How Giving Away Your Photos for Free Can Land You $50,000 Jobs

All photographers can agree that you won't stay in business long if you do not charge for your work. But what if I told you that the best way to gain exposure to high-paying commercial clients was to give away your images for free? Today, we sit down with commercial and composite photographer Josh Rossi and explore the concept of free.

The topic of "should photographers shoot for free" is a highly debated issue. Some photographers believe shooting for free is completely destroying the industry by making it harder for working professionals to charge a fair rate, while others argue that those who shoot for free probably don't have the creative and business skills needed to succeed in the market in the first place and therefore aren't taking any jobs that have a real budget. Both are valid arguments, but what if I told you that there are extremely talented photographers, many of whom have better portfolios than you, that are actually shooting a fair amount of projects for free? To blow your mind even more, what if I told you many of these photographers who are shooting for free are also booking jobs in the $20,000-50,000 range on a regular basis?

One such photographer is Josh Rossi. Josh is a composite photographer based out of Dorado, Puerto Rico, who has been swamped with commercial work over the last 3-5 years. Some of Josh's clients include LG, Mountain Dew, Adobe, DC Comics, Acura, Nickelodeon, Champion, and Xerox. I first heard about Josh while filming Monte Isom's tutorial, "How to Make Real Money", when we were interviewing creative director Peter Stark of Bond. Bond is one of the top movie poster design firms in the world and designs about 30 percent of all the movie posters you see coming out of Hollywood.

How did such a big name in the commercial photography industry know a photographer based out of little ole Puerto Rico? Josh had made headlines by doing multiple free shoots featuring his daughter Nellie dressed up as different super heroes. The main series that went the most viral was Josh's Wonder Woman photoshoot, which featured his three-year-old daughter dressed up as the Marvel comic book character. This series was published on Fstoppers and hundreds of other blogs and coincidentally helped Josh's photography land in front of some of the biggest art buyers in the world. 

Josh hasn't only been doing free photoshoots for himself, though. Some of Josh's biggest-paying jobs have come from connections he has made after collaborating with big-name "influencers" through platforms like Instagram, YouTube, and social media. One of the main influencers Josh worked with early on was extreme videographer Devin Supertramp.  I'll let Josh explain his marketing method in the interview video above, but basically, what Josh does is team up with people who are already on the radar of some of his favorite brands and offer them free photoshoots in his own style. These photos often get shared publicly on these influencer's social media platforms, and essentially, Josh exploits a simple hack that allows his photography to been seen by dozens if not hundreds of his potential clients. This method has landed him many of his biggest paying jobs from companies like Adobe, Champion USA, and DC Comics.

 By shooting for free, is Josh undermining other photographers from making money? Possibly. Has shooting for influential public figures for free helped him make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year? Absolutely! The truth of the matter is that by collaborating with highly visible artists, even if that means losing money invested in the shoot itself, you can actually get your work seen by high-paying commercial clients who would otherwise have no reason to know your work, let alone your name. This networking trick is one of the most important ways some of the highest paid photographers in the industry are making "real money" in photography. 

Listening to Josh tell his story about how he first got into photography and how he has grown into the successful commercial photographer he has become today is super inspiring. Our interview with Josh was released a few days ago on YouTube (which is a great reason you should subscribe to our Youtube channel), and it's clear based on the comments alone that this is resonating well with aspiring photographers and professional photographers alike. However, based on many previous Fstoppers posts, the idea of shooting images for free still does not sit well with many entrepreneurs and self-employed photographers. After watching the video above, leave your comments on whether Josh's marketing technique is useful in gaining photography income or if it's simply taking away opportunities from other photographers. 

To learn more about Josh's Photoshop and compositing techniques, check out his tutorials at Full Time Photographer. For some free content, check out the latest Puerto Rico Shootout video I did with Josh below. 

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14 Comments

How common is what you've described here? Seems like a big ol' dose of survivorship bias.

Dude made it, that's cool. I like reading about success stories but I would be careful not to take one outlier & argue it could be any of us.

Patrick Hall's picture

This is very similar to many of the stories I read everyday in Monte Isom’s private Facebook group. It isn’t always influencers but many people have done this same sort of marketing.

EARNINGS DISCLAIMER

Any earnings or income statements, or earnings or income examples, are not typical and, as such, there is no assurance you’ll do as well...

https://www.fulltimephotographer.com/earnings-disclaimer

Right. So the hook is dazzling and impressive figures which are displayed prominently on the homepage but the reality is buried in a disclaimer few will read.

Patrick Hall's picture

I mean, I'm not sure why he even made a disclaimer. That's like saying if you buy a tutorial from Elia Locardi, you aren't necessarily guaranteed to take photos that look just like his. OF COURSE results vary!

He made the disclaimer for the same reason everyone makes them: to cover his/their own arse. There is nothing wrong with that, it is smart to disclaim such things. I would do the same.

I just think the whole "I went from $500 to $50K per photoshoot" reminds me of those "work at home and earn big buck$!" type of advertisements. There are few people who can do what this guy has done, whether it is because they don't have the resources, connections, or time. Fewer still can afford to do it for free.

To forestall any accusations of being a "hater"... I am not being a hater, I just think stories like this are fun to read but shouldn't be presented with an air of 'this could be you', especially when photographers are already struggling so much.

I think it’s one of FTC requirements. I’ve seen it on many guru-type internet marketing web sites.

Leigh Miller's picture

I say whatever works...the free thing...nothing is free. Somebody is paying and getting paid. Only your own bank account can tell you yay/nay.

Jon Miller's picture

This was great to hear as I was looking for ways to market images and I like the way Josh did it. Thanks for the video.

This is a forward thinking must watch video. One of the best I've seen.

Rob Mitchell's picture

Just 2 articles above this, an online free shoot exposure calculator that made me laugh. :)

Different though, very different. Asking someone do do something for them, for free, is a lot different to the rather annoying phenomenon of people asking us to work for 'free'

Great video, some good insights there. Ok, A very niche sector of highlight stylised and very recognisable images. Not all of us have that but still some things to be pulled out of the video. I let it run in the background while I was editing, as I do most of the FS informational stuff, always nice to hear and listen to, thanks guys.

Cherokee Lair's picture

It is a universal truth that you must drop a couple of dollars in a tip jar if you ever want anybody to tip... So, the only thing I have a problem with is the title of the article.

It is collaboration and marketing that gets the $50,000 jobs, not free photos.

How much more truthful could this article have been if the title was changed? It is an ingenious method and one that has been used for as long as artists have needed to pay bills.

If you’re photographing for FREE in order to get paid assignments down the line, do NOT give up or transfer your photo copyrights to the client or influencer.

You should try and limit the client’s FREE usage for their OWN use ONLY--the rights you grant the client are NOT transferable to others. Third-parties who want to use your photographs can contact you, and you’ll determine if you’ll provide them a gratis license or ask for a licensing fee commensurate with their usage.

You should also "timely" register your photographs with the US Copyright Office for third-party infringements. A timely registered copyright is very much like an insurance policy: It helps protect you against people who exploit your photographs without your blessing.

I've done free shoots for 10 years it didn't get me jack shit. Now when I ask people to pay they go elsewhere lmao