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.
Case 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? ”
Sounds 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….
Stop working for free.
Here, let me say it again:
STOP WORKING FOR FREE.
And once again, just for effect:
STOP WORKING FOR FREE!
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.