Sound familiar? How about this…“If you photograph our event for free, we will consider you for upcoming events.” What you now have to decide is if working for free will actually pay off. You want to break into the photography industry but the last time you checked, working for free doesn’t pay bills or put food on the table. In situations like this it is usually the photographer who gets the short end of the stick. Consider this as a reason why. The photography industry is saturated to the point you can wring it out and fill buckets! Companies know this and know there are plenty of people willing to work for free in hopes of getting their foot (and lens) in the door.
Here’s a few ideas to ensure both you and the organization come out as winners. I should also mention that dealing with non-profit organizations create some gray areas. Non-profits by nature rely on donations of time, money, and talent. You’ll need to judge each situation as it comes, but #3 below provides some guidance.
1. With companies, always make a trade. NEVER work solely for free. It cheapens you as a business and brings down the entire photography industry. If a company isn’t willing to pay you now, more likely than not they won’t be willing to pay in the future.
2. Consider swapping photography services for marketing/sales opportunities. As an example, if the company is acknowledging sponsors of its event, make sure your info is listed as an in-kind sponsor with your name, website and type of service. Another example is including your marketing collateral (business postcard, promotional swag, etc.) in the company’s gift basket.
3. If you’re offering your services pro bono to your favorite non-profit, do not be afraid to ask for something in return. Here’s an example: let’s say you set-up a mini studio at a non-profit’s annual family picnic. You handle the photography for free and in return are allowed to sell the images. Some photographers even print a free 4×6 image on the spot with ordering details for larger sizes. Get creative and think out of the box. You may only spend a few minutes with the family but people are always more inclined to use someone they are familiar with for future photography needs.
4. Let’s say a local radio station is starting its summer concert series and you really want to get in on the events. Offer to shoot one event for free provided they are willing to book two additional events for pay. If they agree to an arrangement like this, get it in writing and make them sign it! Also state when you expect payment.
Have a number in your head of how many trade and free events (non-profits) you are willing to work during the year and stick to it. The last thing you want to do is overwhelm your schedule with unpaid events and become “that guy” who works for free. I realize that building a portfolio and gaining experience is a challenge, but do not sell yourself, your time, or your talent short.
There are as many ‘for trade’ possibilities as there are stars in the sky. Again, get creative! If you have a great idea to share with other photographers, please post it in the comments section below or on my Facebook page.