Study Claims Photographers Get Asked for Free Work Because Everyone Knows They Love Their Job

Study Claims Photographers Get Asked for Free Work Because Everyone Knows They Love Their Job

It’s no secret that photographers suffer through the constant expectation of free or cheap work. And now, a new study suggests that the reason for it is because we love our jobs, in what scientists are calling “passion exploitation.”

Professor Aaron Kay and Ph.D student Jay Kim at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business are the brains behind the recently published paper, called “Understanding Contemporary Forms of Exploitation: Attributions of Passion Serve to Legitimize the Poor Treatment of Workers.” The research has been published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

The conclusion drawn was that general public feel more comfortable exploiting workers of a trade if those workers are passionate about what they do. The term “passion exploitation” was drawn after the researchers conducted 8 different studies involving over 2,400 total participants found that those who read that an artist was “strongly passionate about their job” said it was more legitimate for that artist to be exploited by a boss. Meanwhile, participants who read that the artist wasn’t as passionate were less accepting of the exploitation.

Another study found that careers linked to passion — that being, jobs in the art and photography fields — are often considered more acceptable to exploit. It’s apparently less legitimate to exploit workers in non-passion jobs — things like a stop clerk, which is often done as a temporary measure. Plumbing is often a job considered not to be a job done for “labor of love,” the same way photography is.

Fuqua Insights explains:

The researchers found this tendency to exploit passion arises from two beliefs: that work is its own reward, and that the employee would have volunteered anyway. This is an example of compensatory justifications.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash.

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23 Comments

Michael Jin's picture

If you want to make money as a photographer, it's probably best to do it in a genre that you don't actually enjoy unless you're disciplined enough to keep yourself in check. That way, the skills from your passion still help and you'll be more encouraged to draw strict boundaries since you hate the work anyway. That's the way I see it.

You cannot claim to love your work if you have no respect for it, otherwise you're just delusional or so naive as to do more harm to the industry than you can comprehend.

Very true. At first I thought, nothing new here why waste time studying something we have all known for years. But, it's the part about how people feel less guilty/justified about exploiting you that got my attention.

the unsplash photo is the icing on the cake for this article.

There are only a few wrong ways to set up a tripod but he is doing all of them... :)

Ivan Lantsov's picture

true amateur!

Tony Johnson's picture

i think that's a MeFoto tripod and it is impossible to lower the center column. brilliant design, no?

The only time I do "free" work is if it is passion project I am leading and I will gift a photo or prints to those involved for helping me. Assuming they didn't get paid to be a part of it. Or, for a Not for profit then I will send them a bill and when the pay me I will then make a donation in the amount they paid me, that way I at least get the tax deduction. BUT, money has to actually change hands between me and the nonprofit.

Matt Kosterman's picture

If you send an invoice and get paid, you record it as income. If you give it back in the form of a donation, it is an expense which washes out the income. It is the same net effect on your P&L as not charging at all. But with more paperwork.

depends on how your business is organized. you can get deduction of the expense for your business as a salary. Then a charitable donation for your personal. All depends on how you have your business setup and organized. Cannot speak for tax code outside the USA.

C Fisher's picture

Lol, so all those people saying "do what you love" are just trying to set us up to be scammed later 🤣

David Pavlich's picture

I'm not sure how this article would relate to someone who's major means of income is from photography. It's hard to pay the mortgage working for free or at reduced rates.

It's true for any industry, including normal 9-5 jobs. Likeable companies with great names can pay less for the same job.

I don't completely agree with this professor study. I think that is a small part of it but.....My father was an art director and artist for 40 years owning his own advertising agency. He never once told me that people asked him to do his job for less because he loved it. But he did say many times that people wanted him to do his job for less because they didn't think it was that difficult. When I went to photography School people used to say to me ” How can you spend four years in college just learning to take pictures? It's not that hard”. This was in the film days before digital. I believe non photographers think that photographing is like taking out your cell phone and clicking a picture ... it's not hard and therefore you shouldn't be paid that much.

This makes sense, in an incredibly frustrating way.

We often associate a wage or financial compensation with someone doing something that they would rather not be doing, (see Dave Chappelle's frozen yogurt bit) so if someone loves doing something also paying them for it seems like some sort of over-compensation. Although I am sure a doctor gets into medicine because they are both fascinated and passionate about helping people & because it pays well but no one would dare say to a doctor "can't you just derive satisfaction from helping me?"

Tony Clark's picture

I think the study says more about those that try to exploit us. I do not allow myself to be exploited, it's on a rare basis that that anyone proposes a project remotely worth producing for free. Call it discipline, self respect or foolishness but free or even discounted doesn't pay my bills. Besides, those are not the kind of clients I want or need.

John Paul Barratt's picture

It's funny because like 4 stories ago, on this website, is an endorsement for giving away prints to Starbucks.

EL PIC's picture

If you want $$$ ... go Photographic Science !

Leigh Miller's picture

Also our industry is being eroded by organizations who claim to love us...like Peak Designs, Unsplash etc.

dale clark's picture

I actually think people ask for free services because they do not respect what you do )or they are a Narcissist) . Let's face it, one would never ask a plastic surgeon for free nose job. Sure people will pick a lawyers mind on a legal issue during casual conversation. However, people will not ask them to represent them for Free (or at least earnings from future settlement, etc). People feel that photos are just clicking a button. In fact, many feel it's the camera itself doing the work. "I'll ask my friend Charlie to take a few snaps...he owns on of those big expensive cameras and long lens".

About 10 years ago I was visiting an Architectural Office in a city close by to introduce myself and my photography. The Architect stated they ordered an entire Professional Nikon camera set for taking photos of their work to display on the web. I kindly asked if any of the staff were good photographers. The man stated that their assistant "takes good pictures".

IMO, It has nothing to do with your passion...it's all about respect. That same Architect would laugh you out of the room if you stated you were going to use "easy home builder" APP to design your new home.

EL PIC's picture

Photographers get asked for free photos because everyone likes free photos !!
Lawyers love the Law .. Doctors love Doctoring .. Models love Modeling .. and the Beat Goes On ..

Shawna Pair's picture

You charge people specifically BECAUSE you love it more than they do. Because you love it, you spent thousands of dollars on gear and thousands of hours learning. They did not love it as much as you so they are not able to do what you do. The value isn’t whether or not you love it, the value is you can do something they can’t yet they need it.

They seriously did an article about photographers being exploited and then used an image without compensating the photographer. Losing more and more respect for Fstoppers on a daily basis