Should I Work For Free?

Being the huge fan of the barter system that I am and this being the holiday season, along with being fresh off of the Thanksgiving spirit, it seems that the banter of working for free is in the air. Chase Jarvis talks about it, David Hobby over at Strobist is talking about it, Doug Menuez is talking about it and Kenneth Jarecke talks about how it has always been going on. It obviously seems that the holiday season is not the only time of year when photographers are feeling kind.

I have been shooting pro bono photography work for a few years now and I have always looked at it as a time for me to set some challenges for myself and to fill a void in my portfolio. Sometimes it starts with a “Hey Mike, you’re a photographer right?” from someone I know, and other times I have gone out of my way for a person/organization that I feel could benefit from my skills. Yes, this has let to more paying gigs, more exposure, more Web site traffic, more emails, more EVERYTHING! And most important of all, I have filled a spot in my portfolio and the person I did the work for has benefited.

Do you see a downside to this? I sure do not. YOU are the creative director, YOU have complete control over everything. Think of that one image you have always felt is missing from your portfolio, opportunity is knocking, repetitively and loudly. One of the best feelings I have had as a photographer is when I approach someone and ask them if I can take their picture, most everyone is SHOCKED that I want to take their photograph. The day that I shot Skaters in the Park I saw these guys skating and flying through the air and thought to myself, “Man, I don’t have a picture like that in my book” So I asked them. Their initial response was, “What are they for?” A quick explanation later and I was “cool” in their book, and before you know it I had an audience and they were pulling tricks left and right……..everyone wanted their photo taken.

This has actually turned into a great lead for me, I have another shoot with these guys and a few other pro rollerbladers and skateboarders. A little free thing here and there more than likely will come back to you in the future. I promise.

The example that David talks about with the local restaurant, be it any local business, is a great starting point…..if not THE point for all photographers alike to create some outstanding imagery along with building some new personal/business relationships. Hell, it might even be the start of an economic revolution! All starting without a cent being exchanged.

Chase has even taken is so far as asking for readers to submit project proposals for a FREE commercial photo shoot with his ENTIRE crew, start to finish! I cannot think of a better to market oneself.

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