The Inspirations: Do Not Work for Free…

By Ben Crick

Personally, and particularly in the wedding industry, I think there are times when ‘working for free’ is worthwhile. Mainly when it comes to collaborations with other suppliers for mutual gain or publicity (styled shoots etc), when it comes to building your portfolio (everyone has to start from somewhere) or when it comes to networking and building industry connections and allies. However I don’t believe in discounting for customers or clients who just want to try their luck. I am a strong believer in thinking “what’s in this for me?” if there is no money exchanging hands. That may make me sound hard-nosed and selfish but if I said yes to every project I’d have no money to eat (and erm… shop!) and no time for any paid work.

What are your thoughts? To you, when is working for free OK and when is it not? Have you ever had a client ask for a discount or a freebie because it would be ‘good publicity’ for you? How did it work out?


  1. Jonny Draper

    Short and to the point there Kat – and not much to argue with! Agreed – collaborations, shoots, etc. are great. Discounts or freebies for clients – not so much!


  2. Oh my, I have written a huge blog post about photoshoots and the like about this subject, I think I will have to post it in order to make my point, but I totally agree. It’s bad for industry and your business, obviously we have contributed to many shoots, too many in fact, but we have gained a lot from them too, the key is to choose the right ones to be involved with but also other suppliers need to understand if they are going to ask you to work for free you must keep to your side of the ‘deal’ and promote, heavily. Really, I have so much to say on the subject, I will have to post my own blog! But in the design industry it’s been a taboo thing to do for years and I’ve often thought the wedding industry needs to adopt a new way of thinking since all of the shoots that are being done for ‘free’ are increasingly popular, not to mention items for press, back in the day press paid for samples….I’ll be quiet and let you know when I post my response!

  3. With regards to clients asking for things for free, we’ve majorly firmed up on our pricing, it is what it is, if you can’t afford it, you can’t have it. But that said we do our best to adopt a solution to work to a clients budget. Failing that we invite them in to observe what we do for a week, then they might understand where the money goes 😉 ! x

  4. What happens if you are just starting out though with low readership, your bargaining power is limited. You may need to enter into such things in order to get some exposure.

  5. I’d add charity work into the mix. Recently shot an event which raised money for a very good cause whilst paying tribute to a really nice guy who recently lost his life. Huge amount of time and effort but completely worth it.

    As for discounts, no or very rarely. I’ve recently upset some friends who were expecting “mates rates” from me but hey, maybe they weren’t the friends I though they were.

  6. Never sure why Mates Rates means that everyone else buys them a wedding gift for £50 and they expect me to give them a gift of photography worth £2000

    I will give them a discount, but I’m either working or I’m a guest, there’s no in-between.

    Starting out… there’s always room for ‘free’ or ‘discounted’, but then quickly you have to move out of these scenarios as if you are there too long, people will always take advantage – because you let them.

    Styled Shoots ….. CAN be good with the right mix of people and EVERYONE pulling together on the publicity front, but too many times I have heard and seen the photographer pull their puddings out, everyone else receiving ‘G A W J U S’ photos, and the photographer being seen as an easy way to get lots of good quality photographs for lots of wedding vendors without paying a commerical rate

    Discounts for clients .. rarely, but sometimes if I get a good feel for a wedding or a couple and I’m out of their price range, I will do a deal, the karma is good for my own soul

  7. Post author

    In that case claire. in that case you have to decide for yourself of you think the effort you’ll put in will be worthwhile for the gain. In your situation probably.

  8. Post author

    I’d love to read that Helen. K do think we are beating saturation point with styled shoots. everyone’s doing them ‘just because’ and so many of them end up being lack luster or just for the sake of it. No one gains anything doing that. the blogs & mags aren’t interested in boring shoots or stuff they’ve seen done over and over so apart from portfolio building what’s the point?

  9. Creating hats and headpieces for stylists’ photo shoots (magazines/print) has always been a pleasure for me. They or their respective media, must sign an agreement to be liable for full retail value of millinery “loaned” until returned in same as loaned condition. If I do not know the stylist/media venue, I require a “HOLD” on credit card for full retail value until pieces are returned. I love the challenge and inspiration that these collaborations bring… and I’ve always pleased with the results.
    Pieces created specifically for the shoot, have always sold subsequently, in our Salon.

    Often asked to give a discount or simply GIVE a hat or headpiece for the “good publicity” it will bring me… SURE. I fell prey a couple of times in the early days… but no longer. I especially love the COLD CALL fill-in-the-blank letter or email gift requests complete with with donation form! What? Some organizations I have never heard of … THEY have absolutely nothing to lose by asking (except postage).

    I may propose a celebrity/stylist/writer, etc., wear something created by me (as a “win-win” for both parties) weighing the work/publicity values.

    I am often asked to donate a hat/headpiece, display and or give a “little talk” about my hats. Sure: I lecture. There is a fee.
    How about bringing a few models to our tea, meeting, social event??? Sure. Love to. That is a “SHOW” and there is a fee for that 🙂

    Remember, it is their job to “ask” and “get”… It is our job to protect and promote our businesses. Fortunately, the English language provides us with the word “no.” (said most graciously, of course….. ie: “Oh… I’m terribly sorry, but I simply cannot give to all groups, organizations, that request… We have had to limit our donations annually.” OR “I love you more than my vintage Parisian, silk veiling….. But….”

    A friend once gave me a couple of fabulous “mantras:”
    (1) This is how I feed MY family
    (2) I am not a bank
    Repeat them when you feel shaky.

    Work on…….. Enjoy!

  10. I’ve learned the hard way not to give big discounts to people, even family. If they don’t appreciate your gift, then you feel extra bad about the lack of money and it sucks all around. I give very small discounts to family now and the only people who get freebies get them for charity (ie: I do free shoots for the Helping Hearts Charity for sick children and I donate a session to our local grad auction). I figure when you’ve already got a pretty good portfolio, why just hand out freebies? You need to eat too!

  11. Working for free – hmm, I’ve done a few, nearly ALWAYS for charity (it’s my way of building up my karma brownie points). Most of these instances have definitely lead to good, positive, strong PR for me; but there again, I’ve chosen wisely on which projects to work on, and I used to work in PR, so that gives me a head start on seeing what will be PR-worthy and what won’t.

    For clients, it’s simple – there’s a price list and that’s what it’s worth. If people can’t afford the price tag, then I’m helpful in suggesting ways that we can reduce the price, but that inevitably (and correctly) means a reduction in what you get, so my margin isn’t affected.

    Wedding photography is a nightmare when it comes to friends and family expecting you to do the job for mate’s rates or nothing, as ‘you’ll be there anyway’. I totally agree with the poster above, either you’re working or you’re not. You can’t do both and do a good job. I’d rather not do the job for friends and family, no matter if they’re paying full price or not, as it can be a minefield.

  12. Interesting. I’m doing reduced rates at the moment to help me build my portfolio, but I fully intend to stop that in the near future and to start charging industry standard rates. On the other hand, my paid employment is doing web design for local charities and we do that on a not-for-profit basis, charging only for our time. I don’t think it’s black and white – there are always going to be exceptions to the standard practise.

  13. I came across this quote on Pinterest recently and promptly pinned it to my “Quotes” board!! Fortunately as an Invitation Designer I have never done any jobs for free in order to build my portfolio or gain exposure as I can create single Invitations {unless running a competition counts} but I have found with my previous business as an Event Designer that offering {a very limited amount} of jobs for free is a quick way to build a portfolio however, a few rules apply!

    1. I found that you really need to choose those jobs wisely in order to ensure that the jobs in the pro bono portfolio you are buidling is reflective of the kind of clients you want to attract for your business.

    2. The pro bono client fully understands the value of the product/service they are receiving for free so that when they tell their friends they mention the price.

    3. The pro bono client should have a network of friends/contacts that can afford your product/service so that referrals for paid work can come through in the future.

    4. Always get good images or testimonials otherwise it may be a complete waste of time – unless you just want the experience – which can also be valuable as things are always very different from what we think them to be than to reality!


  14. Everyone here makes good points. I particularly liked Leonie’s post which hammers home the importance of making sure the value of what you’re offering is clear througout the entire process.

    Whenever I think of this issue, I’m always reminded of the video clip that’s on YouTube – Harlan Ellison – Pay The Writer. ->

    I think as fledgeling creatives it’s natural to seek approval from our peers and those who fit the model of our future clients and it’s also natural for us to assume that a gift of work or product is likely to offer us a fast-track to a large volume of approval.

    However, at some point, you must switch over to running under you own power in order to properly acheive your ultimate goals. Sure, once you’re established, known and highly regarded as a professional, you can start to offer pro-bono services – the perceived value of which will be so much more than if you’re to offer them from the standpoint of a nobody. Heck, if you’re well known enough, your charity may even benefit from the exposure of having YOU being involved.

    I do believe that the hardest person to convince as to the value of our own work is ourselves. Once’s we’ve managed to crack that particular nut, convincing everyone else is plain sailing because with that knowlege, we will carry a self-confidence and a genuine enthusiasm that is infectious.

    Cost is only an issue in the absence of value of course and a lot of what constitutes good value is ‘perceived’ and a lot of that perception will come from the way you feel about your product or service and how you communicate that to them.

  15. this is something that’s always been very important to me. I remember in The Dark Knight, The Joker said “If you’re good at something, never do it for free”. SO SO True! Some people may say it’s greedy but it’s not. It’s putting your talents, services, and hobbies to a functional use.

    XO Sahra

  16. “It’ll look great in your portfolio!”. Oh, how I wince at that line.
    Ultimately, the “value” has to be there somewhere, whether it’s financial or otherwise, that’s the real key thing. Accepting “it’ll look great in your portfolio!” as a line when you know it won’t, is a bit like saying you’ll take monopoly money instead of real cash!

  17. I just finished a 4 month ‘working holiday’ – all flight & accommodation paid by clients. I am a wedding photographer from South Africa and being winter and all back home, I decided to shoot for free but travel with no cost and got to see India, Australia, Bali, Seychelles and Ireland all for weddings …… instead of paying for advertising I used the money to ‘pay’ my way around the globe for 4 months 😉 was worth every bit of ‘free’ shooting!!!!


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