Making a living with Free Photography

Every business you go into, you always start off as either a hobby, or an escape from your everyday job, or you do it for free to start learning and perfecting your skill. So how can you making a living working for free?

Well, its simple. In my line of work there are many commercial shoots I do which require a staff, rental equipment, lunch deliveries, post production work, assistants, tons of meetings, and video editor and retouchers. This all cost money and requires a big budget to execute. But ironically some of the big commercial clients I acquired came from a free photo shoot or collaboration I did previously. There is nothing wrong with doing free work as long as there is a purpose.

Oksana Grishina 2018 Nebbia campaign

Oksana Grishina 2018 Nebbia campaign

Here are some things I use as a checklist to ask myself if this is worth it or not to do it for free:

  • Will this shoot be something that will add to my portfolio?

  • Is this a style, client or brand that will help me reach new clientele?

  • Will this shoot add to my client list?

  • Will this shoot give me access to a special location or model?

  • Can I market this shoot to reach a specific brand?


Explanation:

Will this shoot be something that will add to my portfolio?

If you’ve always wanted to photograph an exotic car and now they are offering this car for your shoot for free, then this will add to your portfolio since you do not have these images. Is this is a designer dress or sunglasses that can enhance your portfolio?

 Is this a style, client or brand that will help me reach new clientele?

Will this shoot showcase a product or brand or even a style of shooting that can attract new clientele you are trying to reach. In other words, if bikini season is coming up and you want to attract bikini boutiques to hire you for their campaign, will this shoot highlight a style that can potentially get you paid work?

Will this shoot add to my client list?

Have you ever wanted to work with someone famous or with some sort of credibility within your industry? Wether it’s a fashion designer, or makeup artist, or creative director, or stylist or even a specific product? Will this shoot bring that credibility to your body of work that you can say you’ve worked with this person?

Will this shoot give me access to a special location or model?

Have you ever seen a model you’ve admired or always wanted to work with? Have you ever wanted to rent out an exclusive mansion with breathtaking views? Will this shoot give you access to some sort of exclusive location?

Can I market this shoot to reach a specific brand?

Have you been thinking of creating a shoot or a passion project that can now be done at no cost to you? Have you been studying the look of a brand and want to target them specifically by shooting within their style or structure?

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If I answer YES to all of these questions, then there is a high probability that I would do this project or shoot for free. Keep in mind I would still treat it like any other shoot. So I would still do a contract so we are all on the same page. We will also have a meeting to discuss the expectations and deliverables for the shoot.  Remember that they are requiring your services, so in return you can also require something from them. Your photography has value; otherwise they would not have come to you. So negotiate what you are willing to do as long as they are willing to do the same for you. This can also be a great way to cross-promote each other and network with potential new clients.

We still have to make a living and its ok to say NO (respectfully). But don’t be so quick to refuse or listen to a free project because you may end up gaining more in the long run.

What are your thoughts on this matter? Have you ever said no to a free shoot only to regret it later because it was something you would have gained from? Or do you refuse any work unless it requires payment? I would love to hear you comments.