Photographers, Don't Sell Yourselves Short.
We can't afford to pay you, but...
In every photographer's life, they will undoubtedly get these words delivered to them via text, e-mail, or Facebook message, "Hi! I really enjoy your work. I was wondering if you would be interested in shooting ____(Insert event here) in a few weeks! We can't really afford to pay you, but it would be great exposure and we would really appreciate it!"
The message will probably be from an acquaintance, and it will always start out praising your work and stating how much they appreciate the quality of what you do. Then the kicker comes that they will not be able to pay you. And so ensues the mental deliberation of the photographer. The resulting mental quandary is a difficult mental obstacle to tackle. The photographer may agree with the benefit/event being thrown, or may have strong personal ties to the person asking. Hopefully, this can help to steer the person being asked into the right decision for them.
The Internal Debate.
When confronted by this request, what should one do? There are a few of options at one's disposal, though none of them are very good ones. One could explain that they don't work for free. One could acquiesce and do the job, and all it entails, for free. Or one could reply back saying that they would appreciate being compensated, however minimally, for the job. All of these choices have their pros and cons, though none of them are going to make everyone happy.
Option 1- Sure, I'd love to help out!
This option sounds off the bat that it may be the best. Everyone wins! The event gets professional photos, and the photographer gets their name recognized as having done the work. Unfortunately, their name gets recognized as having done the work for free. The photographer can almost bet that everyone involved with the event will remember that they are the one to call for professional work when it has to be done on a budget of zero.Not only does this hinder them from getting paid work in the future, but it harms all other photographers because it puts it out there that photographers are willing to work for free.
Option 2- Could you at least pay me for my time?
The second option doesn't sound too bad, either. There is a downside to this option as well, though. The the person or organization that asked in the first place could be left with a bad taste in their mouth, and possibly slightly disgusted that you would reply back asking for money, especially if it is a non-profit organization. However, it is always a good idea to at least ask- The worst they can say is, "No." It may be more appropriate to ask if they have even a meager budget, and make them aware that you would be willing to work even with that.
Option 3- I'm sorry, I must decline.
Unfortunately, this is the completely best option. "I'm sorry, I can't afford to work for free." If one were working completely relying on the finished product as exposure, then they will want it to be as best as it can, as the advertisement will be their only compensation. Which would mean that they will be spending extra time post-processing the photos to get them looking just right. A 4 hour event shoot could easily end up being 12+ hours of work, when one considers sifting through photos and post-processing RAW files. At the end of the job, that would be over $1,000 of the photographer's time, energy, and resources invested into a free gig.
Brainerd, MN 4th of July 2013
At the End of the Day...
Your time is precious to you. Your work is valuable and speaks for itself. Don't let anyone try and tell you that it is worthless. I volunteer my time and energy during a few special events for my community. I always shoot the 4th of July, and I leap at other opportunities to capture my community of Brainerd, Minnesota in a positive light. I did, however, have to put a stop to shooting other events just because it would, "Look good in my portfolio." Recently, I heard of a condition afflicting both musicians and photographers called "Death By Exposure." One can have all of the "exposure" they want, but unfortunately, landlords and grocery stores don't take "exposure" as payment for their rendered goods. Allowing yourself to work without pay sets you up to work without pay again in the future, and it inadvertently cheapens the work of others by telling the public that this type of thing is OK and commonplace. Unfortunately, it seems that musicians and photographers are among the only two professions out there afflicted by this. Upon contemplation,I very highly doubt that any of the event coordinators would even consider calling up a beverage distribution company and asking them to stop off with $1,000 in sodas and beer for the event, or a pizza place and asking them to bring by $1,000 in pizza for the event under the guise of "good exposure", but these same people think it is ok to do so for us.
My best advice is to consider your options, and do what is best for you and your current professional and economical stance. Never sell yourself short, and always remember that your work is valuable.
© 2013 Adam Brown Photo