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When working for free works

When working for free works

I have a pet hate, a real bug bear. It’s when fledgeling aspiring photographers forget why they picked up a camera in the first place. They’ve bought the gear, practised for a year or two and have now decided that they should be paid for their services on the weekend. What happened to the love of the art itself, of expressing yourself and sharing your work with the world? When did so many people, with even just a passing interest photography, suddenly decide to only ever do it for money? Please don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against people building a photography business whilst still working a day job. It’s what I am doing and it’s what the likes of David DuChemin, Jon Acuff and Chase Jarvis advocate.

What upsets me is when these newly forged photographers publicly moan when someone dares to ask them to work for less than they think they are worth or (brace yourself for the horror) for FREE! Gasp! They complain in forums, and post memes on Facebook and Twitter explaining just what all their gear cost and how much time they spend in Photoshop. Then they throw clumsy metaphors around about how restaurants don’t let you eat for free it you promise to bring lots of friends back next time.

I hate to be blunt but Get Over It!

Here’s the deal: We are new and we are unproven and until we prove our worth in the eyes of prospective clients we don’t have the right to bitch about not being handed huge cheques. It is your job to educate your clients as to the value of you work, not belittle them behind their back.

But, and it’s a big but, not every job has to be a paying job. Getting paid every time you pick up the camera isn’t essential (whether photography is your main source of income or not) but getting something from every job is.

When I get offered a job, or I pitch for one, I ask myself the following four questions:

  1. Is this an interesting/fun job that I have creative control over?
  2. Will the job result in something I want to add to my portfolio (and am I allowed to)?
  3. Will this open doors? Will I get to meet people that can further my career or bring more opportunities?
  4. Does it pay well?

If I can answer ‘yes’ to at least one of the first three, I’m likely to take it, even if there’s no money in it. Does that make me stupid? I think some would argue yes, so I’ll explain.

Let’s look at question 1: If it’s fun and I get to put my creative stamp on the job why wouldn’t I do it? I’d rather be shooting than not. Of course, as with all of these, if there is a budget there I won’t say no, but it’s not essential. I’m trying ideas and learning new things that I wouldn’t have at home. I’d call that a win.

On to the second scenario: Let’s say a local hair salon has asked me to shoot a few portraits to hang on their walls. They are just starting their business and there’s no budget. I could quote a day rate they couldn’t afford and stay sat on the sofa or I could say yes and spend a day shooting 6 models in full hair and makeup using the salon as a studio. I’d not be getting a pay cheque but I’d be coming away with some portfolio quality shots for nothing more than some of my time. I’d get to work with other creatives and make contact with some hair and makeup artists I’d not have met otherwise. Not to mention my name, website and phone number underneath some huge prints hanging on the salon walls. How is that bad business?

Number 3 needs a little qualifying. I am not talking about the type of deal we have all been offered: “If you do this job for free, I’ll send more work your way when we have the budget” Or “If you do a good job I’ll tell all my friends about you”. Never work on that premise. Ever. There will never be budget and you will always be the “free guy”. What I am talking about taking a job in exchange for the opportunity to meet someone you want to meet or gain access to a location.

And then there’s question 4, everyones favourite. How much am I getting paid? Which is great, provided you’ve answered yes to one of the other 3 questions. If not, it’s just a job to pay the bills.

My pictures would be better if…

My pictures would be better if…

Chase Jarvis posted on his blog last week asking his readers to finish a sentence: “My pictures would be better if…”. So I did. I thought about it carefully and put my reply out into the world amongst the huge stream of comments.

My pictures would be better if I got myself out of my comfort zone more often, took more risks and had a better idea of where to aim my passion/energy/hustle.

So now it’s out there, maybe I should clarify.

I stay in my comfort zone by only working with models I know when I could be arranging things on Model Mayhem and Purestorm for more variety in my portfolio.

Taking more risks would allow me to go after jobs and arrange shoots that the nagging voice in head tells me I am not ready for. There are lots of great venues I’d love to shoot in (bars, hotels etc) so I need to pop into these places and talk to the boss. I’ve done it once and that resulted in a shoot in a cinema in a couple of weeks so why don’t I do it more? Could I shoot a family portrait session or even a wedding? I have come a long way but I know I can go a lot further.

The big one is knowing where to focus my energy. I get myself super motivated, I produce solid work and I’m ready to work my face off – but I don’t know where to direct all that enthusiasm. I can’t progress if I don’t know what direction to set off in. Although it feels safe to hide behind the fact I’ve not sat down and thought about it yet, it’s much easier to steer a moving ship so it’s time to get sailing. There’s no point in having lots of business and marketing ideas if I don’t hang out my shingle so I need to work on a business plan and find out if there is a market for what I want to do. I’m talking about walking away from my day job on a whim but I do want to be able to spend more time doing what I love rather than what I must. Isn’t it better to try and fail than not try at all?

Hence the image at the top: my Big Book of Hustle. This is where the ideas go. There is where I write down the hard questions, and with any luck, some answers too. Time to man up!

Am I alone in this or do others have a heap of motivation and energy but no target to aim it all at? Am I the only one who has a clear picture of the end goal but has yet to work out what achievable steps to take to move towards it? Hit the comments below if you have the same problem or any solutions.