Often photographers are approached with a request to work for free. The request can come from anybody, a prospective client, a celebrity who you have been trying to work with, a relative who knows that you are a photographer and wants to use your skills for free because you are family! Regardless of who makes a request like this, or where, the question is how would you react to something like that? Would you say yes, gladly? Or would you say no? Or would carefully weigh the situations and then decide whether to say yes or no? I bet most of us would take the middle path.

Let’s just take a few possible scenarios and find out what the pros and cons are like. At the end of the day your business depends on it.

A prospective corporate client

A prospective client you have been trying to work with asks if you would be willing to shoot this one assignment for them for free. They are a big client, one of the largest and it is a dream come true for you. The first question that should come to your mind, before you say yes, is why are they asking you to shoot for them? Is it because you are gullible and will accept the assignment for free for a chance to shoot with a big client like them? Or is this actually a real big assignment (from your perspective) and the client is trying to see if you are capable of handling it before being pushed into bigger things? Is it something that you could possibly show on your portfolio?

A lot of times businesses will look to cut costs (more often than not)by hiring people that they think would agree to work for free, just for the sake of getting a big client on their portfolio. Sometimes the project may be not priority-level work to justify the costs that are involved in hiring the usual photographer. If you can show the project on your portfolio, then it is a good way to gain some experience as well as get a client aboard. If not, then it doesn’t make sense.

Can’t you shoot an extra hour for free?

Well you are already there at the venue and you have all the gear with you. So, what’s stopping you from putting in another hour worth of work, I mean for free? Sometimes clients expect you to stretch your commitment,and without compensation and they are not shy of giving ludicrous justifications for their unreasonable demands.

Just because they can make such demands does not mean that you have to give in too. The extra time that you spend on the job has opportunity costs involved. You could have spent that time editing the images you shot, or you could have scouted locations for the shoot next day, or could have called a few clients for appointments, or could have driven home early to spend time with your family. Not to mention the extra time you will have to spend later on editing those extra images from the last hour! If your client is expecting you to stay on for an extra hour and shoot images, he better compensates for the time!

Extra editing work

The burden of extra editing work sometimes comes in ways that are subtle. Like in the previous paragraph an extra hour worth of shooting would no doubt entail several extra hours’ worth of editing work as well. At times clients may come up with ‘special’ last moment requests. “Can you make me look five years younger in all the images?” Or maybe the bride’s mother requests you to make her look less chubby in the final edited images. Or Uncle John may request you to patch up his receding hairline in all the images that he is in. Whatever the requests may be, you are going to end up spending additional hours editing the images.

If it entails extra work then you must make that clear to the client. The best approach would be to highlight ‘special’ requests – such as making the teeth of 50+ invitees whiter, or all the bridesmaids to look 10 pounds less etc. would cost extra. Only mention what you are going to deliver explicitly in the contract – so many number of final edited images in soft copy and or a printed album containing so many number of images. Anything that has not been mentioned / promised explicitly in the contract would cost extra. Make sure that you client understands that before both of you sign it.

A relative who wants you to shoot a family wedding

Family requests are a bit difficult to handle. I don’t know about you but I have a trying time saying no to someone in the family. Yes I am gullible in that regard. But then that’s what families are for. They are there for you when you need them and that has its own privileges and responsibilities. If there is a doctor in the family would he deny seeing you just because you are a free-ride? No. Then why would you? But the problem is, while a doctor takes only half an hour to see you and that’s a small part of his work time, you on the other hand would end up spending an entire work day shooting for a family event. Personally speaking, I would not always say yes, neither will I always say no. But, I would draw a line if this becomes a regular feature and mention that there is no way a cow can be friends with grass.

Ben Novoselsky

CEO and Founder at Phowd.com
Entrepreneur, geek, photo enthusiast.
Ben Novoselsky

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