Get Paid in Connections
One possible reason to work for free is that you can, in your work, meet some influential people who can help you make progress in the photography field. You may find a mentor, friend, or future business partner in the people you meet along the way. If this is the only reason you are doing free work, make sure to check out the person or people you'll be working with first. I've got a few questions you should probably ask yourself before committing:
- Are they respectful to you and your business?
- Are they reliable?
- Are they in networking circles that could be valuable to you?
- Are they someone you know and like who you'd like to do a favor for?
If you can not answer any of those questions for sure, then it's probably best not to enter into a business relationship on an unpaid basis.
Get Paid in Experience
There are a few reasons why a photographer might want to work for free on the basis of gaining experience. Here is a list of some of the most common reasons:
- You are new and need opportunities to showcase your skills
- The experience would be fun
- The experience would involve supporting a good cause
- The experience is somehow unique
- The opportunity is rare and may not present itself again
The difficulty with this form of payment is that the definition of a valuable experience can differ from person to person, and some people who advertise unpaid opportunities use these differences to exploit people.
Working at unpaid internships and doing unpaid photography gigs has taught me to be choosy in the free projects I undertake. Sometimes, the presentation of a unique experience is nothing more than a disguised scam for free labor. Ask yourself if an experience-paid position is offering you any of the above points, and, if not, save yourself a headache and say goodbye. In fact, always consider if you can get the same benefits from a paid position instead.
Get Paid in Portfolio Pieces
It's perfectly acceptable and fairly common for beginning photographers to do a few free shots to build a portfolio of photos. If you are planning to get payment this way, make sure to have permission in writing that you are allowed to use the photos for promoting your business. A simple contract that your client signs before the session would be fine.
Do not Stay Free Forever
Many photographers begin by photographing for family members, then in exchange for portfolio pieces, and finally for money. It's important to remember that, while unpaid opportunities can offer valuable benefits, photographers must be vigilant and avoid situations where their talents could be exploited. Some clients are just looking for a free lunch rather than a mutually beneficial relationship.
Make sure you do not stay in the unpaid stage forever, and always make sure you receive some kind of benefit in return for your talents.