Working for Free – Good or Bad for your Photography business?

Today on the blog we have talented photographer and Ready Steady Pro Community Member, Joseph George talking about working for free and whether that’s a good thing, or a bad thing for your business. At some stage as photographers it seems we’re all asked to photograph something for free. Here’s what Joe thinks.

Originally featured over on Joe’s website

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?

Portrait Portfolio - Joseph George Photography
Amy Brook – Modelling Portfolio

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 generally 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. This can make you feel bad when you then can’t do it or quote them as you would any other potential client.

Joseph George Photography Charity Work
Cancer Campaign in Suffolk – “It’s all about you makeover”

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 reflection 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 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 excellent “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, remember –  you have offered your service for free and perhaps they never asked for it in the first place!!

Joseph George Photography Studio Portfolio
Studio Portrait Portfolio Session – Ipswich, Suffolk

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 possibly 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?

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 that you adjust your mindset accordingly so that you are not expecting anything back in return, you have to expect zilch. You have offered a “free service” and that’s just what you have to deliver.

I certainly used to anticipate that a good word here and there after some “free” work would lead onto bigger and better paid things, just be careful as it rarely does and you don’t want to be stuck as “that photographer who does most work for free” – it can be difficult and disappointing to then shake that label.

Does this sound like a rant against doing free stuff and that I’m advising never to do so? No – I hope not, because I continue to do some work for free and support organisations such as cancer campaign in Suffolk  and the Citizens Advice Service with promotional material they can use as I’d struggle to support them with a regular monetary commitment. It’s just about getting the balance and expectation right to start with 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

Black and White Suffolk Landscapes
Alton Water – Suffolk Landscape Photography

About Joe

“Joseph George Photography is a professional Wedding, Portrait and Events Photography business located in Ipswich, Suffolk and providing services throughout the East Anglian region. With over 10 years of digital photography experience – our local photography work includes not only private wedding shoots but also work with John Lewis, Work featured in Suffolk and Norfolk Life Magazine, Work for Cancer Campaign in Suffolk, Work for Ipswich Town Football club and work featured in the National Press”

Be sure to check out Joe online in all the usual places:

Twitter: @JGeorgePhoto
Facebook: josephgeorgephotography


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