WANTED: Free Photos


A few weeks ago, I was perusing my Facebook newsfeed as I usually do first thing in the morning, a cup of hot coffee in one hand, a computer mouse in the other, when I happened upon a post that stopped me dead in my tracks.

“Hey, everyone! I need a photographer to take some professional photos of me. I won’t pay you, but I have connections, so I’m a good person to have in your court, if you know what I mean. I could definitely open some doors for you.” 

I read it the first time, and then rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and read it again. And then, still unable to fully comprehend the meaning, I diagrammed it, like we used to do in high school English class, and read it again.


I won’t pay you, but I have connections.

Here’s a guy who, by his own accounts, is influential enough to open doors for you, yet not willing to PAY for professional photographs. Talk about red flags. The request almost has a meet-me-on-the-casting-couch kind of feel to it. I wanted to disinfect my computer screen with Lysol after reading the status, and I expected the request to be met with responses ranging from “Is this a joke?” to people telling him where he could put those “connections.” And yet, other than a little chiding, the responses were tame. In fact, he even got a taker.

And it made me wonder what it says about the state of the photography industry today when the public is openly advertising for photographers willing to give them their images for free. What is up with that?  These requests are popping up everywhere and are as unwelcome as a pimple on prom night.

craigslistCase in point: Craigslist. We all know that Craigslist is brimming with photographers searching for models who will work for no more than a CD of images, but now we are finding individuals and couples requesting a photographer who is willing to give them free images. The circumstances vary, but it usually goes a little something like this:

“Getting married in <insert month here> and we want pictures, but we really don’t want to spend any money on them. So, we are looking for someone who will photograph our wedding basically for free and give us all the images. We have Photoshop Elements, so we can do whatever needs to be done to them afterward. We would be a great couple to practice on if you are just starting out and you could get photos for your portfolio too.”

Now, this is bad enough when one photographer willing to work for FREE responds to the advertisement, but what happens when more than one photographer responds? What then? Does the wedding couple say, “Okay, we’re having a hard time making up our mind as to which FREE photographer to go with. You each have presented some really nice portfolios and we are just torn. Is there something else you could throw in to help sweeten the deal? A free engagement session? A free album? A free couple’s massage? Something that would convince us to choose YOUR free photos? ” 

photogSounds kind of ridiculous, right? And yet, you know this happens. And it happens, because photographers say “yes” to working for free. It is like an artists’ curse, isn’t it? As photographers, we love what we do and we love sharing what we do, but, I’ve got to tell ya, when we give away our work, it cheapens it. Devalues it, even.

And they will try every which way, those individuals intent on convincing you why they should not pay:

“Oh come on, I just need a quick snapshot. It will only take five minutes and I will send a lot of business your way via referrals.” 

“We won’t pay for it, but this image is going to be seen by a lot of people. It will be great for your career.”

“You’ll get a photo credit.”

“But, but…I’m your mom!” (Totally kidding on this last one. Don’t ever charge your mom. You hand her a bill and she’ll turn around and hand you one in return for services rendered and trust me, you won’t be able to afford it.)

And it makes me wonder if this is happening in other areas of business. I recently took my car in for an oil change and a tire rotation. Really, really basic stuff. It took the mechanics maybe twenty minutes to complete those tasks. They do it all day, every day. Do you think anyone asks them if they would complete that quick service for FREE? I could insist that I would refer them to everyone I meet for the next five years and they would still hand me a bill for $49.95. And then laugh at me when I left.

Thankfully, there’s a way to prevent this from happening. Are you ready? You might want to grab a paper and pen to write this down so you don’t forget….

stopsignStop working for free.

Here, let me say it again:


And once again, just for effect:


Now, I am not talking about charitable giving or community based projects in which you are donating your time and talent toward a greater good, nor am I talking about a valued client for whom you would like to do someting special. I am talking about people who do not appreciate what you do and therefore, ask you to do it for free. Because that’s really what it boils down to, isn’t it?

Those who appreciate and respect what you do won’t ask you to do it for free. And if someone doesn’t respect and appreciate your work, why would you WANT to do it for free?

As for our friend from the beginning of the article, I don’t think he ever got those professional photographs taken. In spite of speaking with a photographer and making what appeared to be tentative plans, it never happened.  How do I know this? He took to Facebook a couple of days later to publicly reprimand the photographer for a lack of professionalism in not accommodating his request for a free session and photos.

‘Nuff said.

Image credits: A thin gauge coaster brake ball bearing retainer that failed by dno1967b, Wedding photographer by Stefan Leijon, two stop signs by shooting brooklyn

  • joanne martin

    If he is got connections how come he has to advertise for a photographer? People normally get what they pay for.

  • Sarah BK

    I’m glad I decided to scroll through the comments to find this one. That’s it indeed :) I’m glad you feel exactly how I feel!

    That last paragraph really hit the nail on the head though. It’s something I look forward to to relax after hours of studying and lectures. It’s something I can wander about when I’m on the bus home. Something to look forward to – my me-time. That would all disappear if I ever was payed for what I do… as it becomes my job (albeit part time but still…).

  • Sarah BK

    That’s it! Honestly it irritates me so much that I cannot be allowed to enjoy photography as a hobby, since what I occasionally do can potentially be a job for a professional seeking money and customer satisfaction more than personal creativity and relaxation.

    However yes, that’s true and sad. Some of the suggestions are quite funny, aren’t they!

  • Vero

    There are models who work just to get images, and models who expect to get paid AND receive the images. I *never* give images to paid models, and I avoid models who don’t want to get paid. I also expect the model to pay me when I give them images.

  • Thenia

    You should always charge money even if you take pics with your mobile phone. Free is not how the free market works. If they want the pictures, they’re useful to them, so they should pay you, even if the price is just $5.

  • Sarah BK

    If you attempted to read the rest of my comments, I’m not after any market what so ever. Photography is my hobby, and so happens people occasionally can be my subjects.

    For me, it’d be like you charging your friends for having gone out with them one time.

  • lola

    Sarah You are not Photographer you are just playing around, go and play and I’m sure that your hubby can pay all your bills. You just don’t care. you don’t respect the profession that’s it, you are just a cute lady playing with a camera probably saying you are a pro. how sad :(

  • nikonian

    My best clients are the said connected ones and If I offer to discount them for being good customers they think I am crazy.

  • Bethan Davies

    I actually did a new year special, a free shoot for the first newborn of the year. I had technical difficulties and contacted her immediately but she contacted TRADING STANDARDS!!! Unbeleivable!! I will never work for free again!

  • Casey Crane

    Please read again. I didn’t tell her not to do that I was simply asking the questions that I myself had to face as I developed as a photographer and artist. And I’m not against giving work away as gifts but I also believe that you should have some idea of the value of the work you make, at the very least in a time/material cost since. Assigning a monetary value to work simply good a practice to maintain (what if someone you weren’t inclined to give a gift to wanted some of your work).

  • Casey Crane

    I don’t know why you’re painting this issue as black and white. Have you ever heard of a straw man argument; feeding words into peoples mouths, reading too much into their words and then attacking their “position” as you have portrayed it. I make my living as a photographer because I’ve had 60 hour a week jobs that never left me time or energy to pursue what I love (and I do love it). And the simple fact remains that being able to support yourself with your passion does directly increase a person’s since of self-worth. And having a pragmatic, business oriented mindset doesn’t make you any less of an artist, think of Andy Warhol.

  • Sugando Pulando

    I guess they just want to piss in everyone’s cereal.

  • dave W

    I’ll photograph any wedding for free, I just need to have complete license to do as I please…I’ll shoot it with a pinhole lens using a camera I made from an oatmeal box.

  • Praverb

    So the real question is this. Should beginning photographers use family members to build their portfolio or should they continue working for free?

  • Dan Ogden

    I think a couple of enterprising photographers should create written agreements to shoot the wedding for free, *in exchange* for guaranteed referrals.

    Then take pictures of empty chairs, table arrangements, food – but good, professional quality ones.

    Finally, present the pictures via FTP, asking for the referrals because your part of the bargain has been kept.