Maybe you’ve seen an ad posted on Craigslist. Someone is looking to “hire” a photographer to take product shots for their up and coming business that promises to be huge. You won’t be getting paid, but they’re going to get your photography in front of all the right people and basically make you as famous as they will surely be. If you’re considering one of these gigs, where you work for exposure instead of pay, let me stop you right there: DON’T DO IT. I can almost assure you it won’t do for your career what you’re being told it will do, plus a bucket load of other reasons you shouldn’t work for free.
Let me explain…
Think About All The Hard Work You’ve Put In
It takes a lot of work to make it to a point where you’re confident enough to put your photography skills out there as a marketable enterprise. Think about all the hours you’ve spent studying and practicing and making mistakes and learning how to fix those mistakes. All of that work has made you the awesome photographer you’ve come to be and has added value to your work. That’s right, added value–meaning your time and skills are worth something. Like exposure and money.
If you’re trying to make photography your livelihood, working for exposure is not going to pay your bills, buy you that new lens, put gas in your car, or keep your family fed. As glorious as that would be, it just doesn’t work that way. Things cost money, and oddly enough, whenever we ask our utility company if we can pay them with “exposure” they, well…laugh in our faces.
You’re Not Just Hurting Yourself
As working for exposure becomes a more common practice, being able to actually find someone to pay you to do something they can get another person to do for exposure is going to become increasingly difficult. Not just for yourself, but for every single photographer out there who is trying to make a living taking photos. Jobs that pay in “exposure” are eliminating jobs that pay in cash, which is useful to have on hand when it comes time to pay the bills and invest into new camera equipment.
So, here’s the thing, even if you can afford to work for exposure, not everyone else can and there may be a point down the road where you might want to be properly compensated for your photography work. Don’t take a job now that doesn’t pay what your work is worth, thinking it’s going to help you get paid jobs later on down the road. The reality of it working out that way is not as promising as one would hope for.
Just Say No
Artists have notoriously been undervalued throughout history, and the struggle certainly continues with modern photography. It is up to you, the photographer, to place an appropriate value on your time and work and stick to it. If someone asks for you to work for exposure, simply say, “No.”