Getting Paid From Doing Free Photo Work

Working for free can be a little controversial and I'm sure there are many creatives out there that completely disagree with it. There are plenty of reasons as to why someone shouldn't work for free but the debate continues. I, on the other hand, would consider working for free depending on a number of factors. Sometimes making money isn't the objective for me and working for free can be very fulfilling. For instance, offering free work for a charity is something I've done regularly and felt very good about. On other occasions, however, I have worked for free as part of a strategy. This is a more risky method because it doesn't always pay off, but, when it does, it can pay off really well.

Jared Polin, a photographer and popular YouTuber, describes in his latest video how he was able to turn some personal work he did into something that generated income. Polin talks about why there are occasions when you may want to consider working for free. Sometimes the initial income that you could have received for doing a particular shoot may just be the tip of the iceberg and free work can help you network and build rapport with the right people. Personally, I've had a similar experience where doing some free work for the right people has opened doors that may not have opened previously. This, in turn, has allowed me to make the right contacts in order to go even further.

Have you had any similar experiences? What are your thoughts when it comes to working for free? Check out the video for the full story.

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13 Comments

Dusty Wooddell's picture

In terms of "free work", there has to be some real value in the potential relationship for me to consider it. Nothing is free

that hair tho

Johnny Rico's picture

I have a strong suspicion that this was horribly under billed for the usage.

Usually I don't comment on anything online .. but...
only in photography .. invest ton of money in equipment, years to acquire skills and then it's ok to be asked to work for free .. to build a portfolio, network ... blah blah blah.

Here's the deal .. if you are a new comer or an aspiring photographer, you will have more dignity working as a prostitute .. saving enough money for professional (or near pro.) gear (camera, lens and light) then hire (as in pay) some pro. models .. shoot a list of all your best lighting, ideas, etc. say .. in a week and there you go .. you have a portfolio .. best you can do when someone is doubt of your skills offer a free session ***BUT**** NEVER EVER EVEN THINK ABOUT GIVING YOUR WORK FOR FREE. why? because your landlord, bus driver, parking meter, doctor, engineer, lawyer, florist, prostitute don't give nothing for free. ... and of course a ton of other professionals, handymen ...etc.

oh one more thing ... Do Not call yourself a photographer just because you have a camera and you learned to press the shutter.

last but not least TFP (time for print/photos) is a SCAM .. it's not fair for a real photographer to invest all that money in gear, all that skills learned and then more time processing photos after a shoot, only to give it away in exchange of a models time in front of the camera.

Please stop killing a beautiful profession/Art like photography by giving it away for free.

Usman Dawood's picture

I don’t know if I can agree with you. I’ve had occasions where doing some free work for someone got me some pretty awesome contracts.

I’ve been able to build the right kind of relationships with certain people too using that method. It’s not a one size fits all kind of thing.

I’ve also done plenty of free work for charities too.

I think if you brand yourself effectively and the people you’re doing the free work for understand and know the value you’re giving them, you’d be surprised at what kind of results you end up with. Many people appreciate genuine heartfelt gestures and enjoy helping in return.

Some of my biggest contracts have come through building the right kind of relationships with the right people and offering to do some work for free. In fact just today I got recommended to someone else. I’m currently working on the biggest contract I’ve ever done which started because I did some free work for someone.

Saying never to that may have never opened the kind of doors that I have managed so far.

While you have some excellent points, few things in life are absolutes and this isn't one of them.

Oh yeah... Ellipses have a very specific purpose and consist of three dots. :-)

Nathan Joseph Dodson's picture

@Lewis J He pretty clearly says that the whole thing was a personal project that happened to turn into a licensing type deal.

I can't agree with you that I should forgo any personal projects because I can't see any immediate financial benefit.

If Jared had set up the shoot, made the trip, and delivered images for a book cover for free, I could see your point. But that isn't at all what happened here.

Nobody else should have to finance your personal project.

Exactly. In your personal projects - you are your client. As a client - you have to pay for them.

I never said anything about anyone else should finance someone else personal project, as a matter of fact .. in my earlier comment I mentioned that professional models should be hired and paid.

the main point I'm trying to deliver is Everyone should get paid and nothing should be done as free, simply because if you look around you in life everything has a price tag.

You know what your time and work is worth. Free? It is worth nothing. The administrators of the Charity get paid. So should you. Then you can actually donate dollars to them and be square with your tax man at the end of the year.

Every time when i work for free i have not response and not future work. I open the doors when i worked paid and when i make a good job. So i don't want to work for free! NEVER EVER! Please tell me about that article is a joke.

Usman Dawood's picture

I wonder how many free projects you've done and what strategies you had in place for them. If your end goal was exposure then more than likely that will always end in failure. Saying never to something because it didn't work a few times in the past might not be a great idea.

Michael Yearout's picture

The only free work I do is for my local animal shelter - taking portraits of the animals. I has increased their adoption rate by over 80%, I've made new friends, received a little publicity and I love helping the animals.