In order to be a successful photographer one must meet a few requirements. It's not all about gear and good will. Like any creative, a photographer must have a solid personal portfolio if he wants to get noticed by the right people.
The question is , how far should you go to built this portfolio? It's a tough one for beginning photographers who are just starting to build their portfolios. Let's look at some of the big dilemmas.
Should you work for free?
Yes and no. Before giving an answer to this question, you must first ask yourself how you can benefit from a situation where you are required to work for free. In most of these cases , the client will offer you credits or rights to the images. You must therefore decide if those images will be good enough to go into your portfolio and bring you paid work later on.
Almost every photographer will work for free at some point early in his career. The idea is that you have to get something real out of it, even if it isn't money. One other thing to remember about working for free is that you shouldn't do it more than once for the same client. Otherwise it will ruin your fragile reputation, if not kill it from the beginning.
Should you work for cheap?
This is a very grey area. Some, including myself, disagree completely. Working for little money might keep you working and definitely help you build your awesome portfolio, but it will damage your reputation. Let me explain. If client A wants a shoot for 100$ and you say yes because you have to eat, you will get that money and live to shoot another day. But it will also short-circuit any attempt to ask for proper money, for the same job, from someone else. That's because word of mouth is the best form of advertising and if you do a good job you can count on getting recommendations. It's just that you'll get the same $100 instead of $500. The numbers are fictional of course and are to be adapted to each particular situation.
(Success Tip #2: Take photos of people having fun anywhere and turn them into profits!)
Should you photograph something entirely different than what you like?
Yes, especially if it's for the right money. Just don't put it in your portfolio. What you show to the world should be exactly the kind of work you want to get hired for. It should only feature the work you are best at and only the best of those images, the ones you have absolutely no doubt about.
If things don't turn out for the best in two years, should you still shoot for free?
No. If you're constantly shooting and spreading the word about your portfolio and things still aren't happening , you are doing something wrong. Shooting for free is definitely not going to solve it. Try to improve your business and negotiating skills instead, but remember to keep growing as a photographer as well.