Fantastic Opportunity to work for FREE!
Anyone fancy working for FREE?
But not just ‘anyone’ we are specifically looking for someone that is highly skilled, with years of experience, thousands of pounds of high end equipment, an extensive portfolio, ability to work independently and in groups, with their own transport and links to get articles / images / published in international high end publications.
I oen come across or are tagged in a ”fantastic opportunity” that arises from someone that needing an “amazing photographer” and professional service but who does not want an amateur and at the same time to pay for professional expertise.
If you are not in the creative industry (including but not limited to writers, photographers, dancers, graphic designers, web designers, journalists, artists, musicians) you may have read this so far with a raised eyebrow, or a puzzled look. It doesn’t seem to quite make sense? but this is an offer we (the creative community) get often.
After 7 years of being full time, it kind of grates on you. Having spent all these years perfecting and improving my art (yes there is much more to it than simply buying a camera pressing a button), after having spent a small mortgage on equipment and training, having worked hard to get to the point where I have been published and work internationally, why do people continue to ask photographers (and other creatives) to work for free?
So again you may be scratching your head thinking “I’ve never heard anyone ask a photographer to work for free”. But it doesn’t present itself so direct and clearcut, it comes out in other guises, it has pseudonyms and disguises. To anyone in the creative community, this will not be a new story, but an age old one, rehashed again and again, but the one thing it generally has in common, the thing that does not change about this story is that your payment is usually EXPOSURE, we call it ‘exposure pounds’ in the industry. It doesn’t pay for new cameras, travel, courses or insurance. Some of the things photographers need to pay for to stay in business.
It is not accepted at ASDA when I do my grocery shopping, it is not accepted online when I want to buy a new lens, it is interestingly not accepted as payment terms by the very people offering this as a way of paying you!
Their sell usually goes along the lines of “everyone will see your work in our newsletter / on our instagram / website / Facebook and naturally this will bring you lots of pain work”.
So lets test this common sell. Ask yourself when was the last time you read an article in a newsletter or on a website and took time to look at who the photographer was?
If you can remember the last time you did this, then when was the last time this lead to you contacting them for business? If you knew they worked x event free, when was the last time this lead to you hiring them for paid work? Facts show that less than 1% of consumers look for the creator or any piece of online content.
I expect many of you fell off before the final question, because in my experience, when these same people want a ‘proper’ job doing, they contact the highly paid professional, not the one valuing their work as FREE. You see this type of ‘pro bono’ ‘fantastic opportunity’ offer has little value or appeal for most photographers once they are established. Six hours shooting a conference could range from an average of £500 – 1000 for many photographers, is this ‘exposure payment’ going to be worth that amount? And what if you end up getting a potential booking for a big paid job on the same day? Do you turn down the paid booking to work for free? Or break your agreement for the non paying client, for a paying one? Now, if someone wants to paint my house in return for a job such as shooting a conference, that may be pro bono I would accept, but funnily enough, no one wants to work THAT hard for FREE … because thats just outrageous!
SOME OF ITS DISGUISES
Payment : Exposure, portfolio images, credit
1. A “pro bono opportunity” – the conversation usually goes along the lines of – we have an event coming up that we would love some amazing images of that we can use across our social media and printed platforms. We have some amazing speakers and we have spent so much on the venue and food that we have no money for a photographer. You will be able to use the images for your portfolio, and we will credit you.
My response – “sorry I do not bring out thousands of pounds worth of equipment I use to make my everyday living with for free”. It is also worth noting that crediting the copyright owner (the photographer) is legal, not something the photographer is being given as part of their payment. The photographer being able to use their own images in their portfolio is also something that is legal, not something they are given by the organisation/ person they are shooting images for. So this takes the exchange to simply ‘exposure’. The organisation thinks everyone will see these amazing images of a regular event like a conference (of which you probably have tons of examples already in your portfolio), contact the organisation to see who did their images, find out you were free, but somehow want to pay for your services. I have on previous occasions suggested £600 worth of their services or products in return, which would be the cost of an average conference, but that is usually seen as an outrageous exchange. So in reality you are working for free. It is also worth noting that a 6 hour conference would also accrue a couple hours of kit preparation at home, maybe 1.5 hours travel there and back, another 5 hours of image culling, editing, storage and delivery; so you have in fact done near on two days work … for exposure.
PAYMENT – Exposure, Credit, Sandwiches and Drink
2. A Charitable Cause – The conversation is usually along the lines of – we work for x charity, and do some amazing work with x community. We are looking for someone to come along to shoot our event and support our cause, we will credit you on all out social media platforms and there will be drinks and sandwiches at the event that you are also welcome to have. My response – “I am a for profit business and sorry I do not bring out thousands of pounds worth of equipment I use to make my everyday living with for free”. It is also worth noting here that many of these charities have bosses with 6 figure salaries, millions in the business bank account and not doing too bad at all. They may not be ‘for profit’ but many are in heck of a better financial situation than myself or most photographers I know!
PAYMENT – Exposure, credit, having a great day / night out
3. Just come along … and bring your camera – this conversation usually goes along the lines of – I’m having a birthday party / launch event / christening / wedding, I would love you to come if you can make it, can
you also bring your camera and “grab a few shots while you are here”. This actually means you are the event photographer, organising groups, individual shots, people tapping you asking you to get a photo of them, wearing working clothes to the event not heels and a nice dress that I may otherwise wear. My
response “I’m sorry but I can’t be a guest and a photographer and sorry I do not bring out thousands of pounds worth of equipment I use to make my everyday living with, on a night / day out”
PAYMENT – Exposure, portfolio enhancement
4. As above – but it is stressed that these will be great portfolio images, especially if it is an event there may be some celebrities there. If it is a wedding it will be an amazing wedding, with a beautiful couple in an amazing venue. If a fashion show, there will be some amazing new talent showing. You will be able to use the images for you portfolio as they will be so amazing. My response “Have you had a chance to take a look at my website, I have quite an extensive and varied portfolio” – having shot amazing
weddings in the UK and as far afield as Rwanda; public figures such as Barak Obama and celebrities such as Jamie Fox. I also shoot London Fashion Week and The Diamond League athletics – just to highlight some of my diverse work. My response “I already have an extensive portfolio that I use to show clients the quality of my work. I am also sorry but I do not bring out thousands of pounds worth of equipment I use to make my everyday living with, for free”.
Lensi Photography – Guhring Opening
It is worth noting here that they rely on you being so blown away by the idea of shooting a celebrity that that will suddenly mean you have a desire to not get paid for your job. If a wedding they rely on the idea that because they are a beautiful couple or are booking a nice venue, you don’t already have beautiful couples and great venues in your portfolio; Or that conventional stereotypical beauty is worth more. All established photographers will already have experience and a portfolio.
JUST GIVING A FREE IMAGE
PAYMENT – Exposure, credit, seeing your image in print
5. “Can we use your x image for free in perpetuity, across all our platforms with credit to yourself” is usually line from newspapers and magazines, if you scroll through twitter you will often see tweets from newspapers asking to use images they find online. Some of these usages would literally cost
hundreds of pounds, sometimes thousands if there were to pay the going rate for it. But somehow, some people believe that giving away something of this value is not working for free. It was created because of the equipment and education you invested thousands in to be able to create it. If you are not compensated for this investment, you are again working for free. My response to this type of request is “I am a full time photographer, as such all of my images are licensed, as part of my income, I can send you my licensing rates if you would like”.
I am sure there are others, feel free to share your experiences of new guises, new takes, other ways working for free has been pitched to you.
GENERAL CONSIDERATIONS WHEN WORKING FOR FREE “CLICK MILEAGE” – Just like a car, a camera has what I call “click mileage” a certain number of actuations and wear and tear, before it needs a major costly service, then before it dies altogether.
Yes camera’s has a life expectancy!
Aaron Burden – RIP Camera
Enough of these free jobs brings it closer to this point, without contributing towards its repair or replacement. If photography is your business, this makes little business sense.
DAMAGED OF BROKEN KIT – Another consideration when doing a free job, if something were to happen on your job, who pays? Who would pay for your kit if something is stolen or damaged at this free job? Would you simply get a sorry and an extra cheese sandwich?
An insurance claim may cost you an excess of at least £250, so on top of the costs of working for free, this could cost the photographer quite a lot, all with any payment.
If the worst were to happen, and you had a paid job the next day, it would be irritating in the least, having to pay to hire a lens for a paid job, because the lens you own was damaged or stolen on a FREE JOB
WHAT USALLY HAPPENS WHEN YOU CANNOT AFFORD A SERVICE OR PRODUCT?
My last general consideration here is where I ask you to question what happens if you want a service or product you cant afford.
You have a few options
1. Steal it
2. Do without it
3. Restructure your priorities / save for it
I can think of very few cases where I would ask for it for free. So just for fun, I have given you a few examples of putting the same exposure requests that creatives get to other businesses and services.
GYM OR FITNESS CLASSES – I would love to have a few months worth of sessions for free to enable me to
get into shape. I do loads of great work in the community and you would really be helping me out. I don’t have the money to pay for this … but … I will credit you on social media every time I am at a class, naming the gym and instructor. I will also bring extra water with me to class for you to hydrate yourself with.
PLUMBER – I need a new bathroom plumbing in. It is a lovely modern home which would be amazing on your website. A real show piece. I cannot afford to pay for the plumbing because I have already paid an electrician so much, I have also invested in some great designer artwork for the walls. You will be able to use images of my bathroom on your leaflets and website to show the quality of your work. I will also give you a great review.
HAIRDRESSER – Come along to my BBQ that I am having on Sunday, while you are here can you just bring your hair kit and give me a quick wash and blow dry! It is going to be a great day, great music and my famous BBQ spare ribs. It shouldn’t take you long.
SOME OF MY PERSONAL FAVOURITES OFFERS
- A local council that had had their budgets cut during austerity. They were putting on a conference, but didn’t have the money to pay for this conference, so were asking everyone involved to work for free. Interestingly though, the council workers were being paid as it was part of their day job, so it was actually only small businesses that were being asked to work for free. The bigger businesses such as the one where the event was being held had been paid. I have a policy to never ‘help’ established multi million pound organisations or companies with FREE WORK.
2. A magazine who contacted me for an image they did not want to pay for (i.e free), to accompany an article about people not wanting to pay photographers. (I kid you not).
3. A very high end fashion house (think dresses in excess of 15k), think A list celebs, contacting me to use an image for free, not sure why as they had their own paid photographer at the event, maybe they did not capture the image that i did … who knows
BEFORE I GO
Before all the critics rolls in, let me also clear up a few things I am expecting.
- Everyone was new to the business once
People who are just starting in the business, with entry level kit and little experience will take up these opportunities; I did myself; but these are not the types of photographers the people who pay with ‘exposure pounds’ are looking for. Your value increases with the more experience (and kit) you accrue. Think about how much you may pay a newly qualified solicitor compared to a Barrister. How much a Newly qualified teacher may get paid, compared to a year Head or Principal; an Actress with decades of Hollywood Blockbusters under her belt compared to someone just getting into the business. A consultant compared to a newly qualified doctor.
2. Lots of people do voluntary work.
Volunteer – “a person who frees OFFERS to take part on an enterprise or undertake a task” – see the key difference there?
3. Remember where you came from
I do. I remember starting at the bottom and spending thousands of pounds on courses, training and equipment, and investing thousands upon thousands of hours gaining the expertise that allows me to shoot and capture images the way I currently do. But I see no correlation between remembering your humble beginnings and being asked to work for free. Just like some of the professions I have named above, I have done my ‘internship’ of FREE WORK. If you were asked to earn the same in your job that you have been in for many years, the same as someone who is not even qualified in it yet, would it slightly raise the irritation levels?
4 . I wil update this article periodically, but as of its publication that last time I was asked to work for free was 8th August 2018.
This is what some other creatives have said about it?
I hope the article reaches some of the people it needs to…
By Lensi Photography. Lensi cover a range of genres including events, corporate, weddings and portraits. w: www.lensi.co.uk e: firstname.lastname@example.org