I’d been thinking about this for a while and it’s a debate that occurs in the photography world on whether, in trying to raise your portfolio and profile, working for free or offering some of your services for free is a good idea?
Certainly anyone who picks up a camera and gets the photography bug will soon be hassling friends and family for portrait shots and to practise and learn techniques that you can’t just do out there in the paid photography world and so you’ll start off by doing a lot of “free” stuff – but mainly for your own benefit and not for others.
There then comes that time when further down the photography road where you have made a significant investment in your time and equipment, are far more confident in your ability, that you can offer professional looking portrait sittings and shoots that anywhere else would be charged for. But wait, the people who still want you to shoot for them have always had the work for free or their friends had it done for free and perhaps still expect it, all done, for free and make you feel bad when you then can’t do it or quote them as you would any other potential client.
I’ve been down the road, and still am in certain situations, of offering my services for “free” and hoping that in doing so the exposure and potential for referrals would always outweigh the initial “free” sitting offering.
In reality though it very rarely does and although that may sometimes be a refection of the photographer I think it also mainly falls down to the expectation of “well he’s always done that for free for us and I don’t want to now pay for that”.
Managing that expectation is a tricky balancing act and from my experience my advice would be – do the “free” stuff to build your own portfolio and get your own experience, help other Photographers for free, be their assistant or their bag-man / woman but then absorb all that experience you get for the benefit of yourself, look at local photography clubs where again “free” work can be used to your benefit and not just others, look at national organisations such as the guild of photographers who have some amazing resources and people willing to offer their advice to you, check out pages such as “ready steady pro” which is full of “free” advice and information.
But don’t, and I must stress don’t expect to gain any big bucks or massive thanks by offering “free” work. Don’t just sit back and wait for the referrals to come in, it won’t happen. Don’t expect any favours from anyone, to be fair you have offered your service for free – perhaps they never asked for it in the first place!!
But also don’t devalue yourself and your work by doing everything for “free” in the hope that someone will put a good word in for you somewhere down the line and it will lead to a paid commission – you have to chase the business yourself and charge a fair but competitive rate for your service – if that rate is too much for some people then ask yourself – are they the type of client I would want to work with anyway?
However just be warned that it’s a very delicate balancing act and from experience my advice would be – do the “free” stuff to build your own portfolio and get your own experience but when doing bits and pieces for free, make sure you adjust your mindset so that you are not expecting anything back in return, you have offered a “free service” and that’s just what you have to deliver.
Does this sound like a rant against doing free stuff? I hope not, as I continue to do some work for free and support organisations such as cancer campaign in Suffolk with promotional material they can use as I’d struggle to support them with a regular monetry commitment. It’s about getting the balance and expectation right and if you’re trying to turn your photography from a passion into a business then you have to think seriously about your charging structure and how that will work for you.
Good luck! Joe