3 Tips on How to Turn Exposure Into Actual Money

I get it. You can’t pay the bills by photographing clients for free, or in most cases for exposure. There are definitely ways of turning exposure into monetary compensation however, that most creatives gloss over. Here are three ways of turning exposure into dollars, just by asking some simple questions to your client.

Let me preface this article by saying three key things: A. You should never work for free., B. This will not work in every situation., and C. Always have things in writing.



With those points being stated, let’s start off by defining what exposure is:

A client / company putting you, the photographer, in front of a large audience / platform with hopes that one of those people will hire you.

The problem with this logic is that there is no accountability. Who exactly are you being marketed to? Who are these mystery people? Are they worth being in front of? Do they have the assets in order to afford you? More often than not, this is where most photographers send a witty response back because they’re offended about the person asking them to “work for exposure.” I urge you to breathe and think.

Remember that you should never work for free. You can however trade for something of equal value. The problem with clients who typically request you to “work for exposure,” aren’t willing to put their money where their mouth is (pun intended) and provide you with a tangible list of clients you can reach. There are however a few clients who would be more than happy to provide you the list of the audience you’re reaching in exchange for your time, generally in the form of mailing list (a list of emails).

So how can you capitalize on that? Well, here’s a great scenario, you’re a wedding photographer and you’re contacted by a wedding dress designer to photograph their line for “exposure.” Instead of blatantly saying, NO… F*** OFF, try being a bit more tactful. Remember that in that example, the designer is already reaching a large number of potential brides. Maybe they’re cash poor and just have all their cash tied into their business, and they’d be willing to either share their mailing list with you to reach out to, or run a competition with you in order to promote your business. If their mailing list is 10,000 people, and you can convert even 1% of that 10,000 into a sale, it may be worth your time and energy working for “exposure.”

The problem is that most photographers don’t think beyond that initial sale, when they should be thinking about three steps ahead, which brings me to option number two.



If your client is cash poor, do they have something of tangible value to trade you? For instance, many sponsored photographers get gear for free in exchange for their work. They’re not being monetarily compensated, but the product may have a greater return on investment. For example, if a photographer is given a $3,000 camera for a photo shoot, and their normal day rate is $6,000, they may scoff at the proposal, but an entrepreneur would see that as an opportunity. Here’s a $3,000 camera that I can use as a backup camera, behind the scenes camera, or to provide to an assistant to split the workload and work more efficiently. How could you turn that $3,000 camera into $25,000 of productivity? You may not be getting paid your usual rate, but there is a guaranteed $3,000 sitting on the table… Do you take it?

Remember that you can always say no. That’s the great part about being a business owner.

This works in many different situations, but not in every circumstance. For instance, if you’re a commercial photographer who is approached by a company to do an advertisement in exchange for clothing, it may not be worth your time. If it’s a well known jeweler giving you valuable product however, remember that those things have monetarily value and you could always sell them on Ebay.



Many potential clients and companies are cash poor. They just don’t have the fiscal capital to pay you. How about offering them a discount in exchange for guaranteed work. This is the premise of a forward agreement. A forward agreement is “a customized contract between two parties to buy or sell an asset at a specified price on a future date.”

You’re effectively asking them to sign an exclusive contract with you over a specified amount of time at a specified rate. The best way to do this with cash poor clients is to offer them a lesser day rate if their willing to make you their exclusive photographer. This ensures that any and all photo shoots in the future will have to be done with you, but at a lesser day rate.

Think about that for a second. It may not work for weddings, but if you’re a commercial photographer working with a growing brand, this may just be right up your alley. It’s a way to invest in your client, and they’re simultaneously investing in you. Finding the right client means that you can potentially have steady income over the next couple of years.

There are plenty of other solutions beyond saying “F*** You, Pay Me,” with clients who ask you to work for exposure, and I’ve provided you three simple strategies to convert exposure into money. If you guys have other creative solutions, I urge you to leave them for your fellow photographers below.

Jeff Rojas's picture

Jeff Rojas is an American photographer, author and educator based in New York City. His primary body of work includes portrait and fashion photography that has been published in both Elle and Esquire. Jeff also frequents as a photography instructor. His teaching experience includes platforms like CreativeLive, WPPI, the Photo Plus Expo, and APA.

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Trade for product has worked well for me in my web designer years, and my Mum uses it with her dental practise. Mutually beneficial scenarios are great :)

That's awesome! It's great to see people benefiting from just having an open mind. :)

Possibly the most useful article on this website.

Thanks mate! :)


Not unless you have a clause in your opt in mailing list that says otherwise. For example, anyone who signs up from my blog is exempt from me selling my mailing list... however anyone who joins a contest that I run with a vendor must opt out of having their email shared...

It's all in the small details my friend. :)


Great advice Jeff! I've been doing TF with models since I started, which paid off in a portfolio. As for TF for businesses I am just about to start doing that, hopefully it works out with the right businesses.


TF, "Time For". Effectively means you work unpaid you give your time and in return you receive X (what ever you negotiate). With models its generally improving each others portfolios, you both collaborate to create great images.

Hope that helps.

I agree, just what if its a business that may have the money but lies saying they "don't have the budget for photography"... more of a value thing maybe, either general perceived value or just not a priority? Granted I can spend time in educating them and hope for the best but is it really worth doing so... Do you even approach those businesses where they really couldn't care less about public image (website, marketing, social media, etc.)? Sadly this is in my case where 98% of the brick and motor small businesses in my entire region only relies on their brick and motor location as their only marketing tool. No websites, careless or non-existent social media, and simply use stock photos for any (if any) posters around the location and ads.

Totally agree with your advice... Think. Creativity applies to a lot of things. Negotiating is one.

This really helped me. I always TRY, key word try not to get upset and think about the long term. I will admit it is not easy to do. But I keep telling myself one day it will pay off, something will come out of this. Fingers crossed..haha

While shooting food shots for a menu, the owner suggested a partial payment on invoice w/ gift certs.
I jumped at it, since I ate there frequently, and the owner thought he was making out w/ this idea.
(since say fifty dollars of certificate is really worth - to the owner - 25-35 dollars ). It ended up that the food I bought was at a discount. The food tasted just as good and still got my invoice paid.

Very insightful and educative