Getting Personal Work From Paid Gigs

Getting Personal Work From Paid Gigs

That title might sound a little bit backwards to most of you, but it is not. I know many professionals feel you shouldn't do any photography for free, especially after you have worked your tail off to get to a point where people will pay you to make images. However, even as a full time professional photographer, I actually do a lot of free work. But I do it only on my owns terms, and do turn down many offers. 

I do get my main source of income, being sponsored and working for a large clothing brand. So I will admit that gives me a lot of freedom in my spare time. But I did get that gig initially by them discovering me through my personal work . So I still continue doing that to this day for that reason.

I did not get into photography for financial reasons, I did it because it is my passion. The income is just a bonus. My father always told me if you do something you love for a living, you will never have to work a day in your life. So I implement on almost all of my paid jobs to try and sneak a photo in for me and my personal portfolio somehow. And that doesn't include the photos from the actual gig itself. Let me explain, there is always someone on set that would like to have a portrait taken of themselves, and if there isn't time for it that exact day, we exchange contacts and meet up another day to do a quick shoot. I really began doing this just to build up my portfolio more, but It really helps to network and drum up more business for you down the road. It seems someone always comes across a photo I did for free somewhere on social media (they don't know I did it for free), and I get I get inquiry about a potential job.

Here is a great example of something I have been doing. I document a local event that goes on here in Lima once a week, it's basically a big party every single Thursday night. I first accepted this job because I thought it was quick and easy money; I was not interested in event photography at all. It was just something I could do for a few hours a night, once a week, and I would have extra cash in my pocket. We have all accepted jobs we had no interest in for extra income. But week after week, month after it month, it got monotonous to me. I tried everything to make each party unique from a photography stand point. Using different lenses, different on camera light modifiers, experimenting with compositions, etc. But I was honestly getting bored, and not having the desire to do it anymore.

So every single week at this event I realized they had a completely different artist performing each time. I saw it as an opportunity to access almost unlimited new faces for portraits. So with no real plan, besides wanting to shoot what I love, I just started reaching out to the musicians a few days in advance, asking if they would be interested in a quick portrait before they went on stage to perform. I normally just contact them by sending a simple message through Facebook; social media is an amazing thing. I figured that while I am getting paid for the night anyway, I might as well shoot what I love.

So far, every single person I asked, said yes. They are young and hungry artists, but they obviously have all been happy to get a free image they can use for self promotion of course. And I am happy to get a new photo for my own personal portfolio too. I also get to try some new lighting ideas out, or experiment, because I feel zero pressure making these photos, which is not the case at all when working for a client, when I am filled anxiety, and just stick to what I know works.

These artists are also accustomed to being on stage in front of people, so for the most part, they usually are very comfortable in front of a camera. I personally find my weakest skill as a photographer, is posing, so this is a big plus for me.

So now all I do is just arrive thirty minutes earlier to the event than I normally would each week. And set up my lighting for a portrait. The place has an endless amount of locations to take photos in. I just have so many different backgrounds at my disposal. I have been mostly shooting on the roof and in the warehouse as of late, but will soon will be expanding to other parts of the venue.

First thing I do is find a background inside the venue I haven't used yet. I grab someone to stand in as the model real quick. Set up my light there, dial in all the settings on the camera and lights. And whenever the artist is ready, they can get in place, and in less than two minutes we are done. I feel so much more satisfied at the end of the night now, than before I started doing this personal project. No more boredom and lack of desire. My only regret is I did not start this side project a long time ago when I first got this gig.

For those of you interested in the gear and set ups of the actual images. I used the same modifier for every single one of the portraits. The Westcott Apollo Orb. Sometimes I use it with the grid, sometimes without. And also usually a reflector to bounce in some fill. That's it. I like to work and travel light when possible.

The Westcott Apollo Orb is my favorite light softbox ever, and I have tried a lot of modifiers. I love it for a few reasons. First and most importantly, it produces extremely soft light, as the light faces towards the back of the softbox, and gets a more even spread before it is softened on it's way out the diffuser panel. Second, the fact that I can have it up in literally seconds, as it folds up like a standard umbrella is great. And third, a huge benefit to me is that I can use it with either hot shoes flashes or strobes, that  is a big plus because I use both types of lights on a consistent basis, so I can use my favorite modifier with any of my lights. Enough about the Orb, I could probably write an entire article on that modifier alone. Get out there and shoot what you love.

Dustin Levine's picture

Dustin Levine is an american photographer, originally from New York, but currently living and working in Peru for the past five years.

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Amazing work! You've certainly given me some ideas for the events that I cover.

Thank you so much for the kind words! If I have helped you in anyway at all, than I am happy.

I share your same love of the orb. Although I dont use strobes often now adays, it was hands down my favorite, easiest to use, best priced lighting modifier ever.

I forgot to even mention the price! You are 100% right, it is a great value!

Yes, the Orb rules! I've beat hell out of mine for years inside with Alien Bees and outdoors with a pair of Yongnuo's.

That's Awesome! I can't recommend it enough!

Well, you probably live in a better market. I got dropped for not working for free!

I am currently based in Lima, Peru. I read your post, and I am very sorry you had to deal with that, it doesn't sound right. But for me, like I stated in my article. I refuse tons of offers to do free work, where I am not compensated with actual money. All the photos I do take for no charge, are personal project type stuff, photos I want to take and will use in my portfolio. I am usually the person initiating these offers when it comes down to it. If a brand or company is going to be using my images to make money at all, in anyway, I would not do that for ''free''