Photography Work Experience: Is Shooting For Free Worth It?
December 19, 2013
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When establishing yourself as a photographer, it's tempting to shoot for free to gain valuable real world photography work experience and get your name out there. But in the long run, doing work for free will only hurt your ability to attract paying clients and can even give you a negative reputation. That doesn't mean you should only be shooting when a paycheck is involved, but it's important to know when a little pro bono work is appropriate.
The Price Is Wrong
While offering free work can bolster your portfolio, it can also lead to you becoming known as a photographer who always shoots for free. Once you have that reputation, it can be hard to sell your services to clients. Shooting for free can also lead to a perception that the quality of your work is lower than those who charge for their services. Fair or not, most people associate price with quality, and if you undercharge or don't charge at all it's possible clients will consider your photography sub par no matter what your portfolio looks like.
One exception to taking on free client work is shooting for a charity or other nonprofit institution, especially one whose work you believe in. You are still pouring in a lot of time and energy with no paycheck in return, but it's a way to practice your skills and positively impact those around you. It's also good for your reputation, much like a lawyer who takes on a case not because it will make him rich, but because it is the right thing to do. Beyond the feel-good benefits, pro bono charity work can be used in your portfolio.
Free To Be Me
When you've spent six of the last seven days shooting and editing for clients, the last thing you want to think about is picking up the camera for your own enjoyment and professional development, and that's perfectly understandable. On the other hand, when you run into a slow week, that's the perfect time to do a little free work — for yourself. Shooting personal work is a great way to experiment with new techniques and attempt to push yourself in new creative directions without risking the quality of work for a client. Instead, think of yourself as the client and use this time to expand your photographic horizons and further develop your professional skills.
Image source: MorgueFile