Stop asking photographers to "donate" their time, aka "to work for free".
Why it's extremely offensive to ask photographers and other creatives to volunteer. donate, give back, etc . . .
Let me start by saying we as photographers and others in the wedding industry do love and support local charities. We do care about our communities and want to see them grow in a postive direction. I realize that this blog post might ruffle some feathers so to speak but here is why I feel like it's important to address the issue head on. Have you if you’ve ever gone to a place of business or service and asked them to do their job for free? Have you ever asked your dentist, hair stylist, car mechanic, or coffee shop to give you their services for free? I highly doubt it! You know the response you would get . . . laughter and then promptly asking you to leave. Or would you ever be okay with your employer not paying you for work you’ve done? Heck no, you would quit and then possibly pursue legal action. “Donating” aka “working for free” isn’t expected or demanded outside of those in a creative field. Why? Because it’s absurd to expect someone to work for free. Here’s the thing, I have been asked over the years to volunteer my time by photographing an event for free. I understand that charities are non profit so their budget is very tight and genuinely do not have the money to pay for a photographer. However, there is a budget for those that work for the charity and their employees get paid. But somehow we as photographers or anyone here in Tampa that owns a service based company are asked to do our jobs for free and asked for unrealistic demands on top of it. Here is the issue with asking a St. Petersburg, FL headshot photographer to work for free and why this is so offensive.
1: WE HAVE BILLS TO PAY.
Running a legit business takes money, a lot of it. Some of our monthly expenses are gallery sites, editing software, insurance, camera gear, memory cards, wifi, gas, and the list goes on. Asking us to do our job for fee implies we aren't good enough or worth it to be paid and that we somehow magically get our expenses paid. I am sure we would all love for that to be a reality.
2:”EXPOSER” DOESN’T PAY OFF!
When you ask us to work for free it often sounds like you’re doing us some huge favor. But being 100% honest, the “exposer” we get from volunteering doesn’t help grow our businesses. When those that have attended your event or viewing product photos from it they are looking at the products and aren’t thinking about who took the photos. Photographers very rarely benefit in getting paying clients from working for free. Quite the opposite happens, we get the reputation that we will work for free and don’t value ourselves enough to know our worth. We often leave the event feeling. used, undervalued, and taken advantage of.
3: WE DON'T CARE HOW MANY FOLLOWERS YOU HAVE.
I get it, a large audience or lots of followers sounds impressive but we live in a digital world where people from around the world can follow you or “support” you from 1000’s of miles away. So unless all your followers are local or will travel to me for a paying photo session it does me no good if you’re local to Tampa but the majority of your followers do not live in St. Pete, Sarasota, Lakeland, or Plant City. Quite honestly when someone brags about how many followers they have I don’t even pay attention to it. Because you can purchase followers so it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are genuinely and real followers or even engaged. I have found that smaller audiences have a better effect because they are more invested and more likely to pay attention.
4: YOU ARE DE-VALUING US
Plain and simple my services are valuable, my photography is valuable, my experience, expertise and time are valuable. When you are asking me to work for free you are in essence saying I’m not valuable and don’t deserve to be paid and that is offensive and rude.
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD
So let’s say you work for a non profit or a startup company and really need professional photos but genuinely can’t pay much. Notice I said “can’t pay much”. We understand that you have a budget to stick to and we respect that. So here are a couple suggestions.
1: BE TRANSPARENT
Be honest and let them know upfront how much you can afford to pay them. It might be less than what they normally charge but offering something is better than asking them to work for free. It’s possible they can offer a mini session or refer you to someone that is within your budget.
2: MAKE IT WORTH IT TO THEM
If you can’t pay them then give them something in return that makes it worth them to volunteer their time and talent. That could be in the from of traded services, you could pay for a Google Ad or printed ad for their them, store credit at your place of business or their favorite restaurant, or cover gas costs just to name a few ideas.
I’m not saying that we don’t give back to our communities or volunteer but we generally choose charities that hold special meaning to us or have a personal connection too. So if a photographer turns down an opportunity to work with a charity or donate a session the reason might be that it doesn't feel like it is coming from a good and genuine place.
Hopefully you have found this blog post to be helpful. In the end just don’t be rude and expect / demand hard working creatives to give you top quality work for free. Be respectful to them and understand that they have to pay bills, keep their lights on, and put food on the table.
I am a fine art luxury photographer and based out of Tampa, Florida. I specialize in elopements, destination weddings, senior portraits, and lifestyle headshots. If you're interested in my availably feel free to fill out my contact form. I would be thrilled to be your photographer!