Code Words: For free or for exposure!

Something concerning that I see comes up regularly in community groups on Facebook and Google Groups, are posts that state that photography is required for free (in the event that someone is inexperienced and willing to better themselves) or for exposure.

More often than not, the expectation is high end quality photography and posted in relation to product photography for online shops or corporate photography. Many photographers line up and post their details, jumping to the opportunity.

I find this concerning for many reasons:

  • This type of thinking tells us that even inexperienced people or rather people who are still learning shouldn’t be valued. It’s basically slave labour. Yes, I do believe that with experience comes higher value, but something should still be offered, even if it is a little bit of money.
  • It is also problematic in that the work that is expected, is not entry level, but quality work. Product photography is very difficult, and learning on one job, won’t suddenly make these photographers pro’s where you as a client has amazing photographs. Corporate photographs are also more difficult with studio lighting being one of the requirements to get the professional corporate look.
  • Many corporates and businesses now use the portfolio building concept to get out of paying for services, that would normally be paid for. Thus, corporates and businesses are taking advantage of desperate photographers or photographer who are battling to enter a specific market. These photographers often don’t know when to make the leap into paid work.

From personal experience, I’ve been burned by clients like these before. I used to take on jobs in the hope that I would gain future work from these clients – this perception of mine was framed by companies who frame their brief as “gaining exposure from our brand” or “will lead to many paid jobs.” In all these cases, the clients never returned to use me as a paid photographer. Instead, they would jump to the next photographer willing to do the job for free or “for exposure.”

And here is my personal message to you photographer, if this speaks to you:

  • Value yourself. Even if you are starting out, charge something.
  • Don’t let businesses fool you. These businesses are in most cases cheap clients who take advantage and jump from photographer to photographer.
  • These businesses make money or will use the photographs to market and gain money.
  • If these businesses are real businesses, they would be serious about paying their vendors.
  • Your work is still worth something. Your camera, gear, software, hardware, all cost you. Every time the shutter goes off the value of your camera decreases.

In the event that you would like to use a job like this to YOUR advantage, here are ways to turn these jobs into positives:

  • Sign and agreement, where you maintain the IP, and can use the images on stock sites, in order to be compensated for your costs.
  • Licensing use of photographs.
  • A payment agreement, where client pays your invoice over a period, and thus you can assist the client with their cashflow management.
  • Exposure needs to be measured and have tangible results. If client defaults on the tangible results, payment needs to be made. (How can you measure exposure: referrals are one option).

It can be empowering to stand up for yourself, whilst educating clients that free work is not tolerated. Again, it’s a form of slave labour.

And a last-minute note: one the other hand, make sure that you are an expert in execution. It is easy today, to research how to take a specific photograph in the best way possible, and then attempt at implementing that solution (YouTube is one my favourite mentors😊). Don’t go in blindly. Blow their socks off. They might think you are inexperienced, but you can show them what you are able to do. Additionally, it will help you to have a strong showcase for your portfolio, and perhaps not need another client like this.

For a video on the same topic watch:

If you need to consult with me on your photography business, contact me on I offer caching to photographers and creatives who might need a fresh perspective on business.

Contact me to book your consultation now (click here).


2 comment(s)

I agree on so many points and love your advise on what to then insist on in a contract that could provide some value to you.

I have offered substantial discounts and even free work but only for clients signing up for a paid, full 12 months retainer fee on my most comprehsive packages.

Plus I like to provide free resources through my blog to enable the clients that don’t fall in my target market with some form of assistance.

But my business is very different to yours.

We must each keep ourselves accountable for the dream we’re working towards. Then saying yes to free work starts to mean saying no to your dream. And that’s profound!

Hi Hanneke,

Thank you for your tips. I definitely agree: bonus services to paying clientele is part of a good customer experience. This has inspired me to do a video and write another blog on that type of free service offering and the benefits it could have for your business. Thank you for making me think further!

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