No One Should Work For Free

You’ve heard this one hundred times already, but still, right now, in this moment, there is a young or upcoming photographer working for free. It’s so hard to build your portfolio but there are some seriously problematic reasons why working for free in the beginning will hurt your future.

There are very few times and places when working for free is okay. Once, maybe twice is enough and make sure those people know this is an exceptional circumstance. Here are a few reasons why working for free can set your business up for a steep uphill climb in the future.

1. You start at rock bottom.

No one should have to start at rock bottom. This means that desperation has taken over and you are at the mercy of people around you to help yourself. If you set your sights higher, even just slightly, you will take a little longer to gain traction but you will move up much faster from there.

Don’t be desperate for features, for models, for that first client to beg for a chance to shoot. Stay patient and stay true to your value so you can make that first paying client one of the most important of your career.

2. Figure out your worth.

You need to find out what you should be charging and most photographers have made this mistake. We charge way too little money at the start. In order for you figure out your worth, you have to do some simple math.

Add up all of your expenses, camera gear, time editing, travel time and gas money, and more, then find out what you need to live on per month. Divide that into hours you plan to work and that’s your rate. It might be much more than you thought, so be prepared, but if you can’t charge your worth then you will end up not being able to pay for the things that make your photography business click.

3.Be patient and know that your clients are out there.

Trust in yourself. Trust that making sure you are charging your worth and performing to the highest standard that you can that your ideal paying clients will come to you.

This will take marketing, effort, and lots of less than ideal clients to get there, but every person that walks through your door is now and forever a representation of your business. Stay patient and keep your eyes set on the clients who follow up, don’t haggle with the price, and won’t cause a problem with the contracts you create. They are out there.

4. Don’t burn yourself out- you aren’t a superhero.

As much as you might feel like Wonder Woman or Super Man working seventy plus hours a week, this is just not sustainable. By working for free, you are so much more likely to burn out because once people know that you are cheap (or free) they take advantage of it. It’s partially human nature and partially greed, but it will happen.

Shockingly enough, it will likely happen from your friends and family most often which is frightening. Stick to your guns and remind yourself about your long-term goals. Make this much money, leave your 9-5 job, support your family for a year, whatever your goal is, it’s going to take time and discipline.

Photographers have to stop selling themselves short, literally and have to make the effort to never – or rarely – work for free.