this when you want to open an accounting office, law office, advertising company etc etc etc ....you can't charge Washington DC fees in Lutz, Florida.....your clients are NOT the same in these cities....when you price you have to be competitive, but that doesn't mean CHEAPER than others...competitive by what YOU offer different than others, maybe a different package, a different concept, something that will set YOU apart from the rest, so when ppl call YOUR studio they know they'll get something they won't anywhere else...........

PHOTOGRAPHY doesn't have to have the "pay the dues" theory at all......IT IS VISUAL....ALL VISUAL.......if people LIKE what they see they pay, period, like with Italian shoes.

If you work in the Mall at Picture People then sure, pay your dues, start at the counter and work your way up to photographer..............IF YOU ARE INDEPENDENT then YOU MUST have a great product to offer and not some elevated point and shot stuff and undercut the pro's!!!!!! That's it.

#138 Comment By Darrel On August 14, 2010 @ 10:40 am

"Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures, the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge, has marked the upward surge of mankind..." — Gordon Gekko lives!!! Next time Special Olympics calls, I'm going to tell them to shove it!

#139 Comment By aj On August 14, 2010 @ 1:11 pm

How much did you get paid to write this ridiculous article?

#140 Comment By Matt Vanecek On August 14, 2010 @ 1:41 pm

The "wit" in the original post was a bit vitriolic. However, with respect to most of the content, I'm certainly not qualified to debate with somebody of John's stature, experience, and other qualifications.

However, I will rebut the point about corporate events. An IT pro (why just IT? What about Accounting? or Marketing?) taking pictures of a corporate event may or may not be looking to go pro. In any event, participating in such events provides internal opportunities for the photographer seeking to further his/her corporate career.

I'm an active member of my company's photo club. Our photo club gets calls all the time to photograph various diversity/inclusion events, town halls, etc., for the company. These are opportunities--not for furthering a photographic career. But rather, these are opportunities for exposure within the company, and a great chance for networking. We aren't just nameless faces behind a camera--we're fellow employees, and actually do get noticed. And the participation does have a real impact come review time, as community participation is almost always part of a company's review process.

Another thing: An employee shooting at a corporate event had BETTER NOT be posting those photos in a public forum!! You will be leaving yourself wide open to legal actions and job loss. Simply stupid--why would somebody do that?? Employees at corporate events understand they may be photographed and that those photographs may be used in corporate literature/corporate Web sites. Employees at corporate events For the individual photographer publishing those photos on a personal/business Web site or otherwise, you're bordering on charges of corporate espionage, and certainly privacy violation. DON'T DO IT! unless you can get written releases from the subject, and a written permission from your company's legal department.

Personally, I consider all photos I take at corporate events to be property of and copyright by my employer--work for hire, if you will. I'm sure any corporation's legal department would feel the same. I appreciate the networking, I appreciate that my name is being bandied about in high places, I appreciate that I can bring something I truly love to my workplace, please enjoy the product of my labor.

Oh, and I shoot for free on Photo Walks, and when *I* ask a particular person if s/he would mind letting me take some portraits of them, or if I show up at an event with a camera...

That is all...

#141 Comment By Robert Watcher On August 14, 2010 @ 11:33 pm

Unfortunately, the all-to-common sentiment "What are we supposed to do when starting out without a portfolio" and the presumption that work must be given away to get started or because we are not professional yet (your first paid job you will be a professional by the way - has nothing to do with abilities), is a seriously flawed attitude and business model that has created a monster in the photography industry - - - where there is now a glut of people with expensive and high spec'd cameras shooting assignments that would normally be providing paid professionals with their living. And any who have aspirations of making a few bucks after the first 2 or 3 free ones will find they will be so worried about not getting the next job as a result of the easy access people have to photographers who will be free or very cheap and give everything away for that, that they keep on in the same path. It is a no win situation.

For anyone who cares (which may be very few) - it is a path to destroying the incomes of many who have invested years, commitment, and much money to their craft and overhead of running a business or studio. Even seasoned pros are now giving into the pressure by reasoning that it is better to accept a lower price and get the job - than to not have the job.

Just a couple of observations from comments above:

In the good old days, most photographers got into the photography business by charging for their first assignments and every one after that. For the most part, we had to put a lot of effort into finding out what the local studio was charging and then may have stayed slightly lower than that to get the job - - - but it may have been a worthwhile compromise for the person hiring us based on their budget and their willingness to accept less experience. With each job, the fee charged was "upped" based on our increased experience and need for extra equipment.

For the most part - no one had samples to start with (unless you took a photography course at college). Samples were quite often test shots we had taken of family and the first paid jobs were essential to building the portfolio with "real working jobs". Yes that is - there is far more value in samples where people have taken a gamble and paid hard earned money for - - - than portfolios built from free jobs or working as a second photographer.

Thirdly was the comment about no pros helping noobees out - - - as if photographers who are now old time pros had access to the knowledge and experience of other pros. That seldom was the case and old time photographers were known for being tight lipped about their trade secrets and threatened by inquisitive photographers. Where as today, there are no more trade secrets - - - everything is an open book and accessible and either free on the web or can be purchased from the thousands of self professed experts in the field. That was not the case when I was building my business in the 70's, 80's and even the 90's.

For those noobees who are serious about getting into the photography business and wanting a little direction - - - please don't dismiss the valuable insight in this article. It is relevant if you have any intentions of not only making a living from photography, but surviving in the business for years to come.


#142 Comment By Peter On August 15, 2010 @ 9:26 pm

I don't work for free. I might have once or twice in college (sometimes you have to to build your portfolio). I own Mr. Harrington's book and I will be the first to say he has done a number of things to help advance good business practices in photography, and most of the advice given here is worth heeding. But, as with anything you read, you have to consider the source and the context.

Here's the thing. It seems as if Mr. Harrington and a number of other "established" photographers are used to a comfy life with good rates and are pissed off to give that up. Being a photographer now has a much lower barrier to entry and I think is becoming akin to becoming a writer in the sense of what the job is actually worth. Baby boomers need to just learn to deal with the fact that the ways of living in the past aren't sustainable (for most professions not just photography), and no smart photographer expects to do much more than feed themselves with their pictures. Because photography is so accessible, and there is actually a glut of "good enough" work that many people are looking for, have you all considered the fact that maybe the VALUE OF PHOTOGRAPHY HAS GONE DOWN? Listen, I don't want to hear that as much as any other photographer, but it's true. It's just economics. Supply and demand. There's much more supply right now and yes maybe more demand but I don't think it's keeping pace. I personally am happy to make pictures that people seem to see value in, and if the gig is crappy I walk away from it. I also don't make very much money and work other jobs to make ends meet but it's better than taking crappy photography jobs and putting more worthless imagery out into the world. I wasn't working in the 80's like some people were when it was much more of a process to bring a quality capture to life, but really guys, it's just not that hard anymore. Stop trying to convince yourself that it's worth as much as it's always been. Be happy to pay your bills and have a room to sleep in like the young folks you all seem so scared of and then maybe it won't all seem so doom and gloom.

#143 Comment By Naor Gamliel On August 16, 2010 @ 10:49 am

very well written and very well explained, it will surely help some people understand how this industry work and the way clients perceive us photographers

thank you very much

Naor Gamliel

#144 Comment By Jeff Greenberg On August 16, 2010 @ 5:15 pm

Free photos started photographer's path to fame:

"...he made deals with jazz clubs for access to rehearsals. In exchange, Leonard provided the clubs with marquee photographs..."


Check. Checkmate.

#145 Comment By Michael On August 16, 2010 @ 7:37 pm

@ Jeff Greenberg.

I went to school with one of Herman's daughters in the 1980s and met him on a number of occasions. He was a magnificent portrait photographer, and jazz was his thing. His passing is a great sadness.

But your comment, quoting part of the PDN obit for him and then finishing with the frankly rather infantile "Check. Checkmate", puzzles me. Unless I am misreading you, you seem to be using this as some form of definitive argument for those who think that working for nothing is the way forward. But you could not be further from the truth.

Read the quote from PDN again and then dig a little deeper for the truth: Leonard approached the clubs, not the other way around. Jazz was his passion, and he started photographing jazz musicians when he was studying at university. He was pursuing his own project. In the long run as people became aware of his passion and skill, the project pursued him and he started to make a living. But this is NOT working for nothing. He had his own project and he was working for access.

As his reputation grew he made a living from commissions from the jazz magazines and record labels. It was, initially, only a modest living, but when the work came looking for him, he charged. This is not, in anyway, "check or checkmate."

#146 Comment By National Photographer On August 17, 2010 @ 12:01 pm

An excellent post!
Lots of people ask about how to break into photography and that they have to do friends and family shoots for free.
Well no they don't, they should work with a pro who gets paid and see what really happens.

The simple fact of the matter is:
Your camera wasn't free,
Developing isn't (or your computer)
Insurance isn't free (many new togs get sued)
Your rent(home) isn't free.
Your food isn't free.
The travel/car/fuel wasn't free.
Servicing and upgrading your kit is not free.
The clothes on your back are not free.

Photographer can work on their own projects and if people see value (want) the photo's then they should pay for them. I know many photographers find it hard to put a value on their work, but this is because they have little to no business acumen and is a sure sign of failure.

My list of things that are not free should be costed for every photo shoot and every print.
I wrote this article about photography as a business:
I dont think that many people do listen or understand how to opperate a business and how to stay in business.

#147 Comment By Kimberly On August 17, 2010 @ 12:44 pm

I've been shooting for free and I'm fed up. I learned the hard way that it doesn't promote my business or my photography. Everyone expects free photography now, they don't even bother to hint at it and they get offended when I mention the session/image fees. I don't mind doing it for fun, my fun, because I happen to be at the beach with friends and I pull out my camera to get some great shots, but that's all from now on.

A connection sent this blog post to me, because, once again, I was trolling Craiglist for models to practice on. Never Again!!!

#148 Comment By Alexandra Giamanco On August 17, 2010 @ 1:34 pm

The "excuse" that "just because" all sorts of cameras are cheap and readily available does not stand a drop of water...because look at all the other industries, what? do you think there are no other apple computers? no accounting software?


If that's the case, then simply enough, kill all the photography schools and lets just lean on camera manufacturers to make cameras that do everything! maybe implant them in our heads too!

Photography is still an art, just because people choose to treat is as a commodity thanks to "human pride", and no other valid reason, that still doesn't make it a commodity. It would ONLY BE a commodity if, the gas to go to the photoshoot is free, photoshop is free, lightroom is free, computers are free etc etc etc....which is highly NOT the case! I wonder if Bill Gates would start going to work for free now that almost everyone has a computer, therefore a commodity! why should HE get paid?

You go and do your day job for free and then tell me how you liked it! there's plenty of competition in accounting too and graphic design, web design, music...writing...etc...neither of these disciplines are undercutting each other, why? because it takes time to create something of a value!

If you as a photographer don't value your own work, and feel the need to work for free, and are treating it as a "stupid, easy thing to do, anyone can" that means:

1. You're NOT a photographer
2. You have no self respect
3. You have no respect for this profession

so why would you even be allowed to carry a camera?
This has nothing to do with the 80, 70' and before...this is about WORK, If you get out of your house to shoot an event for a friend, you are WORKING, if you get out of the house to shoot your cousins wedding, you are WORKING! IF you have to get our of your pajamas and drive somewhere to photograph something for someone else other than YOURSELF, YOU ARE WORKING! WORKING FOR FREE IS CALLED SLAVERY! HAVEN'T WE ABOLISHED THAT AT SOME POINT ALREADY? WHY ARE WE BRINGING THAT BACK?!!???

I am sure Canon or Nikon gave you the camera for free too? right? or have you used REAL MONEY TO PAY FOR IT?

I fail to understand how you guys don't GET that!

#149 Comment By Alexandra Giamanco On August 17, 2010 @ 4:53 pm

actually, student get out of school (real photography schools that is like The Art Institutes, Brooks etc) come out WITH a portfolio created out of all the projects they had to do while in school etc...so, there's no reason for them to do anything for free.
A graphic design graduate also has a portfolio AT graduation time, also no reason to do anything for free!

#150 Comment By Kayte On August 18, 2010 @ 2:30 pm

I think part of the disagreement here comes from different photography specialties. In general, I would certainly discourage shooting commercial, corporate or editorial photography for free.

However, I have benefited greatly from both shooting for trade and shooting for "free" for causes I believe in. There are 2 caveats. 1 is that I only donate my time for causes I would support with my money. 2 is that I send an invoice when I shoot for free or at a discounted rate, delineating the actual value of the shoot, and the reason for the discount. So an invoice for shooting a non-profit event for free would include the same charges as shooting a corporate event, then have the entire total deducted as the "Kayte's pet charity discount" the "friend of Kayte" discount, or the "Jane Doe negotiated discount." That way, the organization knows what I really charge if anyone asks them, and the next event organizer for that non-profit will understand that if they are not Jane Doe, they may not get that same discount.

I get paid to shoot a lot of non-profit events. Many of the paying jobs have resulted from shooting initially for free for the same organization or a different organization.

The other thing about shooting for free (as opposed to trade), is that you should only do it if you can be happy giving that time with no expectation of return. Do it because you find the photography fun and challenging or because you support the person or cause you're shooting. That way, if it leads to more business, marketable shots, new friends...that's all bonus. And if it doesn't, no loss, no resentment for "failed" investment of time.

#151 Comment By sinisterpictures On August 18, 2010 @ 3:10 pm

Some togs will,
some togs won't
some togs need a lot of wonga,
while some togs don't

There is no answer to this conundrum because every situation and individual is different.

Some togs will,
some togs won't
some togs need a lot of wonga,
while some togs don't

#152 Comment By Russ MacDonald On August 19, 2010 @ 6:27 pm

The only reason us pros hate the free shooter is that we can see that our business will be threatened, either now or in the future when the noob gets his act together. That's also why pros don't want to help the noobs. Why help you competition?

#153 Comment By Michael Cockerham On August 20, 2010 @ 5:58 am

Russ, can I make it clear that you do not speak for this pro. I actively help new people coming into the profession, and I have no problem with the competition they represent - it will keep me on my toes, and that in the long run keeps me in business.

There is, though, another reason why helping others is extremely beneficial: photography is often a lonely and solitary business, and from time to time it is good to be able to ask a competitor in the name of professional support to help you out. Why would they do that if all you do is beat them back? Trust me, for respectable working pros there is enough work, and it is good to be able to rely on each other for support.

Near to where I am there is one pro who is very underhand when it comes to undermining his competition. He once came unstuck and needed help, and everyone told him to get lost. The others I have helped and they have helped me and we all get along in a spirit of mutual respect and friendly competition.

In summary, I do not "hate" people who shoot for free, it's just that they undermine the industry they profess to want to be a part of, and in the end, they will suffer as much as the established pros because of it. In fact, my preaching that they should be charging is in their interests as much as mine, so by telling them to behave in a business-like manner I am trying to help them now!

#154 Comment By Russ MacDonald On August 20, 2010 @ 3:19 pm


In the market I am in, I can assure you that it takes a lot more than being a 'respectable pro' to stay in business.

There is a major photography school here that churns out new photographers, by the hundreds every year. In fact, the number of new photographers that graduate each year is up by about 5x during this recession.

Unfortunately, they don't give the new photographers a plane ticket to leave town, so most of them turn right around and put up a Craig's List posting advertizing $200 weddings with a free disk with all the hi-res images. Some of them even advertize they will shoot for free to build their portfolio.

There are probably five times the number of photographers here that the market can support. Being the best photographer in town can only offset a portion of this problem.

The biggest problem is that the public has figured out that some of these new photographers are really good, and they come to me and demand that I lower my prices.

This has seriously impacted the amount that we can charge for weddings, and in this recession it has forced about 40% of the established pros out of business. I am charging less than half what I was in 2005 for an average wedding.

If this were taking place in your market, how would you feel?


#155 Comment By Michael Cockerham On August 20, 2010 @ 5:58 pm

Russ, you are right, it does take more than being a respectable pro - it takes having business sense.

London is not exactly the boondocks, and the market is massively oversaturated with would be photographers. Over the last few years there have been 10,000 per year graduating in the UK with some form of photography qualification, chasing in the region of 300-500 fulltime jobs. The problem is as real here as it is where you are.

Where your logic fails is "The biggest problem is that the public has figured out that some of these new photographers are really good, and they come to me and demand that I lower my prices." What you and everyone else in your area should be doing is busting a gut to make sure that the good ones get some business acumen and raise their prices, you should not be lowering yours - they will still get work, and make a lot more money in the process. The others, the ones who by definition are crap, will soon fall by the wayside.

I cannot understand why you are dropping your prices. There are many who have contributed to this post (and a similar one on LinkedIn) who have either steadfastly maintained their rates or actually increased them (myself included), and we are getting busier.

In the end, if you are doing this professionally, like any other business you have to calculate your costs of working, then add in your wages and a profit margin, and from that work out your rates.

If one does that, but doesn't earn a living it is possible that there is no demand for the services provided. Just because a person takes photos and charges, does not mean they have an automatic right to succeed - it can be that they are no good - so the business fails, just like in any other industry you care to mention.

What the "noobs" need to be taught before they are let loose, is how to run a business. Those that are good should charge properly and earn a living without being a threat to the good exisiting photographers. But those who are bad will fail, and the existing ones who are not very good will also fail when new better ones come along. That is simply business.

#156 Comment By Russ MacDonald On August 20, 2010 @ 6:52 pm

You can't understand why I'm dropping my prices???

In 2008 my bookings began a serious rapid decline and were half of what they should be by the end of 2008. If I hadn't done something, I'd be out of business and unemployed right now. By reducing my prices I managed to stabilize my business and save it.

I rewrote my business plan to address the lower/middle end of the market where I thought I could compete strongest against the noobs, and I was right. It's the high end business that has completely disappeared around here, the very business I used to depend on.

My competitors who refused to lower their prices or change their business practices are the ones who went out of business.

What the noobs 'should' be taught and what they 'are' taught are two different things. Unfortunately I have zero influence over that.


#157 Comment By Alexandra Giamanco On August 20, 2010 @ 8:05 pm

Russ, I have only one issue with your "format"...Adobe did not discount Photoshop, it is still $999/Upgrade $349

I don't see them lowering their prices...same applies here, we provide content, our content is used in advertising, print and web, graphic and web design to create brochures etc, ALL this in order to create more revenue for the client! I don't see architects offering homes for free! or $300 down from $300,000!

Value is value, if you produce value, you have to stay with the value, if you produced value and now lowered you fees, you also lowered the value of what you provide. It is that simple, if "YOU" don't value your own work enough and are not aware that you are in business to make money just like Jo Accountant, then indeed our profession will be eaten by amateurs with a day job!

Colleges and Photography school should definitely have an entire course on business and marketing, just like they do for every other business on the planet. Same applies.

#158 Comment By Michael Cockerham On August 21, 2010 @ 7:20 am

Russ, for a moment step back and look at what you are doing objectively, by which I mean, imagine that you were an outside investor looking at your business.

Now think about what you said: "By reducing my prices I managed to stabilize my business and save it." You said earlier that you are charging less than half what you did in 2005, but let's make the maths easy and say you have reduced your prices by 50%. That means that to "stablize and save your business" you now need to be shooting nearly twice as much as you were 5 years ago, and that would still result in your having an empirical (let alone real terms) pay cut. This does not suggest to me that you have stabilized or saved your business, it suggests to me that you are hanging on for dear life. What is you next move to stablize and save the business? Do you cut your rates again? In another five years will you be shooting four times as much to achieve the same ends? That is not a sensible approach to business.

You talk about the recession having pushed 40% of established pros out of business. The reality is that the recession is only part of the story. Some of those businesses were dying anyway through natural wastage and structural inflexibility. Some have gone to the wall because they were overleveraged and when the banks came calling they couldn't repay. Yes the recession has caused the market to shrink, but only to a minor extent, by which we are talking a few percentage points. But even if it were a ten per cent shrinkage, that would still leave 90% of the market actively seeking the work that established pros supply.

Anecdotely there was a move towards Uncle Fred and his camera before the recession struck, and the experience of many in that period was that it was a bad move. The more educated market was starting to realise that if you wanted a quality product you were going to have to pay for it, and there was a shift back to pros that was stalled by the credit crunch.

Now look at what is known about all businesses in recession: weak companies fail, while lean and efficient companies expand very quickly out of recession. Why is this? It is because the greatest business growth ALWAYS comes off the back of recession, not boom.

Let's suppose that prior to the recession you had a local market share of 8%, with the remainder of the market being split between 9 other established photographers and the freebie brigade. According to the stats you provided, and using my figures, 3.6 (call it four) photographers have gone to the wall. That means the market is now split between you and 5 others, plus the freebies. Even if we allow the recession to shift more of the market towards the freebies, in reality you should now have a greater market share than you had previously - your order book should be starting to grow. But wait, it isn't. Why not? Because the single biggest mistake that businesses make when they see recession looming is that they cut all "unnecessary expenditure", and the first thing they cut is marketing and advertising. The result? The increased market share that they should be enjoying doesn't know that they exist. If they were lean and efficient they may stablize and hold on, often by cutting their prices and appealing to the lower end of the market. If they were not lean and efficient, then there is a good chance that their business will fail too, and their market share will be carved up among the ones that survive. But those businesses that do the opposite and increase their marketing and advertising budgets grow very quickly, because they have more of the market to themselves, and the market knows they are there.

Before you say that this is all rubbish, I trained as an economist before I got into photography (20 odd years ago), and much of my interest was on the behaviour of business in recession. When I saw this one coming, I put my money where my mouth is and tripled my marketing and advertising budget. There was a lag of about 9 or ten months, but the effect now is that I am turning good work away because I simply do not have the time to fit it in.

My area is not dissimilar to yours, the professional photography industry is being decimated, partly by the recession, and partly by the massive oversupply of "photographers" willing to do it for nothing because they think it is a glamourous career.

The point I was trying to make to you is that the established pros have a responsibility to promote and support their industry, and that includes helping those who are starting out to do things properly.

I may be wrong, but whatever industry a person is in, if they get to the stage that they are working twice as hard for less reward, and they can't abide the idea of helping out those who are trying to get started, they have reached a level of jadedness that suggests they should be thinking about moving on to something more fulfilling themselves.

#159 Comment By Russ MacDonald On August 21, 2010 @ 1:27 pm

You have made lots of incorrect comments/assumptions throughout your post.

1) All of the photographers in my town who survived have lowered their prices too. All of those who refused to lower their prices closed their studios.

2) All of the survivors have less income now than they had previously. Some by a lot less. I have trimmed my costs and managed to be at somewhere around 70% of what I was to making prior to the recession. My bookings are about the same. Some of my competitors are doing better than that, some worse.

3) My bookings are beginning to increase now, and I am beginning to raise prices, and my profit is increasing. I intend to continue this process as long as the market will support it. However, the minute I see things turning back the other way I won't hesitate to lower my prices in response. That's the way capitalism works. You cannot stick your head in the sand and refuse to lower your prices on principle.

4) The low end bargain photographers have gained the most recently. Some of them are very good photographers, and the public has figured this out. Some are also very good business people who fully understand price elasticity (something you obviously do not). They generally have no studio, only shoot on-location, have no advertizing costs, live in a low cost apartment with no family to support, need minimal equipment, and they can make as much profit as I do while charging 30% less than I do. My only real advantage is that I have 30 years of experience and there are still a few customers who feel more comfortable working with an experienced pro and meeting in a studio rather than a restaurant or in their personal residence. Some do like to meet in their homes, and I will accomodate them, of course.

I don't want to be rude, but you and all other photographers who want to survive have to get away from this notion that good business practices do not ever require price reductions, and that you can charge whatever want.

When the market shrinks, like it has around here, only those who truly understand marketing and free enterprise capitalism will survive. Any lesser understanding amounts to just wishful thinking, and the market will take care of that in a brutal fashion just like it has here.


#160 Comment By michael On August 22, 2010 @ 12:34 am

You're confusing two very different reasons for doing things for free and ignoring a third. I agree that pro bono work is poor marketing. It does set the expectation for more freebies.

You're downplaying a very useful strategy for building a portfolio. It's part of the learning curve. Trading photos for free modeling time as you learn lighting is a good practice. Make your mistakes and get up to speed before you insist on your fee. WIthout the skill you'll quickly get a bad rep if you charge and can't deliver. Besides, barter is getting paid.

And sometimes you simply have to do favors for family. At least in families that believe in taking care of one another.

#161 Comment By Dave On August 24, 2010 @ 1:50 pm

Why do you hate so much? If I'm a hobby photographer who chooses to share some of my work with others, should I charge those people anyway, just so somewhere out there, a photographer won't come in contact with that person and be expected to provide free photography for 13 of their closest friends' neighbors' bar mitzvahs? Someone bought me lunch one time, I don't expect now to walk into a restaurant and receive free food, or for that person to pay for a meal for me every time I see them. if I hold the door for someone walking into a building, they never demand that I follow them through the rest of their day holding all of their doors for them, since obviously because I was gracious once, I must be perfectly willing to just freely give the rest of my time as well. My God, you are an angry person, and people like you take the joy out of being kind or even having a hobby that one just likes doing for fun, without the pressures of sales and marketing. When was the last time you enjoyed taking a picture? Just pure enjoyment, taking a picture, being proud of it and being perfectly secure with showing the world and saying "this is what I have done". Reminds me of a person I work with who designs tattoos, but so far, hasn't made a solitary penny off of it, because he doesn't believe people should be able to look at his artwork without paying first, and can't find a site that will display the work of an unknown, but charge for the privilege of actually viewing the images. Let your work sell itself, let it speak for itself, and if it possesses one iota of merit or artistic value, you needn't worry about amateurs "undercutting" your sales. Be a professional, and act like one. This is juvenile.

#162 Comment By Russ MacDonald On August 25, 2010 @ 10:44 am


I'm not sure who you are replying to, but I am not an angry person. I am a business person.

I don't have any problem with the hobby photographer who offers his work for free. When a client utilizes a hobby photographer, sometimes they will get good results and other times they will not. If they are willing to gamble, then they can always find someone willing to give it a go.

The photographers that have really hurt all of our businesses are the bargain photographers. The advent of low cost, high quality DSLRs have drawn lots of these types into the business. These are people who often possess a brand new photo school diploma, are single, live in a low cost apartments, and have no studio to pay for. That keeps their overhead costs rock bottom. But the real problem is that they are often very good photographers who have great portfolios. This is what is really hurting established pros.

This is forcing the entire photography business to change. The amount that the average photographer can charge is decreasing constantly. The survivors are the ones who change with it and cut costs and even lower their prices. The ones who don't, slowly lose busness until they go bankrupt.

You notice, I said 'average' photographer. I believe there will always be a few really great photographers who can and will hold their prices up in some markets.

But how many of us are in that camp? I certainly am not. My work is constant, very good but not great, I'm reliable, and I get along well with the clients. Does that mean I should hold my prices up and wait for the end? No, it means I am forced to change with the times.

I get a small premium for experience, but not much. The new crop of cients are smart. They are looking for lowest cost without sacrificing quality, and they realize that some of these new photographers are really good. So they search them out by looking at their portfolios and calling their references.

I believe the new bargain photographer is here to stay whether we established pros like it or not!

I will survive by making the best images I can, keeping my overhead as low as possible, living within my means, and by adjusting my prices as necessary.

I am not bitter or angry. This is free enterprise!

After all, who can be bitter about making a living, even a small one, by taking photographs? If I didn't need the income, I'd do it as a hobby myself!


#163 Comment By Maria On August 26, 2010 @ 9:01 am

I am quite late to this party, but oh well! BG: I am a 23 year old wedding, product and advertising photographer with a marketing & journalism degree. I have been working in darkrooms and studios for most of my life as my parents dabbled in photography for many years, picking up skills which I highly value.

I love what I do, I love meeting clients and I have successfully pulled off an extremely successful print ad campaign which has sparked literally hundreds of leads and given me enough full time work (with most clients having paid booking deposits) till the end of 2012. This would not have been possible without a mixture of a few things: Business & moderate-level legal expertise (a hugely overlooked quality in creative industries), catchy, targeted marketing and my ability to showcase my work, a good portion of which has been done pro bono (with the clients paying for travel expenses). Now that I have that portfolio and experience, I charge just below market rate for a competitive advantage. Pro bono work should not be discounted. No, it is not professional, but someone has to start somewhere. I wouldn't do free work for anyone now, but I would fully encourage it for fresh graduates. This doesn't devalue your work, your self worth -- none of that emotional crap. It says to people "Yes, I'm passionate about my art and I will do anything to be good at it, even though I'll charge you in the future."

Another point that's been brought up is working alongside a pro as an alternative to working for free. This isn't always a viable option. When I finished high school, my parents decided to ditch their hobby and I wanted to get some work experience with a photographer.... Nobody wanted to give me a chance as they didn't want to jeopardize the quality of their work on location as they trained Miss Noob. That's fair enough too. From the other side of the fence, I have encouraged students and upcoming photographers to come on location with me to shoots and all they've done is muck around and use their experience as an ego trip.

As evidenced by statements made in this discussion, the photography industry, as with any industry, is pretty dog-eat-dog these days and you really have to fend for yourself. As a service provider and an artist, I'm here to impress my clients, not to impress other photographers. I'm good at my job, I work extremely hard and am highly passionate about it..... other newbies are fully welcome to that feeling. As long as I stay on top of my game, I don't have to worry about people stealing my business -- if they are, I'm not doing my job right.

#164 Comment By Russ MacDonald On August 26, 2010 @ 7:57 pm


You are the new photographer I have been writing about.

You are good and you know it. You price yourself below me, and I am forced to respond in some fashion. Usually it means I have to reduce my prices to meet yours, since I've long ago trimmed all the fat out of my overhead.

I don't blame you, however, since you are doing exactly what I am doing; fighting to get your share of the market.

The photographers who don't understand this fight and don't learn learn to play this game will fail. And especially those who persist in the false belief that they don't ever have to reduce prices


#165 Comment By Lee On August 27, 2010 @ 1:12 am

I read this article laughing and with some disappointment with this guy. Everyone does what makes them happy, no matter what their craft is. So what if someone wants to offer their work for free to build a clientele or a name for themselves, it doesn't have to mean that they are always going to do everything for free it just means its a starting point. Nobody I have EVER met has ever told me they hate free, and don't for one second tell me that you aren't the first in line to try something new for free, cus you'd be a liar. Wether its artwork, knitting, music, photography or poetry we all need to get our stuff out there for people to see and if they like it the first time, and come back for more (just like in a sample aisle at the supermarket) they are going to have to pay.
I think your BS article is your way of getting your opinion out to us FOR FREE and I for one am not coming back for seconds...free or not!
Thank you to all the people out there that love what they do so much that the occassional freebie isn't out of line.
If your that worried about being undercut...maybe go back to school and work on your art, then people will be more than willing to pay the asshole money for his art.

#166 Comment By HWZ On August 27, 2010 @ 4:48 am

Dear Russ, I agree with the reality that you are talking about; but there is only one point that you are missing: regarding your belief that "The photographers who don't understand this fight and don't learn to play this game will fail".

And that is: The photographers who do understand this fight and learn to play this game will also fail. Not in terms of losing business; that they might manage to save through cutting down prices etc. But in terms of end results. If they keep on this trend, eventually they will fade out because there will be so little or zero business output in the end. Its like they say, that the problem with running in a rat race is that even if you win, you're still a rat. It takes a little more than one article to understand this idea completely.

#167 Comment By Russ MacDonald On August 27, 2010 @ 8:43 am


Yes, except only some photographers really know how to play the game. Lots of the ones who lower their prices without using sound business practices will also fail. The 'game' is much bigger than just prices. It's everything combined.

The ones who will survive are the ones who can apply good business practices to weather the storm. When they come out the other side, there may be a chance to increase profits. On the other hand, if the exiting photographers are replaced with more budget photographers, well, that's where the market will stay.


#168 Comment By Free Shooter On August 27, 2010 @ 11:30 am


It's MY camera... If I want to shoot pix and charge or shoot pix and give my pix away, it's MY choice.

Quit whining.

#169 Comment By Russ MacDonald On August 27, 2010 @ 11:59 am

Free Shooter,

You are obviously very immature. I hope you grow out of it someday.

#170 Comment By Jeff Greenberg On August 27, 2010 @ 7:13 pm

Photojournalists debating wedding photographers debating fashion shooters debating stock contributors.
Disjointed. Like listening to a schizophrenic.
"Photographer" is generic term covering many genres, realities, trade-offs. Hello...?

#171 Comment By YSW On August 28, 2010 @ 3:44 am

I do empathize about you losing business or having to cut down rates because of all these so called 'noobs'. but if u are losing out to these 'noobs', it means that u are a 'noob' urself.

Photography has changed..thanks to digital technologies. I remember started off as a kid with my first film SLR camera and how i got very much disappointed looking at my underexposed or blurred photos and the fact that it was almost impossible to go back to the same scene and re-shoot. Taking good photos those days require years of experience, dozen and dozens of films to get u there. Today, these co-called 'noobs' can simply view through the LCD or an attached laptop and readjust the exposure and recompose. To be frank, the photos shown in ur website can be easily taken by any of these 'noobs' given the same set of gears and lighting equipments u have.
don't believe me? take a stroll down Flickr and see for urself what these 'noobs' produced.
furthermore, we can even manipulate light with digital software now. so what if u know more about lighting than them?

the point is, not only u are competing with fellow professional photographers, u are also competing with these new amateurs and so called 'noobs'. photography has become a very popular hobby form all walks of life - cameras are flying off the shelves, photo sharing websites are blooming like mushrooms. we even have websites offering to sell ur photos for even $1! so, do expect more and more competition to come in ur way.

someone mentioned - u should go work as a pro's assistant to learn to shoot. why waste time dude?? the resources over the internet, books, magazines, workshops are almost unlimited. why learn from one pro photographer if u can learn from so many other pro photographers?
dont agree with me? go search youtube alone and see how much you can learn photoshoot and photoshop from there.

however, i believe that one thing remains unchanged - if people like ur works, they will be willing to pay for your expertise..regardless of your price. there are photographers who are even earning more than before..because they came out of their shells and saw those changes and make good use of them to their benefit.

#172 Comment By Demon Lee On August 28, 2010 @ 2:09 pm

@YSW - Your comments are insulting, photography has not changed, in order to produce great images, it still takes skill and imagination - not an LCD Screen and definately NOT software and that is where the bulk of the problems lay....

a photographer is not the owner of a camera, anyone can own a camera and they always have done, a photographer is an artist, a skilled person who earns their living converting light to an image, which is the meaning of 'photography' - 'Drawing with light'.

I shoot as much Film for myself and my clients as I do Digital but whatever I shoot, the images used come straight from the camera and NOT from some expensive piece of software because the moment you do that, it is NO LONGER A PHOTOGRAPH, it is simply an image...!

Now I don't disagree that cheaper digital cameras have introduced MORE people to photography, however, 90% of these are still producing 'snap shots' for their computers, MySpace, Facebook etc.

I stopped using Business Cards a few years ago and switched to 9x6 prints with my details at the base because people have forgotten what a high quality print looks like.. it works because:
(a) it is an example of my work,
(b) because people will NOT throw a nice print in the bin like they will a business card and
(c) they treat it more like a 'gift' rather than 'just' a picture.

I do work with young photographers, I won't work with 'noobs' as they appear to be called because the 'noobs' I have found are NOT interested in a career in photography, they are just interested in making a quick tax free '£' and I wonder how long it is before the IRS in the US and HMRC in the UK catch onto this black market tax evasion and start penalising them for their offences and demanding unpaid back tax.... not only are they denying the IRS and HMRC tax at the expense of other tax payers, but under-cutting other photographers, they are further reducing the amount of tax paid overall into the economy which does no one any good and it is partially THIS problem that helped lead to the current biggest recession the world has seen. The banks make a great scapegoat for the Governments and the Media, however as is seen in Greece where tax evasion is a way of life, this constant damage to industries will only end tears!

With over 30,000 people taking some form of formal education/degree in photography in the UK, less than 1% will ever earn a living from it - why? Because of market saturation, the appalling quality of work produced with little or no imagination etc... without an 'eye' for what they are shooting, whether they have a degree or not, a snap shot will only ever be a snap shot and not a photograph!

#173 Comment By mikedub On August 31, 2010 @ 10:08 pm

Great article! My thought is it's fine to do at least ONE free shoot with whatever kind of shoot you want to do (ONE for portraiture, ONE for editorial, whatever). That way when you ask for money, you can show that ONE shot to a potential client. You can't ask for money without showing anything!! BUT I agree, you shouldn't devalue the industry or yourself. Now if I can figure out HOW MUCH to charge...

#174 Comment By Celeste On September 1, 2010 @ 11:04 pm

great post, when I've done the occasional "free" photo/video shoot, I ALWAYS include an actual invoice stating what my services were and what the regular fee would be on a go forward. Doing this has worked out very well for me. Using an invoice shows professionalism and it's good to document it for business purposes.

#175 Comment By shukri On September 7, 2010 @ 5:51 am


It's MY camera... If I want to shoot pix and charge or shoot pix and give my pix away, it's MY choice.

Quit whining."

Truer words there never were. I found the tone of this article so annoying. You know what, I AM that IT guy who self-finances his work. I shoot for FUN. I've had plenty of chances to sell my work, but here's the thing : the business side just doesn't interest me. People who obsess over money ruin art.

#176 Comment By Jeremy On September 7, 2010 @ 11:36 am

I have to agree with many of the negative comments to this article. John has officially crossed over into the 'old schoolers' club.

The market has changed, it's a reality. But you can still make a living. You have to adapt your business model.

#177 Comment By Jeremy On September 7, 2010 @ 11:42 am

I have to agree with many of the negative comments to this article. John has officially crossed over into the 'old schoolers' club.

The market has changed, it's a reality. But you can still make a living. You have to adapt your business model.

There will always be people who shop for the lowest price. Those people aren't the clientele of professionals. Those who understand and respect what you do - those are your clients.

#178 Comment By Demon Lee On September 7, 2010 @ 1:34 pm

Actually, most of what people have called 'negative' comments are true and I will explain why.

I have never dropped my prices to compete with all those people that think they are photographers because they can buy a half decent camera and someone once told them the pic they took of the family at Christmas was so 'professional' because most of the public would never come into contact with a professional photographer or their work....!

The prices I charge means that I earn more in a day than some of these photographers earn working 5-7 days a week, they are fooling only themselves and making a rod for their back by selling themselves cheap...

The reason STOCK photography is now worthless is because people GIVE AWAY their copyright, they have never been taught or grasped the concept that some day when they can shoot no more, all the images they have taken over the years are their sole income via licencing and rights managed images.. at one time a respectable income could be earned this way in your twilight years, but now with stock images costing as low as a $1 you had better charge more and earn your money NOW because tomorrow will be too late...

New Photographers and those that like to think they are photographers who give their work away and/or sell it cheap have damaged the industry because in a competitive market, they did not learn that if they charged in the same way every other professional photographer has done for years and in line with industry rates, not only could (if they were good enough) give up their daytime job and work full time as a photographer, they could have earned money money with fewer days worked.

Now, as previous comparisons have shown, I own a very expensive set of tools, I can dismantle and re-build engines, but I am not a mechanic, nor would I try and charge for assisting a friend or colleague sort out a problem with their vehicle, I am not skilled, qualified or insured to carry out such work... if I company I was working for asked me to service their fleet of vehicles, I would not do it, so why do we get people carrying out photographic needs of the company when their job function is that of an IT Professional, Administrator, etc...

Yes, Digital Photography has changed the 'market' but a PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHER will always be a professional photographer, so if you use a 'mate' or 'colleague' or 'friend' of a 'friend' to take photographs at your wedding, for your business etc, don't go crying to the courts for compensation or relief from having to make payment as you got what you paid for... you pay peanuts, you get monkeys and that is true for any business.

Well all KNOW that CHEAP or FREE means that the service or goods you are buying is NOT the real thing, it's like buying a fake Rolex from one of the dodgy e-mails we all get from time to time - it is NOT the photographers that need educating, it is the Public, The Picture Agencies, The Stock Libraries etc, all of whom are building their business on a false foundation.... give it a few more years and watch it all go pear-shaped as it will......

#179 Comment By Dave On September 7, 2010 @ 2:27 pm

Photographer: n.
One who practices, or is skilled in, photography. Thats it. Not "one who is certified and licensed and bonded to set up a storefront business selling their photographs for a price acceptable to any or all other professionals." You're assuming that none of the people who are these photographer-cousins/aunts/best friends have any training compared with a professional photographer. Some do, and they have chosen to offer their services for a lower price...I'm also a chef. I went to culinary school, received extensive training and have plenty of experience in the food service industry. I cater people's weddings, grad parties and retirement parties. I do it for ass-dirt cheap. Is it because I want to personally put a caterer out of business? No. It's because I can, and I do and I will.

Where do you get this insane and bitter idea that anything inexpensive is not the "real thing". Have you ever bought anything on sale before? Or does that not count? You're like a person who goes shopping, but decides to have their chariot bring them back when the thing they want is not on sale for the price that the peasantry can afford. Cheap, is cheap. Inexpensive is your lucky day. Quit confusing the two.

Just keep taking photos, charge what you want for your services, let me charge what I want for my services. The people who can afford the services of a high-end charging photographer will go to that person, because they would anyway. The people who are out of money after paying for the wedding dress and the minister would not have been able to come to you in the first place, so you're not losing a potential customer; they'll come to me, and I'll cater their wedding and photograph them, and it will look and be very professional as it always has. And none of them have ever taken me to court for being dissatisfied, or vice versa (for non payment)... I don't know what kind of friends and acquaintences you have, but I'd stay away from them.

#180 Comment By Russ MacDonald On September 7, 2010 @ 2:44 pm

To Demon Lee,

You are exactly who I have been talking about.

If it weren't for people like you, I would probably be out of business. Fortunately there were lots of photographers around here who were too blind to see what was happening. They held their prices up.... and they are all gone now.

I started out with premium pricing, but I lowered it, and I survived.

As Ronald Reagan used to say "facts are stubborn things".

One fact is that there are fewer and fewer clients who are willing to pay high end fees.

Another fact is that you are wrong when you say "you get what you pay for" There are a LOT of excellent, young, inexperienced photographers who bought a DSLR and started a low end wedding business. The thing that you don't seem to realize is that many of these new photographers do just as good a job on a wedding as an experienced pro. And they charge pennies for it.

The industry has changed, and only the smart will survive.

You better open your eyes, or you will be looking for another line of work.


#181 Comment By Dave On September 7, 2010 @ 2:47 pm

alexandra: "working for free is slavery"? Really? Has the business world made you so angry and jaded that you have forgotten the word volunteering? I looked out my window at the Habitat for Humanity workers rebuilding portion of a neighbor's home destroyed by a tornado, and just thought, wow, where is their master? I hope your life has been satisfying to you by the time you reach your last days, because mine will be...I can look back and say that I'm proud of my work, proud of the art that I got paid for, proud of the art I didn't, proud that I was a well respected member of the community, who never had a problem donating his services, product, or time to promote my work, while helping the community at the same time. I'm done with this thread, so many embittered people on here, you all need to seriously take a look at whether you enjoy your work anymore, or if it's just a task for you. Sad, pathetic, and unfortunately representative of way too many industries these days. This is a big reason why so many other countries hate capitalistic America, this is the general impression they get of us! Good luck to you all! Make lots and lots of money, maybe if you stack it up high enough, you'll reach Heaven at the same time as the other people who learned a little grace. To the ones who are like me, keep your cameras ready, and keep appreciating your art!

#182 Comment By Alexandra Giamanco On September 8, 2010 @ 11:07 am

"FREE" won't pay the bills...business or otherwise...sure, do it once in a while for an existing client AFTER they paid for several shoots.... but don't start your business offering "free" shoots etc, that's going to get you very poor....IF you plan on making a living from Photography, (it only works in less than 000.5% of cases globally) if not, you will get me poor because now MY clients are going to twist MY HAND to work for FREE because YOU did and they got word..........................................dumbest thing I ever heard! how about you do your day job for free and see how you pay that mortgage! or buy another lens! or upgrade photoshop....etc etc etc

#183 Comment By Alexandra Giamanco On September 8, 2010 @ 12:14 pm

When expensive camera owners will understand that just like as "we pro photogs" don't overstep our boundaries and offer car mechanic work to every neighbor just because "we know how too", or accounting services, because well, "we are doing that for our own business so might as well".... and undercut the car shop in the corner of the street, or the H&R Block in some shopping plaza........they too, need to understand that "fair competition" can only happened between the same kind of people, you don't see Publix advertising deals for auto parts! cheaper than Pep boys!!!!!! because they too can buy those just like Pep boys!!!!!!!......"I" the pro photog will not compete with a licensed/educated accountant, nor a car mechanic nor a space shuttle engineer....I don't care if they have talent or not....this is not about the talent anymore, this is about business and just like the "accountant" opened up shop and set up his/her own rules about how that shop will be ran.............................SO ARE WE!!!! I am not competing with someone that has no idea what "licensing" is, or what the copyright is for........etc

I really feel like if we explained all this to some occupants at a zoo, they would have understood by now!

It is a LOT harder to admit you're overstepping someone's boundaries and be completely oblivious to everything that doesn't affect you personally....than to open you eyes and look around you and do some re-search on how this business is supposed to be ran!

I will say this again, there is nothing wrong to offer a shoot for free for an existing client, that already paid for shoots....it is also OK to shoot free for Habitat of Humanity or other legitimate charities...however, offering this type of work for free for the hell of it, just to be spiteful, or feel good for 30 minutes, is really really foolish, especially when you're hoping it will "lead" to more PAID work! 1 in 300 million people if that, might get that to happen! so, I guess when this works it makes people feel pretty special! hmmmmmmmm and also defensive! still unable to see passed their own nose!

#184 Comment By Demon Lee On September 8, 2010 @ 1:44 pm

@ Dave..

Dave, yes mate I buy things in Sales, a sale is when something is offered at a lower price for a limited period of time, normally because it is out of season, out of stock, a second etc....

Photographers having a 'sale' all year round are either taking the piss out of every other tax paying member of the public because it is not their primary income, or because they have not learned a good business model or because they are not worth paying any more money....

#185 Comment By Demon Lee On September 8, 2010 @ 1:50 pm


Russ, I am not keeping you in business, as an established professional photographer I choose my work and my clients very carefully, I want to have the very best clients that know and understand that quality comes at a price, so does experience.

No photographer who is any good as a photographer and who understands business needs to lower their prices to compete, if you have to lower your prices then your clients weren't right for you, take some PRIDE in your work.

The trouble is with the world today is 'instant gratification', I love it when a client contacts me and asks if I can shoot 6x6 Transparency or Film because I KNOW that this client UNDERSTANDS photography and understands also that the images will not be burned onto a CD by the end of business that day.

I do shoot Digital as well for certain 'lower' end jobs, but heck, I don't give the images or my time away free or cheaply, I would rather NOT work and wait for the next job. I have a respect for my fellow professionals, my mentors over the years and those photographers that inspired me...!

#186 Comment By Russ MacDonald On September 8, 2010 @ 3:10 pm


You obviously didn't read a word I wrote did you?

Let me repeat what I said in simple terms:

All the photographers in my town who did not lower their prices went out of business! Most of them were established pros, really good ones, with 10 or more years in business.

They simply did not understand free enterprise.

That is a fact!


#187 Comment By Demon Lee On September 8, 2010 @ 5:36 pm

Russ, of course I read what you wrote, just because other photographers gave up and closed shop, does not mean that we all have to, some of us have the balls, business sense and skills not to worry about such stories - Woolworths went bust, it does not mean that Tesco's, Morrisons, Sainsbury etc will follow suit.

This is my third recession, I have seen major changes in the Industry before, so you adapt to the market to suit YOUR skills and clients.

I have a bit of a niche market, I am not into 'general' photography, I don't do weddings, I rarely photograph 'families', product shots etc, so I leave all that to those that want to cut their own throats to stay in business, because if you are not making at least an average of 35% over your trading year, then the business is unsustainable.

You run your business the way you want and I will run my business the way I want, I have been in business 27yrs Russ and last year just from the Events side of the business which is VERY COMPETITIVE, I sold just over 12,000 prints at an average of £7.00 each! This does not include the commercial work I do.

I will repeat what I have told many Junior Photographers over the years, if you set yourself a low target, you will never fail to achieve it. If you think you have to compete on price, then you are either not looking at the business correctly and your costs etc, or your work doesn't justify asking for more... I don't know where you are located, but in the UK there are 100's of 1,000's of business's and if I can't find a few that want and need quality photography and are willing to pay for it, then I will retire and let the noobs kill their own industry.

Example - Long Term Client last year asked me to work for less on a job, I refused and explained they are paying not only for the quality of my work and the experience, they are paying for my eye. They could not see it and used a 'noob' instead that charged them £100 a day for an 18 day shoot and gave them copyright.

At the end of the shoot when they got the images, those that had not been over photoshopped were worthless with no imagination and no thought about what the client would use them for... too late, the shoot was over and not a single image was used!

Their next shoot was a 30 day shoot throughout June for which I was contracted at my rate on my terms and even before we finished the shoot, they had decided on one of the pics for a poster. Since the shoot finished, one of the images has been selected by the RPS for the International Projected Image Exhibition 2010 giving the client ADDITIONAL worth and exposure for no additional cost...

As I said, you get what you pay for and you earn what you think you are worth.....

I have never seen a Garage open and offer FREE servicing to get 'experience' or because they can!

I have never seen a Solicitor open an Office and offer FREE servicing to get 'experience' or because they can!

I have never seen a Book Keeper or an accountant start in Business and offer their services free either....

On a final note, I know there are many that have a full time job and turn into a photographer in their spare time, but I have yet to meet a true professional photographer working full time that turns into something else in free time...

#188 Comment By Russ MacDonald On September 8, 2010 @ 11:35 pm


I have been a professional photographer since 1963 and have been managing or owning my own studio since 1995. I know how the business works and how to survive. I shoot weddings, portraits, and events.

The photographers around here that closed their businesses were all in weddings and portraits. They thought they could hold their prices up until one day, the bottom fell out, and they just didn't get any more of those premium customers. Their customers came to me, because I did lower my prices when I saw what was happening.

Now, I am beginning to raise my prices back up. I still have my business and my studio - and far fewer competitors!

You are lucky to be in a niche that allows you to hold your prices up. I guaranty that around here you would not be able to do that.


#189 Comment By Teddi B On September 15, 2010 @ 5:59 pm

This is a great post! And not just for photographers either.. anyone who works a trade for free needs to read this article. I do web programming and I was reading these thinking "wow, I've used that excuse before"....

Thanks for this eye-opening look at the cost of doing free work!

Teddi B

#190 Comment By Dan Hubbert On September 22, 2010 @ 8:52 am

I started writing a response, but it got kind of wordy so I did my own blog piece. If you're interested you can read it here: [13]

#191 Comment By Scott Baradell On September 22, 2010 @ 9:32 am

Readers are also welcome to submit their response in the form of a guest post for Black Star Rising. Submit your post to scott (at) blackstar.com

#192 Comment By Dave S On September 22, 2010 @ 3:54 pm

This is totally moronic. Why do you care about kids shooting Facebook portraits? Do you want that work? I know I don't.
I'm a working print journalist with pretty vast experience and extensive (well paid) bylines in the best newspapers in the English-speaking world. I'm currently studying an MA in documentary photography at what's widely acknowledged as one of the best schools, probably the best school, in the UK. I know the value of my work, both written and visual, and I charge for it - as much as I can possibly get when it comes to corporate organisations.
I have just come back from a paying job in Palestinian refugee camps. During my time doing this job, I met a number of musicians and artists doing great things in really trying circumstances, all of whom had virtually no money. Several asked me to shoot them (which, in most cases, I would have asked to do anyway), asking if they could have the images for websites they were setting up, documentation to back up applications for NGO funding, and one to support his application for a temporary passport in order to extend his children's music workshops into another refugee camp in a neighbouring country. Did I charge them? Don't be an idiot.

#193 Comment By john doe On September 22, 2010 @ 6:39 pm

You are moron, that's it

#194 Comment By Amanda Hill On September 22, 2010 @ 7:23 pm

Thank you for posting this. I agree 110%. If you don't respect your work, no one else will!

#195 Comment By thimc imho On September 22, 2010 @ 7:24 pm

Curious. Why did you write this?

Is it (example 1): Good practice and a great way to break into real journalism.

Is it (example 2): Helpful to starving artists and good practice in improving your writing skills.

Or (example 3): Free advice and a good way to promote your business?

Or perhaps (example 7): You like your job as a photographer but at night you like to dabble in writing.

Or maybe even (example 8): An amateur writer focusing on developing a killer blog!

Or the best reason to do anything (example 12): You want this post to benefit the world. This blog is not about the money!

There are real journalists who would be better qualified to write this story. And who, as wordsmiths and craftsman deserve to get payed for it.

After all anyone can write. And anyone can shoot event photography.

#196 Comment By Wolfgang On September 23, 2010 @ 12:20 am

Great post!
I made the experience that – if you ask for real money, you get the real clients.

People should remember: you try to get into the market doing it for free. How can you ever get established when others follow your example a month later.

#197 Comment By bob On September 23, 2010 @ 12:58 am

Put your big girl panties on dude. If you're good, people will pay you. Maybe that last analogy showing you to be a complete misogynistic twerp has more to do with your business hurting.

I see a lot of boohooing and it kind of repulses me.

I think the real problem is all these dudes with cameras charging too much for crappy shots. They're what hurts the business. Those with real talent will and half a brain will find a way to make it work. Those without don't deserve it anyway.

Seriously pull your tampon out and stop crying.

#198 Comment By Sammy Adams On September 23, 2010 @ 6:08 am

I know Demon Lee. He's *really good*. But don't think for a minute that he doesn't understand the need to negotiate pricing with his clients. From his own website:

"For Film, TV and Video Production Companies I have three (3) set pricing packages to suit your needs, requirements and budget, never think we cannot come to a 'deal' to achieve your wishes. All other works are priced according to your needs and requirements, whether and hourly rate or half-day / day-rate. "

A far cry from the 'take it or leave it!' stance he'd have you believe he only takes!

#199 Comment By Alexandra Giamanco On September 23, 2010 @ 7:19 am

Ethics, it's all about the work ETHICS!

The person who offers their services for "free" has no understanding of this job field period. In their mind "clicking the shutter" is a lot easier than say programing some machine, therefore they think it is so simple that it should not be paid for! WRONG!

Probably they are miserable at their day job, and only stay for the benefits. These people don't have respect for their own jobs to begin with if they think they can just overstep other fields by undercutting professionals who have spent time getting educated in their field etc.

This post is referring to those expensive photo equipment owners who advertise themselves for "free" to CORPORATE CLIENTS, this thread is not about photographing some of the poorest people in the world for free because those REALLY have no money....duh!!!!!!! This post is about Joe crane operator offering pro photo services to the architectural firm building whatever he is hauling with that crane! get it?

#200 Comment By Ole On September 23, 2010 @ 1:34 pm

Question: For all the people who have commented on this post with disagreement. How many of you are doing photography full time and nothing else?

#201 Comment By Demon Lee On September 23, 2010 @ 1:43 pm


Sammy, the three pricing structures you are referring to apply only to one (1) industry and the negotiations that will apply will normally relate to the following areas.

1. Daily Rate depending on No. of Days Booked.

2. Copyright - If they wish to retain Copyright, it costs them a lot more!

3. If I am retaining copyright, the agreement is then negotiated on when I can use the images for my own commercial gain as many images will sell for substantial sums of money in Limited Edition runs.

Negotiation is all part of operating a functional business model, the purpose being so that I can obtain the maximum rate possible without having to cut my own throat. If I normally charge XYZ a day but they want me for 30 days, then I might agree x numbers of Days at XYZ then the remaining days at XY because of the volume.

This is common practice, most professional photographers will have a Day Rate that in comparison is cheaper than a 1/2 day rate etc.

Thank you for the compliment re my work, like most photographers I am always striving for perfection but feel I never get there, so its always nice to hear it from others.

#202 Comment By Michael P On September 23, 2010 @ 1:46 pm

@Demon Lee

What pro concedes the very copyright to their images? Huh . . .

#203 Comment By sweatereyes On September 23, 2010 @ 2:41 pm

After reading this post, I decided to write a rebuttal on my own blog because I knew that I wouldn't be able to express everything I wanted to in a reply.

#204 Comment By Demon Lee On September 23, 2010 @ 2:41 pm


I do not concede Copyright, they BUY it. In the Film and TV Industry, they are very protective about 'THEIR' rights as they own the COPYRIGHT to a programme or film and need to protect that copyright.

In those circumstances, this is where the negotiation happens as I will charge a LOT extra if they want copyright of the images. If they want ME, quite often to reduce overheads, they agree the lower rate per day and I will retain copyright, and a licence is agreed that I will not release images for commercial use for 'x' period after the Film/TV programme is released.

Larger Film & TV Studios that have large Budgets will simply pay the higher rate to retain copyright and agree 'x' number of images can be used by me for my portfolio/website etc.

Its all about knowing the Industry you work in and with Film & TV they are as protective about their copyright as we are with ours and I understand why.

#205 Comment By Michael P On September 23, 2010 @ 2:45 pm

@Demon Lee Now, I understand.

#206 Comment By Alexandra Giamanco On September 23, 2010 @ 4:36 pm

@ sweatereyes

Great for you, however, I have to assume you don't still live with your parents so they pay for all your "artistic freedom" and living expenses!?....otherwise, unless you won the lottery or something, how do you pay your bills? cash, credit? direct deposit? or do you live in some institution for free? like maybe jail or a psychiatric ward? just curious...because normal people PAY for electric, gas, food...you know, the things that sustain life as we know it!?

I would like an answer to Ole's question:
"For all the people who have commented on this post with disagreement. How many of you are doing photography full time and nothing else?"

There is a level of negotiating involved, not in the a la cart = wedding/portraits side of photography, that usually has a set price scale and ppl can choose whatever works for them, but in the commercial side, however the negotiation doesn't go like this:
"Photographer: Ohh I will do this for free...
"Client: Great!" ...end of negotiation! applause!

Not by a long shot!

Indeed? what pro sells their own Copyright? they got you fooled to no end, I suggest you join ASMP and get up to speed on how that REALLY works!

There is no such thing as "perpetual rights" and "selling copyright" in professional world!
In PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHY There's LICENSING and occasional charity, (legitimate charity, not offering free work because you bought a $2k camera and need stuff to photograph so you can brag about it at work next day) nothing else.

Pro's LICENSE the photos, it's like asking for the RAW files! who does that??????

No, no, no, Once you filled out the Copyright Form and transferred the copyrights and send it to the US Copyright Office in Washington, DC, you have no more rights what so ever over those images, you're done, if you're using those photos and something happens and there's a law suit, you will NOT win. Copyright law suits are settled in Federal Court NOT small claims! Holding onto the Copyright of your work is your ONLY way of ever winning a law suit.
scroll down and read Liz Ordonez's story...

You're right about 1 thing, the Film industry just like the writers ARE indeed very well protected copyright wise, writers have unions too.....try that with photographers and see how far you'll go!

I think we're comparing apples with oranges here...but in the end if I were a "people" photographer I would not lower my prices one bit, I would have occasional promotions and discounts like every other business on this planet, but that would be the only extent to it, it makes no sense financially for me as a business to SWALLOW other businesses cost of being in business, because in the end, while they save on photography, you don't, Canon will NOT give you a new lens for free because you photographed some event or what have you for free! it doesn't work like that!

I suggest you guys consult a business adviser, maybe you'll find one that works for "free"!!! Good luck!

#207 Comment By Me On September 23, 2010 @ 6:20 pm

So shooting a couple for the gas money and lunch, that landed me 15 other couples paying no less than 100 bucks a pop, which led to more business and jobs is stupid?

good to know my successful (8 years full time) business wont work out because I shot one couple for some gas and lunch....

#208 Comment By thimc imho On September 23, 2010 @ 7:26 pm

If your work is stylistically the best fit for a particular project the client will pay you. Because they want YOU, not some schmo with a camera. Your work has to be pretty mundane for some amateur with less experience to be a threat to you or your industry.

I would advise photographers to position themselves in the industry so that they are the only person for that client's particular project. Be unique, experiment, be expressive, define your style. If your portfolio reflects those values no one will ever be able to do what you do.

After looking at Mr. Harrington's work and other press photographer's work I was struck by how much it all looks the same. It's good but it all looks the same.

Put his photos on a table along with any other journalist/press/event photographer's work and I would be unable to determine who shot what.

It's not bad work. It's just not distinctive. The problem is homogenization and lack of creativity in that particular genre of photography. That's what leads to undercutting and low-balling each other.

Only Edward Steichen was Edward Steichen. I doubt he had to undercut anyone to get a job. But he too complained that photography had become mainstream and generic. He started the photo-succession movement. That movement re-defined photography and produced some of the most memorable photos ever created.

Instead of complaining I wish photographers would just work toward improving themselves. If your clients want the same old stuff for cheap then you might want new clients. Or you might be in the wrong industry.

Besides, journalism is as corrupt as the politicians it covers. Gone is the "afflict the comfortable comfort the afflicted" credo. It's all about money.

#209 Comment By Elena On September 23, 2010 @ 8:45 pm

I am not a photographer, I am new Interior Decorator.
I was thinking of giving 2-3 free color consultations to get some feedback, but now I am thinking may be it is not such a good idea. I know what am I doing: colors, fabric selection, etc. The part what is missing is self confidence, and may be instead of free consult, I better work on my self confidence, ha?


#210 Comment By concert_photographer On September 23, 2010 @ 9:01 pm

so TRUE!!!

#211 Comment By Rogelio Rivera-Nava On September 23, 2010 @ 10:54 pm

Anyone new in business has to be very hard-skinned to withstand the long way to success. And photographing for free is not the right method to get future paid assignments. Self respect is the key here. Get respected by your future clients and you'll get exactly that.

#212 Comment By Matt On September 24, 2010 @ 2:33 am

There are as many pro photographers who complain about cheap/free shooters as their are people in the broadcasting or publishing business who complain about bloggers.

Every article published by Jarvis, McNally, Strobist and Harrington that does not appear in a newspaper/magazine that is paid for, is an article not written by a pro journalist or a pro shooter paid for by a publication. Harrington is giving content away for free and those that provide that service in a professional capacity are having a hard time competing with all that free content. This is exactly the same argument he uses against cheap or inexpensive photographers.

I would agree that photography has changed over the last 20 years. I would agree that more and more people have entered the business and that has created different pressures. I would also argue that this is the case for virtually all other sectors. My University has doubled enrollment last year alone. That is twice the number of people getting the same engineering qualifications I have.

The reality is that the world has changed. For everyone. Not just shooters.

You have two choices:

1. Whine about it like a little girl with a scraped knee, pout, hold your breath until all those meanies on Craig's list go away and leave you alone and generally act like a child or... Because complaining about it is so much more productive than pounding the pavement and getting a gig....

2. Embrace it, make it part of your marketing plan. Have three Craig’s list websites bookmarked so you can show a client what the difference is. Show them what they will get for 500 and what they will get for your fee... assuming there is a difference, of course.

Indeed you might have to hustle a little more. Indeed you might have to work harder to stay current. Indeed you might have to put in more hours to make the same money. Indeed your job security might be diminished.

Why should you be any different from the rest of us.

#213 Comment By Michael Cockerham On September 24, 2010 @ 6:22 am

I am, frankly, staggered that this thread is still running. The reason it is is because there are a lot of generalisations which result in people making specific responses. Many of the "established pros" are being "accused" of being bitter in their responses, but that perceived bitterness is NOT because they fear competition, but rather because some of the arguments being postulated in favour of "working" for free are so utterly naive.

An example: Sweatereys, in his/her blog post says:

"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."

If a band - whoever they are - approaches you because they like your work and think it will help them then you should charge them. Do they give their CDs to everyone that like their music? I doubt it. Andy Earl is a great music photographer, and has worked with some of the biggest names in music in the last twenty years - you think he does it for nothing? Not at all. But having spoken with the man at length I can tell you that he got seriously hacked off when one of the most famous singer/songwriters of the last fifty years started trying ot beat him down on the cost of a shoot for an album because there were people who "would do it for nothing because of the priviledge." Earl told said musician to go use them then and see what he ended up with. I am pleased to say that the bluff was called, but it left a bitter taste in Earl's mouth, and this, I should say, happened in the years before the digital revolution.

Another photographer - world reknown - was approached by a different musician, again one of the most famous in the world, and very much admired by the photographer in question, to shoot the sleeve photography for an album released three years ago. Did the photographer work for free because "he appreciated them as artists too?" No, he charged $45,000 for the shoot and was paid.

Sweatereyes, you really need to get over yourself with all this mutual artist respect bullshit. Artists need to eat too, and I am very good friends with photographic artists who have working most of the major museums and collections in the world. Believe me, they will be the first to tell you that "art" is a business, and a multimillion dollar one at that.

As for the rest of us, lets see if we can wrap this up with some immutable concepts that frankly we should all agree on:

1. There is nothing wrong with taking or making photographs because you want to do it, and have an idea that you want to express. Anything like this is self-motivated and will always be done for free.

2. There is nothing wrong with taking photographs for your mates, because you like taking pictures and are quite good or possibly brilliant at it.

3. If you are taking photographs for a living, or if you intend to start taking photographs for a living, then you have to have some clearly defined business model that takes account of your costs of being in business and generates a return that enables you to meet those costs, invest in the business, earn you a living wage and pay your taxes. To do less than that will result in the business failing - just like any business. Within this model there is scope for occasions when working for free (not for nothing) may make commercial sense to you, and that is acceptable.

4. If you are earning money from photography in a part-time capacity (that is you are semi-professional) the concepts in item 3 still apply).

#214 Comment By tmt On September 24, 2010 @ 9:35 am

Please, don't wash together "doing some shoots for free to build a portfolio" with music band fandom.

I just thinking on that communication solves the above problems.

Of course I can say that "I will do this shoot for you, mate, as it will help me to build a portfolio, and you are my friend, BUT, if you like the results, the next shoots will be paid. And maybe you can also bring me some clients, OK?".

It does not destroy any other's business. I even know that a big company (not in photography) works this way, apart of (well) paid stuff they have to do some "representative" contracts, to maintain reputation or open to new fields of their business.

#215 Comment By sweatereyes On September 24, 2010 @ 1:23 pm

@Alexandra Giamanco
Its great to see that "professional" photographers have such great attention spans, that you were willing to comment of my post and yet not actually read the entire thing.
However, I am a 23 year old young woman who just graduated university, I own my own house and paid for my own education. I fund my own creative freedom by working my ass off as a waitress, and I choose to work for free and work at reduced prices. However I do have to agree that I am not a normal person, my partner and I pay the bills. A lot of people have been saying that photographers are not being greedy by charging so much, and that they are not rich. I am sure that they are not all that greedy and that they are not all that rich, but they still have more than what I need. My partner and I make about $15,000 a year, all together, and our bills account for at least $13,000 of that. Like I said, not everyone in this world is looking for wealth and material gain. I'm only looking to get by.

@Michael Cockerham
Admittedly you did look at one of my weakest arguments. However I do think that costs should be relative. I don't care much to make money off of concert shots, I get permission to bring my professional camera into concerts for free because of this kind of mutual respect. Surprisingly enough most venues charge the photographers to be in front of the crowds and have back stage and side stage access to shows. But this is relative. They do not use my images to make money themselves, and if they used my images without my permission as part of a cd or what have you, I would contact them immediately because of intellectual property infringement. (Don't think I am that naive, I always inform them that I maintain my copyrights on all of the images).

You are right that art is a business and business is an art. No one is going to pay me to dance around and take photos of whatever I want. However, arguably many famous art photographers started out in exactly that way. By making the art that they want, how they want it, and later getting noticed for their interesting and unique work.

Don't worry I'm already over myself.


#216 Comment By V. Resnick On September 24, 2010 @ 2:38 pm

@@Alexandra Giamanco

Alexandra, some of us did read you post, we either thought some of your comments were not worth responding to as it would start another round of crap, or that to answer your points in any detail would have meant another two hours trying to educate people in the difference between a professional photographer and a person with a camera...

With Annual Earnings of $15K (around £8,5K), a mortgage to pay, bills to pay, either you and your partner is earning a far greater amount of money than you are letting on, or you live in poverty by any standard of the Western World and I fail to see how you can subsidise your 'photography' for the poor as you claim with only $2K spare finance per annum.... and in order to keep your copyright in the US you have to register your images, and that is not cheap!

Let me put that in real terms for you, your earnings if you only work 5 days a week is $50.69 per day so unless you have SUBSTANTIAL tips and are not paying TAX to the IRS for your additional income on photography, your circumstances don't make any financial sense and you are one of those people who damage the whole IMAGE of photography.

Any Professional Photographer working with a reputable Agency or the Correct Press Accreditation will NOT be charged to attend a Concert, that is nonsense - it is more like someone is making money illegally on the 'side' by charging people with cameras into areas they should not be in!

I have been following this thread with interest but resisted replying as I am a 'hobby' photographer that takes pics solely for the pleasure of it. I never charge anyone for any pictures because I am not making pictures I take available to them.

My parents took loads of pictures of the family when we were growing up and I am doing the same with my life as I print a selection of images for myself and then put them in the family album. This includes pictures of Holidays, Weddings, Parties etc.

I took lessons from someone that has posted in this forum for which I paid him for his time as I believe he is one of the best portrait photographers in the world and he only agreed to teach me because I was a 'hobby' photographer and have no intention now or in the future to try and make any kind of imcome from it.

Your last post gives me now a clear indication why the Photographer I know and why so many on this forum are mad about the destruction of their craft and profession by people that think because they can afford to spend $2K on a camera, they are suddenly 'artistic' or good enought to charge someone to take their pic - whether you are charging $2 or $200 each.........!!!!!!!

#217 Comment By Alexandra Giamanco On September 24, 2010 @ 2:45 pm

Look, Someone with a degree usually doesn't look to just "get by", I am sorry. I have 3 kids + my mom to care for, & I am not looking to become a millionaire out of my business, but I do follow the rules of this business. This is MY Career! have a couple of kids, or dogs/cats then let's see if you're still into "getting by". My message to my kids is NOT to "live to get by", but rather work hard and pick a career you will enjoy forever!

If you are looking to "start out", then the best person to barter with is an advertising professional (maybe one who is also looking to start up too), create a campaign, use your own family or whatever to shoot, and go from there, re-search your competition and see what they charge and don't price out of your own competition, (either way, to low or to high) that's it, I don't know how they didn't teach that in school!
I highly doubt your professors encourajed work for free! (other than actual charity work) You're supposed to come out of school with a portfolio...all you have to do is waitress some more if you're totally broke and spend money on advertising! the right way! not undercut your peers, eventually you will be left with waitressing if you're going to keep undercutting your own market!
How low below $0 can one get!? are we heading for us to pay the client to let us shoot?

Plus, normally, after having anywhere from $50k to $100k in student loans (for those who do) I don't think those ppl are looking to "get by", you can flip burgers to "get by", "photography" takes a lot more than just pushing the shutter button and most of all it takes good business sense.

If you have a degree, then apply it, don't undercut your peers! Believe me, word of mouth is the most powerful tools one has, and once the word "free" is out loose, you won't hear the word "money" be used a lot after that!

I am pretty sure we can find all sorts of excuses to avoid answering the simple question of: "If you work free in my industry, why not work free in yours too"! see how you like being a waitress without tips!? How about you tell your customers that you won't be collecting any tips! You are working just to get by! This is a really sad way of living. How many lives do you have to spend all this time getting by? I am sorry, you really got me on this one because I never did anything to just "get by"...I love my work and I just can't perceive it that way. Sorry.

Everyone has some situation to handle at home, this thread has nothing to do with one's home, this is related to the very business aspect of photography. Yes, we're all artists here, but that is definitely NOT an excuse to act like children and not understand that our job extends passed the viewfinder and it goes into Quickbooks also!

#218 Comment By Alexandra Giamanco On September 24, 2010 @ 4:48 pm

V RESNICK, I think you meant your answer for: sweatereyes

I don't live on $15k!

#219 Comment By Matt On September 24, 2010 @ 7:19 pm


If you read my previous post you will note that I am not one of the angry pros here.

However, your position is indefensible. I would suggest those that agree with Harrington ignore this low hanging fruit and address Strobist's argument, for an example of a well thought out argument in favour of working for free under the right circumstances.

The key is the "right circumstances" and not as a mater course like sweatereyes.

#220 Comment By sweatereyes On September 24, 2010 @ 8:29 pm

I smile at your responses, I genuinely do. I know that my choice to live in poverty is something that many think is ridiculous. I only brought up that point because someone else basically said that I had to be in jail, won the lottery or something equally silly to defend my stance. I said that person did not read my entire thread since their reply only asked if I still lived with my parents, which I clearly already stated I did not.
I am not against photographers charging money for their photos. I merely think that it is ridiculous to blame free photographers for you losing business. I also think that it is incredibly rude to suggest that my photographs are not as "professional" as others because I do not charge as much. I am not destroying your craft, or your profession. But if thinking this, or blaming photographers like me, helps you sleep at night then thats fantastic for you.
I have had many arguments with people about what is happening to photography, and I will defend to the end that charging people a lot of money does not make you a professional, just the same as having an expensive camera does not not make you a professional. Your photos make you a professional.

If you can't agree with that point, then you have a severely skewed view on what a photographer is.

#221 Comment By Matt On September 24, 2010 @ 9:17 pm

I don't believe you brought up your "choice" to live in poverty for any other reason than your own smug sense of superiority over those of us who chose to live a more comfortable life.

Secondly, the definition of the english word "professional," certainly the way it is being used here, is someone who is compensated monetarily for performing a service or providing a product. You are a professional waiter. I am a professional engineer. Others here are professional photographers. That has very little to do with who you are as a person, but is the right word to describe what you do for a living.

Now, you might be the best photographer in the history of photography. No where is it written that amateurs or hobbyists, like you and I, cannot be exceptional photographers.

But who cares, low hanging fruit is best left alone. Sadly, I think your rather poor arguments have only reinforced those who share Harrington's overly stern position.

#222 Comment By Demon Lee On September 25, 2010 @ 8:37 am

@Alexandra Giamanco - Sorry, you are correct!

@sweatereyes - Can you give me the name and address of where you work, my Niece is currently hitch hiking around the US and wants to get some experience of being a waitress and will work for free... see how long you boss will continue to pay you to do something she is willing to do for FREE.

In response to the comments by you and @Matt in the way 'Professional' is being used, I have no idea how the word is used in the US these days (I know what it used to mean when I lived and worked in the US for 6 years) and I know what it means and has always meant in the UK..

.. a person who earns a LIVING in an occupation or sport that is normally practiced as a past-time, or a person engaged in an occupation after study to attain a minimum level of acceptable defined standards and/or a person that is engaged in an occupation whereby their conduct is perceived by the general public and industry to be at a level worthy of the term 'professional'.

Now, sweatereyes, you are NOT a professional but you are charging people a pittance for your 'art' or giving away free - don't bring your copyright into it as it is more than likely you are not even aware of the Berne Convention until you read this and look it up on Wiki or where ever.

For ALL OF YOU in full time employment in one job that are charging people for photography outside your normal working hours as an additional income, you are likely to be committing tax fraud if you are not declaring it, you are NOT insured for Public or Employers Liability, you ARE damaging the perception of 'professional' photography and this is why the PROFESSIONALS are up in arms about it...

You can't be a part time solicitor/laywer, you can't be a part-time mechanic, you can't be a part-time Doctor or Dentist because they are all SKILLED professions that would shut you down more quickly than you can blink and you could in fact end up with JAIL TIME - so please, do not devalue my chosen profession with all the excuses you use to justify yourself because it does not wash.

Being a professional photographer is NOT about the camera you own, it is about the manner in which you conduct your business, it is about the QUALITY of work you produce for your clients, it about the decision you make to work FULL TIME in a profession whereby the content of your work is always subject to a persons interpretation, it is about being passionate about your 'art' / 'craft' /'skills' / 'profession' etc to ensure that the 'ART' of photography is retained in it's purist form..

If you take pictures with a camera and then use photoshop or anything else to manipulate or correct the picture before printing - it is no longer a photograph, it is just a picture.... and the internet and stock libraries are overloaded with zillions of boring, lacklustre, bland images that are past off as photography....

#223 Comment By sinister On September 25, 2010 @ 2:53 pm

@Demon Lee
Is that your dummy on the floor?

#224 Comment By sinister On September 25, 2010 @ 2:56 pm

@ Demon Lee
"you can't be a part time solicitor/laywer, you can't be a part-time mechanic, you can't be a part-time Doctor or Dentist because they are all SKILLED professions"

Yes you can, what does the amount of hours you work have to do with anything?

#225 Comment By sweatereyes On September 25, 2010 @ 3:33 pm

@ Matt: This is what I responding to, I'm not really sure how I could have responded to this in any other way than how I did.

Alexandra Giamanco said:
September 23rd, 2010 at 4:36 pm

@ sweatereyes
Great for you, however, I have to assume you don't still live with your parents so they pay for all your "artistic freedom" and living expenses!?....otherwise, unless you won the lottery or something, how do you pay your bills? cash, credit? direct deposit? or do you live in some institution for free? like maybe jail or a psychiatric ward? just curious...because normal people PAY for electric, gas, food...you know, the things that sustain life as we know it!?

However, I feel that this entire discussion has been side tracked. I am partly to blame for that, I am sure. But back to the original post. The only real issue that I take with this post is that it is not aimed at the already established photographers, it is aimed at young photographers who are just starting out, don't have experience and don't have a solid client base. It is certainly difficult these days to break into this industry and be successful. As many have posted, they had done free shots at the start of their careers and are not successful. Telling young photographers to never ever do free shots for anyone, in any circumstances, is going to hinder their development more than it is going to help their business.

@Demon Lee:
Being a professional photographer is NOT about the camera you own, it is about the manner in which you conduct your business, it is about the QUALITY of work you produce for your clients, it about the decision you make to work FULL TIME in a profession whereby the content of your work is always subject to a persons interpretation, it is about being passionate about your 'art' / 'craft' /'skills' / 'profession' etc to ensure that the 'ART' of photography is retained in it's purist form.

I completely agree.

#226 Comment By Demon Lee On September 25, 2010 @ 4:22 pm


It is a MYTH that initially working for FREE when you are starting out in ANY PROFESSION will set you up with clients for a sustainable business model with the exception of a few noteworthy photographers that were in the right place at the right time long before the advent of Digital Photography and Photoshop.

As I and others have REPEATEDLY pointed out time and time again on this forum and others, the ONLY true and correct way to enter into any profession is to study and work as an apprentice to someone who has developed their skills and knowledge to the 'n'th degree in order to operate a sustainable business and make a 'reasonable' living... in photography very few photographers (even the very famous ones) were ever 'Well Off' or 'Rich' and many are in DEBT up to their ears and have hocked their soul to the devil in order to achieve their 'staus', annie leibovitz is a prime example.

It is a shame that in this world we have created a generation of people that believe mistakenly that they can do anything they want, regardless of the consequences to themselves or others... I have never worked for FREE (except for the brilliant charity 'The Londons Air Ambulance') because although photography is my LIFE and comes before anything else (including partners, politics, etc etc), when I pick up my camera for SOMEONE ELSE except me, then the time clock starts ticking and the bill starts mounting up.

You made reference earlier about the cost of prints and you think photographers often charge to much, but I want you to look carefully how I calculate my daily rate for shooting images and the printing;

Cost of Equipment including Cameras, Lenses, Filters, Flash Guns, External Lighting, Power Packs, Accessories, Printers, Computers, Backup Storage Systems, Servers.

Insurance on Equipment, Public Liability Insurance and Employers Liability Insurance. Cost of Vehicle Insurance for Class 1 Business Use.

Rent on Business Premises, Rates on Business Premises, Utility Costs on Business Premises

When people buy prints from me, these range in size from 9x6 to A1 on various professional archival papers for longevity, using archival inks... one of the printers was £7K to ensure that my clients are getting the very best quality because that image they bought should last a lifetime and then some!

On top of all these costs are the ancilliary costs of eating out when working, clothing for all weathers as we don't work all day in Studios etc and all the other little costs people forget about.

If the truth be known, I spend more on Equipment per year than you say you are earning - this is spent on Servicing, Repairs, Replacements and updates on equipment as the technology changes and as I still shoot on 35mm and 6x6 Film, the cost of this rises each year as Digital gradually becomes the 'norm'.

I find actually the ones that have suffered more as a result of the Digital Revolution is not so much Photographers per se, but the associated industries of Film Manufacturing, Developing and Printing because with Digital 99.5% of images taken end up on Computers, Social Networking Sites and Mobile Phones - I never used to PRINT my own work, I used to use commercial photographic printing services but most of these have gone by the wayside now and it is harder and harder to find one...

The ethics of 'Stack 'em High and Sell them Cheap' works for some retail outlets, but it does not and will not work for photography as many stock image libraries are just starting to find out paying as little at 10-15% commission to photographers supplying them images that are frankly not worth selling (in my opinion).

I cannot speak for other professional photographers, but I have started to see a backlash to this as more and more clients begin to realise that 'cheap' or 'free' photography just does not 'sell their image' in these days of austerity when they need it most and as we come out of recession worldwide, I believe that more and more companies and individuals will return to the professionals for their photographic needs.

#227 Comment By Demon Lee On September 25, 2010 @ 4:45 pm

@sinister - the point was you are NOT allowed to practice in those professions without the required skills and qualifications and that you can't have a full time 9-5 MF job and decide you want to be a dentist at the weekend simply because you think you can be one 😉

#228 Comment By Demon Lee On September 25, 2010 @ 4:58 pm

Something else 'Aspiring' photographers need to read...


#229 Comment By Demon Lee On September 28, 2010 @ 6:50 pm



#230 Comment By Steve On September 29, 2010 @ 8:39 am

I would gladly shoot an event for in exchange for a quality photo printer. I have a free afternoon. I do not have $600-$1000 for the photo printer. Any consideration of the what the seller originally paid for the printer is false economy. All the matters is my current position and my future position.

current: printer-less
future: photo printer goodness, in my hands

#231 Comment By tobi On September 29, 2010 @ 10:52 am

I read it and I considered all your points. But what would you say in my case:
I'm a studied chemistry, I graduaded and I'm now working in the chemistry branch. Photography is my hobby, nothing for me to earn money.
I wanted to shoot concerts, and since I'm not allowed to bring my SLR to concerts I had to ask to be the official photographer. Now here is the catch:
I'm not an offical photographer with fullfilled exam and apprenticeship. So (here in Austria) it would be illegal for me to charge anyone for taking photos. And so I do it for free - because otherwise I would commit a crime and have problems with the business inspectorate.

What should I do in my case? Stop doing what I like or charge the organizer even if I must not by law.

#232 Comment By Alexandra Giamanco On September 29, 2010 @ 11:23 am

Tobi, which one do you like to do best? Chemistry or Photography?

Are you GIVING whomever is organizing the concerts the photos for free? if so, sure in that case STOP, go back to school if you love photography this much and become a concert photographer, A LEGITIMATE concert photographer! A "corporation" of any kind will ALWAYS want to cut costs, if you owned a photography business wouldn't YOU also want to buy your equipment cheaper? same applies, in this case the concert organizers are basically getting what they would normally have to PAY for, for free, SAVING them money and putting professional photographers WHO PHOTOGRAPH FOR A LIVING out of business, and while you are all entertained and happy to photograph what YOU like, we can't buy food! because now "WE" have to go back to school and retrain in something else! DO YOU SEE MY POINT?
You work with chemicals, great, tell your boss tomorrow that you will do your job for FREE from now on, because you love it so much, you just want to do it and it's not important to you to be paid for it! that's how much you love chemistry!

"tobi said:
September 29th, 2010 at 10:52 am

I read it and I considered all your points. But what would you say in my case:
I'm a studied chemistry, I graduaded and I'm now working in the chemistry branch. Photography is my hobby, nothing for me to earn money.
I wanted to shoot concerts, and since I'm not allowed to bring my SLR to concerts I had to ask to be the official photographer. Now here is the catch:
I'm not an offical photographer with fullfilled exam and apprenticeship. So (here in Austria) it would be illegal for me to charge anyone for taking photos. And so I do it for free - because otherwise I would commit a crime and have problems with the business inspectorate.

What should I do in my case? Stop doing what I like or charge the organizer even if I must not by law.

#233 Comment By tobi On September 29, 2010 @ 11:30 am

Well, in case of my job it is a choice of reliability. I've chosen natural science because of the job chances and wages I need for family reasons. It was never a choice of liking it. There is now way around that.
Should I now stop doing in my sparetime what I like because I should not work for free?

#234 Comment By Michael Cockerham On September 29, 2010 @ 11:42 am

Tobi, no one is saying you should not do what you want as a hobby. Let me put it this way: where do you draw the line? When you decide you want to fly in a helicopter will you offer the city free aerial shots? When you fancy a cruise will you provide images to the cruise company in exchange for tickets?

All of these things may sound legitimate, but in the UK they are classed as benefits in kind and are taxable. Are you paying tax on the concert tickets you are getting?

The rule of thumb really ought to be: for a hobby I take photos of whatever I want and can "for my own use". I do not give the photos away to commercial organisations.

The exception to this would be if you were a full time photographer and you bartered access for images as a part of a larger project that you might be working on, but even then you should be licencing the use of those images appropriately.

#235 Comment By Alexandra Giamanco On September 29, 2010 @ 12:00 pm

Tobi, you missed my point, NO ONE said to stop doing what you like IN YOUR SPARE TIME, what we're all saying is STOP GIVING IT FREE TO THE CLIENTS = CONCERT ORGANIZERS
IF you want to photograph concerts, GREAT, but keep the photos to yourself and if someone wants to BUY your photo they found on your flickr account, have them redirected to your SmugMug page or any other STOCK type site and have them PAY. They don't buy their gas for free, we don't you don't either!

You chose Chemistry, WE CHOSE PHOTOGRAPHY, You and everyone else who photographs and gives photographs for free has lost site of that!

(BTW: I am using caps to emphasize)

#236 Comment By Demon Lee On September 29, 2010 @ 5:22 pm

This subject was is called "12 Excuses for Shooting for Free"....

Reading through the comments, I think it should be changed to:

"2,000 Excuses for Shooting for Free"


"How to screw some ones profession whilst protecting your own day job"

#237 Comment By Alexandra Giamanco On September 29, 2010 @ 5:58 pm

Couldn't agree more Demon....actually not only bogus but also offensive.

It is interesting how all these ppl working for free in our field would never consider working for free in theirs!!!!!!!! very hypocritical!

#238 Comment By Russ MacDonald On September 29, 2010 @ 6:40 pm


As much as you complain about it, you cannot change it. It is a fact of life in 2010.

I told you before. The photography business has changed forever. There are millions of very good photographers out there who just want to take pictures for the fun of it, and they love to see their images published ... by anyone.

The interesting truth is that many of these photographers are as good if not better than many pros.

People who want to give away their pictures are going to do so, and all the complaining on earth won't stop them.

This means just what I said several weeks ago. No longer can you charge what you want to. Those days are gone (for most markets - mine definitely included). You have to be very good AND price your services competitively to stay in business.

You don't have to give away your pictures, but you have to meet comp, and that is getting lower and lower every day.

No matter how loud or often you holler, it won't stop the trend.


#239 Comment By Demon Lee On September 29, 2010 @ 7:39 pm

Russ, we are going to have to disagree on this matter for the following reasons.

1. If you do nothing, nothing changes.

2. I charge what I want and what I am worth, if they can't afford it or they don't want to pay it, there are those that will because they value quality and have not been indoctrinated of the new world order of dumming everything down to the lowest level and I don't do 'mundane'.

3. The back lash has started in the US and the UK where the professionals are now passing details of the part-timers and cheap snappers to the IRS and the HMRC to ensure either they stop their part time jobs or start coughing up the tax etc.

4. If they cannot get an IMAGE without using a photograph and shoving through the nth degree of manipulation in Photoshop, they are not photographers, they are Digital Imaging Technicians!

5. If they have to shoot 1,000 images to get 10 they might be able to sell, they are not photographers, they are lucky.

6. If you do not educate young photographers, if you do not educate the image buyers, then nothing will change...

So, I am NOT hollering loudly, I seek to educate, to enlighten, to inform.

Over the last two years I have started small businesses in direct competition to Graphic Designers, Web Designers and an On-Line Directory.. and I slashed their prices. Once they contact me and ask what the hell I am playing at, I simply advise them that I am a FULL TIME photographer but in my spare time I do 'x' job because 'my friends have said I am good at it' and as they do the same with photography, what are they complaining about?

Funny, when they see someone slashing their prices by up to 90% and they see their clients willing to forget their loyalty, their attitude changes and instead I pick up their clients for Product, Portraits and Commercial Photography and I pass them mine for Graphic Design, Web Design etc..

Its called NETWORKING, I just do it with a Sledgehammer approach to educate people that if they don't value my work or my expertise, then I will have no regard for theirs!

#240 Comment By sweatereyes On September 30, 2010 @ 12:33 pm

Its funny, Demon Lee, how despite how much you seem to hate my opinions, I still agree with you (mostly).
1. If you do nothing, nothing changes.

Absolutely. The hard part is not doing something, its trying to convince other people to think the same way. How many people do you think you have convinced not to take photos for free? How many DSLRs are being sold on a daily basis to people that do not know how to properly use them? You can change the views of some people, but you will never change the views of everyone (or even arguable the majority).

2. I charge what I want and what I am worth, if they can't afford it or they don't want to pay it, there are those that will because they value quality and have not been indoctrinated of the new world order of dumming everything down to the lowest level and I don't do 'mundane'.

I would love to see your work because I very honestly love photographers that are interesting and passionate (don't worry I don't steal people's ideas or work). I do agree that people are willing to pay for quality, and that will always be true. This is why I do not see how the new, unexperienced photographers are stealing professional photographer's clients. The quality of their work is not going to be as good, and a professional with an amazing portfolio will always be able to find paying customers (but I guess that I don't know that for sure, because I am still an amateur photographer working on their technique, style and skills but I hope this is true).

3. The back lash has started in the US and the UK where the professionals are now passing details of the part-timers and cheap snappers to the IRS and the HMRC to ensure either they stop their part time jobs or start coughing up the tax etc.
(Oh I guess I don't have anything to say about this one, I always claim any money I make off of photography).

4. If they cannot get an IMAGE without using a photograph and shoving through the nth degree of manipulation in Photoshop, they are not photographers, they are Digital Imaging Technicians!

I know a lot of other amateur photographers that I went to school with, and even some professional photographers in my area that do this. I agree, that most Photoshop manipulation is terrible and results in things that are not photographs. But I do use Photoshop, my teachers always taught me that Photoshop should be used as a digital darkroom. Where you can fine tune your photographs for colour, or contrast etc (the best Photoshop edits are the edits that you don't even notice). I have never heard the term digital imaging technician though, and you can be sure that I will use the term in the future since it makes sense. When I d did some work for a "professional photographer" all I did was the Photoshop work, but I didn't get such a nice title, instead I was a measly Photo-editor.

5. If they have to shoot 1,000 images to get 10 they might be able to sell, they are not photographers, they are lucky.

Hahah. Yeah. I agree with this point out of experience, I remember when I got my DSLR, even though I had used film SLRs I was pretty stupid. This is actually how I am gauging my development, as I am learning with each shot how to get it right the first time instead of the 10th time.

6. If you do not educate young photographers, if you do not educate the image buyers, then nothing will change...

I do agree with this point, unfortunately it is not effective unless they are actually willing to learn. A lot of people in my class did not learn anything. Why? Because there is already this loop and idea that simply having an expensive camera make them a photographer. Trust me, I do not agree with this at all. We were taught all the basics about photography and yet I am sure that 90% of them do not know what ISO stands for, or how it even affects their photos. These are those photographers who are going to run around saying they are professional photographers with their cameras on auto. It certainly frustrates me to see these photographers post their images on flickr or whatever and get a million responses like "OMGZ U R LIEK A BEST PHOTOGRAFER EVAR". It makes me vomit in my mouth a little.

The difference, I think, why there are so many people doing photography for free, and not other jobs (although there are other jobs people are willing to do for free) is because taking photos is fun. Now with digital, its not only fun but its cheap. A lot of young photographers do not know where to start, or how to market themselves. They pour out of school with mediocre portfolios and the fact is most of them are not going to succeed. But that is not going to change the fact they keep pouring out every single year trying to get into a profession that is simply already over saturated.

#241 Comment By Kurt S On September 30, 2010 @ 1:11 pm

An interesting sarcastic read....but I am with others in that it can make sense at times to work for free. I have a degree in photography but it was many years ago and life took me in another direction. I am just now getting back into it and as such, have no recent portfolio. So, not only have I done some work for free, I paid some of the models! Will I do that on a regular basis? Heck no! But to get practice and a portfolio to begin with, ya gotta do what ya gotta do! I think he has been in the business too long to appreciate the realities of starting out.

#242 Comment By Demon Lee On September 30, 2010 @ 6:26 pm

Look, can't you people understand that the market is oversaturated with 'photographers' and images?

When you have stock libraries selling images for 1c or a $1, then that should tell you that the oversaturation has KILLED the market making it harder and harder for ANYONE to ever think they can earn a full time living as a photographer?

You all claim to have various reasons why you did not have a portfolio so worked for FREE to get one, well let me tell you that my first PAYING job at the age of 16 was obtained solely by showing the employer the work I had been doing as a school kid in my own time because photography back then was never taught in schools... and I did not have photoshop to make my images look any better.

@Kurt S - very condescending mate, I have not been in business so long I don't understand what it is like to start out, I have had more students and participated on more mentoring programmes than you have probably had hot dinners - and THAT is the way to be successful as a Photographer, get an apprenticeship because a Degree in 'anything' does not mean you will be any good at it (no disrespect to anyone) but the fact is I have met a million 'photographers' with HND's, Degrees etc and their pictures still suck.

People only think they are/can be photographers because of Digital Photographer and the volumes of pirate versions of Photoshop available around the world - 99% of them will never earn a full time living out of photography because they are too late and the industry is already damaged beyond repair, their are too many of them and the value of photography has been eroded - it used to be one of the 'Dark' Arts, one parents rolled their eyes at when you advised them that you wanted to be a photographer.... now, due to the world of instant gratification and the dumbing down of everything to the lowest common denominator.

In the UK alone around 30-40,000 people take an HND or Degree in Photography hoping to make a career out of it, however as few as 3-4 will ever make it.... a recent survey in the UK of 1700 photographers revealed only 9% had 'staff' jobs and most admitted they had 2nd jobs to make ends meet.. so when I get heated about this subject, it is because ALL PHOTOGRAPHERS need to realise that unless the trends change, there will not be ANY PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHERS LEFT, you will just be able to select the same usual mundane, photoshopped, boring stock library images from places such as Flikr for nothing and I wonder how long it will be before photographers have to PAY people to take their pictures or PAY Magazines to get them published?

#243 Comment By Alexandra Giamanco On September 30, 2010 @ 9:12 pm

"CHANGE"...IS Usually for the BETTER, Your change is not for your eventual worst, but everyone else's at the same time!

I am not complaining about it...

This is not about charging what we want...this is about charging in accordance to what we spend to BE IN BUSINESS, not just photography business, ANY BUSINESS! I don't see how you don't get that!

An accountant and a photographer have some things in common:
1. Both need computers, and when they both walk into the Apple store the iMac or laptops cost the SAME for both! Now, the accountant who did not lower his fees can buy one, but the photographer CAN'T, and funny thing is that THE PHOTOGRAPHER NEEDS that computer too! Go Figure!
2. Both need gas to go to and from work...neither is getting it for free!
3. Both need some sort of housing, 1 bedroom, 2, 3, 4...etc
4. Both have cars that have parts that break and need fixing...
Should I go on?


I don't waltz on top of your chemistry business and offer to do it for free?, nor your accounting job, nor you car mechanic etc.

Yeah, as far as the Magazines go, same thing, ask THEM to work for free and see how many volunteers you get. I had someone call me and ask me to do a photoshoot for $200 because they were paying $10,000 for an ad already and didn't have budget for photography!!!!!!!!!! I declined! that's simply NOT MY FAULT! and I don't see ONE Valid reason for MY Business to swallow their costs! get over it, the more you lower your prices the more you will be out the door one day when you'll realize that "FREE" ain't paying the bills!

"This is why I do not see how the new, inexperienced photographers are stealing professional photographer's clients. "
It is because those clients are ALSO businesses, and as all business at this time, they are trying to cut costs, so, of course if they have a CHOICE between a pro at say..$3000 and a newbie at $40...who do you think they'll choose? with the extra money, they can play more Golf and have more fun! and SAVE!

IT IS ALL BUSINESS! NOTHING ELSE....The creative part is LAST!

#244 Comment By laura vee On October 1, 2010 @ 11:38 am

I have a quick question, I know I am coming into this discussion a little late.. my friend, went to school for theatre and acting (in which they learned lighting, set design). After graduation, despite that she had acted in lots of things throughout school, can't get a paying job acting. So, to help her resume she has been doing small shows in a town theatre. This also helps her practice, and keeps her doing what she wants to do for the rest of her life. Does this mean she is stealing paid actor's jobs? Is she ruining the profession of acting?
Or this is not the same at all?

#245 Comment By tara tate On October 1, 2010 @ 2:47 pm

This is one of the most intelligent and succinct statements on this ongoing he said, she said that i have read in a long time. This really sums up the issue.
I would like to add that being a professional infers behaving in a professional manner which should imbue a responsibility for the sustainability of the profession. John has been a cheer leader and proponent for many years of people behaving in a proffesional manner.
Excuse me, i gotta go pack for an assignment.

#246 Comment By Russ MacDonald On October 1, 2010 @ 6:35 pm

Alexandra wrote:

This is the most useless comment thus far in this thread. It's nothing more than sour grapes.

The photography business is changing, and there is no way you can stop it. Making statements like this is totally useless, because there will never be any law made that restricts the right to give away any art you have created.

What you think that people should do, and what they have a legal right to do, are not related!

The ONLY way to deal with this is to first recognize that it is here to stay, and second, if you want to remain a professional photographer, you have to be willing to get down into the ditches and scratch for every cent your earn. You have to compete with these 'free' and low cost photographers by putting out a higher quality product than they can. Then, people will pay a small premium for it.

But there is no way we are ever going back to the days when we could charge whatever we wanted to. The advent of the low cost DSLRs have made those days extinct forever.

As I mentioned in an earlier post in this thread, most of the photographers in my town have closed their doors and gone out of business, because they tried to hold their prices up. I went to meetings with them where the situation was discussed, and they made a pact that I did not participate in. They agreed to hold their prices up. Now they are no longer around to worry about.

I have survived only because I was willing to fight in the trenches. I lowered my prices to less than half of what they had been previously, I will now shoot anything you pay me to, and I moved out of my fancy studio into a small one room studio that will barely do the job.


Now, as the recession eases, and especially because there are so few experienced pros left, I am able to begin to raise my prices a bit, but not much. The low cost photographers are still out there, and quite a few of them are very good. Many clients buy photography strictly on cost.

#247 Comment By Alexandra Giamanco On October 1, 2010 @ 8:17 pm

@Laura Vee,

Look, I think overall, in ALL the artistic fields, (ballet, music, acting etc etc) BECAUSE the US doesn't not have a SECRETARY OF THE ARTS position in the Gov in DC to PROTECT and support them, there is a blending thing going on, dancers have to work at McDonalds to pay rent, because they're pay is a total joke, or other odd jobs, obviously to "make it" as an actor(es) in Hollywood or Broadway it takes a LOT...once again putting actors into odd jobs to get by...none of this should be the case...

Here's an example, My father used to be the Secretary of the Arts of 1 European country for a very long time, think 10+ years, in his time there before retiring, he helped artists (dancers, musicians etc) with food, there were "cantinas", (I can't think of a better word), but basically, the food was free so these ppl had one less thing to worry about...the food was healthy also, not this crap fed in schools here in the US...my 5 year old comes home disgusted! He helped organize tours all over the world and numerous other things so these ARTISTS had ALL THE TIME to concentrate on their job as a ballet dancer, photographer, sculptor, actor, musician etc etc etc etc, therefore eliminating the need for these people to go after other jobs.

IF your friend is really passionate about acting then she should go after it, get a agent and go from there. Without an agent there isn't much to do in that business. The agent will get paid in accordance with how many job he/she gets her...win/win, keeps them both motivated.
You realize that a "town theater" resume will not get her Angelina's roles!? nor Broadway, mostly because no one will ever know she is there....in acting, just like ballet, (and there I do speak from experience) it is a day to day competition...consider this, in ballet is even worst because it is a "age based" career, once you hit 30's you're done and need to move onto something else...if she wants to be on Broadway, she needs to move to NY, get an agent, work hard and don't waste time with odd jobs, get help from family or friends and do it! if she hopes that she'll sit there waiting for prince charming to show up, guess what, nothing will happen! Performing arts are VERY competitive, twice as much as photography because they require skill, and some have age limits on them, so you don't have time to screw around for years waiting, in that business YOU make things happen for YOU.

#248 Comment By Russ MacDonald On October 2, 2010 @ 12:03 am

"Secretary of the Arts'????

Who pays for that???

If you say the government, then you have just one more example of socialism. The government confiscating money from people against their will to pay for something they don't want.

Margaret Thatcher was exactly right when she said "The problem with socialism is that sooner or later you run out of other people's money".

I don't ever want the government involved with photography!!!


#249 Comment By Alexandra Giamanco On October 2, 2010 @ 5:42 am

Russ, not only you have a distorted business vision, but you are fooling yourself thinking that your "model" is or should be the norm.

I suggest you consult with an advertising pro before making statements like this one: "market is changing and unless we lower the prices we won't survive". Not the case, maybe ppl with not so much talent survived doing this, temporarely, and obviously you are not following basic rules of the photography business since as I mentioned in a prior post, there are a lot more things to consider when going out on a photoshoot than just the cost of a DSLR!
I dont go out on a photoshoot thinking: "hmm, i wonder if they have the same model DSLR as I do"......!
Do you see a truck driver acting as a lawyer and fixing prices in that field? you make me think you live in a very remote location on this planet if you can't understand that.
But this is EXACTLY what differentiates the pro's from the ppl who bought a camera and now they pretend to be pro's and BECAUSE they have no clue how to run a photography business they lower the prices so that "maybe" someone will buy their services. Very ignorant and sad.

"Secretary of the arts" is a job and most european countries have one in their Gov! like "secretary of defence", "secretary or commerce", etc etc missinformed are we? because you sure have no clue what socialism is for one, and second you have no clue that the Gov of a country is there to protect its citizens. Do you know what a loobyist is? do you think its OK to lobby the Gov for cigarettes, but for support for the arts and artists? do you think it is OK to spend billions on Ford cars and their advertisment plus bailing out others? do you know how many arts could have benefited from that kind of money?
BTW real pros in photography DO pay taxes, because it is part of doing proper business.

#250 Comment By Michael Cockerham On October 2, 2010 @ 7:30 am


You and I have crossed swords on this (saga of a) thread before. In our last exchange you had the temerity to suggest that I knew nothing about price elasticity and that I should get away from the notion that good business practice never requires price reductions.

For the record I am an economics graduate from UCL, and I have been in business long enough to know that as the dynamics of an industry change, so too do pricing structures, and they can indeed move in either direction. I understand both of your concepts without issue.

But this does not get away from the fundamental issue that you keep skirting in your arguments, which is that throughout industrial history companies change their pricing as a result of new competitors taking advantage of emerging technologies or business models that change the economies of production. Those that do not move with the times become uncompetitive and fail. So far, I am describing EXACTLY what you are talking about as the prevailing climate in photography.

BUT, there is one crucial difference between what is happening to us, and what happened to, for example, the US car industry. For GM and FORD and all the other US manufacturers the competition they faced was from Far East companies with highly automated and streamlined methods. Honda, Toyaota and all the rest were not doing it for fun or giving away the cars, they simply had lower unit production costs, and it was the resulting new business models which Detroit had to contend with.

So back to what I have been saying all along. I have no problem with photographers undercutting me because they have a more productive business model or use enhanced technologies - I have to prove I am worth more or fail - so long as they have a business model that actually supports them (like mine supports me, my wife, my three sons, and the house that I own in one of the most expensive countries to live in on the planet). I do not buy in to this bullshit argument of "these kiddos" being content to live in a commune slum and eat cold beans every day. It won't last. Eventually they will want a clean bed and decent food, and why wait till then to start thinking about being a bit more business-like in their approach. We are not talking about becoming money-centric, only about earning a living.

I once laughed at the suggestion of burger flippers in McDonalds in Central London getting pissed off that they were on a lower hourly rate than the parking meters in the street outside, but you are defending the idea of dropping to an even lower common demoninator so that you can have the thrill of saying you survived against the tide of the great unwashed in your area who are content to sit on the sidewalk sipping chai and waxing lyrical about the joys of suffering for their art.

If things are really so bad in your area that they cannot sustain a reasonable living from professional photography then MY innate understanding of economics tells me you have two choices: move somewhere else or change jobs. That is called labour market elasticity.

On a final note, in response to:

"Margaret Thatcher was exactly right when she said "The problem with socialism is that sooner or later you run out of other people's money".

I don't ever want the government involved with photography!!!"

The same could be said of unfettered capitalism as has been shown with the current banking crisis: sooner or later they run out of other people's money to gamble with and have to come back to us, the public, to bail them out. And the government is already involved in photography, telling you what you can and cannot shoot etc, making you register your copyright rather than accept it as a given. Besides, why was it OK for the US government to protect a crippled car industry, but it is not OK for them to support the arts? Look back in history: any civilisation's lasting gift is its artistic output.

The danger for us is that by not spending more time teaching business skills to the millions wanting to join this rat race, there may soon be no rat race left to join... but wait, no that's not true. Why? Because when all the photographers that were charging a reasonable fee for their work have gone, and companies need genuine skilled talent to produce the images they require for the increasing visual sophistication of the market they supply, they will have to draw from a smaller and smaller pool capable of offering that service. And what does price elasticity tell us will happen then, Russ? That's right, for those who really know what they are doing, they will be putting their prices up.

#251 Comment By your mom On October 2, 2010 @ 10:52 pm

You are kind of a d-bag, right? You are a solid photographer with great access, but I think you may have either been really lucky in the beginning or have completely forgotten your past.

One can easily start off shooting inexpensively or even occasionally for free, then gradually raise prices as a portfolio is developed. Finally establishing professional level pricing followed by normal increases as the market will allow or needs and market change.

Please stop making it more difficult or interesting than it really is. If I am professional photographer with 25 years of experience earning well into 4 figures per shoot and I want to shoot my neighbor's holiday family portrait for free that does not make me a schmuck, it makes me not an ass. I might want to make a few images for my local charity or church, so be it. That does not mean I cannot charge $3000 the following Monday for a corporate event.

I really don't think you need to concern your self with how people start their businesses. Your are well beyond that.

#252 Comment By Russell MacDonald On October 2, 2010 @ 11:25 pm


You have written a lot that I agree with.

For instance, I am NOT defending these people who shoot for free! I don't like it any more than you do. What I am saying is that there is nothing we can do to stop it. Complaining about it certainly won't stop it.

You are right that my particular market is very bad for photography right now. I have been in business for 40 years, and I have never seen it this bad. Yes, I do have the choice of moving, but I also have the choice of staying and competing, and that is what I have chosen to do. And it appears that I am winning! The free shooters are becoming fewer in number and most of the old pros have already closed up shop.

The students coming out of the photography school HAVE been taught business principles. The reason they can price their work so low is that their overhead is low (capitalism at work). They are generally not married, live in a $500/month apartment, have a website, a Canon Rebel, and no studio or office. These are the people who forced the other pros around here out of business, and who forced me to lower my prices and move into a one room studio. They only shoot for free when they are building their first portfolios, and that has never been a problem.

The relatives with DSLRs who are willing to shoot for free haven't really hurt me. Their work is usually not that good, and very few brides are willing to trust it.

As far as capitalism, goes, I would much rather have unfettered capitalism than socialism. If photography is to survive as a vialble business, it has to survive pure capitalistic principles. I never want government involved.

Yes, you are right about the prices. Now that the old pros have gone out of business around here, I am able to start raising my prices again, and people are becoming more willing to pay the higher prices.

My whole point in this entire thread was that you cannot sit around and blindly hold your prices up or you will go out of business. There seem to be a lot of people who don't understand that you have to lower your prices when the market demands it.


#253 Comment By Anonymous On October 3, 2010 @ 5:47 am

The posts by Nathan suggesting that you work as an assistant for a great photographer are fine as far as they go. They seem to ignore the steps before that -- how do you get to that position. And are you being paid for it? If you're doing it for free, it is the same as offering your services to end clients for free. And in either case, but especially if you expect the great photographer to pay you, you will have to have some portfolio of relevant work to show him.

Every profession requires that you convincingly demonstrate the value of the services or goods you offer before anyone will buy them. Photographers who started out as students were *paying* colleges to rate photographs they took.

#254 Comment By Aaron Lindberg On October 3, 2010 @ 11:08 am

How do you unsubscribe from this post? It's becoming a train wreck of ignorance.

#255 Comment By Anonymous On October 3, 2010 @ 1:39 pm


You say,

"Many, many established pros are finding themselves increasingly undercut, and often it has nothing to do with the level of talent. Some of you are saying that if John is talented, then he should have nothing to fear - it's just sour grapes. That's not necessarily true, however."

If that is the case, that established pros are being undercut by equally talented people charging less, what does that tell you about the market value about the services being offered?

No one as a right to make a "certain amount" of money for a "certain quality" of photography. It is all fine and well to research average costs, but those are set by a free market. It is really childish to whine because some people are willing to provide the same quality of work for a lower price.

#256 Comment By Random Bloke On October 3, 2010 @ 5:17 pm

I have followed this thread for some time and sit on the fence as a serious amateur and because I know some of the photographers that have posted on this thread who are expensive and in my opinion worth every penny they charge their clients.

Like any Profession it has to change with the times, these changes as pointed out by some normally as a result in changes of technology for the profession to utilise for their clients and their business.

The change of technology in this case is the advent of cheap digital slr cameras however, a cheap digital SLR camera such as the Rebel, the Canon 450D, the Canon 5D are not designed for the professional market, this is why canon produce a range of cameras such as the 1D, the 1Ds etc and Nikon do pretty much the same and both companies produce lenses designed for the professional market as well. The Professional ranges by Hassalblad (sp?) are so expensive they are totally out the amateur price bracket unless daddy happens to be a millionaire and buys you presents just to shut you up.

So selling images regardless of your 'skills' from cameras designed for the hobbyist amateur market and marketing yourself as a photographer is the first clue you are not a professional, that you are not declaring your income and probably wouldn't know an 'Artistic Photograph' if your life depended on it.

You give your work away free of charge or cheap because it is not worth anymore, it is cheap, tacky, banal, tasteless and damaging to the professional photography industry whether you like to believe it or not as is proven by the volume of Court Cases by Brides and Grooms taking said photographers to court for sending them cheap, tacky, banal, tasteless photographs on the pretence that they are photographers.. the writing is on the wall ok but I don't think it is the professionals that will lose out, I can see legislation coming into force sooner or later to control this situation, even if it is only the extension to the current legislation such as obtaining money by deception or false advertising or even the trades description act.

#257 Comment By Anonymous On October 3, 2010 @ 11:19 pm

Random Bloke,

Yes, that's it, if you can't compete, go crying to the government and ask for "regulations" to outlaw your competition.

Your post like many of the other ones here just seems bitter and spiteful.

I've also noticed that your post, like most of those by people in this thread complaining about the free market, contains various spelling errors, words used inappropriately, and bad grammar. But at least you haven't resorted to using all capital letters, like some have. Apparently, this issue gets you so fired up that you can't use proper English.

I really don't see how couples disappointed with the results they get would have a cause for complaint unless the photographer performed below his normal level or misrepresented the quality of his work. If someone is selling wedding photography services for $3k and have shown their portfolio, there is really nothing to complain about. Either the couple thought the quality of his work was worth $3k or they didn't.

The real issue is when he performs significantly below par per his normal standard. But I'd say this is something that ought to be specified in the contract, how these disputes are to be resolved, since photographic quality is entirely subjective.

#258 Comment By torsten winkler On October 4, 2010 @ 5:10 am

i guess the thing you're saying is: what differentiate you from the photographers who shoot for free is only the price. because only when the result is the same quality they could take away from photographers like you.
if you would be any little bit better then the free-shooters, you would beg for your clients to try them - because then they could see that paying really pays of.
i think the real problem is, that you yourself think that it's not much of a difference if some beginner is shooting or if you are. and that the only thing thats between you is the price.
in real life its like: one gets what one pays for.
the ferrari dealer is not worried about cheap cars from india or china. because it's a different market and the products are so much different. and instead of beeing angry you should look at all what you're offering for the clients and shut up about the beginners who play at a different league. maybe they are in the game for something you seem to lack - the love of photography.

#259 Comment By Russell MacDonald On October 4, 2010 @ 9:57 am

To Random Bloke,
I have seen a lot of top notch, young, wedding photographers who use entry-level DSLRs (mostly Canon Rebels). These people have recently graduated from the local Photography College, and are just starting out. They shoot weddings for $500 and they make an excellent profit (due to their low overhead as I mentioned in an earlier post)

Also, I have never had a client ask me what make or model camera I use as part of their decision making process of whether to hire me or not.

So, you really can't determine who's a 'pro' by looking at their equipment. It's the results that count.


#260 Comment By sweatereyes On October 4, 2010 @ 1:53 pm

The camera doesn't take good photographs, the photographer takes good photographs. Pros who were using digital ten years ago were using digital SLRs that were lower quality than the current Rebels and they still produced fantastic high quality work. To suggest that equipment is the factor to determine professionalism is ridiculous.

#261 Comment By Jason On October 4, 2010 @ 9:33 pm

As a photo editor, I notice that the young photographers most concerned about rights and prices, are usually the least talented. Frequently they are also lacking in business sense, fixating on dream prices no one will pay. That is the flip side to this pricing argument. No one understands what market price is, and that the market has dropped like a rock.

Lets be real everyone. Photography is valued cheaper than ever, what with the skill level and entry costs greatly reduced by digital photography.

The business model of "if everybody charges more we'll get paid more" is known as cartel pricing. All it takes to break the cartel is one person charging lower, and then the snowball begins. How do you plan to stop that snowball? And ultimately, it has no bearing on the supply and demand of the market.

The reality, supply GREATLY GREATLY GREATLY exceeds demand, thus the low prices. If you raise your prices, guess what, no one will pay. They will in fact, look at someone else who'll do quality work for less (or at least at market price).

In the end, what gets you work, is your skill at photography. First and absolutely foremost. After that, your business skills will dictate how long you stay in business. But without photo skill that's accumulated through the passionate desire to photograph DESPITE monetary concerns, you will not survive in this industry.

Otherwise, the market is way too saturated with photographers for crap photographers fixated on outdating pricing models to make any sort of living.

No one got into photography for money. Perhaps its for the best, that only the very very best, make it.

#262 Comment By Russell MacDonald On October 5, 2010 @ 9:14 am


Your comments are exactly on-target! I have said essentially the same thing, but in a different way several times throughout this thread, but I like the way you said it best.

I also like your comment at the and that only the best will survive. That's the way it should be!

#263 Comment By Mike On October 6, 2010 @ 12:36 pm

Your rants are all well and good, and as an established pro, make a lot of sense. I will agree that a lot of amateurs don't have the decency or manners not to undercut the pros, but with a little guidance and instruction, could find their niche and stay there until they are ready to enter the realm of pro shooting.

That said, I am one of the newer digital-age photographer trying to make it as a pro. In my experience there are very few established pros that are willing to put a small effort into helping younger photographers break into the market. Some will, most feel threatened and remain aloof to the growing multitude of aspiring photographers. I know that I wouldn't know what I know, or be as good as I am without established pros helping me along the way. I've worked with a landscape photographer, location and studio portrait photographers, as well as a well known Commercial photographer in the DC area. All helped me learn a little more about what I was doing, as well as how to do it right the first time.

As for shooting for free, I see no issue. I shot my first wedding as a favor/wedding present for my brother-in-law, and that in itself has given me material for my portfolio, as well as more bookings. There is nothing wrong with a free shoot or two to get started. However, I hesitate to do these shoots too often, without good reason, or just because someone asks me to. Sometimes I charge the full rate, sometimes I discount it a little, but I do my best not to shoot for free unless I feel like that's a good idea.

#264 Comment By D Payne On October 6, 2010 @ 12:45 pm

I am afraid I disagree. There is no harm doing stuff for free, it it's what gets you off the ground, and puts you in a position where you are able to start charging. I think it is inevitable that certain photographers will never make it - that's all part of it. If you are not able to bring in enough money because of others 'undercutting' your prices, I don't think you offer your clients enough confidence in your skills over someone else's.

#265 Comment By Whitney On October 6, 2010 @ 9:40 pm

Well, this was an interesting...no, entertaining article to read. I'm going to have to go with the majority and completely and totally disagree here. I started out working for free or close to free (my first real session I charged $100 w/a disk of full res images), now I make a comfortable income. I still shoot for free from time to time (contests or promotions) and it has not hurt me yet.

How exactly do you propose that a JSO photographer get their foot in the door with something like weddings? Do I offer to shoot a wedding for $2,000 with no wedding portfolio? What about second shooting? That is technically shooting for free (most of the time). I mean, in a perfect world we would all be able to go out and get great paying gigs the day we purchase our camera...but here in the real world, it takes time to build up to that. If a photographer doesn't make it after doing free sessions it is most likely bc they aren't worth paying for....not bc they did a few free sessions.

Generally, if you shoot a few kick ass free sessions people will see your work and WANT to hire you. I'm sure they'd love to get you to work for free, but if that isn't an option and they like your work enough they will pay.

Honestly, this article comes off as more bitter and resentful than it does helpful and informative.

#266 Comment By AG On October 7, 2010 @ 8:59 am

I guess you could go to school and get a formal education, THAT will have you have a portfolio by the time you graduate and be ready to advertise and start your business the right way!

#267 Comment By Serge Chabert On October 7, 2010 @ 12:30 pm

demon lee, I have to disagree with you on the following point :

"4. If they cannot get an IMAGE without using a photograph and shoving through the nth degree of manipulation in Photoshop, they are not photographers, they are Digital Imaging Technicians!

100 % of photos published in fashion magazines, let alone other kind of magazines are photoshoped to the bone.
There is a whole industry based on photo- retouching.
to name a few, Michael Zepeletto, Antoine verglas, Markus Klinko & Indrani, Russel James are all having their shots retouched to the bone.

sometimes when you see the before and after retouching, it is appalling to notice how poor quality the initial shoot is before retouching, even from so-called established and renowned photographer.

#268 Comment By Demon Lee On October 7, 2010 @ 2:10 pm

People often ask why it is so difficult to get work as a Junior Photographer... here are some of the reasons from my own personal experience and from colleagues that are also pros......

a. It is very difficult these days to consider taking on a junior photographer when the industry has been cut to pieces by the 'shoot for free', 'shoot em cheap', and 'give away the copyright' brigade of photographers - without being able to guarantee a stable income to sustain taking on a Junior which is a 2-4 year apprenticeship, photographers are loathe to commit themselves to that expenditure.

b. All too often the 'young bloods' as I refer to them think that by being a 'photographer' you will be 'cool', you will get to 'shoot lots of half naked women' all day, that you will 'travel the world' on expenses and lead a 'glamourous' lifestyle.. well some of that may have been true 20-30 yrs ago if you were good enough and had the 'image' that suited that period in time, but I am afraid to say that has been gradually disappearing with the changes in photography, again due to the lacklustre approach to the profession by those that think doing a favour for a member of the family or friend is the 'right way' to be 'noticed'... you will only be noticed by those that want a 'cheap' photographer!

c. I have just helped my eighteenth (18th) junior achieve her HND and move on to her Degree... some of us do like to support junior photographers, but in my case they have to have the right idea about what photography is and isn't.... it is about the 'image' you take, not what you can create in software.. it is about being able to look at something and capture it in a way other people are drawn to look at the picture.... it is about understanding no matter how good you think you are, photography is a subjective 'art' and not all will like what you shoot... it is about living, breathing and dying for your art....24/7/365 whereas these days, all too often for many it is about earning extra money on the 'side' doing a few weddings or pap work in your spare time from your other full time job...

Every Pro that I know did not come into photography 'late' or as a hobbyist that got made redundant so picked up a camera or who earnt a few bob on the side to get started - they were BORN to it.. I know I was, at 16 even though I wanted to join the RAF like my father, brother and my sister, I wanted to be an APP2 - in simple terms, an Air Process Photographer Apprentice.. as I could not join the RAF for health reasons, I went and got an apprenticeship instead.. a REAL photographer is just like any other REAL artist, either you can or you can't, the trouble is these days is that there are too many that can't, but think they can because someone in their family or a friend liked one of their snapshots...

Think of my as the Simon Cowell of the Photography World LOL... if you can't, I will be honest and tell you that you can't, no point in wasting your time and effort on something you cannot be.

#269 Comment By AG On October 7, 2010 @ 5:11 pm

The "stars" & "models" are photoshoped, to remove defects (usually created by too much plastic surgery or FAT), or to FIT a certain FASHION CONCEPT, that's not photography, that's high end digital imaging or photo re-rtouching...I hope they don't look for "photo credit" after that, since "PHOTOSHOP" (The program) should take ALL the credit for those types of photos! same goes for other photography fields, why photoshop a sky? why not get the real deal @ dusk or dawn....it's really not that complicated......give me a break, photoshop is supposed to be used in photography for minor retouches, if you get into "before" and "after" stuff that's NOT photography my friends.....

#270 Comment By Serge Chabert On October 7, 2010 @ 5:30 pm

well, in the magazines, you have the credits for the photographer, you don't have the credits for the retoucher.

#271 Comment By AG On October 7, 2010 @ 6:18 pm

Yeah, that's not cool considering that the "re-toucher" take a crappy photo and turns it into something nice!

#272 Comment By Europhoto On October 8, 2010 @ 11:35 am

Can we agree that there is a certain amount of work that you can do for "free". I don't say don't ask for pay for an assignment but do you remember TFP for example? It still is a great way to learn a great deal of "between the lines" and to experiment (you can't do that on a job! - they want everything "well lit" and not too fancy). If you want to have look at 'free' work and what I mean see my fashion portfolio.

When someone comes and offers a job I will ask for pay. I wouldn' worry about amateurs either, because their results are those of an amateur and if they will not be anymore one fine day, they will be the first to ask for money, since photography is a far more exiting profession than their actual job.

In journlism it's even better: be seroius: is your understanding of photojournalist sitting on a motorbike in Manhattan listening to police radio, ready to peter pan around town to take pix of criminals or accident victims?
Amateurs can do that and why shouldn't they. This gives you time to be real journalists and to plan your subjects carefully and to take pictures only you can take, because the story is in your head.
I'm not even talking about what it does to your heart and mind to have to be hoping for 'news' to happen (crimes, accidents a.s.o.)

I did some shoots for free for people who I think needed to be helped - and those are people that otherwise wouldn't have been anybody's client. They could have been asking someone else for free shots, but I preferred to get them the best possible shots for their projects. AND those are people that will pay you when that thing gets 'moving' (this IS my experience)

Like for everything the right path is in the middle and you need to be using your brain. There are things to be done for free and there are jobs. Don't mix things up. Know what you are doing and why.

The proper discussion should have been: What may be criteria to tell one from the other. Probably a very personal issue and I am afraid we will get to satisfying results only when people will finally stop to insult those of another opinion.


#273 Comment By Demon Lee On October 8, 2010 @ 1:11 pm


Serge you have just validated the point I made, I have had untold images published in Magazines, Websites and Newspapers, however they are not heavily retouched as I will not give consent as part of the Publication Rights.. I don't mind someone having a spot removed etc, but I will not permit people to be made to look slimmer, tanned, perfect etc, life is not perfect and photography is about capturing life as it is, not how a minority think it should be.....

#274 Comment By Demon Lee On October 8, 2010 @ 1:18 pm


TFP is a new concept since all these 'models' appeared on website modelling sites and the flurry of web 'agencies' and wannabe 'photographers'... its almost as bad as the term 'implied' topless.. what a stupid express, you are either topless or not, it can never be implied - hiding your boobs or nipples behind something does not mean you are not topless, you just can't see them!

Same goes for the term implied 'nude'... sorry folks, you are either naked or not, whether you can see anything is irrelevant!

Phil, no disrespect to you mate but if some actress approaches you on a TFP basis as she needs headshots for Spotlight, if she can afford her spotlight membership and her union fees to work, then she can afford to pay for a picture.....!!!

Do you really think if she makes it big and becomes an 'A List' Star she will remember your favour or even your name.. think not mate, it's a dog eat world out there and some people need to take off their Rose Tinted Spectacles....

#275 Comment By Sherene On October 10, 2010 @ 4:15 pm

Thanks so much for this post..

#276 Comment By Europhoto On October 11, 2010 @ 12:14 pm

@ Demon:

Thanks for your comment.

TFP cannot be so new since I know and practice it since my assistant days back in 1991 (ouch!)

It's not only the actress' interest to get the picture. In fact all the people involved in the shoot can let creativity run free (wich is the most important issue to me) and thus show great work in their portfolios. Not just the model. Please, if you have doubt, have a look at this page on my website
(I'm not saying you must like them, but you'll get a sense of what I mean)

And for your last point: I see what you mean, but do you really suggest that I live MY life according to moral judgment of another person? If she wants to live in world of s***, she can, but as long as I go to bed with my conscience at least I can say my deeds were 'right' and according to my view of how I want to be as a person and a photographer.

I experience your dog-eat-dog world like you do, but please remember that this world has not been given to us, we are creating it, don't you agree?

#277 Comment By Demon On October 11, 2010 @ 12:55 pm


Phil, I like your enthusiasm, but if all those pics were shot for FREE, ok, so you have some nice pics in your portfolio, but unless that is guaranteed to give you future PAYING work, it is time and money down the drain and may have taken a photographers paid work away from them and I am not sure how to get this across to people without sounding like a 'die-hard' class a whinger.

The fact is, and you can see this on many forums and websites seeking photographers, they claim they have no money to pay you and 'appreciate your artistic collaberation' and it's 'good for your portfolio' etc, but what are they doing with the images - using them to seek work on a website or a magazine, or a fashion house etc and it is because people keep falling for this 'scam' thinking they are suddenly going to get a deluge of paid work, that the myth perpetuates around the internet and everywhere else.

When these so called 'models' want you to shoot a porfolio for them as they are seeking paid work, they are not living in the real world because if they were able to be a 'model' a couple of dodgy mobile phone pics to an agent would be sufficient as they agent would KNOW if the 'model' has potential to earn them money by signing them... a portfolio is an EXAMPLE of their best work, it is not something they BUY or SCAM out of someone for FREE...

To be honest I think the younger generation just want everything for free whilst expecting to be paid top dollar for their services and unless they actually end up seeing that this is going to KILL their profession, it will get a lot worse before it gets better...!

#278 Comment By AG On October 11, 2010 @ 4:55 pm

Couldn't agree more Damon!

But you have to remember that "amateurs" are after bragging rights not a paycheck and therefore have no morals or work ethic what so ever! They suckered their wives or husbands into buying an expensive DSLR and now they have to actually justify it...of course no one will ever pay them for that!

Anyone who offers "free" work is either aware that they will NEVER be paid for it as it is really not high quality, they don't charge because if they did they know that there is a little thing called LIABILITY and they will be subject to a law suit and asked to return the money for the crappy work they did and last but not least, companies who are NOT aware that they are shooting themselves in the foot by using crappy photos to promote themselves and their business! They are already loosing money and have not yet realize it is the WAY they present themselves that is bringing them down!

Even these people realized that they better get good pictures before making someone waste their gas to see a crappy property!

There s no such thing as working for free, or worst, offering to work for free...there IS such thing as a legitimate charity and maybe a "free" shoot or "free DVD" with the shoot for existing clients who have paid in the past. This is business...Amateurs, if you like this field so much, become a pro? or are you afraid you will be on our side of the fence complaining about "all these people working for free, I can't make any money"!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!???
Stop being so hypocrite! 1st, do your day job for free, then will talk!

#279 Comment By maurits On October 11, 2010 @ 6:36 pm

Surprisingly shallow article lacking ideas from an otherwise good agency. It seems like the stereotypical response of an industry that has held some kind of position or monopoly which it is losing due a changing world and marketplace. Void of any ideas, they vilify and complain.

#280 Comment By inboulder On October 12, 2010 @ 5:26 am

So what is your excuse for publishing this article on your blog for free (instead of a hard working journalist getting paid to publish in a photo mag)?

#281 Comment By Jon On October 12, 2010 @ 6:35 am

Am i missing the one where it says "it is none of your business why i am doing this"?

#282 Comment By Demon Lee On October 12, 2010 @ 7:20 am


Mate you obviously do not understand the basic principle of PROFESSIONALISM... if you are a professional in ANY TRADE you have the right to try and ensure that others working within your trade apply the same ethics, standards, pricing structure and attitude to ensure a LEVEL playing field...

In photography over the years, there has ALWAYS been a good share of competition from fellow photographers on pricing, quality etc and that will never change, however when you have people that lack the basic skills and knowledge of BUSINESS and of PHOTOGRAPHY, this forum is NOT about holding a MONOPOLY, if it was the same could be said about Solicitors/Lawyers etc - or would you rather be defended by a skilled professional lawyer or someone that fancies a bit of extra income or experience by defending you for free without the requisite skills.... don't bother answering, we all know which one you would choose if you had any common sense at all of course!

#283 Comment By AG On October 12, 2010 @ 9:04 am

Because your honest "publicist" doesn't care about our industry, magazines don't pay for photos, but charge from $5000 and up for tiny ads!

#284 Comment By AG On October 12, 2010 @ 9:05 am

Your publicist care about who died in a car accident...as opposed someone who didn't...or some other crimes! they could care less about the living!

#285 Comment By maurits On October 12, 2010 @ 9:24 am

@demon lee

Actually you are proving my point in a way, and give an excellent example.

Humans are pretty good at optimizing their economic behavior, they mix there demands, their funds, their appetite for risk when purchasing goods or services. To stick to the solicitor, one can indeed easily imagine that if a person is facing serious jail time, he will have strong incentive to hire the best defense there is. He might even consider taking money out of his house. A very different situation from a person who lets a family member, who just made the bar, try to get him out of a misdemeanor.

So the level playing field in this sense if only level to the extend that the law poses restrictions on what you can and can't offer to the market. Not everybody is qualified as a solicitor, surgeon... and secondly by what the market or society deems to be minimally appropriate. Cultural differences would be and example of the latter. In country x, color y is deemed bad luck, hence nobody buys and thus sells, cars of this color

So a party offering good or bad services for free or for insane prices might be annoying, rude, stupid, misguided, what ever. Ultimately the consumer makes the choice of what the 'level' in the playing field is.

For those involved in such a market, you should reach out to your consumers, not your peer who is changing the market. And not because I think this is just, or fair, or right or wrong, but because I think that in a free market economy, it is the only way. For me a good example of this is iTunes. Furious about the illegal downloads they probably and rightfully were, but instead of fighting it, they came up with a product that took a different take, namely making it as easy as possible to obtain music.

#286 Comment By Demon Lee On October 12, 2010 @ 1:20 pm

@Mauritus @AG...

Its not a free market economy when people give their work away free, its NO ECONOMY, it provides nothing of value to the Economy or the person giving their work away free of charge.... AG makes a valid point, these magazines are charging advertisers 1,000's for adverts etc yet expect photographers to supply images for free and they will continue to do this whilst the IDIOTS (and that is the best I can say about them) continue to feed the magazines in this way - if EVERYONE stopped giving their work away and sold it for what it was WORTH, this forum wouldn't exist.

The ONLY reason 'demand' for cheap photographers is growing is BECAUSE the cheap/free photographers created the market in the first place... if they had followed long established traditions in the trade and marketed themselves correctly, the cheap market would not exist, the trade would not be in decline nor would it have this problem...

No one does their day job for free unless they are the likes of Bill Gates - these photographers do not do their day jobs for free so all we want them to do is to either sell their work for its true value and behave in a PROFESSIONAL manner or start working their day job for free as well....!!!

#287 Comment By YoonSeon On October 19, 2010 @ 9:10 am

I haven't read all the comments here, but I agree with Michael Epperson. As someone who's just starting out and might consider doing photography more seriously one day, what WOULD you suggest for starting out? How are you meant to build up a portfolio without first shooting for free? Why would people pay for an amateur that hasn't yet got a portfolio? How does that make any sense?? Yes, there are probably downsides to freebies, but why don't you actually SUGGEST what newbies could do, instead of just pointing out obvious disadvantages to doing things for free?

#288 Comment By Jakob On October 19, 2010 @ 3:06 pm

Why so many excuses when they are all alike. You make no valid arguments for the ones seemingly making these excuses, but only justify the anger in the heart of people being afraid to loose business to amateurs.

#289 Comment By Mike Mather On October 21, 2010 @ 1:02 pm

I just read this blog for free. What about all the professional writers out there, working for newspapers, television, magazines and dot-coms? A category that includes me? I could argue you are damaging my livelihood by giving away your words. But the truth is, when someone can duplicate my quality of work for less money (or no money), then my boss has an easy decision.

If your professional work is superior, that will be self evident.

So please stop giving away your words. I have to feed my family.

#290 Comment By Demon Lee On October 22, 2010 @ 11:27 am

@ Mike Mather

Mike, a blog is not taking news gathers earnings, a blog is a personal or commercial webspace for airing opinions and to have open discussions.

As a Freelance Photo Journalist, I am neither threatened or intimidate by the general blog site such as this as it is NOT NEWS, however, kids with cameras do infringe on my earnings by free and cheap photography and the New Corporations and Magazines have fulfilled their fantasies about being a photographer by the acceptance of often low quality crap photography to the extent that now the News Corporations and Magazines and every other Tom, Dick & Harry think that we all live and operate in some freakish Utopia whereby Photographers don't need to get paid for they work whilst taking industrial action to ensure their pay rises and terms and conditions of employment at their own jobs.....

Bloody Hypocrites!

#291 Comment By Mike Mather On October 22, 2010 @ 1:47 pm

@Demon Lee

I appreciate your opinion, but I disagree that blogs don't have an impact on writers' pay. A commerical blog is just that, commercial. The people who run it get paid, and if contributors write for free, they make even more money. I have seen rates for freelance writing tumble in the last five years. I used to see premier freelance jobs at a dollar a word, but more often around 50 cents a word. Now it's commonly five cents a word, or worse, for the byline.

It doesn't bother me that much because I work fulltime in journalism, and I am fully confident my writing is superior to those getting five cents a word or $5 an article. That's not the freelance market I would go after. If people want to work cheaper, or free, that's a decision, and I support it. I just have to prove I am more valuable. Does this argument work anywhere else in the business world? "Wal-Mart, please charge more so I can keep up the profits at my store."

I absolutely understand the arguments and controversy about the potential impact of free shooters on professional salaries. But it's just wrong to say it doesn't apply in the same way to Internet writers who populate for-profit web sites with free work.

#292 Comment By Demon Lee On October 22, 2010 @ 2:46 pm

@ Mike Mathers

Mike, some commercial sites I may agree with you, however this site is afterall a news agency staffed by news gatherers, likely to be salaried or retained staff so a bad example I feel.

I feel the issue though for writers such as yourself is related to the Internet, but not so much by bloogers but but by the following factors:

1. The News Corporations entered into the world of the Internet with their free news websites without taking any thought or consideration of what would happen to their print sales which is where their revenue originates.

2. As time passed and the impact of giving away news FREE on the Internet became ingrained into everyday life, they left it too late to reverse the trend and failed again to make news on the internet a pay-per-view system or subscription service so as their losses mounted, they started shedding staff in bulk and taking them back on as Freelancers on a lower rate.

3. It was at this point writers and journalists had the opportunity to stand their ground and refuse to accept these lower rates - without news gatherers and good writers/editors etc, the news companies would have had to back down - this was seen clearly with the Screenwriters Guild of America when they simply ground to a halt and brought Hollywood Film Production to a standstill.

4. With the cat out of the bag, it was obvious that more and more inexperienced Freelancers would be used straight out of college and university and although they held a certificate in Journalism, they know nothing about the world, how it works or about business and accepted lower and lower rates as the News Corporations struggled with mounting debts and struggling to compete against the Internet.

I got out of the mainstream journalism 15yrs ago and I write now only when the subject is of interest to me and only if they are going to pay for my skills and experience and of course I back this up with images....

I feel writers have suffered less as a result of cheap or free writers per se, but more by the failure of many of them to see what would happen when news appeared free of charge and a failure of some very powerful Unions to protect them when the time was write - the News International move from Fleet Street in the UK caused strikes by Print Workers, but they were not backed up by the Journalists and Writers....!!

#293 Comment By Scott Baradell On October 22, 2010 @ 7:08 pm

Demon and Mike,

Thanks for your thoughtful dialogue here. To clarify about Black Star Rising, I am compensated as creator/editor of the blog. The writers, with very few exceptions, are not compensated monetarily. They contribute in order to have a larger audience for their points of view, to build their reputations, to attract new clients, to receive professional editing, or for other reasons. In the case of Rising, one thing that makes it different from an assigned writing or photography job is that nothing is assigned -- writers choose their topics, so it often as much personal as professional for them. That's what I think is Rising's greatest appeal.



#294 Comment By Gene On October 22, 2010 @ 8:31 pm

"To be honest I think the younger generation just want everything for free whilst expecting to be paid top dollar for their services and unless they actually end up seeing that this is going to KILL their profession, it will get a lot worse before it gets better...!"

Oh god! I'm hardly a youngster pushing 40, but how many times do we have to hear this utter crap from whiners who can't adapt to changing environments???

Seriously if the only difference between you and a 'free' photographer is the price you charge - hell you should be out of a job! Compete on quality and other differentiators that can justify a higher price rather than whining about all the damn kids ruining everything!

In my day job, I sell professional services for 4-10X what the Indian firms sell them, and yet we keep getting clients work. Why? Because we don't compete on price. We know we are better and we can show why. The clients who go cheap once either realize they made a mistake, or perhaps it is 'good enough' for them, and frankly thous clients I don't want to have to compete for.

With photography at night I can justify free services (although using all pro gear) because I get personal enjoyment out of what others see as a job and because I fully expect my quality to not match what the 'professionals' who charge for similar services (using identical equipment) would do. Those two items make it very easy to justify shooting events for free.

If I fell like I no longer enjoy photography or I decide I'm 'as good as the pros' then I'll consider charging, until then, don't see me as competition, unless you are really an enthusiast pretending to be a pro :-)

#295 Comment By Mike Mather On October 22, 2010 @ 8:35 pm

Thanks, Scott. That's exactly my point. I believe a photographer, or any other tradesman, should be able to market himself in a manner that most makes sense. Digital media, and that now includes photography, has changed so remarkably in the past decade. Old models no longer prevail. Not in journalism, not in photography. I believe you have to adapt and grow.

I appreciate this forum and certainly the opinions of the contributors and the posters. I just don't buy in to the notion that I, or anyone else, must conform to another's business model because of professional peer pressure.

#296 Comment By Demon Lee On October 24, 2010 @ 5:13 pm


You are a prime example of what is killing the professional photography business, if you lost income (regardless or price or quality) because your clients could get some mug to do it for free, you would be screaming the house down.. you don't work your day job for FREE so don't expect others to do the same or have to reduce their prices to compete.

You have not stated what your services are - the issue with photography is the public are very ignorant of WHY professional photographers have to charge what they do to make a living and are even MORE ignorant to what is a Professional 'Image' produced by an experienced professional photographer compared to an 'image' of a non professional....

If you are shooting for FREE you cannot produce the quality without a significant cost to yourself but your 'clients' are likely not to understand that so YOU ARE AFFECTING the MARKET and DEGRADING the WORTH of a skilled trade.

#297 Comment By Gene On October 25, 2010 @ 10:45 am

@Demon Lee

Well if you consider 'free' as competition, clearly you are overestimating your own worth! LOL! If you don't think the 'public' knows the difference between a pro product and a 'free' product then either you need to do a better job of selling/differentiating yourself, or you really are not as good as you think you are. Every business has to show clients why they are better/faster/cheaper/etc. Why do you expect to have the 'public' know the difference without being educated?

Your argument can be used for any industry... Commercial wedding bands probably hate the bands that are happy to play a wedding for free just as you hate the advanced amateur shooting that wedding for free. But you know that may be the only way the couple can afford to have the wedding. They aren't going to cut out food and guests so they can pay the photographer and band.

Being a professional in any industry is not a right. You always compete with people buying their own equipment and doing things on their own. Someone above mentioned that auto mechanics don't give away free services - well they do. Plenty of people go to Sears of Home Depot and buy thousands of dollars worth of tools. They work on their own cars because it's fun, and many even help friends with their cars. Same for carpenters, same for electricians, etc. All these 'trades' can be hobbies.

Complaining about people doing something on their own or for friends as destroying your business simply underlines the fact that your business is not built on a solid foundation. If you can't sell your photographic services, perhaps you should leaving sales to professional sales people :-)

#298 Comment By Gina On October 26, 2010 @ 12:10 am

You sound like you might have a case of the grumpies maybe you should read Dane Saunders book.

#299 Comment By Kel On October 26, 2010 @ 12:20 am

Wow. What an incredibly sarcastic, maybe bitter??? article! And I couldn't disagree more.

As a professional photographer, I am absolutely not intimidated by other photographers who shoot for free. My work is good enough to warrant my pricing, and my style is MINE - so either they want to hire me or they don't. Yes, there are many people out there who do not understand the difference between "uncle so-and-so with an expensive DSLR" and a professional photographer UNTIL THEY SEE THE RESULTS. If they still don't understand, then they are not my client - and likely never will be. I'm OK with that.

I have photographed for free many times myself in order to build my portfolio in an area of which I was less experienced. Not only am I NOT having a issue (as stated in the article) with everyone expecting me to continue to shoot for free, but more times than not, they INSISTED on giving me money. And I'm the one they have come back to several times for more (now paid for) sessions.

As for the comments that newbies should be the ones responsible for tracking down the professionals for help...You've got to be kidding me. Why - because veterans, in their whining and complaining that all the newbies are "killing the business" because "everyone with an expensive camera thinks they can instantly be a professional", are so approachable? Because professionals are so inclined to share their "secrets of the trade" with a newbie that they're afraid will take over their craft with their inferior pricing?

I have been finding out more and more how UNwilling other photographers are to share their information with those who are just starting out. I even recently participated in a discussion in which several (most, in fact) of the photographers were unwilling to talk about location, etc. with those who were seeking help - because, and I quote, "I worked too hard for that information to just give it to someone who is so inconsiderate as to even consider asking me to give up my trade secrets. They need to figure this out on their own, like I did."

I was appalled. I would NEVER turn down a request for help. It's just plain rude.

And this article - poor advice, in my opinion. In fact, it makes photographers look bad by telling clients we're willing to charge for something we have no experience in...which is actually really irresponsible.

In a "day job" at a business office - if you're working for a promotion, you agree to take on work that is outside your job requirements - so you can learn and build your expertise. And you CERTAINLY don't tell your boss you will do it for $500. You do the extra work for free, knowing it will pay off in the long run.

#300 Comment By Demon Lee On October 26, 2010 @ 4:29 am

@Gene - you have totally missed the point - I am NOT in competition with the FREE shooters or even with the CHEAP shooters and I have no desire to enter into a pricing war with people like yourself.

Your analogy that couples getting married do NOT cut guests from a wedding list in order to pay for a band or photographer is incorrect, I know couples that have done exactly that to get the photographer they wanted - their attitude rightly was that rather than feed another 4 people they barely see all year, they would pay the extra for the images they wanted as once the wedding was over, the only thing of value to them after was each other, their wedding rings, the dress and the images of their special day!

I do own an extensive tool kit, I build engines as a hobby, however I do not offer this service to anyone else, in fact when friends have issues with their cars I simply advise them the likely cause and tell them to take it to a garage for testing to find the fault and get it repaired... I am NOT stealing a mechanics work, it is a skilled trade and if he gets it wrong he has the appropriate insurance to deal with any claim.

As for the public (the average man/woman in the street), the only time they normally see professional images is when they read magazines and newspapers, but these images are normally heavily edited - therefore they do not understand the skills and the quality the photographer exercised in getting the original image, probably suitable for publication without any editing at all, but that is a different subject.

Who said that being a professional was a 'right', professional photographers have EARNED the right to be deemed professional photographers by rights of passage either via Study, Apprenticeship & years of experience and of course by acting in a Professional Manner by not giving away their copyright, by knowing and understanding the Industry and the purpose of 'Rights Managed Images', by holding the correct Public Liability Insurance, by their professional attitude and behaviour to their clients, the public and fellow professionals.

You like many others clearly seem to feel that because you own a camera, you are now a photographer, sadly, that is not true - before I turned professional I would never have had the balls to call myself a photographer, firstly I was a Processing Technician, then I was a University Student, then I was a Photographers Assistant...

We do try to teach the public about the difference, however with attitudes such as yours that continually devalue the worth of a Photographer and the value of Photography, it is difficult for the professionals to get their message across because for every Professional Photographer there is 100 people shooting for Free or Cheap calling themselves photographers, giving away images and copyright damaging the industry.

You don't do your day job for free so why damage my industry by working for free - or maybe go and tell your boss you love it so much there is no need to pay you anymore...!

#301 Comment By Andrea Ward On October 26, 2010 @ 9:41 am

I did a paying wedding for my first one and have gotten offers for other weddings. However, my business is geared towards children and photographing children takes practice and patience. I use my friends kids as practice. They love it and they spread the word about me. They all know that I am doing them a favor and any other gigs I have booked have all been paying. I agree with doing a few free shots to build not only your portfolio but also your skills. I mean wouldn't you want to goof up with a friend of yours instead of a paying client?? I have not gone to school for this at all. I am completely self taught, so no I did not get experience in school. Besides, when I shoot children for free the first time, my friends know that if they want me to do another session with their kids then I will charge. Just be upfront and honest with the people that you are photographing for free. make sure they know that this is your business and that although you are doing a session for free this time, it will not be free the next time.

#302 Comment By Frank Casella On October 27, 2010 @ 8:53 am

Every client needs to pay something, even if it's to exchange a favor. Any 'photographer' who works for free doesn't understand what it cost's to be in the photography business, and is not educating our client base that great photography is an investment and not an expense....

#303 Comment By MacsfieldImages On October 27, 2010 @ 2:16 pm

There has to be a balance between what we do for "Free" and what we charge for. There are circumstances where a Free shoot is beneficial to both photographer and the client, for example; I did a free product shoot for a person who was starting a pottery business, because he couldn't afford the 'professional fees'. He got the images free and I retained the copyright and the right to sell those images as "Stock". He was aware that subsequent shoots would be charged for. Not only is he my best customer but I have gained many, many customers from that. So to say that "Free Photography" damages the industry is simply not true.

It all depends on how it is handled by the photographer, and a professional businessman/woman would know HOW to capitalise on it. While many spend years learning the skill of photography, I have equally found, that few, spend years learning how to become "professional" in business. Just because you are a professional photographer, does not mean you are a professional businessman/woman. IF you were, then doing occasional shoots for "Free" would not be a cause of concern.

#304 Comment By ArnarG On October 27, 2010 @ 2:39 pm

I have shoot pictures of friends for FREE and got back referrals that lead to a well paying job.

Also if I wouldn't have had the photos in my portfolio there are several gigs I wouldn't have gotten.

I have to say your post is just wrong as meaningful and worth as much as a used roll of TP.

#305 Comment By Gene On October 27, 2010 @ 4:23 pm

@Demon and @Frank
First, I'm NOT a professional photographer. However I have been shooting with an SLR for over 20 years, have had photos in gallery showings and have sold images since the 80's - so please don't group me in with 22 year olds just out of college shooting with a Rebel.

Secondly, just because someone charges $ to shoot a wedding and is by definition a PROFESSIONAL photographer does not make them a GOOD photographer. So if you didn't think yourself worthy of being a photographer until you became a professional photographer - maybe you are in the wrong business.

Thirdly, this recurring theme of 'damaging the industry' is utter BS. You sound like union thugs in Detroit bitching about cheaper and better Japanese cars in the 80s.

Yes I own 'pro' bodies, lenses, strobes, etc - but I'm self admittedly an enthusiast. If you can't differentiate yourself from enthusiasts based on the QUALITY of your work then you DO have a serious problem and the cause is not me.

Oh, and not only do I shoot for free, but I actually hire and pay models, MUAs, and PAs for my studio shoots. Can you believe it - an amateur actually paying others to enjoy his hobby?!?! :-)

Seriously guys quit bitching about all the people 'beneath you' and go sell more shoots!

#306 Comment By Demon Lee On October 28, 2010 @ 1:50 pm


Spot on Frank, well said!

#307 Comment By Demon Lee On October 28, 2010 @ 2:01 pm

@Macclesfield Images / AnarG / Gene

OK, for the final time, I personally don't give a rats arse if you shoot for free - if you value your worth or your images worth as Zero, carry on shooting for free...

We (well I for one) am NOT bitching about those below me because from where I sit, until the day I die they will always be below me and will never produce work of the quality and content I produce for my clients, because I am shooting for ME to produce images for my CLIENTS for which they will pay me very well - I don't do weddings, I don't do my mates kids or any other kids, I don't shoot 'lifestyle' (over exposed or over photoshopped crap) and I don't shoot for cheap or for free.

Having stayed in Business for 27yrs, having ridden out three (3) previous recessions without having to reduce my prices, having seen more changes in Photography and the Business of Photography than most of you have had hot dinners, you just simply don't get it.... Photographers, that is REAL photographers that live, work and sleep their chosen profession have mortgages to pay, children to feed, tax to pay and each and every job you shoot for FREE after you have finished being PAID for YOUR JOB damages the industry as all the really good photographers will eventually shut up shop and retire and the world will have lost a profession that cannot be replaced with the current influx of 'photographers' who simply do not understand good business practice, copyright law, the meaning of photography etc, etc...

#308 Comment By Gene On October 28, 2010 @ 5:18 pm


It is not my job, to protect your job.

Photography when invented was a hobby long before it was a profession - perhaps the time when event photographers could charge clients thousands because they could do something very few had the means to is over.

It's a market economy - if people think your quality deserves the money you charge, you'll have a job and god bless you. We lost typesetters when desk top publishing came along in the 80's and I'm sure they complained about a "profession that cannot be replaced " as well.

Compete on merit and show clients why you are so much better (which I assume you are) rather than complaining.

Again it is not my concern whether you have a 'job' or not. If my hobby hurts your job, get a better job.

#309 Comment By Gene On October 28, 2010 @ 6:28 pm

"Over the last two years I have started small businesses in direct competition to Graphic Designers, Web Designers and an On-Line Directory.. and I slashed their prices. Once they contact me and ask what the hell I am playing at, I simply advise them that I am a FULL TIME photographer but in my spare time I do 'x' job because 'my friends have said I am good at it' and as they do the same with photography, what are they complaining about?

Funny, when they see someone slashing their prices by up to 90% and they see their clients willing to forget their loyalty, their attitude changes and instead I pick up their clients for Product, Portraits and Commercial Photography and I pass them mine for Graphic Design, Web Design etc.."

Actually in the US this would be called price-gouging, collusion and racketeering - in general anti-competitive practices like this (in the US) are a great way to end up with a lawsuit. But then I wouldn't expect a 'professional photographer' to know jack about business or law.

#310 Comment By Demon Lee On October 29, 2010 @ 3:20 pm


Gene, I never did any of the actual work, I just started the company to prove to those offering cheap photography what happened to a business when people undercut your prices - I actually used Art, Design and Graphic Design Students for the work.

What was interesting was their reaction - this was an education for them, they simply did not realise how it affected another local business and once we all sat down and discussed it, they realised that by using 'Networking' and some common sense, both businesses benefit.

I took on a junior photographer from them to teach him the 'Black Art', they took on my students..

The end result was that an additional five (5) people gained employment, both businesses increased their income with HIGHER prices and new clients..

This is a lesson many part-time photographers with full time jobs need to learn... you have still yet to reveal what you do for a full time job..

Your last comment demeans you... I probably know know about Good Business Practice and the Law than most and it is not illegal even in the U.S. to have business partnerships providing you are not deliberately setting out to destroy another business.... but what do you care, you work for free lol

#311 Comment By Alex On October 30, 2010 @ 6:52 am

Walmart killed mom and pop shops across the US and world...BY lowering the quality expectation and educating an entire new generation on cheap crap without value or lasting capabilities filled with God Knows what kind of chemicals etc..... IN the end the prices at Walmart are cheap, BUT when they break/tear as OFTEN as they DO, you end up buying more and more...therefore bringing YOUR COST UP to what you would have paid for a higher quality item that would have LASTED longer!

Now we have an entire new generation expecting Walmart crap quality and cheap prices for Photography too! Great Job! you should pat yourselves on the back...now let's see if we can also get camera equipment and lenses FREE from Canon, Nikon etc...and Apple computers.....I wish you LUCK!

It is so sad to see people confusing "personal pride" with a "business"! I guess that IS part of education and we see here that not many people have one! let alone COMMON SENSE!

#312 Comment By Demon Lee On October 31, 2010 @ 2:22 pm


Well said, it's a good example of what cheap shoddy and naff results in....

#313 Comment By sohel ahmed On November 6, 2010 @ 4:01 pm

great points. totally agree with u..even this working for free tendency is really bad for the market also. if you are r really good at what you are , you should charge for it and people don't show any respect to your work if it comes free.

#314 Comment By Lyn Garlett On November 14, 2010 @ 12:36 am

No one who is a professional photographer, even if you just graduated from school should devalue your profession by doing anything for free. When you hire a plumber to come to your home does he do things for free? Does the electrician, mechanic, hairdresser, lawyer? They were all brand spankin new once too. Have you ever heard anyone who has a profession say I'm new I will do it for free to build by business. HELL NO!
Come on wake up....its value perceived. Obviously you don't value your ability very much if you give it away for FREE. Your just making the profession harder for those photographers who went to school, became PROFESSIONAL photographers and do this FULL-TIME (and there is a difference) for a living.

#315 Comment By Harry Cochran On November 16, 2010 @ 10:58 am

Honestly, this guy sounds like a bitter old photographer who's afraid of younger competition. The photographers who shoot for cheap/free will always be there, you can't get rid of them. You charge more because your work is better and more professional. the cheap guys are not devaluing your work until you decide to compare yourselves to them and by then you have already lost. I say if you are starting out, shoot for free if you have to, but make sure you have creative control over the shoot. Make it a portfolio piece, collaborate with others and build your style. No one can buy a camera and immediately start charging thousands of dollars without quality work to back it up, and if you have to work a few free jobs to get it then so be it.

#316 Comment By Demon Lee On November 17, 2010 @ 4:37 am

@Lyn Garlett - Spot On
@Harry Cochran - Well Off...

Harry, anyone wanting a 'career' in photography should NOT do free shoots for 'experience' or 'to build a portfolion' as it is likely they will set themselves up as a photographer, compete in a very competitive market and are likely to fail and meanwhile, the profession IS damaged because the publics perception of the real cost of professional photography is diminished as it would in any other business.

If you want a career in photography, in the UK there is the HND, HNC, Degree Courses etc and many Professionals seeking assistants and juniors together with the serious professional associations that have 'mentoring' schemes to develop the skills and style of the new photographers....

No other professional trade in the world will offer FREE work to build a 'portfolio', 'experience', 'client lists' etc and the sooner young people learn that their are well proven routes to earning a living with your photography, the fewer businesses will go belly up, photography will be recognised again as a 'Profession'.

As for your comments in relation to they do not damage photography, I am sorry they do... I own a large Event Photography Business started back in 1985 when we used FILM and charged £10-£15 per print, due to these 'freebie' photographers, the price of event photography has been shot to pieces and it is likely to be the MOST competitive market in the Industry - this damages my business not because of income per se, but the Junior Photographers that used to undertake much of this work whilst training and undertaking professional photographic qualifications are no longer an affordable asset to the business, therefore between 5-6 people that USED to have guaranteed paid work experience each year, no longer get those opportunities...

#317 Comment By ken On November 19, 2010 @ 10:09 am

when i work on my car, i put auto mechanics out of business. when i fix my own appliances, i put the maytag guy out of business. when i build my own deck or install my own patio, i put contractors out of business. when i do my own taxes, i put a CPA out of business.

boo fucking hoo.

if you're a pro, a real pro, then you offer something no one else can.

if you expect to stay in business then you also market that specialty, and that's what people will pay for.

if the kid down the street takes "better" pictures than you, well, maybe you need to find something else to be special in.

#318 Comment By Serge Chabert On November 19, 2010 @ 11:03 am

The problem is that the photographer offering free photos does not necessarily provide better pictures. But since it free, that's ok for the potential "client".
As someone said, there are plenty of website forun where people offer free photoshoots to models for example. But look at the quality, most of them looks they have been taken in a back alley on a bad light day, with no concept behind, and seemingly shot with a cheap camera.
Charging for good quality photos does not necessarily win over free "cheap" photography and that is why those people are hurting the business.

#319 Comment By Demon Lee On November 19, 2010 @ 12:39 pm


Ken, when you do any of those jobs for yourself, you are not putting anyone out of business as many people undertake such tasks themselves, the difference being that you are not doing the work for other people FREE of charge or on the cheap.

FREE or Cheap will in most cases when dealing with the Public because most of them have no experience of working with a Professional Photographer and do not understand the difference in price, quality etc, however there are more and more cases whereby people have booked a 'Cheap/Free' photographer and then sued them because of the crap they got in return, but they forgot the basic principle in that 'If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys' applies in photography just as anywhere else so why are they taking legal action against them, they got what they paid for after all.....

#320 Comment By Kelly Sullivan On November 30, 2010 @ 2:54 pm

I'm confused... don't shoot for free, or undercut the pro's by charging too little. but then the pro's get insulted when we charge what they charge with less experience to back it up and then they raise their prices. I've got tons of experience by shooting for trade/donation and I have built up a portfolio that I can be proud of... this was not the case a few years ago. I did have a pro photographer help me out by letting me assist him but I never saw any of the pictures I took so I didn't learn anything... and he told me he'd pay me by the quality of my work... was a deal to assist for $100 a wedding... more $$$ for better pics. He didn't pay me for 3 of the 7 weddings I shot with him and I never saw any of the pictures to judge for myself how I was doing. lesson learned?

and to comment on Demons post I saw two such cases on judge joe brown and judge judy... one won and one lost.. both were for under $2000, the one people sued because they felt uncomfortable in the environment they were shot. Not so much the quality of the pics.

#321 Comment By Marije Weterings On December 2, 2010 @ 1:17 pm

I guess it is very healthy to keep the discussion about this subject alive. I understand it is a big issue, every day again. But let's not forget, why we are in the business..... because we love to take pictures.

#322 Comment By gus mctavish On December 7, 2010 @ 7:19 am

Wow what a laugh. I read what you wrote and it simply makes sense. It is provided by someone who has some experience and has learned to be successful rather than fail like those who are arguing with him :)

Professionals are not telling you your wrong but the loosers who have no successful business experience and no willingness to invest in schools seminars or even willing to learn from the wisdom of someone who has been through it all in the past.

So instead of unerstandig that your words are written to help them they take it as an insult thinking the fast that they ahve failed makes them an expert. And of course rather then take your words with moderation the odd guy who did limit the free sessions to a small number claims your thoughts to be offensive as it they failed :)

I loved your words. I wish i read them before i made most of the mistakes you mentioned for simlar logic to what you described.:)

#323 Comment By gus mctavish On December 7, 2010 @ 7:22 am

i have a note on my facebook fan pages some may like to read :)


#324 Comment By Jens Holcom On December 8, 2010 @ 12:47 am

I was a pro photographer in the 70's and shoot weddings, products, major sporting events, celebs including two presidents. I stepped out of the business from 1980-2010 and shot four weddings in the past two months all for free. The feeling was quite overwhelming. It's my new gig.

#325 Comment By Kelly Sullivan On December 8, 2010 @ 10:07 am

ok so I decided to take the bull by the horns and charge what I was worth even though I couldn't afford me, I rented a background and a second flash for some traditional portraits. feedback was that I'm too expensive, $100 for an hour and they pay for prints... people are watching their budgets and going to target for ten minutes in the studio and crappy end results. I even had one person contact me and tell me she only wanted ten minutes and would pay me what she would pay target and wanted me to just email her the pictures and she'd print them at walmart. WOW, I feel idk insulted. People will go out and spend money on electronics,cell phones that are going to be outdated in a few months etc but can't pay me for my time so that I can provide christmas for my family. I had tons of people asking for christmas shoots but I guess that was only for $100 and a CD they could print as much as they wanted :( I don't feel like I'm asking too much to pay for the prints through me too. It not only costs me my time during a shoot, but prep time, editing time... I am still paying off my camera and I need to pay to host images...... after I read this original post I made a list of what being a photographer actually cost me. Not only my time, but also time from my family etc and in the end I am paying to take pictures even for $100 a shoot 😛

#326 Comment By Sincere On December 8, 2010 @ 10:07 am

The most stupid post I have EVER read on photography...

Are you afraid of loosing your marketshare? Aren't you good enough?

The world has changed, the reality has changed, your business and industry has changed and will keep changing... If you can't adapt, leave it...

Crap.. I won't waste time trying to open someone else's mind.

Completely lost the admiration I had on you...

Regards from "Not a fan of you anymore".

#327 Comment By Serge Chabert On December 8, 2010 @ 11:34 am

The world has indeed changed. it seems like we are living in a dystopian world where everyone wants everything right way at the cheapest price possible. A world where, among the latest, ephemeral, feel good, latest electronic gadgetry has taken over our lives.
People gonna spends thousands of bucks on a wedding day to feed people that do not even care about them and are only interested in good food and good time. However those same people are not willing to pay for photos that they will keep for a lifetime and, more often than not, opt for cheap, low quality alternative.
The internet and digital have brought the democratization of photography, as everyone seems to be a wannabe photographer or model, a trend which was profusely advanced by scores of so-called models/photographer community sites, proponing a ranpant free for all mentality at the expense of the more traditional photography business models, and with it the standard of photography has been drastically reduced.
Nowadays, photographers are often confronted with the daunting "take it or leave it" option when dealing with a client. Photography has, somehow lost its intrinsic value and photographers are consequently considered as dilettantes.
What about agreeing to shoot for free and then charge accordingly for the use of the pics. That way, the ball is in the client court. Once client see the results, he will have no choice but to accept your terms if he wants to use your photos, provided that you produce good quality.

#328 Comment By Maria On December 9, 2010 @ 12:09 pm

Once again, these same basic excuses are used by writers giving away their work for free. As long as there's someone willing to do it for free -- and people willing to accept the generally inferior quality of those giving it away -- the professionals will suffer.

#329 Comment By Bogdan On December 10, 2010 @ 2:17 am

Educating people would be quite a bit more productive than sitting alone in one corner, with a big cloud over your head, bitchin' and complaining about the under-cutters and the freeloaders. They will never go away as there's an endless supply of them.

As for my talks with my clients, I always listen first, educate them second and sell my services to them last. It seems to be working well and for the ones who don't... well... they won't be my clients anyway.

There's nothing wrong acquiring a portfolio while working for free. This portfolio is actually quite expensive to get together and it is one of the most important photo business starting assets. What the article does not see is that failing to capitalize on your initial free work is the main cause of going out of business. Come to think of it most of those tanked business were not even started to begin with.

90% of photo businesses fail because their owners have no business sense.

Just my two cents...

#330 Comment By Sincere On December 13, 2010 @ 10:21 am

I agree to Bogdan...

A Client willing for free work IS, by definition, NOT A client. It´s a partner. A partner to the photographer who is trying to compose his own portfolio or who wants to use that partner to promote himself someway.

A Client(in fact a Partner) like this is not willing to pay and IS NOT taking market from the PROs since he would never pay for that...

The problme with some people is they don't understand there are market for all levels... And the PRO market has grown a lot in the last few years, as the beginer, entry and low pro have grown a lot (maybe more in proportion)...
But they are not competing... People who pays a few bucks or nothing for some shots would not pay thousands for doing it with a labeled pro.

There are several segments in the market.

In fact, only the bad professionals should care, since some amateur or entry may be good enough to take clients from them.

Since I live with the premise nobody wants to be a bad profssional, no one should worry.

In fact, as I said before, the world has changed a lot in the last few yars.. and all markets in all segments have also changed... It is stupid to shout, curse, scream, yell and so on... the world won't step back for you... you have to adapt...

The proof is the cheap china products invasion... Why is that? Because people are willing to pay for lower quality but cheaper stuff... Nobody is forced to buy that crap.. they buy because they want or because that's they're only option... so if they can't buy an iPhone, they buy a cheap chinese not branded similar product... but this cheap chinese similar gadget is not taking market from apple, since people who buy it would never buy an iPhone... or maybe these people would like, and someday they WILL, buy a real iPhone...

I work in a large company that has been compelled to reinvent it's business because the introduction of similar lower quality products in the market.. but that was inevitable .. it was predicted... nothing lasts forever.. (except stupidity)... if you can't adapt, you don't deserve to stay in your position...

Sorry guys.. C'est la Vie!


#331 Comment By Carolyn On December 14, 2010 @ 2:52 am

One job in particular I almost lost out to a friend willing to do it for free.... until I reminded them their session reservation fee that they paid was non-refundable! Ha! That made my day! 😀

#332 Comment By Carolyn On December 14, 2010 @ 2:55 am

Also, I would like to add that I've done a lot of firsts as a professional and being paid for it. Prior to the shoot or event or whatever, I'd do whatever I needed to study up or practice and then was paid the going rate.

#333 Comment By Chris On December 20, 2010 @ 2:37 pm

Wow. I just kind of stumbled upon this. Very interesting discussion going on.

I see a lot of ignorance in the responses that is based on assumptions.

First those saying that when you graduate from art school you have a port ready to go...do you get paid for those shoots you do in college? No? So someone was building a portfolio...for free? How is that ANY different than someone giving it a shot outside of a classroom environment?

Another dose of ignorance comes from the "doctors, lawyers, plumbers...etc don't work for free" camp. Really? A lot(though not all) of these professions have apprenticeship programs in which those striving to be a professional are paid next to nothing while they gain experience. Sounds a lot like our under cutting shooter who is making the pros so nervous.

So what did you guys do to get where you are? Not the art school guys that graduated with a portfolio of images (that you shot for free, no less). The ones that started from scratch. Did you get a loan from the bank, grab the best body lens combo you could find, a set of profotos and start commanding $1k+ the next day? I highly doubt it.

Belittling someone because they didn't/can't follow the same path as you to success is not only a sign of insecurity, it displays a serious lack of professionalism, in my opinion. The market has changed. Welcome to the reality of "do what you always did, get what you always got". Either change with it or pass the torch gracefully, but don't demean the people that either choose to or are forced down a different path.

But the questions above aren't rhetorical.

If any of the "no free shooting" crowd are self taught pro's how did you get started without working for very cheap/free? I would love for someone to blow my above statements out of the water, because I honestly don't see any other realistic path.

#334 Comment By Demon Lee On December 21, 2010 @ 5:03 am

Chris, your opinion sadly is incorrect and point by point I will show you why.

1. There are apprenticeships for junior photographers, trouble is too many people listen to their family and friends who tell them their work is ok and they don't need to bother. Either that or they believe too much in themselves and don't bother being part of this 'modern' culture of wanting immediate gratification and second best will do.

2. Just like Dr's, Dentists, Solicitors etc, there are many excellent routes into photography, over the years I have now helped 18 people achieve their HND's, Degrees etc, and contrary to your comments, if you have not built up a portfolio of your work throughout the courses, you will FAIL because a percentage of your grade is the work you have done throughout the course and it will normally end in an Exhibition by the College or University so show their family, friends, the public and their peers what they have learned and achieved...

3. Those of us complaining about the point and shoot brigade trading as 'professional photographers' is not because we have anything to fear from them per se, it is simply it is offensive to us that they use the word professional when clearly they pay no tax on their earnings, they have no public liability insurance and most of the dross and 2nd or 3rd class images they produce has led to the devaluation of Stock Photography and the average earnings for genuine professional photographers who earn their daily living as a photographer with mortgages to pay, wives and children to support - they don't have the luxury of a permanent pay packet every month from another PRIMARY income...

4. In respect of the point you make about Dr's, Dentists, etc, none of them are permitted to practice or trade unless they are qualified - it's about time the Photographic Industry did the same so that the PUBLIC can then see the BENEFITS and QUALITY difference between a weekend cowboy and a full time pro....

Example - Quote for a recent wedding was £2,300 which would involve 5-7 days work including the shoot, post processing, time with couple to select final images, printing, final presentation album/book of their choice. Taking into account the cost of the equipment insurance, public liability, business rates and rent, labour costs, depreciation of the equipment and material costs, the 'profit' line at the end of the job would be around £470 gross before Tax and NI - which is NOT a lot of earnings for a weeks work.

Bride calls, cancels the booking because she has found her friend at work has a brother who is a 'photographer' and will do it for £350 and supply the images for them on a CD... he is a postman during his normal job and having examined his website [22] witheld]Photography.co.uk, it is clearly apparent that a 3yr old child knows more about the Global Economy and Quantum Physics than this guy knows about photography.

Am I bitter? NO
Am I angry? NO

in fact I laughed my head off as the Bride and Grooms biggest day of their lives is going to be captured by someone that clearly hasn't got a clue and their memories will end up on a CD not fit for print and likely one day to get thrown out by accident and they DESERVE it because they think PRICE is MORE important than QUALITY because they have likely compared his images to ones of their own taken on a camera phone or pocket digital camera....

#335 Comment By Chris On December 21, 2010 @ 6:21 am

Very well written response and I see where you're coming from. Let me ask you this then.

Let's scratch my (obviously erred) Dr./Lawyer analogy for the sake of argument.

How about this scenario:

I want to be a photographer. That's all I want to do. I have a camera, I have lights, and I've learned enough from peers and other sources and I think given a chance I can achieve some level of success within this craft. The problem is I can't afford to go to school for it. I have to do this on my own from the ground up. Since I didn't go to school I haven't had a chance to even build a port yet so I need portfolio work.

Are you saying that in my situation I don't deserve a shot within a free market because I'm not qualified? We're not talking about a trade with lives in the balance and potential destruction of property. At worst I'll @#$% up someone photos and word will spread like hell fire and I'll be flipping burgers soon.

I agree 100% with the last part of what you wrote. People are shopping price instead of quality and a lot of it has to do with people who shoot cheap. Any idiot could understand that and those that deny it are foolish at best. I hope for your markets sake the B/G see the error of their ways and become advocates of the value of photography and that when their friends get married they call YOU instead.

The error throughout this argument I see here is that all the cheap shooters are being lumped into the same boat when there are two breeds.

The weekend warrior got a DSLR an hung out a shingle. "Hey, I'm a pro, I'll shoot your wedding for $300" and they will do that as long as people hire them. They love the "street cred" that comes with being a photographer and could give a rats ass about the industry as a whole. Why should they? They're postmen, bartenders, firefighters etc. and have that income.

Then there is the camp like me. I can't afford to go to school, but I genuinely love the craft of photography and want my shot at doing something with it. I do my damnedest to try to educate potential clients why the images I create have VALUE. I've beaten out several "cheap shooters" by a good margin (even though by standard I'm still cheap in my area) because I sold the value of good photography. The "go for cheap" mentality is a bitch to overcome, but some of us that aren't pro yet are trying to sell the value of pro as a means to an end.

But to get where I am, which admittedly isn't far yet, I've had to shoot freebies/really cheap shoots so I could have something to make people want to pay me. I can't say "Sure, I'll shoot some for your modeling port....have a look at this three year old I shot". I need something to say "Hey, I can do this and do it well...for $XXX."

I guess what I'm saying is don't come down so hard on everyone that's not shooting at your price point. I make take food off the guy up the roads table...but he's taking it of someone elses table as long as he holds a share of the market. Does he deserve that any more than I do? For all I know he started just like me....undercutting the photographers in the area in an effort to climb to a shared position.

So in spite of the majority here, I feel like I deserve a chance and I'll do what I can to make it happen the best way I can. If nothing else maybe I can put the seed in a few peoples mind along the way that there is value in an image.

#336 Comment By Chris On December 21, 2010 @ 6:26 am

By the way, I sincerely wish you the best of luck and I thank you for taking the time to write out a good response.

#337 Comment By Demon Lee On December 21, 2010 @ 1:51 pm

Hi Chris, thanks for the response...

So, although you have 'scratched' the Dr/Dentist/Lawyer scenerio, do you really believe someone with a couple of years dubious experience can really make it as a Professional Photographer - I don't and the reason they will not succeed is because there are too many people attempting to do the same without the relevant skills - as this devalues the worth of the profession and prices tumble for Stock, they collapse for commercial, they hit rock bottom for events - where is his living going to come from unless they are shooting 24hrs a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year?

You see the REAL issue about experience, training, etc is that without them, you will never be able to make a living - you will remain a 'hobby' shooter or 'weekend warrior' and will need that job flipping burgers to make ends meet... the REALITY of the situation today is that the requisite skills required to make a CAREER in photography have been ripped to shreds and ignored to the extent that if only the weekend warriors would sit down and work out the financials, they would discover it is likely they are working for minimum wage....!!!!

If they have NOT got the money to take a course, then punt around the local professionals, ask if they need an assistant on shoots, tell them your interest in learning the skills correctly... don't give them loads of bollocks about 'admiring' their work, we get loads of those every day and we tend to ignore them... take time, get a film camera, learn about Depth of Field, Exposure, Focal Points, Lighting, Aputures, ISO ratings, etc etc... if you can get a day job of any kind, take evening classes, join a local photography club...

There are so many ways to learn correctly instead of making excuses or settling for being just another 'second rate photographer'... the ONLY person that can stop you from achieving your goals or ambitions is you...!

#338 Comment By Carolyn On December 21, 2010 @ 2:11 pm

When I was starting out, I went to events and shot on spec. Did not give away my work (although did give away my time in the beginning). When I started doing private sessions, I started with a competitive price. It was on the low end, but not stupidly low.

#339 Comment By Demon Lee On December 21, 2010 @ 2:37 pm

Carolyn, you cannot make a statement like that without qualifying it -

How long ago did you 'start out'?
How long had you used a camera before you 'started out'?
How did you go from shooting 'events' to private sittings as they are two entirely different disciplines?
What did you do with the images from the events?
How much difference in price are you charging now for private sittings since you began?

#340 Comment By SallyfromtheValley On December 22, 2010 @ 4:13 am

Funny. And one-sided. And entertaining, even if misleading. Owning an expensive camera does not make you a great photographer, just as going to school for photography doesn't either and doesn't justify attempts to charge the same rates as seasoned professionals in the field. Nobody wants or deserves to be taken advantage of, but the reality of any pursuit in a creative field especially is that all of us have done (and received benefit from at least once or twice) 'free' work in some form or another, be it internship, TFP, whatever.

The market of any given city is flooded with photographers, some good and some bad. Anyone who thinks they're too good to do TFP work in an area where they have zip zero experience in order to build their portfolio and give themselves an edge over the thousand other folks around doing the same thing is (to me) a fool. And the more advanced cameras become, the more people will be inclined to jump on the photography bandwagon. It would be wise not to be naive and take any chance you can get (especially if gigs aren't flowing for you) to sharpen and improve your skills so you can be competitive. Or you can write/read rants like this, hoping it'll all get better. Either or. 😉

#341 Comment By John On December 22, 2010 @ 8:48 pm

This argument is never going to go away and ultimately the choice whether to charge or not is up to the individual photographer, not some blogger who feels threatened by others doing work for free.

If there are those that have problems with me doing free work, then all I can say is "Gee, want a little cheese with your whine?"

#342 Comment By Bogdan On December 22, 2010 @ 10:55 pm

The SLR is the prevalent tourist neck ornament nowadays. Can't turn your head around without seeing in passing at least a few people spotting decent gear.
Am I worried? Nah! Why would I be? The price of equipment goes down (as it should), cost of ownership goes down as well. As a business owner I really, really like this. And it's not like photo gear (professional or otherwise) comes prepackaged with both talent AND business sense. So, again, why worry?
Let the hordes come! The more they are the more my work stands out!

(pours himself a fine single malt)

Let them come I say!



#343 Comment By Mark Kalan On December 23, 2010 @ 5:02 pm

The only time I shoot for free is when its a worthy cause like these ads I shot for the local hospice. [23]

Other than a worthiness, shooting/working for free is a dead end - if you want a wedding portfolio go work as a second shooter for a wedding guy or have a friend don her old wedding dress. You'll get better photos because there won't be pressures of a wedding.If you want to be a product shooter go get some product at Target or Walmart and shoot that then go get real work.

#344 Comment By Demon Lee On December 24, 2010 @ 10:37 am

John, if you want to shoot for free, go ahead, just don't give the FREE shots to clients that WOULD expect to PAY for quality photography... I shoot for free all the time, but never for a paying client - shooting stock is free because I hope to earn from the sale of the images at a later date... I shoot for free when I have an idea that I want to explore and investigate for my own personal collection and continual practice of new equipment, lighting set-ups etc - BUT NEVER FOR A CLIENT.

What do you do John for your normal job?

#345 Comment By Patrick On December 25, 2010 @ 9:32 am

Was this whole article written just because you are bitter about being undercut by someone shooting for free? It sure sounds like it.

#346 Comment By Demon Lee On December 28, 2010 @ 6:21 am


What a stupid comment - you cannot be 'undercut' by someone shooting for 'FREE' as obviously they have no business model, you can only be undercut by someone who is a working photographer that has sold themselves and their skills 'cheap', but not for FREE...

'Working for FREE' is NOT working, it's called 'volunteering'. Being a volunteer is fine if you want to help orphaned kids in Haiti, it's ok if you want to help the homeless - but volunteering to provide a service to any person or business that has the financial resources to pay you for your time is pathetic and will damage any industry you give your time to for FREE.

Another prime example of this is the 'Indy' Film Production Companies that expect 'noobies' to give their time for FREE but expect to make a packet on the sale of their Films - this is why Equity want to stop this practice and make them pay at least minimum wage...

I see good examples of this practice frequently, around a year ago I was approached by a new Mens Retail Outlet to shoot their new shop and product lines for 'experience' and for 'my portfolio', I responded by asking if I can have a couple of their suits and several shirts for free as it would be good for their 'promotion' and 'advertising' which they promptly declined (this would have been an exchange rather than free work).. around a month later, a weekend warrior had shot it all for free, the images appeared in a couple of local magazines and frankly, I think they more likely put people OFF going to the store rather than encouraging them to visit..!

Even when I am shooting stuff for myself, it is not FREE because I am giving up PAID work to do it, I incur travel costs to get to the location, I might also have to incur MUA costs, set designers costs etc.

IT IS A COMPLETE MYTH to 'WORK FOR FREE' because it is impossible to do so... even volunteers get expenses or free travel/accommodation/food depending on what and where they are volunteering for otherwise you would not get volunteers....!!!

#347 Comment By Alex On December 28, 2010 @ 8:18 am

Demon, obviously we are talking to people who are not very smart, who probably have the IQ of a frog! or who lived in a huge bubble and have no freakin idea how "working" works! or how a "business" works! Anyone reading this and see how these people "fight" so hard to work for free is probably rolling on the floor laughing as I don't think you can find another spot on the web these days where so much stupidity has been written in one blog! a few more posts "justifying" "working for free" and I think we can make it in the Guinness Book!

I could just say they are too stupid to understand...

Too bad that companies using these morons don't realize they are shooting themselves in the foot by lowering the quality of THEIR OWN IMAGE! Probably a new breed of "too stupid to understand that too" kind of people! Then they wonder how come the store is empty 90% of the time! duh! the last edition of "Home Magazine" that we got was unreadable the photos were so bad I threw it away! and other magazines following that trend, luckily I kept copies from when these people CARED about their image to compare! it is quite striking!

Oh well.......

#348 Comment By A.S. On December 28, 2010 @ 9:12 am

@Alex: "I don't think you can find another spot on the web these days where so much stupidity has been written in one blog!"

Your post pretty much secured that title. Labeling people who disagree with you as stupid paints a good picture of you as being an immature person incapable of contributing to a debate. Run along. Grown ups are talking.

As for the original topic:

The original "12 excuses" is nothing more than a few good points padded out with a whole lot of bullshit. There is nothing wrong with working for free to start out. A lot of us did just that. I still do it from time to time if I want something for my own portfolio, or if I have a new concept that I'm not willing to "gamble" with on a paid assignment. The shots I get are my payment. It's advertising material to say "Look, I can do this kind of shoot". If that means that instead of going to a "working pro" they come to me because they know I will do it free, so be it. I'm can't be so sympathetic as to care if that job would have gone to another photographer. That mentality will put you out of work long before shooting for free. All business is a competition. If I can grab another photographers share of the market by shooting a freebie, I will, as long as it can get me other jobs.

As far as the "cheap photographers killing the industry"...please. Really?

This goes on in trades all the time. I used paint houses for a living. It's a relatively cheap trade to get into. Because of the availability of cheap tools, a LOT of people "painted houses". They thought it was easy to do, the tools were cheap, the overhead wasn't much if you worked from your garage, and you could make decent money while undercutting established companies.

In spite of that influx of people willing to do what I did for cheap, I didn't suffer at their hands. Why? Because I offered a product superior to theirs. I had knowledge and skills they didn't have and I used that. I couldn't count the number of times I went behind these people to redo work.

I offered a superior product to beat out the cheap guys. Imagine that, eh? I apply the same with my photography. There are tons of people cheaper than me around here. Instead of blogging about it, and whining about how they're killing me, and my kids are getting malnourished, I bust ass to make sure my product is better than theirs, and I bust ass to make sure my potential clients know WHY my product is more valuable.

If the cheap guy is threatening you then just maybe your product wasn't as valuable as you thought it was to begin with. Quit bitchin and up your game.

#349 Comment By Patrick On December 28, 2010 @ 9:25 am

@Demon and Alex

tl;dr past the first paragraph and sentence respectively (that means in order, just thought I'd let you know, just in case you're as dumb as I am.)

If you want to bitch about losing work because people are willing to shoot for free maybe you shouldn't have chosen to make a profession out of an activity I could teach a monkey to do well, given a few years.

#350 Comment By A.S. On December 28, 2010 @ 11:21 am

"If you want to bitch about losing work because people are willing to shoot for free maybe you shouldn't have chosen to make a profession out of an activity I could teach a monkey to do well, given a few years."

I retract what I said and stand corrected, Alex. Some people are stupid.

#351 Comment By Alex On December 28, 2010 @ 1:52 pm

"If you want to bitch about losing work because people are willing to shoot for free maybe you shouldn't have chosen to make a profession out of an activity I could teach a monkey to do well, given a few years."

You must be living in a cage underground buried under a lot of rocks because only if you hadn't surfaced in a Looooooooooooong time, you would make such a "STUPID" remark!

This discussion is so Stupid it's not funny, it's not like we are actually discussion something we can "DO" to IMPROVE OUR INDUSTRY, We have a discussion about "working for free" who the hell does that and pays rent too!? that's over 10 years old?

You are arguing "your" NEED to work for FREE! DO YOU HEAR HOW THAT SOUNDS? Please voice that in the mirror a few times before heading towards YOUR PAID JOB tomorrow and do THAT FREE!


#352 Comment By Alex On December 28, 2010 @ 1:53 pm

"If you want to bitch about losing work because people are willing to shoot for free maybe you shouldn't have chosen to make a profession out of an activity I could teach a monkey to do well, given a few years."

You must be living in a cage underground buried under a lot of rocks because only if you hadn't surfaced in a Looooooooooooong time, you would make such a "STUPID" remark!

This discussion is so Stupid it's not funny, it's not like we are actually discussing something we can "DO" to IMPROVE OUR INDUSTRY, We have a discussion about "working for free" who the hell does that and pays rent too!? that's over 10 years old?

You are arguing "your" NEED to work for FREE! DO YOU HEAR HOW THAT SOUNDS? Please voice that in the mirror a few times before heading towards YOUR PAID JOB tomorrow and do THAT FREE!


#353 Comment By Demon Lee On December 28, 2010 @ 2:36 pm

This is my FINAL point on this issue:

1. If a monkey could be taught to do my job, I would retire - the fact is that 90% of professional phototographers cannot do my job, it is a niche market, it is hard work with long hours but the personal and financial rewards would make your bank manager cry...

2. People working for FREE could never get into my work, you would be laughed at and ridiculed as some of the budgets for the PROFESSIONALS run into hundred of Millions and if you think they are going to let someone that devalues a profession that much into their realm, think again squire.

3. If you have a daytime job to earn a living and you take pictures for FREE - it's a hobby, just like my hobby of designing and building secure clustered servers and car engines - but neither do I offer to third parties 'free' because it's good for my 'portfolio'... If you want to work as a photographer, give you your friggin day job and then see how much of photography you really do NOT KNOW, ARE NEVER LIKELY TO KNOW because you are IGNORANT to the skills of the real professionals.

Summary - I am not afraid of the FREE shooters or the weekend warriors, their work is far inferior and they simply are not good enough to affect my earnings - they are however damaging other sections of the industry such as Weddings, Events, Family Portraits etc and I have given valid reasons why this is the case previously.

Simply put, if you are too stupid to charge for your time, effort and skills, lets do a swap, lets have the monkeys out of the zoos and you can take their place, because whatever they do, they get paid for it in bananas.... just like the old saying, if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys!

#354 Comment By Alex On December 28, 2010 @ 3:56 pm

This THREAD/DISCUSSION refers to this:

"People who "offer" to photograph something for free for a commercial client because of the following reasons:
1. bought an expensive camera and now they have to justify it
2. they want their boss from their "day job" to love them better for saving them a few bucks on photos, in which case both are fooling themselves and when the sales go down you're gonna get fired too because you did NOT produce a quality product for your boss and if your boss can't see that, then he too is "stupid"!
3. bragging rights! meaning all their praiser's have died and they need more praise!

Unfortunately I am not as nice as Demon! Especialy when I read such "stupid" arguments!

Anyone that comments on "how easy" this job is, has not yet done it CORRECTLY! When you are in this business the right way, nothing will be easy! and let's not compare painting walls with a creative process! This IS a creative job, painting HOUSE WALLS isn't!

True professionals already DO charity work, legitimate charity work that is...not any of the above!

I don't compete with the "free" shooters...I do however explain my clients the difference and the smart ones listen and get an awesome product from me, & the idiots don't get to work with me as I am not in the business of wasting neither my time or money!

#355 Comment By Mark On January 9, 2011 @ 10:16 am

As a photographer who has only recently finished college i found that working on a tfcd and tfp basis with models allowed me to build on my experience with lighting and posing techniques. I think if a model was serious about building a quality portfolio they would choose the professional photographer with high quality work rather than a student.

#356 Comment By Demon Lee On January 9, 2011 @ 5:30 pm

Mark, working TFP/TFCD is an accepted way of photographers working with models, actresses in order for both to BENEFIT from the CO-OPERATION and this is accepted because you are NOT working for FREE, you are EXCHANGING your skills and experience with their skills and experience in order that you both hopefully benefit from it - neither of your are seeking financial gain from the exchange... this is an entirely different situation to working for FREE.

#357 Comment By Barry McCullock On January 10, 2011 @ 2:55 am

All these reasons for not working for free are so true. When you explain it like this it exposes the fact that people who aren't creative don't appreciate what photographers and artists in general do for a living. There is always the expectation that you'd do it anyway because it's what you love to do. Sadly this is true and creative people have always been exploited in one way or another.

#358 Comment By Alex On January 13, 2011 @ 11:06 am


Here you go:

#359 Comment By Scott On January 18, 2011 @ 3:06 pm

The only professionals getting run out of the business by "will shoot for free/cheap" newbies are those who:

(1) Suck at photography and/or
(2) Suck at business.

You get what you pay for. The free and cheap shoots usually provide photos that are often just a notch or two above what casual users with a point&shoot could get. Their clients, largely, are motivated only by price, and would never have paid ~$1000 for a photographer, anyway.

You might as well whine about the mall portrait studios, while you're at it.

#360 Comment By Brian Sahagun On January 26, 2011 @ 2:27 am

This is an empowering article to both amateurs and professionals. Don't underestimate the worth of your services.

#361 Comment By Francesca On February 7, 2011 @ 6:19 pm

I agree with you, but for those who are disagree...I think what he meant is those people he mentioned above are overdone it. So people or the market will think that maybe they really won't have to pay for photography at all, because there are freebies everywhere. Just google it or search on facebook and you will find many freebies there. Eventually some shoot quite good as beginners.

#362 Comment By Capturesque On February 12, 2011 @ 1:05 pm

Well Said. I agree from top to bottom!

#363 Comment By Kristyn LaPres On February 12, 2011 @ 3:30 pm

i agree with some, but i'm of the camp that if you arent producing work worth charging for, you shouldn't be charging.

There are times when I shoot for free because there are things I want to try and it is solely for the fact that I want to increase my skill. I'm not going to charge someone for that, it just doesn't seem fair. And they often buy prints anyway so I do end up making some money, but really, I did it for me, not for them.

I would rather that newbies and people developing the basic skills shoot for free rather than bring down the cost of photography and degrade the industry with crappy photos. People are shooting for so little these days that it makes people who charge fair prices look like they're over charging. I would just rather those people don't charge at all.

#364 Comment By Andrea On February 15, 2011 @ 7:26 pm

I also disagree. Before I started my business, I did quite a few portrait shoots and a few weddings for friends/family for free. In the first year of my business, I started charging. And yes,I was undercharging and incredibly busy. Now, I'm on my 2nd year, I've increased my prices, I've booked 10 weddings this year and have clients coming back for more portrait sessions.

#365 Comment By Dan On February 18, 2011 @ 2:24 am

Sorry this is bad advice.. I started my business doing work for free at first to get experience, (like interning), & then as my experience demanded it, I began to charge people, & then raise my prices according to my demand, & level of work.. That's called paying your dues.. The article I'm sad to say seems more interested in keeping all the work within an "elite" group of people who seem to be claiming that they magically got customers & experience dropped in their lap one day from heaven, like gold coins falling from a pot at the end of a rainbow. It's just not realistic. Apparently too many Photographers forget quickly their humble beginnings, & maybe the problem for some of them are that they had everything handed to them by rich parents, I don't know.. Whatever makes them think this selfishly, it's ugly, & flies in the face of the American Spirit, & the furtherance of the art after you're gone!

#366 Comment By Denver Photography On February 21, 2011 @ 2:16 am

Thanks for publishing this. I couldn't agree more... bottom line until other photog's start valueing their work, how are we going to?

#367 Comment By Tom Marshall On February 22, 2011 @ 12:47 pm

Listen or not - the choice is yours. Personally, I believe this is good advice from someone who has been much more successful as a photographer than the overwhelming majority of photographers, including those leaving comments here. But this is just advice. If you agree with it, follow it. If you disagree, give your photos away for free. I believe the right person can make it work no matter what.
Twitter: @MathMarshall

#368 Comment By Tim Halberg On February 28, 2011 @ 4:29 pm

When I was first starting out, I didn't shoot for free, but I definitely put up legit pricing, shared that pricing, and then never turned down a job for the first 6 months that had any money to spend... (as long as I was telling people my value, and had a "valid" reason to give them a discount.. I was still valued at my original asking price, and referrals down the road expected to pay my asking price)

It's a slippery road, so play carefully.

#369 Comment By Peter On March 1, 2011 @ 6:02 pm

Photography is on of those "professions", and I reiterate the word "profession", where people seem to think that the way to start out is by working for nothing. This is bizzar. In most other walks of life you start out as an apprentice, and learn from other more experienced professionals, whether they be lawyers, accountants, engineers, nurses. You learn from experienced people who can teach how to do the job properly. It defies belief as to why the creative industries such as photography see themselves as any different. The number of jobs I have lost because the client had found someone incompetent who would do it on the cheap, is unbelievable, as is the number of potential client websites that I have checked back to after failed enquiries, to see pictures that appeared to have been taken with a camera phone.

#370 Comment By Contra ????? tion On March 18, 2011 @ 1:48 pm


#371 Comment By Nermal On March 24, 2011 @ 12:57 pm

So I should charge for sex so I don't devalue the work of prostitutes? I think I'm following your argument correctly.

#372 Comment By Michael On March 25, 2011 @ 8:58 am

Bloody hell - I do!

Seriously though, the oldest profession is younger than this thread. It's time to let it die.

#373 Comment By Alex On March 25, 2011 @ 1:03 pm

"So, what do you suggest a photographer to do when they're just starting out and have very little experience? Charge no matter what (even though you're not a "Pro" yet)?. It's kind of a catch 22 situation."

What does an accountant do? I dare you offer $100 or less to your accountant and see what they say!!!!!!

Stop minimizing our job!

#374 Comment By Peter On March 25, 2011 @ 1:29 pm

Nermel. I think most law abiding photographers would object in principle to having their work compared in value to the value of prostitution.

#375 Comment By Michael On March 25, 2011 @ 2:12 pm

I dare say there are few prostitutes that would be unhappy about being compared to a bunch of egotistical poseurs with no business savvy too.

#376 Comment By Peter On March 25, 2011 @ 2:21 pm

One might equally say the bad tempered, ignorant and rude have no place on a discussion forum. Manners cost nothing, but maketh man as they say.

#377 Comment By Michael On March 25, 2011 @ 6:03 pm

Peter, I apologize, my comment was not directed at you personally. It was meant to be a tongue-in-cheek dig at the futility of this thread, and I was most assuredly including myself in the "bunch of egotistical poseurs with no business savvy". Obviously that didn't translate off the page.

The truth is, though, that there is more than a hint of truth in the accusation, and that is why it hurts.

If every one of us steps down from our respective high horses for a moment we might agree that there are a few inescapable facts:

This industry is no longer what it was.
Digitisation has democratised it.
There are both positive and negative aspects to that.
If you want to be a professional anything, you have to have a business plan with clear empirical goals.
There are more people who want to be photographers (and I mean A LOT more) than there is work to sustain them.
Excess supply inevitably means a reduction in prices.
There is a limit to how low the prices can drop before the situation is economically unsustainable for a given individual.
For the vast majority, they will either have to fight tooth and nail to break into the market (but they will need to have a business plan if they are going to succeed, and that must include charging for work demanded), or accept that they will not make it as professionals.

I fail to see how anyone could disagree with any of these statements.

Where the disagreement comes is the appropriate levels for charging, and the extent to which working for free might be a good idea. It is these things that have caused all of the vitriol and mud slinging in the comments above.

The clear answer to both of these points has been made repeatedly by a number of people (myself included), but on almost every occasion it has been met with derision and accusations that the advice-givers are just sore at the propsect of losing work to newcomers, and that we are trying to stop them from getting a foothold on the ladder of commercial success. Nothing could be further from the truth.

So what are the answers? To the first point, it is that you have to work out all the costs of being in business, how much you want to earn, and calculate a day rate. To some extent this then needs to be tempered by your local situation and what the market will bear. The longer you are in business and the more successful you become, the more you will be able to increase your day rate. Inevitably this suggests that when you start out your rates are likely to be lower than that of your established competitors, which is normal and correct. But remember, the rate itself needs to be sustainable - it needs to allow you to live and to invest in your business. It also means that the established businesses must adapt to changing market realities and develop new business models if they are to continue to succeed with new creative and hungry competition.

To the second point, there may be all sorts of occasions when there can be a clear business reason to working for free, in that it gets you a return of a different nature. You have to decide what that is, and be clear what it is that you are getting in return. But the fact is this arrangement is categorically NOT the same as working for nothing, for which there is no rational excuse whatsoever.

Finally, what is the right response to those starting out who seem to think that it is inappropriate to charge given that they are, well... starting out? I'll answer it with another question: you answer an ad to work as an office junior in a law office. You're fresh out of school with no experience. Do you think you should work for free because you aren't established yet and know nothing about the law? No. I thought not. As an office junior you would expect to be paid an office junior's salary and work your way up the pay ladder. But even that starting pay is sustainable and allows you to live. If you want to be a professional photographer, but are just starting out, you have to take the same approach.

So, given all the above, and the simple reality of the numbers wanting to break into this industry, I refer you back to my comment about egotistical poseurs with no business savvy - more of us fall into this description than we might like to admit. We each have to be honest with ourselves about the liklihood of our own success or failure, accept that wanting to be a professional photographer does not mean that we have an automatic right to succeed. But most importantly we need to have the humility to accept advice from people, even if the advice is not what we want to hear, or is not couched in language that lets us down gently.

#378 Comment By Kelly On March 26, 2011 @ 9:27 am

So I ask........ once you got sucked into the free trap.... how do you get out of it? I've let it make me feel used and angry and like I don't have the skills to charge and yet I've seen people shooting on auto charging about as much as the big pro's.

#379 Comment By Matt On March 28, 2011 @ 6:05 pm

I don't think it's helpful to rail against newbs for just starting out and trying to get going in photography. But yet, I can understand the frustration, even as I am a newb myself.

In my experience and understanding, even if the average consumer cannot tell the difference between great photography and good photography, most people *can* recognize the difference between good photography and poor/mediocre photography.

The whole point of the argument about doing it for free versus charging a livable price isn't about undercutting each other, but rather whether or not a photographer's photography is worth paying for.

There is indeed a real difference between good photography and poor/mediocre photography. And in my opinion, a photographer who cannot tell the difference (and therefore cannot take at least 'good' photographs) should not be charging for photography until their skill level is high enough to actually be worth it.

The disservice done to real, working pros by the newbies is not that they are out there, undercutting the pros with bargain-basement prices, but rather calling their work 'pro' and charge for it as if it were, when it clearly it is not. What happens is that, in the eyes of the general consumer, true professionals get lumped in with the unskilled newbies out there who clearly aren't what they are advertising themselves to be. Clients see the difference, and then start asking themselves who is really worth the price, and because they usually go for the better-skilled photographer, the newbs have no other option but to lower their prices to try to compete. The problem is that the newbs try to compete at all in the same arena when their skill levels are not good enough for them to be there.

What newbs should do to get started is first to actually learn good lighting skills, compositional skills, proper use of lenses, etc., before telling the world they are 'pro' and start charging for photography. This would be an excellent time to practice on your friends, neighbors, spouses, etc., and to offer pro-bono work with the understanding that you are doing this for practice and experience. Once you are confident in your skills and ability, then by all means, 'go pro' and start charging a livable price.

Please don't misunderstand me I AM A NEWB, and AM JUST STARTING OUT, too! But the day I got my camera I didn't also get a website and start trying to charge clients for shoddy work (yes, my work was, and sometimes still is, very shoddy) while I learned how to shoot properly. I have spent many years learning how to take good photographs, and only now that I truly believe that my photography is finally good enough to charge for, have started a website and photography business. I hope to grow and improve in my skill as a photographer and businessman, and I hope that I can give helpful and honest advice that has worked for me, as much as I accept the same from others more advanced than me.

I just think that until anyone has the ability (however they get it) to actually take good photographs they shouldn't charge for it and call it 'pro'.

What do you think?

#380 Comment By kelly On March 30, 2011 @ 3:26 am

EVERYONE is a photographer anymore... what the world needs now are more photo editors!

#381 Comment By kelly On March 30, 2011 @ 3:35 am

Thanks Matt.... cannot compete with 'free'

#382 Comment By Peter On March 30, 2011 @ 9:23 am

Nope. Everyone ownes a camera, but that doesn't necessarily mean they know how to use it. I could go out and buy myself a set of tools, but it still wouldn't make me a mechanic and it certainly wouldn't give me the right to try and offer services as one.

#383 Comment By Kelly On April 8, 2011 @ 9:07 pm

my question still stands... I started out... was a newb, but now after a few years of shooting free and cheap I'm still expected to be free or cheap. I'm still not a $3000 a wedding photographer but I've learned how to control my camera, the difference between good composition and that smiling and saying CHEESE does not a good photo make.
yet when I tell people my prices they never call back. it's like they were expecting me to do it for nothing. :( I'm not outrageous I am competitive when I price so I know I'm not over charging. ugh

#384 Comment By Linda On April 11, 2011 @ 11:49 pm

Wow. I'm sorry but (as in, I'm not sorry) this was such an incredibly negative article.

#385 Comment By Peter On April 12, 2011 @ 9:23 am

Negative, but highly pertinent especially when you've been at the sharp end of the "I want everything for free" brigade for as long as I (and I have no doubt many of the other people on here) have.

To me there are 2 realistic ways of gaining experience if you are not good enough to charge yet:

1, work as an assistant. That way you gain the benefit of a more experienced photographer

2, ask if you can shoot at an event where another (paid) photographer is shooting. That way, 1 you arn't taking work away from existing professionals, 2 you won't run the risk of letting the client down and giving the profession a bad name, 3 professional images will have been taken at the same event so you will be able to compare your pictures to theirs and therefore learn how to improve.

Notice, I deliberately havn't included training courses in this. While they may add technical content to your skills, they don't add much in terms of how to deal with real world situations (ie how to make people who are "not" professional models, look good infront of a camera).

#386 Comment By flatworldsedge On April 19, 2011 @ 8:59 am

There's some truth in all of these, in some contexts. In general though, going into it eyes wide open shooting and providing images for free is a useful tool to have in the box.

Given that you're not charging for this article, you're already showing you recognise this as a larger idea. Why shouldn't that be the case for photography as well as the written content you're providing us with?

#387 Comment By Peter On April 19, 2011 @ 5:13 pm

My guess would be because this benefits the photographic profession as a whole, of which the author is a part. Working for free only benefits the client and takes otherwise paid work away from the industry.

Working for free is not a "tool". It is madness.

You don't get any experience benefit because the client who wants you to work for free typically knows nothing about photography or how you could improve the work, and there is no advertising benefit because the only enquiries you will get from it are more people who are following up on your reputation of "free guy".

The final and most critical issue in my mind is the lack of portfolio material (which is an excuse that is often made). Because the client is not paying, there is no incentive for them to co-operate if you ask for something (say to take people aside for a few minutes to shoot in a good location). They will just say, "yeah the pictures were rubbish, but it doesn't matter because we didn't pay for them anyway." In that situation, you have developed a reputation for being free, and also a reputation for taking average or not so great pictures because you weren't given any sort of control over the shoot.

#388 Comment By Carrie On May 2, 2011 @ 9:04 am

There is a difference between second shooting a wedding for free - or interning - in order to build a portfolio - than just outright offering your services for free.

I think for wedding photographers - the only real legitimate way to build a portfolio is to shadow another photographer - this usually is done for free/dirt-cheap. This way you don't have the pressure that the main photographer has - you can learn from their experience, and you can build a portfolio.

But that is not the same as shooting a wedding for free. I shot one - as my wedding gift to my cousin - I will never shoot another wedding again...and after all that work - I felt like they didn't quite understand the VALUE of the wedding gift I just gave them. I also started to feel bad that I cost another photographer a job.

#389 Comment By Just Annie On May 2, 2011 @ 9:25 am

Sounds like a professional photographer scared of the fact that amateurs can now take amazing photos on an iPhone. I'm not a professional but my photography has gotten notice and been used for free a few timed. It's not my day job and never will be. Do I feel guilty that some "professional" lost a job? No. Want to beat me? Be better than me & in a changing world where everyone has a digital camera, be worth paying for.

#390 Comment By Dempsey On May 2, 2011 @ 4:38 pm

"Sounds like a professional photographer scared of the fact that amateurs can now take amazing photos on an iPhone. I'm not a professional but my photography has gotten notice and been used for free a few timed. It's not my day job and never will be. Do I feel guilty that some "professional" lost a job? No. Want to beat me? Be better than me & in a changing world where everyone has a digital camera, be worth paying for."

I assume therefore given your smart arse remarks that you are ok then with your i-phone image being re syndicated potentially for anything from ten, to tens of thousands of $/£ without you ever seeing a penny of it. Still feeling quite so glib mouthed now?

#391 Comment By Bimal nair On May 6, 2011 @ 6:17 am

Gosh! either i should not have read this post, or i should not be doing the things i've planned 😀
I certainly got some crucial stuff into my head Mr. John. Thanks :)

#392 Comment By adrian On May 8, 2011 @ 8:08 am

well said!! unfortunately we still have many photogs that are willing to take "pro-jobs" for free. especially the new corners who just bought a DSLR and think that he/she can be a 'pro' without realizing that they are actually destroying other pro photogs' market.

#393 Comment By bycostello On May 16, 2011 @ 8:30 am

#9 you've never worked for vougue... it might as well be free what they pay.. and they snaffle up all the copyrights...

#394 Comment By Deji On May 18, 2011 @ 1:31 am

Ok so I get the sentiment of this post and the fact that it offers some great reasons for people to charge for their (hopefully) hard work. However those who sit and grumble that they are being undercut will be left behind if they don't do anything to adapt.
It is obviously viable for some individuals to offer work for free and that will not change (barriers to entry are getting lower and lower). Deal with it. Get better at what you do so you can justify your cost otherwise the market decides the worth of your work/skill and maybe it decides that is that it should be free.
If you have a problem with that go and do something else.

#395 Comment By Dempsey On May 18, 2011 @ 10:43 am

Firstly - it is not viable for anyone to work for free. You may kid yourself it is, but the numbers don't lie, they are objective hard fact, it is not viable to work for free.

Aside of that:

"However those who sit and grumble that they are being undercut will be left behind if they don't do anything to adapt."

Adapt how exactly???? I think you can assume being professional, that we are good at what we do, so instead of coming across with "adapt", how about saying what "you" would do in the same situation. What you have done is present a problem, not offer a solution.

#396 Comment By Deji On May 20, 2011 @ 4:01 am

Hey Dempsey,
My initial point is probably better restated as "it is viable for 'some' individuals to 'do work' for free".
A full time professional who relies solely on photography for income obviously couldn't but there are people out there who shoot (and some are very good) but have a day job.
Despite the intentional sarcasm, this article was positive in encouraging people to charge for work but the argument of hurting other established photography businesses is one of the least persuasive. It's more of a side point.

Photography as a business has many similarities to the restaurant and catering trade. There will be legions of home cooks who cater for birthday parties and wedding, invite friend round to their home and serve nouveau level cuisine. These are not the real threat to (good/ well run) restaurants. Rather the treat comes from that person who has forever wanted to open their own place and is willing to charge really low prices, making a loss, in order to get people through the doors. They manage to do this, drawing customers away from the other establishments. After 6 months to a year they shut up shop as the finances couldn't work out. Meanwhile they've potentially taken a few other good places out with them because they introduced competition which was not going to benefit anyone.
You know, my argument would be that if you run a restaurant or plan to open one you should know that this will most certainly be part of the business landscape that you operate in and rather than asking other new restaurant owners not to charge too little (though there is no harm trying right), instead have strategy which will more than keep you in business but also make you successful.
Now how you do that with photography I don't imagine is all so different. Good business strategy, clear USP, thinking about your target customers, marketing, so forth. Loads of stuff which is in this section of the website, the business of photography.
There will alway be work for those who create images rather just take photographs.
Alas I just take photographs.

#397 Comment By flatworldsedge On May 20, 2011 @ 4:46 am

"the numbers don't lie, they are objective hard fact"

If you're going to talk in these terms, you need to see the situation as an economist. That is to recognise there is no intrinsic difference between being paid with a cheque or a photo credit.

By way of thought experiement at the logical extreme, let's say the combined cancer charities of the world asked you to do a boudoir shoot of Michelle Obama on the international space station, as it attempted the first manned landing on Mars.

They offer you either - (a) $1 but no credit or rights or (b) photo credit and rights for your portfolio, but no direct payment. You could very probably generate more than $1 worth of business from the publicity the credit would bring - therefore (b) is worth more than (a). The fact you're not being paid directly is neither here nor there, and to take the $1 just because it is a direct payment is neurotic in the extreme. The smart business decision on numbers alone is clearly to choose (b).

The model here isn't revolutionary of course - just look at how much corporations pay for product placement. Millions of dollars. Why? They know they will see a return on their investment through publicity. Therefore it is smart business.

You raise a very fair point which is that when going into this territory people don't weight the values correctly. Shooting with an aspiring actress or a neighbour's wedding doesn't give the same value of publicity as (b) above. People need to go in eyes wide open with an understanding of what the "free" shoot might actually be worth. All too often you are right that people over estimate the value of (b), and do work they might have been better either walking away from or losing by steadfastly demanding a payment.

Those weightings will change over a career - for a photographer starting out shooting a Z-list local celebrity wedding to get in the Turnertown Gazette could be the break they need. For others it would be a complete waste of time. The logical extreme proves though that, whoever you are, in some circumstances you need to be more lateral in your thinking than just demanding a cheque with a number on it.

Economists would take this further. Maybe you feel helping the cancer charities and getting to visit the international space station and meet Michelle Obama would be a kind of cool experience for you. Let's say it gives you a "utility" of 100. Let's say you also enjoy going to the swimming pool. Well, if going to the swimming pool gives you a utility of 1 and costs $10, then you could argue that you are being paid an effective $1,000 for the shoot. Maybe that's enough vs your cost of time that you would do it for free without credit even.

The issue sketched through the comments really alludes to this. For some amateurs, just seeing their photographs in print at all carries a positive utility. So it makes sense for them to give them away for the warm fuzzy feeling alone. That takes business from pros for whom the warm fuzzy feeling is insufficient reward.

As to your other comment "What you have done is present a problem, not offer a solution."

I shoot and sell stock, take a few local commissions when I stumble on them, but often just give shots to creative commons because I like seeing my work used. I have a full time job that pays the bills with change. This set up makes perfect sense for me. Sure, some people probably make some money off some of my work and I certainly do things free I might have made some money on; that's just life. I do because it is fun and relaxing as much as anything else. It's wonderful and I wouldn't change it. So why should I suggest a solution when I don't have a problem to solve?

Your problem, your solution. Good luck with that. :)

#398 Comment By Jim Duncan On June 2, 2011 @ 10:14 am

You make maybe four or five good points, but the rest are a stretch from a 'seasoned' pro.

You make the assumption that a person with a business mind is not capable of drawing a line between what is free (at first) and when to stand your ground and begin charging.

Offering free services is NOT a bad thing. I started doing that and it developed into a LOT of wedding and portraiture work. Word of mouth was not that I was free, but that I was GOOD! People pay for GOOD when they can see your portfolio.

It also allowed me more confidence to charge MORE than what I normally might have. I was getting for my work, and the requests I was getting for MORE work were coming in my rates went higher. Now and then someone would quote a rate either from a previous client or even a competitor, and I just respond by stating, I'm sorry, business is brisk, these are my CURRENT rates. Take it or leave it in other words. They usually TAKE IT!

Sometimes those of us in the biz for a while tend to get a bit of an ego that isn't justified. I see that in the above article.

#399 Comment By Pat Templeton On June 6, 2011 @ 1:36 pm

If it's free it has no value..... Only if a Gift from the heart without alternative motives is it valued....

#400 Comment By Anthony On June 7, 2011 @ 7:31 pm

Mr Harrington,

The problem isn't photographers willing to shoot for experience, portfolio building, or the love of just taking photos.

The problem is bitter veterans clinging to old paradigms who are unable to differentiate themselves from the former.

Why would you care about never-pros shooting C-grade models for printers? That's your competition?

It's your responsibility to market the value of your work over these people. This rant urging collusion... why? It's a free market and the bottom price is free. If you have nothing better than that, retire.

#401 Comment By dempsey On June 8, 2011 @ 11:41 am

"The problem is bitter veterans clinging to old paradigms who are unable to differentiate themselves from the former. "

How exactly would you propose that someone should differentiate themselves?

I'm sorry but I've heard this argument so many times before and it smacks of BS by someone trying to justify themselves. If you are going to use it, then also give concrete examples of how. The reason you havn't given any examples is because you are giving advice that sounds great "in theory" but has little or no practical application in the real market.

#402 Comment By demon lee On June 8, 2011 @ 1:53 pm

Look Guys and Gals, lets face facts and they are:

If you are in a full time job and earning money in the evenings and the weekends because you think you can, in 99.9% of the time you are not declaring your earnings, you have no business premises to pay for, it is likely you do not hold Professional Indemnity Insurance or Public Liability Insurance etc because if you did all of the above you would find you could not afford to do your part time photography or could not do it for the prices you are charging, hence the reason many pro photographers are bitching about you because it is not a 'level' playing field.

Furthermore, if you are not declaring your earnings to HMRC or IRS you are depriving the economy of income, this is called FRAUD, a criminal act for which they can take your home, your car and your life away from you and I for one have no hesitation in informing my local HRMC office of such photographers for the following reasons.

1. You are not paying your fair share of tax. This deprives your local and national economy of income.

2. Other local photographers may have to lower their prices to compete with you, therefore they earn less and so the local and national economy is damaged further by the loss of revenue.

3. If pro togs earn less, they are less likely to take on trainees or apprentices which further damages the industry.

Now, contrary to what has been said about economists, they are not in charge of your bank account and your bank manager will advise you that working for CHEAP or FREE is NOT a sustainable business model and neither is working in exchange for a 'credit' as a 'credit' will not pay your bills.

Whilst working a couple of 'FREE' weddings in some local hick town may just get you a couple of paid jobs in your local area, it is not enough to create a business from and whilst it may work for wedding photographers, in the main, it is not going to work in any other area of commercial photography as they will take your free work, laugh all the way to the Bank and then look for the next idiot that wants to work for free or a credit in the vain hope this credit will lead to success...

Yes, times and technologies change and we have to adapt and be adaptable, but anyone who that believes CHEAP and FREE will be the basis of their business success is either delusional or has another full time paid job to pay the bills and does not give a damn about those trying to earn a living from photography until they get made redundant and then start bitching about the next new guy/gal that starts doing what they were doing 5yrs ago...

#403 Comment By Jim Duncan On June 8, 2011 @ 8:40 pm

My first thought when I purchased my camera was NOT how much money I could make, but how much enjoyment I could get out of it. Taking photos of family and friends, evolving into friends of friends, then the ability to charge a 'fair market fee' was to me a logical step.

I owe you NOTHING! I owe all other photographers NOTHING! I'm very happy with my constantly evolving business model and am quick to help 'amateurs' who shoot for free (ie - the LOVE of photography).

In short, get a life, a grip and if you are competing with beginners you are not very far up the food chain, hence, that's where your jealousy stems from.

Grow up my friend - it's not like you spent 8 years in college learning this craft. Millions own cameras, and many are better than you! Get over it!

#404 Comment By Jim Duncan On June 8, 2011 @ 8:42 pm

Also, how much did you CHARGE for this article? DO NOT tell me you did this for FREE! What about all the other 'professional journalist' out there that you just undercut by offering your services FREE!


#405 Comment By Jim Duncan On June 8, 2011 @ 10:37 pm

Dempsey - I'll be damned if I'm going to stop doing something I love so YOU can earn a living. I DO have an LLC for my biz, I DO have a separate checking account for my biz, and I DO NOT give a damn about you. I bought my camera for ME! Not the wedding togs industry.

That's like telling me I MUST shop at a high priced clothing store instead of Wal-Mart or Kohl's because the 'little man' is going out of biz. NOT MY PROBLEM! Learn to deal or maybe it's YOU who shouldn't be in this business.

The arrogance amazes me!!!!

#406 Comment By Deji On June 9, 2011 @ 2:02 am

If you rely on photography for your income then do yourself a favour and invest in learning a little about business (which includes how to deal with competition) because you are running a business.
Imagine the folks are RED or even Nikon complaining when Canon released the 5D Mark ii or 7D. "They are just ruining the industry by releasing such equipment so cheap. They should stop doing it or we might go out of business." Or the private doctor "Damn I hate this town, all my potential patients get their relatives to nurse them instead of coming to see me. They are ruining this industry."

Last point as a high school teacher I see all these kids who take pictures everyday and share it with each other. When they make reports of do projects for school they don't draw pictures with crayon anymore they just download the images they need from the internet. With just a little of effort they (or someone they know) can create some pretty nice looking images for them. Taking pictures, swapping and using images (for free) is so normal life to the point of the some of the discussions on this thread being alien (as in from another planet).
If you plan to still be in photography in 10 years time:

a)How will you convince these guys not to take nice looking picture of each other with their iphone 20 (which will be better then you own now) and editing on lightroom element 10 (which will be free to use online) and will make anyone look supermodel pretty in just the click of a button?

b) how will you convince people to hire you to take pictures for them? (and please don't reply telling me that I ought to be giving you the answers. There is a whole section of this site dedicated to running the business of photography).

#407 Comment By dempsey On June 9, 2011 @ 5:18 am

"I DO NOT give a damn about you. I bought my camera for ME!"


You're absolutely right. YOU are very arrogant.

#408 Comment By Jim Duncan On June 9, 2011 @ 12:15 pm

You're the one telling me I have to 'help' you be a professional. That to me is the epitome of arrogance!

#409 Comment By dempsey On June 9, 2011 @ 3:10 pm

I'm not asking for help with anything. I'm saying stop deliberately going out of your way to make other peoples lives harder.

What is your actual job??? I rather suspect if we ran a salary comparison we would find that you are already comfortable without doing "extras" and messing around at the expense of others who are less well off than you.

It's the same old story. The rich get richer while the poor get poorer.

#410 Comment By Jim Duncan On June 9, 2011 @ 9:30 pm

"It's the same old story. The rich get richer while the poor get poorer."

Forgive me for not HANDING you a living. Earn it and stop whining about those of us who have.

I bet if we also ran an 'hours worked' comparison we would find that my 18-hour days to accomplish my goals and income are MUCH more than what you put in.

Those who work earn, those who don't complain and hold out their hand as if entitled. COMPETE my friend and don't worry about me. I have NOTHING to do with your goals, dreams and accomplishments in life. Just like I have nothing to do with your poverty!

Be your own man and stop waiting for others to 'allow' you to achieve!

#411 Comment By Anthony On June 10, 2011 @ 3:07 pm

It's clear to me that taking a good photo is 10% of a photographic business.

Photography is not my full time job - it's a hobby I lose money on. For a long time I relied on the laws of averages to get good images. Click enough and you'll get something to add to your portfolio. I still find myself not verifying exposure is spot on before well into a shoot. I've watched equipment break on free jobs because a c-stand nut didn't locked down enough or like an idiot I didn't bag the stand enough in the wind. Other than costly it's embarrassing. I'm not particularly calm on the set: I feel rushed... like I'm inconveniencing the people to whom I'm working for free. I'm not prepared if they subject shows up and needs hair and makeup... I have some oil absorbent tissues. Mostly I don't worry about contracts and model releases, leaving all sorts of ambiguity on who can do exactly what with the images. I kind of scout locations, but on the day of the shoot nothing in really certain. Same with lighting - I have some ideas but am still just making it up as I go along - nothing is very well planned. I've arranged hair and makeup a few times but I'm not prepared to run a real shoot.

A pro is a sales person, project manager, director, photographer, and business person. I'm a guy with expendable income that will give you the straight out of camera shots for you to deal with... but I wouldn't really rely on me to do get a bunch of post processing done and deliver it in a timely manner.

...and I'm probably better prepared, capable, and conscious of these things than the majority of my peers.

How to differentiate yourself? Are you kidding? Show them your references, contacts, relationship, experience. Sell yourself! Your confidence on set, your ability to handle unexpected circumstances, the fact you have backup equipment and a network of people you can rely on if you have a no show, your confidence that on shoot day the shots going to get done and you are going to deliver it in accordance to the contract you have signed!

We are not your competition. If you think we are, stop yapping about the woes of being a pro and welcome back to the warm nest of amateurs.

#412 Comment By Anthony On June 10, 2011 @ 3:20 pm

You are getting a lot of hard feedback and I feel for you. It's easy to fall into the trap of being harsher online than you would be face to face.

All these arguments are pointless really. The fact is, nothing is going to stop the conditions eroding the viability of being a professional photographer. I'm not much happier about than you. I'd rather be working behind a camera than a desk: it's not going to happen.

A teacher gave me some good advice. Forget about the $60,000 shoots: the future is charging a dollar for a photo 60,000 times.

Which brings up another question: have you looked at prices on iStock or Getty lately? That's hurting you more than the horde of free working amateurs.

#413 Comment By Curious canuck On June 11, 2011 @ 8:43 pm

Sounds so true what you are saying, but you are one arrogant ... at the same time :-)

#414 Comment By Jim Duncan On June 12, 2011 @ 10:37 pm

I'm just tired of the entitlement mentality in this country. People either want a free handout from those of us who work our butts off! And even some of the working, like the subject of this article, want others to change for THEM!?

Work hard, don't worry about me, and you will succeed. Wait for me to HELP you by changing my business and you'll NEVER succeed and always be mediocre.

#415 Comment By Talbert McMullin On June 16, 2011 @ 11:35 pm

Excuse me, but where is the bar where that girl with no underwear works? I promise to take my camera.

#416 Comment By Joseph Antony On July 22, 2011 @ 2:50 am

We photographers have come to a situation where we really have to reflect on the situations we are involved in. It is pointless to bicker whether to shoot for free or not but what we really have to consider is that the world is taking advantage of us. Whether you shoot for free or not they have cheapened our art and everybody expects it for free. The level of cheekiness to a magazine that declares "no pay submissions accepted" is a grave insult to any one of us who has developed the hand eye coordination that enables him or her to capture a visual idea with an electronical or mechanical gizmo. The world has decided that we are not worthy of maintaining an acceptable lifestyle while performing our art. If we, all of us photographers don't start fighting for the dignity of our art we may find ourselves loosing the fight for control over the photograph, and believe me every one wants control over what should be our vision. Every single one of us is in a different position and it is unfair for those that are in a superior position to demand that those in an inferior position not shoot for free. What everybody should demand is that all of us fight for our rights as photographers. It could be in all of the little disputes when others try to compromise our vision, it could be in not giving away the rights to the photos for free, or it could be in demanding to be paid and still hold on to the rights. Every one of us is in a different situation, and every one of us must make different decisions but we must all work towards improving our conditions. This must be done, the present situation for photographers is grave and unless we make the difference, it only looks to get worse.

#417 Comment By Talbert McMullin On July 22, 2011 @ 1:21 pm

Joseph, you are absolutely correct. Unfortunately, the attitude of "working for free" reflects a mindset of the American public. Americans no longer wish to be the best. They simply wish to "get by". And so we have low wages everywhere while the good paying work goes overseas....Americans play with their phones and ipods. Of course I have a passion for what I do! I also have a passion for the income I get from it! "Just getting by"? I did that back in college. It really sucks.

#418 Comment By backchecker On July 31, 2011 @ 3:35 am

Wow. It seems like everyone here has been an absolute genius for the past year this has been up. Several people really brought up that lawyers would not work for free when it's in fact part of the rules for the American Bar Association that ALL lawyers MUST work at least 50 hours pro-bono a year, and that little tidbit without even the consideration of firms that are entirely pro-bono AND the preponderance of law schools that offer pro-bono programs and heavily encourage pro-bono work. The expectations of the people posting in favor of the bloggers viewpoint are ridiculous. Every business person can and SHOULD be offering their services at an extremely low cost (or free altogether) while they calibrate their business and face unforeseen hurdles. And older guys, yeah, you really need to modify the way you do business and consider your business structures. Sure, things are great while the market agrees with you but consider that your idea that the market will always agree with you that a certain degree of expertise in photography demands an equivalent lump sum of money is merely a supposition. The market is changing. The people who view photography in that way are dying off and their views are being obliterated in the wake of the digital age. Why should I, as a business owner, shoot with you when there's a talented amateur I met on deviantart who is passionate about his art and does amazing work? Especially under the consideration that someone who truly knows their way around photoshop, and who isn't just an old photographer diddling with the exposure settings and not bothering to study the program because they find it irrelevant, can do amazing work even with relatively dull shots. While we're on the subject, why should I hire a photographer stateside at all when I can hire a kid in japan or the philippines to digitally paint something much more awe inspiring than anyone's photography could ever offer, all in realism that would startle the average observer and all for peanuts? What purpose do you truly hold anymore? Perhaps it's time for this industry to decline all the way into the grave.

#419 Comment By backchecker On July 31, 2011 @ 3:40 am

Really, what I'm saying is that walmart WILL eventually put all mom and pop shops out of business, so the smart thing to do is to save up the money to open a walmart and stop bitching about your mom and pop shop getting the shaft.

#420 Comment By Michael On August 1, 2011 @ 8:02 am

@backchecker. This "saga" has been running for over a year now, and it seems clear that the nays will remain nays, and the ayes will remain ayes, and so it should be.

The fact is that much of what has been written on both sides has at the least a modicum of truth to it. It is in the over-generalisations that so much irritation has been raised, something of which you too are guilty, and interstingly your's highlights perfectly the position of the "old guard" in this debate.

You write: "why should I hire a photographer stateside at all when I can hire a kid in japan or the philippines to digitally paint something much more awe inspiring than anyone's photography could ever offer?"

It is an excellent question, and I (and I suspect all the "old guard" who are reading) have no problem whatsoever with the scenario you suggest. For all of us, though, the pivotal word in your statement is "hire". Our stated opionion is, has, and always will be that when a third party approaches us (or a kid in the Phillipines who is brilliant at CGI) to ask us to work, they (the third party) should expect to pay for the provision of those services.

All of your arguments about the realities of the free market are utterly correct, but it is just as correct in a free market that a person or organisation whose services or products are in demand should be remunerated for that supply.

Yes the photography industry has been saturated and yes the correct response to that over-supply is a drive down in prices. But in all other industries any such reduction reaches a cliff edge below which being economically viable is no longer sustainable. The difference with photography is that for some reason people love the idea of calling themselves a "photographer" so much that they will pay for the priviledge.

It is right that in an artistic endeavour like photography there will be many reasons why it is right at times to work for free, but in the vast majority of circumstances that decision should be driven by the photographer looking to do something for themselves artistically. Our problem is and has always been that the industry is being undermined by practioners who do not make a stand on their own rates when they are approached by a third party.

To use your own analogy, if you approach the kid in the Phillipines you should expect to pay. If the kid in the Phillipines approaches you because he particularly wants to work with you for reasons of access or some expansion of his portfolio, then it is quite possible and legitimate that he may decide to work on a quid pro quo basis (I would argue that we should always be gaining something for ourselves out of any work we do, otherwise what is the point?)

Many will read what I have written and just start harping on about sour grapes etc. But let me make it clear that I am still making a good living from photography, and I hope that I remain adaptable enough to the market for that to continue for many years.

I will give one example though of how this whole fiasco is undermining the confidence of non-photographers (who couldn't give a shit about what happens to us one way or the other) in the industry as a whole:

I had a woman contact me last week because her "photographer" booked for her wedding in September has pulled out and let her down. She wanted to know if I was available and could match what the previous guy had said he would provide. She then read out the details of the package she had been promised. By the time she got to the end of it I knew in my head that it needed to be about £2000 - at an absolute minimum it would be £1500. She had been told she would pay £600 in total. When you took out all the costs that the photographer would have had (and even if you assumed they were doing it on the sly and not declaring it to the tax authorities) this "photographer" would have made at best £50 for all the work he would have had to put in. I told her that the reason she had been let down is that the guy in question could not have been doing it for a living, and so he wasn't properly committed to it in the first place. If he hadn't let her down now, he would have done so at some point in the future. I told her my prices and wished her luck.

The moral is, it is one thing for the "old guard" to be put out of business by younger, more dynamic and more efficient people with better business models. It is quite another for the whole industry to be screwed by people who have no business sense and want to be "photographers" for nothing more than vainglory.

#421 Comment By Talbert McMullin On August 1, 2011 @ 1:17 pm

@Michael: I could not agree with you more.

#422 Comment By Giles Christopher On September 15, 2011 @ 3:55 am

With experience and having come up through the ranks of college, photo assisting, and now 20years experience as photographer.. times have changed and so has the photography business.. Digital photography is exciting and it is great that it has made photography available to the masses. i love it.. but it is sad that not many people going the pro route, learn the old fashion tried and tested way.. i.e assisting a photographer.. Learning etiquette , how to behave with models, clients, and above all how to value yourself!!
Now days it seems that getting a camera for christmas and friends telling you you take nice pictures is no basis to take it up full time..
Yes there is a market for Keen amateurs to earn a bit of money on the side and win competitions and love their hobby!!
But it needs all photo associations to put a divide between them and true pros with large client lists and large expensive studios..
With the phrase i hear a lot - "it's not film anymore, its digital - so its free" no more developing costs.. well to an extent it is true if you have received a camera as a present.. BUT PRO's invest a lot of money and time in their equipment (Averagely $12,000 / £9000 ) and most has to be updated every 18 months due to wear and tear and clients wanting latest tech! plus Insurance (indemnity and equipment), Premises, Memberships, Computers, Lighting and a car to drive it round in..
It costs me approx $40,000 a year to run a small pro studio properly..
So when i get the phone calls asking me to work for free, you know what i say!!

#423 Comment By Jeanne On September 23, 2011 @ 9:14 am

There are a plethora of articles out that warn clients not to hire a photographer unless they have a comprehensive portfolio demonstrating lots of experience in the type of event to be covered....and then there are as many articles about not shooting for free. So exactly...how does one get a portfolio and experience before being hired? Seems like just another way to block new people from entering the field.

#424 Comment By Michael On September 23, 2011 @ 12:23 pm

Jeanne. In a word, assist.

#425 Comment By Talbert McMullin On September 23, 2011 @ 1:17 pm

You're right, Jeanne! What a paradox! It's all about keeping new competition out. "Crush the competition before they start" with unsurmountable obstacles.

#426 Comment By Dwarf On September 28, 2011 @ 2:37 am

I keep seeing "paid work = GOLD, free work = CRAP".

That's a pretty sweeping generalization, isn't it?

There are "professional" photographers that produce CRAP, just as there are "hobbyist" photographers that produce GOLD.

I'm a hobbyist, since I have a "real" day job that pays for everything. Moreover, I never went to a photography school or took a photography course.

Through "free work" (aka TFP), I've built up a fairly good network and gained much experience that I otherwise would have to pay A LOT for. Yes, I *WOULD* have had to pay for the numerous models, make-up artists, and (hair) stylists. But, I did *NOT* have to, thanks to the generosity of everyone involved in our mutual portfolio building.

The only things that I really lack now are my own indoor studio and lighting equipment. That's about the only difference between me and a "professional". I can rent a studio and the equipment for the occasions that I need them. The results I can produce are certainly not CRAP.

#427 Comment By Mike On September 28, 2011 @ 2:01 pm


You miss the point here that you're doing something that is mutually beneficial to all involved to build something. When you shoot someone for free that then utilizes that photo for profit or promotion, then you have just screwed yourself out of a lucrative deal.
I have an events company that's a "Not for profit that is looking for someone to donate their time"
That is bogus as hell. They may be a not for profit, but I am not! Not to mention, they themselves as individuals are not doing the events for free.
While their offer of a "complimentary ticket valued at $50 as part of compensation" is their hook, it is absolutely an insult and slap in the face to any dignified photographer.
Working for free begets more free work in over 90% of scenarios.
It is incumbent upon everybody to demand at least a reasonable amount of compensation.

While you say your day job pays for everything, then great, go do favor work for friends and stay out of the professionals client base. It is nothing more then ignorant and asinine to think that just because you have a job already that pays more than enough for your own equipment, that you shouldn't expect to earn money from your services. You then are stealing money from those that need it.
Furthermore, take your day job and go do that for free at night or on the weekends for someone else. Would you do this? Does that make a bit of logical sense?

If you are goign to do anything for free, then it should only be done on a basis of collaboration. Not for someone to be exploiting of you regardless of whether you feel you are or not. The difference is that you haven't done enough free work to feel the results of it yet.

#428 Comment By Alex On September 28, 2011 @ 2:35 pm


These people are flat out DUMB!

Otherwise, why in the hell would you "work" for free? I for one did not realize that we're back to slavery!

People have worked long and hard to ABOLISH that, but apparently some are that stupid to not realize what they're doing!

Bottom line, there is NO justification in one right mind to do ANY work for free, and that is basically simply because GAS is not free, FOOD is not free, CLOTHING is not free...Should I go on?

These poeple who "offer" their "work" for free are nothing more than a bucnh of idiot who will never work 1 hour for free at their DAYJOB! yet they have the nerve to step into someone else profession and destroy it without regard that there ARE people in this world who want to make a LIVING out of photography.

Being Digital has nothing to do with the QUALITY of a photograph, and in no way shape or form excuses the fact that there is STILL quite a bit of work involved.

All you all are doing by offering these questionable services is to LOWER the expectations businesses have across the world and go "ehh, good enough, it was free after all"!!! which is pure BULLSHIT because this is how some business will LOOSE clients because people will realize that the image of that company looks like crap and will skip it in order to go with someone else's that respects their IMAGE!!!! THEREFORE PRODUCTS AND SO ON.

You think you're good enough? great, LIVE OFF YOUR GOOD ENOUGHNESS THEN! don't go to a day job, live off you photography you say you're sooooooooooooooo good at! let's see how many camera's will you buy then! It is easy to talk when you make $100k and $1500 is cheap change, it is another story when you're asked to "work for free, because they don't have a budget, and Joe Schmo did it for free" , and THEN try to spend $1500 on a new camera!!!!!


You should be embarrassed at best for not only offering pure crap quality photos, not providing clients with Legal documentation of their rights and yours, and for basically being a SLAVE!

#429 Comment By Dwarf On September 29, 2011 @ 9:07 pm

I assume everyone here knows of something called "Photoshop". Yes?

There are numerous other photo-editing programs out there that are not only cheaper (e.g. Paint Shop Photo Pro), but also FREE (e.g. GIMP).

By your logic, Adobe should have been driven out of business long long time ago. Yet it stands.

Ever heard of "Microsoft Office"? Yes?

There are numerous other "office" program suites out there that are not only cheaper (e.g. WordPerfect Office), but also FREE (e.g. OpenOffice).

By your logic, Microsoft should have got out of the "office" program market. Yet MS Office remains one of the flagship products.

If you can produce a good product and/or service, and market yourself properly, there is no "danger" or "threat" coming from the "cheaper and/or free" crowd. You define where you stand in the market.

#430 Comment By Patrick Imbeau On October 21, 2011 @ 5:04 pm

Started Free.
Then when people noticed my work, I started to charge. Almost nothing to start, but once I built up a portofolio, then I was able to begin charging a decent wage.

You sound like a prima donna who forgot her roots.

#431 Comment By Talbert McMullin On October 22, 2011 @ 2:01 pm


paid work = GOLD, free work = STUPIDITY

Here's my business policy:

1. You want to use my work, you pay.

2. Any questions? See point number 1.

#432 Comment By Krischan On October 22, 2011 @ 8:43 pm

The point that made me realize that this rant is hilarious was the comparison with IT and outsourcing to India. Because it disproves his list.

Outsourcing to India. The IT-industry has been there. You get ... quantity, no quality. If you want quality, you have to pay the same wages as you pay your local professionals.

There will always be an neighbour kid or a boss' nephew that sells cheaper than the IT professional and you, as the professional, have two choices: either you gain the insight that the thing you are marketing is a dead horse (hey, let's build a webbrowser for private usage that costs 10$, or even better - a operating system for 200$) OR you snort and move to another client because that one will cause more trouble than worth because he can't recognize quality.

There. The word. Quality. Your work, as a professional, should be visibly better than a local IT guys dabbling with a hobby. Hobbies can be quite expensive but that is their, that is my problem, not yours. If I, as a IT guy taking photos of my friends for free, am your problem then you are not worth your money and wouldn't be recommended by anyone.

#433 Comment By PD On October 28, 2011 @ 8:25 am

The problem Krischan is that clients don't value quality. I have lost many jobs on the basis that my website is good "so I bet your expensive". That sounds ridiculous, but I'm afraid its the truth. And the restaurant chain that said that to me, then went on to use pictures that were so full of blurr and grain that they appeared to have been taken using a camera phone. What image that presents of a gormet restaurant to its clients, I don't know, but that is what happened.

#434 Comment By Jimbo On November 2, 2011 @ 12:24 pm

Once you start doing work for free the word gets out and the minute you try to charge a fee the reaction will be, " you didn't charge so and so, so why are you charging me". If anyone asks you to do it for free ask yourself, do they work for free as well?

And when a company asks you to work for free with the promise of paid work later on, they will simply try the same trick with another photographer once they are done with you. YOU WILL NOT GET ANY PAID WORK FROM THEM.

If you start your business working for free, then its not a business and when you start charging you will loose all your contacts as they will then look for another free photographer. You have to charge a fee from day one and if you don't get any work then it proves one thing. Photography as a profession is dead.

#435 Comment By Jimbo On November 2, 2011 @ 12:44 pm

If you work for free then be very embarrassed for having no respect for yourself and no confidence.

And if you are trying to become a professional, then why are you helping to destroy the industry. And if you are working for free you obviously have no insurance. Anyone working in another profession like this would be in deep trouble with the authorities.

Theres very few photographers out there these days anyway. To be a photographer you have to be skilled in working with film and chemistry. Digital imaging is not Photography.

#436 Comment By Dan On November 2, 2011 @ 8:10 pm

This is bullshit. THIS SENDS THE WRONG MESSAGE. So called professional overpaid photo-hacks just hate on hungry up-and-coming photographers willing to earn a reputation. Especially because the industry has changed. It's sooooo easy to look like a professional photographer and that scares you. To the green photographers, You have to build a very diverse portfolio somehow. I work with freelance photographers daily and most of the time I pay them. They also do favors for me when I don't have a budget for a photographer. When young photographers come to me wanting paying work, I tell them they have to earn that. I give them trial gigs that lead to paying gigs.

A SMART PHOTOGRAPHER knows how to work a shoot if they are smart. I have photographers come out to one of my events for a free meal and a spill tab and they've turned it into paying gigs and licensed photos to the musicians they shot. Be smart, or be bitter and your days will be numbered!

#437 Comment By CB On November 8, 2011 @ 9:32 am

If you shoot fashion you have no choice these days. Almost all the editorial work that is done, is done for free. That is the place the industry is now in. So you have a choice, you can try to test in order to keep renewing your work (in which case you will be working for free), but you will not have decent styling because the clothes are only lent to legit press sources, nor will it be easy to have good stylists or talent al together in the same place at the same time. Published work is more important than cash and better than nothing when looking for the cash jobs later. Most of the magazines function at a loss these days too, so they can't even afford full time staff.

This is the reality and it sucks. But it is the reality nonetheless.

#438 Comment By Jimbo On November 8, 2011 @ 8:31 pm

Like most business a smart photographer needs to know when to start and when to get out. I am glad that I got out at the right time. Unqualified amateurs have trivialised the business.

#439 Comment By Kevin N. On November 24, 2011 @ 1:36 pm

What about people like me? I'm a physician, but photography is my hobby. I've been doing it for about 5 years: devouring books, workshops, and shooting anything and everything. I have no desire to turn my passion into a money-making venture (it'd be more of a tax hassle than anything). I produce decent work, some of it--I'm told--on par with what a lot of local "pros" produce. I've spent a lot of money on gear over the years, and have finally built up a decent studio. What I really want to do are weddings, but again, I don't want to charge. I'm not even looking to build a portfolio. I'd just like to, occasionally, take on the challenge of a wedding. My motivation is simply the personal pride in giving a bride & groom a product they'll cherish. I suppose I could allow them to pay me whatever they think I'm worth, or is fair, and apply those funds to new gear, but again...I don't really need the money, and I think it'd be more hassle free that way. I guess, largely, I just don't want to spoil my hobby by introducing money. I don't want it to ever be work, know what I mean?

#440 Comment By Jimbo On November 30, 2011 @ 2:41 pm

Yep I know what you mean. In fact I was thinking of also becoming a physician but offering my services for free. Maybe if I do that everyone will become a physician and also offer their services for free. That way there would no longer be a living to be had from being a physician.

#441 Comment By Demon Lee On November 30, 2011 @ 5:42 pm

What about people like me? I'm a photographer, but surgery is my hobby. I've been doing it for about 5 years: devouring books, workshops, and cutting into anything and everything. I have no desire to turn my passion into a money-making venture (it'd be more of a tax hassle than anything). I've done some decent work, some of it--I'm told--on par with what a lot of local "Dr's" produce. I've spent a lot of money on gear over the years, and have finally built up a decent theatre. What I really want to do are heart ops, but again, I don't want to charge. I'm not even looking to build a portfolio. I'd just like to, occasionally, take on the challenge of a heart transplant. My motivation is simply the personal pride in giving a patient a heart they can cherish. I suppose I could allow them to pay me whatever they think I'm worth, or is fair, and apply those funds to new gear, but again...I don't really need the money, and I think it'd be more hassle free that way. I guess, largely, I just don't want to spoil my hobby by introducing money. I don't want it to ever be work, know what I mean?

#442 Comment By Alex On November 30, 2011 @ 5:42 pm

With all this information available on Google, I think I'll become a physician too, but without having $500k in loans, and then I am going to offer medical care for free to everyone, not just to those who pay high insurance premiums!!!!!
And the best part, I don't even need to buy any equipment! hahahahahaha I would actually be ashamed to call myself a physician these days:

Patient: "Dr. I have pains all over, my throat hurts etc etc"
Dr: "Ok, here's an antibiotic! Have nice day!"
I guess it pays to go through med school so after that you do nothing for the rest of your "Physician" life!

Photographers actually move a lot more AT their job!!!!!!!!

For a physician, you lack basic education & common sense!!! I fell sorry for you!

#443 Comment By Alex On November 30, 2011 @ 6:06 pm

Actually I disagree, if you want to create an outstanding wedding portfolio, just rent a dress, go to a college and talk to students, most know how to put make up on, and this is also where your artistry comes in...read between the lines of you can...some might be pretty enough to make your portfolio look good, but if you think for a moment that wedding photographers shoot and then hand over the photos out of the camera you are dreaming with your brain open!!!!!!!!

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#445 Comment By Mike Padua On January 6, 2012 @ 5:16 pm

@Demon Lee: You're a genius.

@Kevin N:

The first time I read your post, I got a little upset. You're that f****** doctor/engineer/software programmer who "doesn't need the money" who is taking away opportunity from the people who DO need the money. You're the guy who, just this morning, was chosen over me to shoot a job for a theatre company with a $1.5 Million operating budget because you were willing to do it for free.

But then I realized that I don't compete with free, and the "clients" who place a value of $0 on my skill, expertise, equipment, and results are exactly the clients I want to avoid.

#446 Comment By Jason On January 7, 2012 @ 1:29 am

Oh the irony of a blogger complaining that people who give away work are ruining their industry.

You do realize that before blogs, where people write content for free, there were newspapers and magazines?

They are now firing their creative staffs because they can buy their content cheaper of free from amateurs, or are closing their doors because they can't compete.

It strikes me that you did not consider the bread that you and all the other rock star blogger photographers are taking out of the mouths of photo industry journalists, by devaluing their work and words, by giving your words away for free.

Oh yeah and I bet you use the same excuses - it's just marketing, I'm just getting myself out there.... etc.

#447 Comment By Mike Padua On January 9, 2012 @ 2:46 pm


Very, very good point and something to think about.

#448 Comment By Joan Mae On January 11, 2012 @ 6:04 am

I can't agree with you. Nature requires us to go the extra mile before we reap harvests. Even farmers have to clear their land and do the toil first before they get increasing returns.

If you continue looking at your profession like that, you will end up with a huge hole in your heart because you always seek returns of your passion in the monetary form.

#449 Comment By Simon T On January 11, 2012 @ 11:45 am

If you are being constantly undercut by other people doing work for free then you don't have as marketable a skill as you thought you had. That is your problem not the problem of people who just want to take photos for the pleasure that it gives people.

It's the difference between being an artist and a sell-out.

#450 Comment By David C On January 18, 2012 @ 6:45 pm

Wow, I couldn't disagree more. Nothing like criticizing hobbyists trying to get more experience. Sounds like you're losing some customers to college students and are quite bitter about it. Good for the students. If people are performing the same quiality of work that you are and they're doing it for free, then maybe what you have isn't so special after all. But judging by this angering article, it sounds like you might have a career in Op-Ed articles..

#451 Comment By Talbert McMullin On January 19, 2012 @ 6:16 pm

David, it is very obvious you have missed the point to this entire conversation. Kindly take your head out of your *** and open your eyes.

Joan, here's a good exercise for you: Try paying your bills with passion and not money. I would love to hear how that goes.

#452 Comment By Omar On March 8, 2012 @ 10:47 pm


Enough said.

#453 Comment By Matthew Strebe On March 21, 2012 @ 3:56 am

Shooting for free should be illegal. We must preserve all opportunities real photographers! Seriously, let's face facts: These amateurs are apparently now able to completely equal the quality of seasoned pros who are legitimate businessmen, so we need licensing, price controls, a photographer's union, and laws to preserve this noble profession!

Where would fletchers and coopers be today if they'd just allowed new technology and a lack of demand put them out of business? If we don't act now, "Photographer" will be nothing more than a last name in 100 years.

#454 Comment By Talbert McMullin On March 23, 2012 @ 10:30 pm

Wow, Matthew! You think we should hang all the amateurs? Your call, man, your call.

#455 Comment By the other guy On March 28, 2012 @ 1:40 pm

If the market wants DSLR photos taken by amateurs, then that is what the market wants. Deal with it.

#456 Comment By Talbert McMullin On March 29, 2012 @ 6:20 pm

@other guy: Good idea. Let's forget our experience, skills, and training, sell all our gear, and go to Las Vegas. We can live off the fat of the land!

Most of you guys are as nutty as fruitcakes so just do as I say.

#457 Comment By Destiney Fischer On April 7, 2012 @ 6:46 pm

One of you said to come back a in a year and I would feel differently? Nope feel the same I don't mind people who shoot for cheap or for free... honestly it weeds out the clients I don't want to deal with :) Not only that but I still do shoots free for Inspiration Through Art Yet somehow I still pay the bills :) Everyone has to start somewhere :) I maintain do not Charge OR start a buisness until you have a rockin portfolio.

#458 Comment By Deji On April 11, 2012 @ 2:33 am

@Talbert You know this article is about why 'YOU' should not shoot for free not why everyone else should not.
Facebook just bought Instagram for $1bn with about 35 million folks (of which I am newly joined) snapping photos with their phones applying filters and getting some pretty good images in some cases. These millions are on your heels.
Justify your cost, justify your gear, justify your experience and make sure you are better than most of these and that your have a good business structure that allows you to make a living. If packing up shop and going to Las Vegas is what you think best so be it, but better do something than nothing.

#459 Comment By Talbert McMullin On April 11, 2012 @ 11:12 pm

@Deji: I was being sarcastic. I was insinuating that we should all just throw up our hands, sell our camera gear, and take the money from the sale of our gear, and play the slots.

Frankly, I could care less what Facebook does. I just do my thing and that's that.

#460 Comment By Deji On April 12, 2012 @ 1:54 am

@Talbert Thanks, I could tell. Point still stand that it may well be the best options for some who don't know how to make money anymore in photography (note sarcasm).
I'm pleased you don't have to take note of what Facebook is doing and you are just doing your thing. Frankly FB can be a pretty big waste of time and hopefully your thing is good enough. Again for those who are thinking about how they adapt with shifting landscape in the photographic industry I would suggest that it is quite significant news and something to provide food for thought.

#461 Comment By Talbert McMullin On April 12, 2012 @ 1:16 pm

I forgot who said this but it was something like this: "The amateurs who shoot for free weed out the cheapskates I don't want to do business with." That is the way I feel also.

And old friend once told me "When you try to get something for nothing, you usually get nothing FOR something." I firmly believe that also.

As one who has studied Economics in college, the problem I see is not people who are willing to work for free, rather the economy as a whole. Let's face it folks, this economy sucks and based on my research, will get even worse in the next couple of years. MUCH worse. Just what you wanted to hear, right? And just in case you wonder why I predict such a dire future, don't bother to ask because you won't believe me anyway. So keep shooting and try to enjoy yourself. It's probably the best you can do.

#462 Comment By Zen On April 12, 2012 @ 5:26 pm

How much were you paid to write that?

#463 Comment By Talbert McMullin On April 13, 2012 @ 1:03 pm

A million bucks.

#464 Comment By Vivek Ganapathy On June 8, 2012 @ 7:35 pm

Surprise me... please tell us all you got paid for your very first shoot EVER !!!!!

It is only natural and must to build a folio even if very small; before one can actually seek paying shoots, but continuing free work for long periods is blasphemy !!!

I started out as a self taught, self funded photographer paying models and other talents to shoot with me... Once I got the hang of it, I have moved on to doing commercial work ! if it works differently anywhere else on the planet, I'd be surprised !

just my $0.02 !


#465 Comment By Talbert McMullin On June 10, 2012 @ 7:39 pm

I think the vast majority of us did just that.

#466 Comment By Kaela On June 26, 2012 @ 2:39 pm

This is the worst, most unhelpful article I think I have ever read. Ok, so if I decided right now that I wanted to be a pro photographer, do you suggest I buy a camera, and immediately start charging $300 session, starting tomorrow, with no portfolio and no practice? Photographers are always so bitchy towards cheaper photographers, and the reason why is no secret - you lose business when others do it cheaper. You cant say people are wrong for doing it cheaper, there are no rules.

#467 Comment By Michael On June 28, 2012 @ 1:11 pm

I cannot believe that this thread is STILL running. So why not srtir it up again!!
I have no problem with people being cheaper than me, nor in having a different business model. My problem is solely with people giving themselves away in return for nothing. It is that which is being a mug, and it is that which is crucifying the business. By all means be cheap. By all means do things on a quid prop quo basis if it helps you get a foot on the ladder. But if you do it for nothing simply because you are "an artist", then in my book you are not an artist but an arsehole, and making it very difficult for all the people trying to run a business.
I frequently lose business to people who are cheaper, and I shed no tears at all. Often those clients come back to me later when they realise that there was a reason why I am more expensive. But nothing makes me pull my hair out more than being told by wealthy companies that I should be doing the job for free and the bathing in the "kudos" because there are lots of other "photographers" that are glad of the exposure.
Well when someone explains to me how "kudos" and "exposure" feeds my three children and wife (let alone me) then I will listen to their bullshit.
Photography is either a business or a hobby for each of us. If it is a business for you, then treat it like one. If it is a hobby, then treat it like one. But don't sit on the fence in forums like this and spout bleeding artist bollocks.
If a potential client approaches you to work for them, you talk money. If your instant reaction is to offer them everything for nothing because your just starting out, then you really need to fuck off and get some business training.

#468 Comment By Rachelle Biswell On July 24, 2012 @ 8:32 pm

First off let me just say that I agree with some of the stuff you said but not all of it. I have offered free shoots as well as a free cd with their pictures (which had my copyright logo on it). I got pictures for my pro folio. The couple that i took the pictures for order pictures as well. I say you can do shoots for free to build your pro folio but that does not mean that you have to offer them free prints or free Cd's. When I started by business with no experience what so ever. I know have paying clients and I still do non-profit events for free in my home down because I am the only photographer that is close around.
So before people start saying that you shouldn't do photo sessions for free because you will be known as the "free photographer" they should look at the business that are in small towns that started out offering free sessions and getting clients because of those free sessions that they did.

#469 Comment By Talbert McMullin On July 25, 2012 @ 8:47 pm

You work in a small, poor town where people have no money. So you now have a great professional portfolio in a small town where people have no money. Nice future...

#470 Comment By Alex On July 31, 2012 @ 9:48 am

Here, CHEW on this for a while:

I once had a "free/for portfolio shoot" that cost me $250. Gas, tolls, shipping.


#471 Comment By maria On August 8, 2012 @ 11:10 am

Love the content. Maybe the tone -some comments-could be a little less insulting? I'm sure many free inexperienced photographers do this out of ignorance rather than malice. They need to be educated not antagonised.

#472 Comment By Hugo Carlone On August 9, 2012 @ 3:23 pm

What most people fail to recognize is that "Professional Photography" means business. And business means exchanging your services for money. Anything other than that is considered charity. Things like build up portfolio, get exposure in the industry, word of mouth and etc are bulls***. If a noob wants to become a prefessional, the first thing he/she needs to learn is how to run a business. And doing things for free is a sure road to failure!

#473 Comment By Lucy On August 9, 2012 @ 4:56 pm

"What most people fail to recognize is that "Professional Photography" means business. And business means exchanging your services for money. Anything other than that is considered charity. Things like build up portfolio, get exposure in the industry, word of mouth and etc are bulls***. If a noob wants to become a prefessional, the first thing he/she needs to learn is how to run a business. And doing things for free is a sure road to failure!"

"What most people fail to recognize is that "Professional Photography" means business. And business means exchanging your services for money. Anything other than that is considered charity. Things like build up portfolio, get exposure in the industry, word of mouth and etc are bulls***. If a noob wants to become a prefessional, the first thing he/she needs to learn is how to run a business. And doing things for free is a sure road to failure!"

"What most people fail to recognize is that "Professional Photography" means business. And business means exchanging your services for money. Anything other than that is considered charity. Things like build up portfolio, get exposure in the industry, word of mouth and etc are bulls***. If a noob wants to become a prefessional, the first thing he/she needs to learn is how to run a business. And doing things for free is a sure road to failure!"

"What most people fail to recognize is that "Professional Photography" means business. And business means exchanging your services for money. Anything other than that is considered charity. Things like build up portfolio, get exposure in the industry, word of mouth and etc are bulls***. If a noob wants to become a prefessional, the first thing he/she needs to learn is how to run a business. And doing things for free is a sure road to failure!"

"What most people fail to recognize is that "Professional Photography" means business. And business means exchanging your services for money. Anything other than that is considered charity. Things like build up portfolio, get exposure in the industry, word of mouth and etc are bulls***. If a noob wants to become a prefessional, the first thing he/she needs to learn is how to run a business. And doing things for free is a sure road to failure!"

"What most people fail to recognize is that "Professional Photography" means business. And business means exchanging your services for money. Anything other than that is considered charity. Things like build up portfolio, get exposure in the industry, word of mouth and etc are bulls***. If a noob wants to become a prefessional, the first thing he/she needs to learn is how to run a business. And doing things for free is a sure road to failure!"

Lets all chew on this one for a while, as this is EXACTLY what this is. VERY WELL SAID! Thank you Hugo!

#474 Comment By Talbert McMullin On August 9, 2012 @ 6:03 pm

Well said, Lucy. You hit the nail squarely on the head!

#475 Comment By Rachelle Biswell On August 13, 2012 @ 7:43 pm

To Talbert and Alex:

Talbert the town I work in is not poor and I don't have just people booking sessions from the town I live in. I only offered the free sessions to family members and those family member always purchased pictures and I got paying clients from those sessions.

To Alex...I am a full time photography. I do not have another job. I rely on my photography business to pay for the stuff I need like my rent, food, gas.

#476 Comment By Talbert McMullin On August 13, 2012 @ 7:58 pm

Ok, Rachelle. That is different. I thought you were offering free settings for anyone who walked in the door.

#477 Comment By James On August 24, 2012 @ 4:36 am

So - to all of you who agree with John Harrington . Tell me, wothout experience, without exposure, without practice, without a portfolio , without referals for previous work
, without a network.. how exactly do I go about getting a paycheck for the very first job I do ?

#478 Comment By Alex On August 24, 2012 @ 3:26 pm

"So - to all of you who agree with John Harrington . Tell me, wothout experience, without exposure, without practice, without a portfolio , without referals for previous work
, without a network.. how exactly do I go about getting a paycheck for the very first job I do ?"

You go to school....(like a future accountant does), when you're in your 3rd year, and have mastered "something", you start branching out, find LEGITIMATE internships, ASSIST, and build from there.

It is one thing to start at the bottom, (e.g. assisting), and a whole other to tell people you'll do the job for free "just cause"! THAT will NOT lead you towards the kind of paycheck that pays a mortgage, rent, buys a vacation home and lots of gas to get there or plane tickets, pay $900 per speech/behavior therapy session if you happen to have an AUTISTIC child, and so on. The cases when it happens to lead to more LEGITIMATE paying jobs are so small, they are under 1% of the ppl with a camera around their necks.

Ask yourself this: Your father taught you how to fix a car, but how do you go about fixing other people's cars for free? who buys the parts? and who will give you your time back that you spend doing "favors for free"!???? Is CANON Going to GIVE YOU A FREE CAMERA? for doing all this work for free? is Nikon? Pentax? Kodak? anyone? IS Apple giving you a FREE computer because you've done all this work for free?

The camera is a TOOL! Nothing more. Can you brush your hair without a brush? (girls only question of course). The people who continue to argue this point, are too stupid to understand basic concepts such as SLAVERY! WORKING FOR FREE, GIVING YOUR TIME FOR FREE EQUALS SLAVERY! It doesn't matter what side of the globe you live on! If you cannot comprehend this simple concept, then you need to speak to a neurologist, and buy a dictionary and read the definition of "charity" versus "slavery"!

Educate yourself, then ask for money like every OTHER profession on this planet. Clicking that shutter is just 1 of the steps in creating a fantastic image...the first step is to get up, wash your face with water that you pay monthly for, brush your teeth with tooth paste that wasn't free either, get dressed with clothes that you also paid for, (or all you who want to work for free so bad are using the shirt that was "free" from the "buy one, get one free" promotion? I bet you are.....hahaha), then eat something that was also not free, and then drive a car that wasn't free, just like the gas powering it wasn't free! So why would you ever want to consider working, spending time driving, photographing, post processing, shipping etc etc etc without being paid is beyond me! TIME IS MONEY!

Case closed.

#479 Comment By Alex On September 9, 2012 @ 12:36 pm


#480 Comment By NickK On September 12, 2012 @ 1:04 am

Am sending this to my uber-talented, low-self-esteemed photographer friend -it encapsulates what her friends have been saying for years. A heartfelt thanks in anticipation she will stop with the giveaways :)

#481 Comment By David On September 27, 2012 @ 1:28 pm

Would-be photographers seem to think that they need to do COMMERCIAL WORK FOR FREE to 'get started'. WHY? You need to demonstrate competence and build a portfolio. If you are competent you are competent. If you're skilled you're skilled. Where does the free work for commercial clients come in to it? What benefit is there?

Do you realise that a photo credit in a big magazine will likely lead to ZERO enquires for other work?

I do personal projects and sometimes that involves a bit of pro bono that benefits a third party but it's on MY TERMS.

What I would say is to aspiring photographer is to get out of the gutter - don't prowl around Craigslist doing $30 portrait dump-to-disc portrait shoots or getting tangled up in crappy little tinpot small businesses and startups that want to pay little or nothing. Find serious clients that respect going rates and invoice them everything.

Working for very cheap is also dumb. In fact it's those cheapie 'clients' that want the moon on a stick and you end up making a loss to get rid of them.

#482 Comment By Jeff Arkun On September 27, 2012 @ 5:24 pm

Most of the time people ask but I never did weddings or used studio lights, to get experience and start charging money shouldn't I first do so freebies...NOOOO....that is why people hire assistant. you learn what to do and they get help :)
Even don't be an assistant for free unless you are in college and doing your internship.

#483 Comment By Wil On October 31, 2012 @ 9:54 pm

Your insights and advice is directly on par with my own. All these TFPs have caused a severe deterioration in the industry as a whole. No one respects the craft or the talent anymore. Even when a upcoming photographer sees it as a benefit to expand their portfolios, every shoot becomes ever more difficult to transition to getting paid. They may not care at first, but when they start considering how much time, effort and expense goes into every single shoot free or not it will make a difference. But now that they're known as the "free guy" they can't find work that pays.

It doesn't help that everyone with a camera thinks that they are a photographer and everyone with a pulse thinks they can be a model. The problem is they are all doing "free" work. It's the mark of an amateur.

#484 Comment By Jon B On November 13, 2012 @ 5:52 am

Alex, you're a numpty. Know your history and check out a dictionary. Slavery is IMPOSED upon people, not a choice. If I *choose* to do something for free of my own will, it's a choice. If you MAKE me do it for free against my will, it's slavery.

And whilst we're here, let's clarify the definition of amateur, Wil. Until recently, most Olympic athletes were "amateurs". Jesse Owens and Roger Banister were amateurs. Guys who run up mountains and run 60 mile ultra-distance events - all amateurs. So let's not taint the meaning, many amateurs are better, and sometimes the best at what they do. It's legitimate to equate amateur with ability.

I've sold my photography, but I don't class myself as a professional as I don't do it as my main source of income. I indulge my creative side through photography and if I make a sale, that's fantastic, but I do it for enjoyment first. I know "professionals" who make me wonder how they sell anything, let alone make a living from it. They could make a mess of photographing a blank wall.

Let's not mistake the ability to sell something for the ability to do something well.

#485 Comment By Harry Williams Rogers On November 13, 2012 @ 12:03 pm

I cant agree with everything you have said, I have done some freebees in the past and got plenty of paid work from it, sometimes you just need to get your foot in the door, but if it's not a business, then money isn't everything, friendship and pleasure can be more valuable.

#486 Comment By Alex On November 13, 2012 @ 2:45 pm

Jon B.
When you post job ads with NO PAY that is PROMOTION OF SLAVERY because you are looking to MAKE SOMEONE WORK FOR FREE=SLAVERY!

ONLY work done for a legitimate charity: Habitat for humanity, Red Cross, Good Will and so on qualify for you to do free work for. it IS NOT charity when you're photographing for free for a company or person who in RETURN will USE your photographs to make a PROFIT= THROUGH THE USE IN ADVERTISING, WEB OR EDITORIAL, OR INCOME FOR MODELS ETC. Do you see the models working for free for Lancome? I don't.

You cannot call yourself a professional photographer unless you pay your bills out of photography, and thanks to all the egotistic idiots offering "free shit", no one can legitimately call themselves a pro these days UNLESS they're paying their bills out of it. Offering free photographs does not make you a photographer, it makes you a pathetic idiot who does not know the value of his/her work, nor gives a shit about it, in which case I don't know why you'd spend thousands on PHOTOGRAPHIC EQUIPMENT! If you cared so much about photography, you wouldn't give it away for free! Simple as that. BTW let me know how you get your cameras and lenses for free, I want in on that too!!!!!!!!

#487 Comment By Jon B On November 13, 2012 @ 5:15 pm

Just because you don't know why I'd spend thousands on PHOTOGRAPHIC EQUIPMENT doesn't make YOUR ARGUMENT legitimate. And SLAVERY is only SLAVERY if SOMEONE is FORCED to work FOR NOTHING. Perhaps unlike you, I DON'T feel the NEED to spend thousands on equipment, it's the SKILL of the photographer that makes a picture, NOT THE EQUIPMENT. Maybe you are insecure that ANYONE can afford the EQUIPMENT nowadays, and YOU have NOT got the SKILL to MAKE UP for it.

Maybe I spent all my PROFITS on ANGER MANAGEMENT THERAPY. Perhaps YOU SHOULD TRY IT YOURSELF sometime, MR SHOUTY, before you E-X-P-L-O-D-E !!!!!!!!

#488 Comment By Alex On November 13, 2012 @ 7:04 pm

LOL Ohh I am not shouting, there is no formatting, as in Bold, Italic etc in this box. I was trying to emphasize for those who are clueless about the consequences of their actions!

I could care less why! You and everyone else who thinks that buying a DSLR will turn them into professional photographers are all a bunch of ignorants with great disrespect for our profession you want so bad to be part off. Same goes for those who pretend that "skills" matter, yet they don't charge for their skills! Also ignorant. You think that people offering to "work for free", slaves, and those who "respond to ads that offer NO PAY", use a cell phone camera to photograph? hahahaha That's hilarious! So what if the equipment is available, this is not about the equipment, this is about WORKING FOR NO PAY!!! It is a paradox that someone would spend over $1000 on a camera, lens, cards, tripods, etc etc etc and then walk around and offer to photograph for free/no charge!!! It is dumb, and shows a very low business sense, and also IQ!

Let me put it this way: you, average accountant Joe, got a raise, bought a camera and now you're walking around offering "PROFESSIONAL SERVICES", OR "OFFER TO TAKE PHOTOGRAPHS" for your boss's advertising campaign! Here's an example for you: [30]
This person has NO education in photography what so ever, just bought a camera a month ago, and marketing himself like this:
"Val Vasilescu Photography provides the most unique wedding, event, architecture, landscape, street, fashion and nature photography services across the world.

Established in 2012 by photographer Val Vasilescu, specializing in producing high-quality images and also ensuring that your special occasion is relaxed, professional and trouble-free. We provide a secure and easy-to-use online store for purchasing professional print and digital products that you will treasure forever.

Visit the portfolio for examples of our work or contact us to discuss your requirements and let us show you how we can make your event extra special. Please visit us often as our portfolio is updated daily."

This person has not had 1 professional photo job ever! not one! he worked in the financial industry and has had no relation to photography what so ever! What's going to happen is that he will screw up, and then will have a law suit in his hands for MISREPRESENTING US PROFESSIONALS!!!!!! AND GIVING US A BAD REPUTATION! Do you see an accountant go around advertising himself as a dentist??????? do you see a car mechanic advertising himself as a chef? You need CREDENTIALS, YOU need an education of some kind, having a $1000 bucks doesn't mean you have an education, nor does it mean you can call yourself a pro! This person above does not work as a professional photographer 1 day in his life, yet he calls himself that online!!!!!!! This is also showing complete lack of WORK ETHIC! aside from being a complete idiot one step away from a law suit.

Here's another example for you of an "academic type" Looking to do free work:
"Looking for a slim, lean female. Age 16 up to 25.
I am training myself to become a better photographer and need you as kind of a "sparring partner". Can't pay much but this could be a good occasion for you to have great fun, get some nice photos for yourself (e.g. to build a first set card of sorts) and I maybe pay also some cash (not much). I am of the intellectual academic type and it couldn't hurt if you can at least act as the intellectual academic type.

You do not need any experience. You should be able to do your own make up. You don't have to look like a "model" but you should be lean and trim. "Unclean" skin is OK as I am not publishing these photos anyway.

This is how it works:
- You send me an email with some info about you to springhillphotographer [at] gmail [dot] com
- I respond with my website that contains my work and my FB account so you know who I am
- We can initially meet for a bite or a drink so you get me known before you launch yourself in this adventure
- Most of these ads are looking for nude (adult) models. Me not.
- In case you are 16 or 17 I will need an OK from your parents (I could stop by so they have seen me in person)

Include your FB account and send a few photos of yourself. Best time to do photos is the weekend. We would do them mostly outside. I have already scouted some cool locations in the nature nearby.

I will answer to all requests that match this offer. If you are not the right girl I keep my answer short ("Sorry, I am looking for something different"). Please don't be disappointed if that happens.


Location: Spring Hill till down to Tampa
This is a part-time job.
This is at a non-profit organization"

This screams SEX OFFENDER MORON! If you want to "better yourself" so bad, go to school, its not like there's a shortage of photography schools!!!!!!! DUH!

There are a lot more likes these! Sadly.
It is truly embarrassing that people have become so ignorant and disrespectful to the profession they want to be a part of so bad!!! and mainly that there is no work ethic left. If i was an unassuming client and got the guy above to photograph my event, and then saw these horrendous results what do you think I would do? shake his hand? no, I would sue because I cannot REPEAT that event, and if you ruined my photograph YOU will be LIABLE to pay DAMAGES because not i cannot repeat that event again! People need to understand that there ARE consequences to their stupidity. Sometimes COSTLY.

#489 Comment By Talbert McMullin On November 13, 2012 @ 7:36 pm

I have an article on this site "Professional Photography is Going Away". You post points out a couple of many reasons professional photography is going away.

#490 Comment By Sluggo On November 16, 2012 @ 10:16 pm

Hey guys the point he is trying to make is this. It's okay to take pictures for free, sometimes that leads you to more opportunity's. I don't think he saying its bad to take pictures for free, but eventually your gonna have to start charging people for your work. Sure you may lose some clients because of this. Yet you deserve a pay in return, remember your working for them. So when your going out of your way to take family portraits and other events, you do deserve payment, why? Because you are doing a job for them. Sure if your just starting out with photography then do it for free, until you feel that you deserved to get payed for your work. Remember there is a line between being friendly, and being walked on. I'll tell you one of my personal story's. I went to a event with one of my good friends. I brought my camera to take pictures, and I had an idea of what a good picture would look like. My friends dad told me, that if I could take pictures of the singer, and he said if my pictures where good, I would get some pay. I thought this would be a good deal. I took over 1000 pictures. My friends dad wanted me to give him a cd, yet I had no cd drive for my mac mini, so I bought one for 50 dollars. Folks when I gave him that cd he told me, that none of these pictures where any good, except for a few. I was 50 dollars poorer. Be careful when people say they will pay you, because if the photo's don't meet their expectations then you could be walking away with no money... Also Alex I'm sure there is more to photography then money. Yes I understand where your coming from, if it's your job then yeah it pays the bills, plus I've been close to having clients but they bail out because they don't have the money. Plus what really ticks me off, the people who did it for free for them, I look at the pictures and I know I can do a better job. I think photography is also about showing people your pictures, and when they look at those pictures, then can see a story. Isn't photography about capturing the moment? I'm not going against your claim of being paid for the job, I just need to know there is more to photography then just making money from it.

#491 Comment By Alex On November 21, 2012 @ 7:23 pm

"My friends dad wanted me to give him a cd, yet I had no CD drive for my mac mini, so I bought one for 50 dollars. Folks when I gave him that cd he told me, that none of these pictures where any good, except for a few. I was 50 dollars poorer. Be careful when people say they will pay you, because if the photo's don't meet their expectations then you could be walking away with no money... "

Business clients pull this off now because someone did it for them for free, and now the expect "fantastic" quality for free as well.

My point is not that all photography should be paid for, I would volunteer for a legitimate charity any day...the problem is with people who don't understand boundaries, and the difference between someone who is paying bills out of photography, and someone with a big ego that bought a DSLR and automatically thinks he's a pro! it doesn't work like that, and when you are that someone, train well, because it doesn't matter if it is your job or not, you DO want to take full advantage of your camera's abilities regardless, but do respect yourself, and the others in this field, and don't offer to take photos for free. You may screw up and end up with a law suit, or just screw up and that could be a moment that cannot be replaced. Think about it before you click that shutter for someone else, and always ask for something in return. You don't get that time back either; don't just offer it for free because you "know/think" you're new, and don't have ALL that it takes yet to charge what a true pro does.

Photography is a VISUAL ART, regardless of what YOU think, people can see your photographs INSTANTLY...so, if you have the "eye/talent" it doesn't matter if you're new or old, people will like, appreciate, and buy your work; if it is bad they won't. But be aware of those who KNOW it is good, and tell you its bad, so they can get it free...lots of sneaky businesses out there doing this these days. LOTS. & Lots of people falling for it too. Just respect your hobby/"future" profession please.

#492 Comment By azdustdevil On November 22, 2012 @ 1:08 am

I've decided to be optimistic about this. Rather than be an ambassador, I have decided to tell the truth. It's all about money. Nothing more, nothing less. Americans in particular have no taste for art of any shape, form, or fashion. If you want to get your share of the dough, go out and crease something absolutely hideous and sure enough, you'll find a sucker. Now if you really want to make a TON of money, take a picture of a baby or pregnant woman. Boom! Instant money!

Well, gurgle, gurgle, goo.

#493 Comment By Serge On November 22, 2012 @ 1:35 am

Why not do like a lot of portrait photographer do :

- shoot the photo session for free or at cost,
- If client wants photos in whatever format required, charge accordingly.

There are a lot of portrait photographer who shoot for free and, for example, charge £30 or £40 for a single 8x10 print.

#494 Comment By David On November 30, 2012 @ 6:42 pm

A few points:

1) Many young/new photographers are moaning because tinpot 'clients' that have NEVER paid for photography won't pay more than pennies for images if at all. While rates at magazines, PR, big corporates, advertising and marketing agencies have fallen in recent years and competition is stiff at least these clients pay real money when you can get the gig. If you're a 'professional' hoping Joe's Cafe round the corner is going to pay you much for a few shots for his website, forget it. That's not 'professional work' - at best it might be a bit of extra cash with the meat of your income coming from elsewhere.

2) Some kids spend ages shooting 'models' and 'fashion' and then wonder why they can't get paid. Test shoots with agencies usually ARE unpaid. If you don't know how to create a commercially relevant portfolio AND have the marketing skills to start pitching to the right people for real work then you're in cloud cuckoo land. Do you know how business buys photography? Do you have contacts? Can you approach the right people and communicate effectively without looking stupid?

3) If we're talking consumer photography, many people are not visually literate and will not always dismiss what most photographers would see as amateurish rubbish. It's frustrating but, yes, even if you have the most beautiful images ever seen you'll get 'junk enquiries' from people wondering why you're not prepared to do it for Craigslist prices like Joe Schmoe up the road. And who cares? They aren't your clients. Up your game. Access the Mercedes-drivers and meet their needs if you want a payday.

Yet you'll find people ranting and raving online about this stuff. There's nothing you can do. Either you have the insight and marketing savvy to carve out an income in the photography market AS IT STANDs or you don't. If you don't, find something else to do.

#495 Comment By jp On December 13, 2012 @ 12:33 am

I love this!!! About time someone tells it like it is! I'm so tired of my husband's excuses for not charging for his education and experience. I agree with all points especially #1,2,3,4,5,6,8,9,10,11 and 12. Thanks for confirming my point.

#496 Comment By Dave On January 22, 2013 @ 7:15 pm

Jesus. Shoot what you want. CHARGE what you want. So far every 'reason' I've seen against doing free gigs has amounted to pretty much the same thing: They took our jobs!!!

#497 Comment By John Doe On January 24, 2013 @ 1:20 am

Simple equation... No band, no photos. I find it 'puke-worthy' that photographers just turn up with cameras and then sell off photos of our shows without even asking permission. And if they ask permission... free for the band, or banned from shooting. Very simple equation. So budding concert photographers, no band... no bread and butter. Is it really that much of a sacrifice to give a copy of the photos to the band without charging? They probably got you into the concert for free.... ! Arrogance.. it's very ugly 😉

#498 Comment By azdustdevil On January 25, 2013 @ 1:56 pm

Welcome to the 21st century, John Doe. It's what we have become.

#499 Comment By John Doe On January 25, 2013 @ 7:09 pm

Indeed azdustdevil. The sooner the 22nd century comes – and this attitude goes – the better. What I find increasingly hypocritical are the sob stories from photographers about why they need to charge a 'the band' for the privilege of being able to photograph it, when they themselves more than likely have a hard disk brimming with music they have downloaded for free. Whichever way you look at it, it's pretty slimy.
Would it be because no-one else would ever want to buy the photos? We use our own photographers - they do it for the love of their art , and make money from more serious shooting. If we like a photo they've taken sufficiently enough, we might even publish it, and they get their credit. Quid pro quo :)
On the other hand, if I wanted to hire a photographer fro a photo session of the band, THEN I would naturally be looking to pay them... the same as I would expect to be paid for session work.

Occasionally – very occasionally – I have seen some excellent concert photography (the work of Robert Ellis, and Sheila Rock, for example). Even Robert and Sheila handed over copies AND duplicate transparencies with no qualms. It makes one titter to see the amateurs pleading alms when the professionals have no such qualms! :)

#500 Comment By Cheryl On February 6, 2013 @ 8:40 pm

Sounds quite bitter. One of the photographers that want to keep the industry at having to pay $500plus to get photos done of your family every year.

There isn't many who will speak out for the photographer trying to build skill before charging large prices. Also photographers are often trying to find what it is they want to actually pursue.

Here is to the new fresh and innovative photographers of the 21st century.

#501 Comment By Elizabeth On February 20, 2013 @ 10:06 pm

THANK YOU for this List!!!
I can't count how many times I've been 'advised' to start out for free to build word of mouth, even coworkers and bosses who think they can take advantage of my talents for free, to the point that I never mention my photog or art at work anymore. I've had family members volunteer my services to others without asking me first.
*I've never done any photog for free and this is a great list to remind me that I never should.

#502 Comment By Nicole On February 28, 2013 @ 3:40 am

I have a friend who wanted to be a photographer. She was told these same things. After several months of frustration and nearly quitting the pursuit of this dream, she did the opposite. She started charging more than anyone else in the area, offered a guarantee of satisfaction and the next thing she knew, she was turning away request. Not sure if this would work for everyone but it worked for her. The old adage of you get what you pay for, is what she built her business on.

#503 Comment By webholyman On March 1, 2013 @ 11:31 am

I think WE need to find the balance in all we do in life, no matter what it is.
All the comments are helpful and I see a lot of wisdom and emotion in the responses. I am going to share a little about my experience in a few lines below....i hope it helps.

For me, while I was working a graveyard job that I hated, I took 4 years of multimedia training. I began providing photography and video projects free for some events at my school, for my church - like a wedding and a baptism for members, now I have been charging for the same work I provided for free. I don't regret the FREE. It gave me the exposure i needed to begin my business. It is a bit of a struggle, owning your own business, but I also enjoy my freedom. I have found my balance.

I believe FREE is a good thing to get the exposure IF you can afford to do so and you have some talent. I can't think of a better way to get some exposure to your work. I do have to say the balance for me also comes in having a loving supportive spouse, who encouraged me that my work was good, my time was valuable, and it was time to begin making money.

I have been blessed to own my own construction business when i was a young man, creating and providing custom interiors and finish carpentry for my clients. I built my business by time and materials only and then once my work became known, it became time, materials, and profit.

That was a life time ago and after it became too physical to continue, I began a career in computers that paid the bills and benefits for 15 years, the last 6 in which I began to follow my passion, retraining in multimedia.

Photography and video are my best efforts, then graphics and web.

I encourage all readers to find your passion in photography or where ever life may take you.
The regret only comes in not trying and not taking the journey.

Why be miserable all your life. Be positive and don't stop trying! If you fall, get up, brush yourself off and try again. Reading the pearls of wisdom here from others with regard to warnings of loss and regret, it's good advice, but it just was not the way i preferred to start my business.



#504 Comment By Philip Wood On April 9, 2013 @ 9:47 pm

Most people only assess quality based on price. So sometimes you can pick up more paid work by actually increasing your price. Also bottom end work is more likely to be for slow payers and bad debts.

I tell my clients to say to customers who can't afford the market price that I'd love a Ferrari but I can't afford one. Ferrari don't lower their price just for me, so I drive a Nissan!

#505 Comment By Michael On May 9, 2013 @ 3:30 pm

This website has been really helpful in terms of SEO - thanks for that.

But this post is nonsense. It is exceptionally bad business practice to charge money for a service which you are not duely qualified or experienced to carry out. To make money from photography or anything else for that matter, you must be able to prove that you can do it by building up experience, testimonials and portfolios. This means that for a short time, it may be necessary to do some work for free.

When I started out, I developed a website, business cards and all other mixed media, but left it all offline and did not distribute it. In the mean time I was offering my services to relevant people as nothing more than a man with a camera who wanted to get some portfolio shots. I wasn't approaching them as a business man representing a brand - that was not yet born. I was looking for 5 to 10 opportunities to do some work for free in exchange for a testimonial and some portfolio work.

Once I had collected all of this together and learnt from the experience, I set myself up and launched myself as a freelance photographer. I was now in a position where I could justify charging money for what I do. But even then, I was honest about the fact that I was new and made sure my rates reflected that. As long as your clients understand where you are in terms of your own professional development, they can expect your service to improve and your prices to rise in a manner which is natural and fair. Furthermore, as you gain experience as a freelancer the types of clients that you can expect to get. You grow beyond the leagues of small clients who you did the free or cheap work for.

Successful business is all about honesty, growth and development - Everyone starts somewhere and that's OK!

So to summarise, thanks for your advice on this site - I hope you can see my point here though....



#506 Comment By No name On May 9, 2013 @ 7:50 pm


Tell us how you went from buying a camera to charging $1,000 per day? You sound pretty angry for someone claiming to be a pro, especially when the low-ballers and free shooters are not likely to threaten your prospects, as they shoot in a different 'price bracket'. If someone maneuvers for a free photographer, I really doubt that they will also consider someone in your range. So - do tell what made you so angry?

#507 Comment By Don On May 22, 2013 @ 3:24 pm

Interesting, except I've heard it all before.
Paid wedding photographers cranky because of all
these, so called, free photographers. Like any other
artist, I shoot for myself. If I shoot for "free"
(and I do a lot), it's for me I'm shooting. The people
I'm shooting for get what I give them. And they like
what I give them, and the photos are published.
They are "web" quality photos that serve a purpose.
I keep the dng's, and I own all rights. So, not really
giving much away after all, and I get some sweet access.
As for weddings and conventions, don't worry, I don't
shoot those at all, much less for free. Unless it's
something that has some real interest.

#508 Comment By gus mctavish On August 17, 2013 @ 1:22 pm

There is NO reason to shoot for free - ever.

A portfolio is not required but marketing skills are a necessity.

Marketing is the key to any small personal business no matter what it is you sell. If you cannot find a customer for minimum wage when starting looking at your marketing skills and marketing process as it is what is failing not your photographic skills.

The camera will take a minimum wage saleable product on automatic settings so yoru failure in not image quality it is in lack of marketing skills.

My portfolio is made up of paying clients and although i tried some tfp in the early days that process brought me people how did not wish to invest in any way in the q2uality of the product while the paying clients did all they could to create the best results. Meaning my portfolio immediately improved with people who invested money in the process.

There is NO BANK or BUSINESS MAN who will invest in your company that plans to build its market by advertising services for free. That is because it is not a business plan but a hobby plan.

I wager 99.99% of those people replying to this are NOT full time professional photographers and and therefore can only provide advice that leads to failure.

A business is a business and non of them survice without a sustainable profit..