What To Do With Clients That Want Your Photography For Free

Right now, we seem to be in the middle of one of the biggest “opportunity” times we’ve ever faced as business owners. I’m willing to bet in the past month you’ve heard:

“We can’t pay you anything, but you would have the opportunity to present yourself to all of our members.”


“I know a lot of people, and will be willing to show your photography off and send you a lot of business.”

If I had a dime for every time I heard that…

The problem is these statements are easy to fall for. After all, you probably have time to spare, and are looking for opportunities to bring in new clients. When someone gives you an opportunity that seems great – they have 500 members, so it really does seem like a lot of opportunity – it’s easy to want to say yes. You may even have a vested interest in the outcome: you know someone on the board and support the charity, of course you would want to give something for free to help out.

The problem comes when you schedule your time for a free gig, you have to turn away paying gigs. And if you have no guarantees going in – just the hint of opportunity – you are taking away the real opportunity of finding someone who values what you do and is willing to pay for it.

What To Do With Clients That Want Your Photography For Free

By giving away your time for free, you are stating that your photography has little to no value. And if you don’t value it, why would they? Let me give you an example.

We once volunteered to photograph the teachers and administration of a local, private school for a new website. We scheduled a time – four hours one morning – to take the photographs. Only half of the teachers and staff showed up; the rest were “too busy” that morning. So we scheduled a second morning to finish the remaining members. Likewise, not everyone showed up at their scheduled time because they just didn’t have the time. We went back a third morning to photograph the remaining team members, and in some cases had to walk into the class to request five minutes of time from the teacher, with one proceeding to yell and scream at us so loudly and obnoxiously, we finally left without ever getting her photograph.

The solution is charging a fee. It doesn’t have to be your normal fee if you are working with a charity or another pet project of yours. It doesn’t even have to be in the form of money – how about bartering for things the company offers?

Even with a small payment, whether it be actual money exchanging hands, or in the form of a barter agreement, everyone would have more interest in accomplishing the photographs in a timely manner. Because the leader or top administration will be concerned about the “price”, she will have more value in the outcome. And she will quickly resolve any conflict that goes on between the other staff members.

Remember, your time has value, whether you are volunteering or not. People value more when there is a price on it. So even if you are giving a reduced fee, or offer something for “free”, make sure they understand the value, and are paying you in some way, monetary or otherwise. There is usually little to no opportunity of picking up additional business in these situations. And if they know you gave your services for free, you’re more likely to find difficult clients in return.

1 thought on “What To Do With Clients That Want Your Photography For Free”

  1. I’ve heard those kinds of proposals many times, probably hundreds of times and my answear was always the same: “We could negotiate price and conditions, but I can’t give my work for free because I have bills to pay just as everyone”

    And every time I said those words, I received the same answer: “well, nice to meet you, but I guess other photographer would be more open-minded” Or something like this.

    I continue to say “no” and I teach my students that credits and visibility don’t pay bills and don’t buy food, if every photographer had this in mind, probably those kinds of proposals would be less frequent.

    Thanks for posting this article. Best regards,
    Armando Vernaglia Jr


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