Ask An Agent / Working for free


Ask an Agent is a regular monthly column that answers all your dilemmas about the business of photography - photography's first Agony Aunt!

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This month I share my thoughts on shooting for free.

I am a student and have recently been asked to photograph for a music website and also the local paper. This would be expenses paid only work. Obviously I would like the experience and opportunities to photograph certain people, however, in some ways I do feel that this is devaluing my work. 

If I was to apply for a paid job in the photography world in the future would accepting this unpaid work go against me?

Hannah Farrell,  Student.

There are times when it’s ok to work for free and times when it’s not.

As a student, and just starting out I think it’s great that you are beginning to get commissions and acceptable that you are being paid expenses only. Your aim at the moment should be to build a strong portfolio and if you can mix actual jobs in with personal work then you’ll be one step ahead when you graduate.

A lot of photographers starting out are faced with a Catch 22 situation. Clients are nervous about giving jobs to inexperienced photographers and want to see evidence of commissioned work. Getting those first assignments can be a challenge, but once you are able to establish yourself as a working professional photographer then others will feel more confident about hiring you.

An expenses paid job is better than no job. As long as the subject matter fits in with your aspirations for the future I think shooting for no fee in the short term can definitely benefit your career. Not only will it give you what you need to be able to market yourself to clients who will pay you a fee (i.e images and experience), you’ll hopefully add a few good contacts to your address book. Having said that, you obviously don’t want to be taken advantage of. If, for example these same clients pay other more experienced photographers a fee, once you have a few jobs under your belt then its only fair that you also start earning.

Even though you are not receiving a fee, don't forget it’s still important to adhere to the usual professional practices. Get yourself a set of photographers terms and conditions (available in my book ‘Setting up a Successful Photography Business’ ) and always attach them to your estimates and invoices. Never assign copyright and state clearly in writing on the final invoice the agreed usage licence. As well as general travel, subsistence, insurance and miscellaneous expenses you should be charging a digital capture fee (for overhead on kit and time to process files)  and for equipment/lighting - even if you own it. Insist on being credited if the usage is editorial- as it appears to be here.

In terms of devaluing your work or getting paid work in the future, I don’t think you need worry about that. It’s highly unlikely word will get around that you are the photographer that shoots for no fee, and even if it does it’s your prerogative to only accept what you feel comfortable with in terms of future work. There are few staff jobs as photographers, but those that are available will pay according to an industry standard and the photographers experience. Most reputable publications and commercial clients who hire freelance photographers on a job by job basis appreciate it is industry standard to pay professional fees to an experienced professional photographer whatever the nature of their shoot.

Your main concern now should be to continue to expand your portfolio, your contacts, your experience and your business acumen: then, not only will you just know when its ok to work for no fee and when it certainly isn’t, you’ll be in a better position to pick and choose who you shoot for.

Please Note:

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This advice should be taken as a guide only. Lisa Pritchard and LPA take no responsibility for any omissions or errors. Please seek professional legal advice should you require it.