As a Beginner, Should You Offer Free Shoots to Build Your Portfolio?

When you are new to photography or videography, it can be a bit tough to get clients to give you a chance, which might lead you to wonder if you should offer your services for free. This quick and helpful video discusses why it might be beneficial to do a few free shoots to build out your portfolio a bit.

Coming to you from Chase Turnbow, this excellent video discusses the potential benefits of offering your services for free as a new photographer or videographer (though it is oriented toward video shooters, the idea applies just as much to stills work). We are often told to never work for free, which is of course meant to help us avoid being taken advantage of and to maintain the collective value of our work, but when you are new to the industry, it can be a bit of a catch-22, as you need clients to build a portfolio, but clients want to see a portfolio before they hire you, which is why working for free in this specific situation can be mutually beneficial. Just be careful not get in over your head; take on small, easily complete projects that are within your realm of capabilities. Check out the video above for the full rundown from Turnbow. 

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Michael L. McCray's picture

You have watch non-profits giving your work to others, make sure they understand you own the work and you are letting them use it in a limited capacity. I produced a traveling show on homelessness only to find it being used by a lot of groups that I would never support because they assumed the rights belongs to them. Many non-profits are well endowed but still are looking for something for nothing.

What other business provides it's services for free and still calls itself a business? When's the last time a mechanic fixed your car for free? Or a plumber, or a doctor, or a lawyer, or a........

Dan Howell's picture

Plumbers have apprentices, doctors serve internships (and sometimes pay for the privilege) and lawyers do pro bono work. Photography does not a have clear path to establishing one's self. Selectively taking on non-revenue work is one path for a photographer to establish a business profile or take an active hand in steering their path in business. The trick is knowing how to make those opportunities work for them. Not everyone gets it. Don't be too hard on yourself because you don't.

In over forty years of full time photography, doing freebies for clients only got me an invitation to do more. Yes, I shoot a lot of images for free now, but they are self assignments for me alone. I also occasionally do pro bono work for those that really need it. For any client who is making money off of what I do, I expect to receive payment. Every week or so I get a request to do something for free (usually a credit line in exchange for an image). None of those requests will ever net me anything in return, much less a bag of groceries. Yes, I get it.

Dan Howell's picture

I have had several non-revenue shoots at different points in my career that had direct linkage to later paid work. One was a press trip to a Caribbean island, another was a private yacht trip in the Aegean, others were emerging celebrities which led to editorial assignments and image syndication. Not every offer yields results, but to dismiss the idea of non-revenue work having no possible value is not a universal.