When It’s Okay For Photographers To Work For Free

Photographer in Studio
In general, my advice to photographers thinking about taking a gig for exposure free, is to not even consider it. In fact, I have a pretty strong opinion on why you shouldn’t work for exposure for reasons that reach beyond the individual. Whenever a photographer takes a job working for exposure, it hurts the entire industry as whole. Check out this article, Why Photographers Shouldn’t Work For Exposure, for a more in depth explanation of the kind of impact it has. That being said, there are times when I will work for free or at a reduced rate. However, I’m pretty selective about pro bono work and I encourage you all to be as well. After all, no one wants to be taken advantage of–luckily, it can be avoided if you’re willing to put in a little thought and research into the project you’re considering. Here’s a few questions I work out answers to before I make any decisions:

Is It For A Good Cause?

The only time I will donate my work is when it’s for a cause that I feel passionately about and want to do my part to contribute to. There are tons of charities that really don’t have a lot of funding and can’t afford a photographer, but who could also really benefit from some professional photography. For me, these types of charities usually include local animal shelters and youth outreach groups. Everyone has a certain cause that calls out to them, so find one that speaks to you and look for opportunities where you can get some experience under your belt all the while helping out a good cause. If no opportunities exist yet, think creatively about ways you could contribute your photography services–get inventive and create your own opportunities! XS Lab2 Studio

Is There A Financial Need?

The number one excuse people give when asking photographers to work for free is that there “is no budget”. A large percentage of the time, there actually is a budget, they just don’t want to pay for a photographer. So, the next question I work out is whether or not there actually is a budget restriction.

Typically, I work with local charities that don’t have a national or international level funding machine behind them. Not that large charities aren’t worthy, I just find local charities have a greater need than larger charities. Plus, I get the added benefit of helping out the community in which I live. For example, my sister runs a non-profit animal rescue that depends entirely on donations and absolutely could not afford to pay a professional photographer for promo shots and portraits of the animals that are available for adoption. These types of non-profits are going to be where you can help out the most.
Photographers expand horizons in 2010 Army Digital Photography Contest 110311

It’s Okay To Say No

The important thing to keep in mind is that, just because an organization is a charity or non-profit, doesn’t mean there isn’t room in the budget to pay a photographer for their services and you should never be guilted in feeling like you should work for free just because they are a charity.  It’s okay to say no to a charity or ask them to be paid for your services–this is your job after all.