Work For Free? - Neill Watson

Work For Free?

This month on various photographer’s blogs, there’s been a huge stirring of keyboard activity over the posting on the popular Strobist blog about working for free. I’ve had a very busy December with several short notice projects to tackle as well as trying to plan January, so it’s only now that I’m sitting reading the comments and catching up. So do I ever work for free?

Sure I do. I have in the past and I doubtless will in the future But Vincent Laforet’s posting on his blog probably mirrors the views I hold. I’m very much against working for free, both myself and people who work with and alongside me.

There is value in what’s being said on Strobist, but there is a very important disctinction to make. Are you working for free ‘just to get the job’ in the hope of food later, or is there REALLY NO BUDGET, due to the economic realities or simply the circumstances of the people involved in the project?

There are times when the job just has to be done, because you can see the future income, either in raising your profile, adding to your book or in terms of hard cash. In which case, it’s an investment that may well pay off. The trick, as Chase Jarvis says, is in negotiating that income at the relevant time and ensuring the project pays off for you. Vincent suggests doing such projects no more than once per year and he’s probably right, even if sometimes it can be hard to say no. He’s enjoyed a massive increase in his profile over the last few months due to his involvement with the Canon 5D Mk2 launch. He funded the shoot of Reverie himself initially, but the commercial rewards are now flowing in.

Sadly, it takes experience to judge these things and it’s something many photographers sadly lack, in my view often due to a lack of experience in the non-photographic business world and also not realising the commercial value of their own work. If I have time in January, I’ll post an example of projects I’ve been involved in where ‘working for free’ was the only option and how I made it work for me.

2 Responses to Work For Free?

  1. Paul 'Spike' Reddington September 23, 2010 at 2:44 pm #

    Can you go to fill your car up with petrol at a station you’ve not been to before, saying “Budgets have really been squeezed so I’ll give you half price”

    No.

    Or fill your shopping basket at a new supermarket and say “Hope it’s OK to take these for free this time, I’m looking to put a lot of business your way in the future. And by the way, Mr supermarket manager, I will walk round with the name of your store on the carrier bag – giving you valuable free promotion”

    Of course not.

    Stick it out fellow photographers. Don’t work for nothing, value your photography skills – you don’t need these cheapskates as clients anyway ;-)

  2. Neill September 23, 2010 at 10:18 pm #

    Thanks, Spike,

    You’re quite right, I’d be happy to work for a supermarket in return for my monthly shopping for the family. Here’s the post I wrote about when ‘work for free’ can be a winner:

    http://blog.neillwatson.com/articles/when-working-for-free-is-a-winner/

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