Why I will never shoot for free again


A slightly different post than usual ones. On that note I apologise that this is the first post I've uploaded after so long and happens to be quite urm...Honest. Yeah, that's a fitting word.

Today I want to talk about working on a trade-for/ experience-gaining basis.

A lot of people starting off in the creative industries generally have to work for free at the start of their career to the point where they have gained enough substantial experience and a professional body of work - to a point they can start charging for their services. This is a given and a necessary process to build your reputation and ultimately lead on to paid work.

I want to clarify that I'm not a money-hungry bitch and I'm certainly not saying "give me money I want to be paid for every single shoot I do". I have worked with models and brands in the past who have been absolutely lovely and I'd happily shoot free for, but what sparked inspiration for this post was just the lack of gratitude I've been receiving lately when I do shoot for free. A part of it was wondering if my work was even any good for them, or if they're just genuinely ungrateful.

Something that has been seriously concerning me recently is the amount of trade-for work that gets asked for in creative groups on the internet. "Urm, work is work!" Yes that is true on some level, but after working on many trade-for and a few paid shoots here and there for roughly 4-5 years I can honestly say I'm sick of working for free. Some people seem to think that a photographer's job is easy. Well I'll just say it's not as simple as clicking a shutter and you have to consider:

  • Travel to and from the shoot
  • Post processing (which can be a fairly long depending on what's being asked for)
  • Casting
  • Food on the shoot
  • Possible hire of location/studio
  • Actual shooting time
  • Direction
  • Hours of prep
  • The three years I've studied and paid for at University to learn all the things I know now
  • Oh yeah, we have bills. Just like you.

Another thing that gets me is, well, me. I'm highly self-criticizing and maybe this lowers the value of my work. Why should I compromise this in my pricing? Maybe this is what makes me hesitant to turn down an unpaid job, out of fear that I won't have enough work in my portfolio, or that  a brand/model will spread a bad word about me despite a kind declination.

I agree to most of these jobs because I love meeting people, working with them and creating something potentially amazing however on occasion I have this feeling of reluctance when shooting for free, but it finally hit me when I was sat at my desk from around nine in the morning until half five purely editing a full collection I shot. A literal 9-5 day of work, unpaid. 

The more free projects you do the more you realise just how much work you're putting into everything, how much time you invest and you sit there and think "how much would I have actually been paid for this?". You might be thinking back to what I just said about not being a money-hungry bitch but all I can say is when you've been working for free for so long and notice how certain people out there seriously take advantage of that, you begin to realise that enough is enough. Especially when you have bills to pay and nobody else in the creative team you're working with will spare a penny to help. Sometimes I rarely get a 'thank you', or even any credit linking back to my work (considering 'exposure' was a form of payment). 

After years of working for free, all that experience gained and a serious camera and accessories upgrade I feel confident in myself and know my worth at my current level. I am by no means a perfect, but I'm certainly no amateur and deserve to be properly compensated. I'm sure many of you out there that work in other creative fields know and feel my pain.

If you're also feeling these frustrations as a young creative I highly recommend looking at yourself and your skills, and realise that you are worth way more than you think. Don't let anyone take advantage.


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