Should I work for free?

Dec 7, 2023 | Business

“Show Notes”

Marcus’s answer is ….it depends!

The pros of working for free

If you are starting out as a photographer Marcus thinks there.
are some advantages to working for free.

One is getting experience. Marcus thinks that if you are working for free it allows
You to try the client photographer relationship but without the client handing over
any money.

Portfolio building is another reason to work for free. When you are starting out
You need portfolio photographs for your website, social and to show people.

Experimentation. Marcus thinks this is another reason to work for free. You can be
abit more creative and experimental.

The cons of working for free

If you have worked for someone for free it can be hard to charge them if they
come back and want further work.

People who get your work for free don’t value what you produce and don’t value
Your time. Sam and Marcus us the analogy of

the supermarket, we value more the food we get from Waitrose than the food we
get from Liddle.

Remember your time is valuable and does have a cost.

If you do work for free itis very important that you set clear expectations from the
start of a free photo shoot what is the outcome. What will you deliver and how
much input to they get in this.

Working for charities

Should you charge working for charities? Marcus initially never charged for
working with charities. But now he has realised that the charities are full of people
getting paid so why shouldn’t the photographer get paid to? Sam and Marcus
discuss this could be variable depending on the charity, small local ones compared
to large national ones. But do remember the accountant, marketing

agency etc are all charging charities for their work.

Editorial photography

‘This means photography for magazines. This is not an area with much money in it.
Butitis a chance for your photographs to be seen by many people who would not
normally see it. Marcus has never been paid for photos in a magazine, and it costs
him time and money for the shoot. But Marcus feels the benefits of getting his
photographs in the magazine out way the costs.

Personal projects

Marcus thinks all photographers should be doing personal projects. This portfolio
can be shown to potential clients. Marcus says that this got him quickly to have a
good job in photography.

“Show Transcription”

Sam: Welcome to Shoot to the Top with me, Sam Hollis, and with Marcus Armad.

Marcus: I just got in there. Timing or what? Yes, Marcus Armad. Hi there, everybody. Hello, Sam. Sam, I must Admit you’re looking great. You can see it’s Summer where you are. You’re looking very tanned. It is.

Sam:  It’s getting warmer here. But today we have, Marcus is going to talk to us about a subject which is really interesting and thought provoking and maybe controversial. So Marcus’s topic for today is Should I work for free? Which is an interesting one. So Marcus, over to you.

Marcus: Yes, that’s right, Sam. I am going to be talking about Should I work free? A really contentious Topic, especially in the world of freelancers and photography. I’ve scanned the Internet, I’ve looked at it, and there’s so many different debates on this, so many different viewpoints. And basically I’m going to tell you my conclusion before I even start talking. What my answer is. Is should I work for free? Is it all depends. Yeah, there we go. You can turn off now. You can go to another podcast. Okay, so what do I mean by that? Let’s break it down and talk about how it might affect Somebody who’s just starting off in the business as a photographer. I think the advantages for that kind of person of working for free, photographing for free, is that they will get experience of working with clients or working to a brief or working with other people. It’s all very good, very well and good, getting your camera and being really proficient at taking photographs. But what’s it really like working for somebody? The constraints of that and the constraints of it, and working to somebody else’s vision or working with Somebody else’s vision. So, I think if you work for free, that gives you a sort of get out of jail free card in that. Look, there’s no financial tracks, actually, no money is being lost here. So, this could be a good reason why you would do it for free. Secondly, portfolio building, and by what, I mean by that is, let’s say you want to start off a new niche. In my case, I do brand photography. How are you going to get into that? You’re going to need a website. You’re going to need photographs put on there. An ideal way of getting that content together is by going out there and shooting with friends, with businesses. You might know whatever it might be, but you’re not charging for it. So, there’s no pressure involved from either party. The expectations are low, so you can afford to make mistakes, maybe not get it quite right first time, and say, okay, look, let’s try that again. I think I can do better next time. All good reasons for working for free. Another great reason. It gives you time to really experiment and try things that you wouldn’t normally do if you were under the pressures of working for money. This means you might try different lighting or something. You might try or whatever, different lenses, different techniques, whatever it might be. But it gives you carte blanc to go and try something that’s a bit more experimental. And as regular listeners to the show will know, I’m all for trying out things that are different and experimental and trying to separate you from the crowd. So, there’s some pros to it. Let’s look at some cons to working for free. And I’ve done it myself, and these are from personal experience. So, I’ve noticed that when I’ve worked for somebody and done a photo shoot, and then they’ve come back later and said, oh, can I have some more? I think, oh, great, let’s do some more. But then it becomes really difficult to set a figure, a price about, an expectation about what you’re going to charge, because they’ve had it for free. They’re going to think, well, why is it X amount of money now? So basically, upscaling your pricing is very difficult when you’ve done it for free. I’ve also noticed that people do not value your work when you do it for free. The more you charge, the more people appreciate it. I don’t know why. Any reason for that, Sam? What is the reason behind that?

Sam: I think people know the more they pay, the better service they get. So, if your prices are cheap, they think you’re cheap. And what count. I guess the key is what in people’s heads is cheap and what in people’s heads is expensive is going to vary from person-to-person business to, you know, everybody knows if you go to Lidl, it’s cheap. As you know, you get what you pay for.

Marcus: Oh, that’s such a good analogy. That’s so true, Sam, because, yeah, I mean, I shop at Lidl and Waitrose, and I’m completely convinced that the stuff I get from Waitrose, which know, for anybody outside Britain, is an expensive store compared to a cheaper store like Lidl. I’m convinced that it tastes way better now. I think it does. I think it does. But, yeah, the psychology of paying more for something is you value it. So that’s a problem when you’re working for free. And let’s not forget, time is money. You might think, oh, it’s not costing me anything, but it is actually costing you something. It’s costing you your time. Luckily, in the days now where most people are shooting digitally, that’s free, as it were. But you’ve got to pay for the camera, you’ve got to pay for the software, you’ve got to pay for all these things to do it. But there you go. So, pros and cons there, as I say, it all depends. Coming back to that.

Sam: I think something we need to talk about, Marcus, maybe, is expectations, if you do work for free as well, because you’re saying, if you’re trying to build your portfolio, that can be really useful. But I think what’s really important then is you and the person you’re working with setting out some very clear expectations about what the outcome is, what you’re going to do, like you were talking about, maybe you’ll be able to experiment and maybe do things slightly differently today. One that’s got to be really clear from the outset, kind of what they get, what you get, how it’s going to work, because otherwise they could just think, whoa, this is a free shoot, photo shoot. I should get all of these. And that’s not what happens in the end. And even if they’re not paying, there can be some upset, and if you’re not doing things the way they want. So, I think if you do, do that work for free to build your portfolio. Yeah. Being very clear about how this is going to work, what they’re going to get, what’s in it for them, and what’s in it for you needs to be laid out so, so clearly from the start.

Marcus:  And you’re bang on then, Shan, and that’s very sage advice. Very sage advice indeed. I’m going to talk a bit more how it affects pros a little bit in a minute. But there’s another little aside I want to talk about, and that’s working for charities. When I first started off in photography, I thought, okay, charities is definitely. I would never charge for working for charities. That’s the whole idea. They’re coming to me and it’s something I can do to help them out. And I was very happy to do that. But later, recently, in my later age, I’ve been thinking, when I get approached by charities, I charge them. I charge them because I’m thinking, well, you’ve got people working for you already, the person who’s approached me for the job, the marketing person is getting paid for it. Why do they think that as a photographer I shouldn’t get paid for it? Look, you decide yourselves but I do think just because they’re a charity does not mean that you should not get paid for it.

Sam: No, definitely. And I think there’s a lot of variations in there, aren’t there as well? So, if you’re doing some photography work for a national charity, you charging for your time is not going to make a big dent on their ability to do their work. But if you’re working with a really small local charity then that’s maybe quite different and you maybe would do things at a much lower cost or free to help them. But then if you are doing things with charities like that, then use that as a market to marketing opportunity and talk about it, get huge openings from it. But you’re right, most businesses, the accountants, the marketing agencies, the web design, whatever it is, are all charging charities. Yes, they might have a different bait, but they are still charging charities, and that’s kind of expected. But, yeah, like you say, it’s very different, your very local village hall charity or local hospice to a big national charity, isn’t it? They’re quite different entities.

Marcus:  Indeed, they are, Sam, indeed they are. So, let’s move on to the wonderful world of editorial photography. And by that, I mean photography for magazines and newspapers to a degree, but more magazines. I’ve worked for a lot of magazines, and basically, there’s not a lot of money in it. What you do get is QDOs. You get your work seen by people who wouldn’t normally see it. I’ll give you an example. There’s a shoot for a magazine, a fashion magazine called Arena. Arena on plus is the full name of it, and it’s a men’s fashion magazine. It comes out twice a year. It’s incredibly thick publication, loads of pages, loads of content. The people who read it and buy it are people in the industry. It’s a real industry magazine. You don’t often see it in bookshelves, so it’s a great place to get your work in for people to see it. Now, as I say, I shoot for them fairly regularly, but I’ve never been paid for it. In fact, the shoots I do for them are quite adventurous shoots, and I pay out money to get the models in, or the styling or whatever it might be. The reason I do that is, as I said, to get my work in front of people who wouldn’t normally see it. That idea, I think, is quite the norm, I would dare to say, in editorial, certainly in the fashion world, anyhow. And I think within the editorial world, where basically you are putting the shoot together, you’re paying for it, and it’s going to be put in a magazine and they print it. Similarly, there’s a thing called TFP, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of that, Sam. TFP is trade for print. And again, it’s a bit of a fashion thing. It’s where you basically put your team together of the stylist, the makeup, the model, and you’re all working for free. But what you get out of it is a print. You get out of it something that you can use to publicize yourself. So, in that case, that is an industry standard. In that case, that is something. That is something, everybody’s benefiting from it, and everybody’s on the same sort of level the same page as it were.

Sam:  Yeah. And I think the key is just going in with an open mind and going in knowing that’s what you’re doing and being either happy with that, then great, go ahead with it, or not being happy with it. And if you’re not happy with it, then say, someone, don’t do that, but kind of think about it first. I think that key with doing things like that for free, isn’t it? If you think, yes, I’m going to do it for that magazine, no, they’re not charging me, but I know that this is amazing publicity. Great. If you’re going in and you’re thinking, well, not many people are going to read this and they’re taking the mic, then don’t do it. Work out for you, what’s right for you.

Marcus:  Yeah, exactly. And also, it’s a time for experimentation as well. It’s not a time where you’re just going to do your standard shot, you’re going to really push the boat out and you’re going to put a lot of thought into it and it becomes more of a personal project, which I’m going to talk about next. Yeah. So, the personal project, we should all, as creatives, as photographers, be doing personal projects. It’s part of my DNA. I studied photography. All you do is personal projects. It’s just part of what you do. And what that gave me when I left university is a portfolio of work that I could then show to advertising companies. And they don’t want to see any previous work you’ve shot commercially. They want to see your personal projects. They want to see what you’re thinking, what you’re interested in, that kind of thing, what’s the story behind it. And that immediately got me onto another level. I sort of bypassed that level where you might be doing social photography, weddings, headshots, that kind of thing. I got straight in to see on the creative side of it by having a personal work.

Sam:  Yeah, I guess that is another thing you do for free anyway, isn’t it? Your personal work, the stuff you’re doing. Exactly. But you can use that to show your work. It doesn’t have to be hidden away. Some of it you probably do want to be hidden away and personal, but some stuff you might go, wow, let’s use this.

Marcus: Exactly right. I can’t stress enough how important it is to have personal projects on and maybe I’m going to do another show about it or we can talk about it as part of another show. But, yeah. So, in that kind of situation, certainly you’ll be working for free, but you’re going to have ultimate control and creative control over it as well. So, there we are. There’s my little package about should you work for free. As I say, it all depends.

Sam:  Excellent. I think that’s a good summary. It depends. I think it depends. And think about, yeah, what are you going to get out of it and are you happy doing it? Does it work with the way you want to work, your values and everything else? Brilliant, Marcus, that has been an awful lot to think about. Thank you very much. If people want a little bit of extra on this and other bits and pieces, then you can sign up to the newsletter. You get the podcast sent to your inbox. You get bonus audio content. You get hints and tips from Marcus and I and references back to previous podcasts and stuff. You can just go to our new website, and from there you can sign up to the newsletter. Thank you, Marcus. As always, it has been very interesting talking to you. I will see you next week.

Marcus:  See you next week, Sam. Thank you.

Sam: Bye.