Today’s question is from Maxwell who asks:
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The forums i’m a member of has had a lot of talk about working for free and how this can negatively impact you and you business. The post was directed at new photographers, giving away their services for free just to portfolio build.
Is there ever a good time to work for free as a photographer?
We discuss the topics –
The consequences of working for free or cheap all the time. And how it can hurt you and your business.
When to work for free so it benefits you and others.
- Building a portfolio
- Charity work
- Personal work
- New type of photography
Hi, Maxwell. Thanks for your question. Is there ever a good time to work for free?
Absolutely, there is a good time to work for free. We all probably have done it and probably still do it some point within our careers and there’s nothing wrong with giving stuff away for free provided that you get some sort of benefit back.
I know that it sounds selfish, but let’s be honest. Our time is very, very important. We could be spending with our families. We could be doing a whole heap of other things. If you’re giving your stuff away for free, you should definitely be getting something back from it.
Now, just before I run through some of the things that we could give away for free and how it will benefit us, let’s just go on the other perspective of basically negatively impacting you and your business.
The consequences of working for free or cheap all the time
Now, it can. Think of it this way. If you’ve got a whole heap of photographers that are charging $5,000 for their services, they have nice premium products, nice service, come in, they give you drinks and nibblies, and they put a nice slideshow together and basically, they pamper you.
Your products come in nice packaging and basically, it’s a full service. They don’t sell anything that’s unframed. If you want to get digital files, it’s at a premium because what they’re trying to sell you is these large wall collections and albums and beautiful other products. That’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Then, if you’ve got a whole heap of people coming in that’s either giving away their stuff away for free or for very, very little cost, if it’s only a few people, not a problem.
But, when this starts outweighing the amount of people that are providing a premium service, it starts to dilute what photography is. Therefore, diluting the price and changing people’s perception … I can’t talk today, perception as to what the cost of photography should be.
If you’re paying $5,000 for a nice collection of framed prints and canvasses, and you may get some digital files with that and a book, and here you are giving your digital files away, which you can do anything with for next to nothing or nothing, that’s how I can see it affecting the industry as a whole, if we get a lot more people that come in and saturate the market with cheap photography.
Now, if your photography is really, really good and you’re giving your stuff away for free and you’re just doing it because for love of it, that’s one thing.
If everyone is doing that, then that’s a problem for the people that provide a premium product because they’re, first of all, trying to match … Sorry, first of all, they’re trying to provide a premium product.
If you’re providing just a good quality and even providing things like frames and stuff like that, but for next to nothing, you’re doing at a cost, then there’s no reason for them to go the more expensive photographers, is there?
If everybody was to, I guess, charge a similar price, yeah, maybe a few hundred dollars difference, it’s not a big deal, but similar price, then it’ll come down to the quality of your work and the service that you’re providing.
That’s what would differentiate you as quality photographer to someone that’s not. That’s how, I guess, we all want business to be, on a level playing field, but when people are giving stuff away for free, then, yeah, it does cause problems at the top end of the market, maybe at the middle end of the market.
Then it’s just the fastest way down to the bottom and we’re all giving away stuff for free or next to nothing and having to work extremely hard to get the same amount of money and sometimes, we’re never making that amount of money as we did before. That’s, I guess, it in a nutshell, Maxwell. Yes, it can, you and your business, and that’s how really.
Building a portfolio
Now, give your stuff away for free, do what you want. It’s your photography, but do it so you get something back, right?
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with portfolio building and giving … If you’ve got a model or if a family that you’ve put an ad online and you said, “I want five families. I’m trying to build my portfolio,” you got to start somewhere, right?
Because I remember when I first started, I contacted photographers, got nothing. Thinking back now, I probably should’ve contacted photographers that were out of my area for obvious reasons. They probably thought I would be direct competition. I probably would’ve been down the track, but the fact is that I had to give stuff away for free. I did it I think it was about 10 times. That included family portraits, engagement sessions and one wedding.
Because of that, that started my portfolio and I continued on, but I did start charging more than rock bottom prices. I commanded a fee that I felt was in the middle in my area and as I should. I shouldn’t have it at the top because my editing and my products I was offering at the time were not the best. That, of course, has gotten better over the years and so have my prices. I’ve raised my prices.
Now, yes, you should portfolio build. You need to do it, otherwise, you won’t learn how to interact with a customer. You won’t know how to deliver a product. You won’t know how to edit your photography. Yes, you definitely need to give stuff away for free.
If you constantly do it all the time, then yeah, that’s bad and you’re going to be known as the photographer that gives stuff away for free and people will just come to see you and be your mate because of that reason alone, not because of your work. Then they’ll find, “Hey, the work, it’s okay, passable, we’ll just speak to that person, we’ll get their stuff for free.” You don’t want to be that person.
Now, the next thing would be charity work. Yes, you should help charity. There’s a reason why charities do auctions and get the word out there is because they want exposure for their charity, their cause.
I think that we all should do something like that at least once a year or even twice. Do something nice like that. If you have some friends or family that have been affected by something and there is a charity that they were closely linked because of that illness or something, then absolutely, provide your services for free.
As a by product of that, you will get free exposure and there could be an opportunity that if you’re providing a portrait session for argument’s sake, then you could upsell that client that bought that silent auction product.
That’s the type of thing I’ve done in the past, put my products up for silent auction, made $500 each silent auction for the charity, and the families that have used me have told their friends and I got referrals that way and, of course, they bought a few extra products and that’s how it benefits us.
There is also that warm fuzzy feeling that you get that you’re helping someone and you should do it genuinely, be genuine about the whole thing. Don’t just do it because you need the free exposure, yeah.
Now, the next thing would be personal work. If your work that you’re say, for instance, you’ve been in the industry for a while and they’re some of the stuff that you like to pursue, and it may involve using either models or just putting an ad out for a certain type of person, people that have dogs and you want to do a project that involves people with their animals, how alike they look or something with living with each other over the years, something like that.
You know what I mean? Yeah, giving your stuff away for free so you could do this personal work, yeah, absolutely. You grow as an artist. It does benefit your clients because it allows your creative juices to flow because if you’ve been in the industry for a while and especially in the same type of job, it gets a little bit stale and you’re doing the same thing over and over again because you know that’s what sells. That gets a little bit stale. Mixing it up a little bit does help you.
Work for free when trying a new style of photography
Now just lastly, if it’s a type of photography you’ve never done before, let’s say, for instance, you’re into, let’s see, you’re a wedding photographer. I’m just trying to think of a genre that’s very different from one another and say, for instance, you’re a wedding photographer and you want to get into real estate photography.
That’s very, very different, different types of lighting and you’re interacting with different types of clientele. You’re editing slightly different. Yeah, maybe starting one or two jobs for free so you get some sort of portfolio and then progressing on from there.
The other thing would be if you’re a landscape photographer and you want to get into say portraits or even head shots, the fact that you don’t talk to anyone when you’re doing landscapes, but when you’re with head shots especially, you’ve got such a small amount of time with them, being able to converse and have a quick conversation and make them feel at ease is very important.
Definitely giving stuff away for free is ideal because then, you’ll learn some of the traits that you need to become a successful portrait photographer or head shot photographer. Delivery of the products is very different, too. Digital files as opposed to a print and as I mentioned before, the editing is different, too. That’s just some things to think about, Thanks for your question, Maxwell and I hope that helps.