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Working for free might seem like the right thing to do when you are just starting a photography business. It seems like a great opportunity to get your foot in the door and attract potential clients. However, most businesses who adopt this model fail within the first year. There are exceptions, but they are becoming fewer and fewer. Here are some of the most popular reasons why beginning photographers work for free and why they are wrong to do so.
1. If I take free photos of my friends and neighbors families, it will be a good way to spread the word about my business.
Not really. You will definitely be a good friend and neighbor and you’ll almost certainly land wedding and baptism invitations. The only problem is they’ll probably sound something like: “We’d love for you to join us at our family’s event. You could bring your camera and get some great photos, and you’ll also be saving us an expense.” If you say yes, you’ll come off as the best neighbor to have and a very good friend and you’ll also be stealing the bread from a pro photographer who could have gotten the gig if it hadn’t been for you.
2. I’ve heard word of mouth is the best form of advertising. If I do a few free gigs, people will spread the word.
They sure will! Probably in the lines of: “there’s this really nice photographer who shoots for free”. It is the quickest way of becoming known for working for free, so I would give it a second thought.
3. It’s harder to charge now than it was in the old days, when there were expenses like film, paper and solution. Digital is free and it’s hard to charge money for it.
That means the entire transition from analog to digital should have very well buried professional photography. No, you don’t have the cost of film anymore, but guess what? The cameras don’t last as long either. Gear is expensive as I’m sure you well know, and it should be monetized one way or another. Furthermore, it isn’t the only reason you’re charging. Your experience should make the most of the cost.
4. I’m not going to charge this model because it will be great for my lighting practice.
Here is what’s wrong with TF work. While it might help you improve some technical abilities, it will damage the one thing that is crucial to making a living as a photographer: your confidence to ask money for your work.
5. I’m still a student and I haven’t got a solid portfolio yet. Once I have that, I’ll start asking for money.
Being a student is a great time to build your portfolio, so don’t use that as an excuse. You should have a decent body of work to show once you’ve completed your studies. Furthermore, you probably have student loans and once you come face to face with real life (read rent, food and clothes) you might not like to wait very much before you start earning some cash.
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