Yep it still happens, should you work for free ?

We all get these mails, and trust me also we get them on a very regular basis.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about…. read on.

“Dear mr Frank Doorhof,
My name is xxxxx and I’m the owner of a fashion brand, we are making outfits that are worn by several sporters in their activities of and on the track.
We have a new line coming out and we need a nice and above all capable photographer that can shoot several amateur sporters (not the pros) in their own environment spread across the country.
The images will be used for our catalogue, website, billboards and of course advertising.
The quality has to be unique and that’s why we mailed you because we think your style really fits our audience.
We will mention your name at the end of the catalogue as photographer.”

Well that sounds interesting doesn’t it ?
About a months work, creating unique light setups for the sporters, different locations spread throughout the country.
And although they are not the pros I would still love to do it, so I replied that I was interested but that I needed a bit more information about the budget they were working with and the number of shots, volume, licence years etc. so I could do the calculations according to that.

To my surprise I got the following mail back…..
“Dear Frank,
We love to have you on board.
There is no budget for the photoshoots, all our money goes into printing and advertising, so we want you to do it for the mention of your name, because we are talking about heavy use of the images this can really be a nice deal”……

Yeah ok,
Let me see, so I have to travel to let’s say 30 locations spread out over the Netherlands (and ok it’s not a big country), I have to shoot 4-5 images per sporter, so I have to deliver 150 images retouched for billboards, and I get what…… my name mentioned…. let me think about that one……

Yes this is true…
Because I don’t want to print loads of these mails I combined several mails into this one example.
If you think I’m joking, I have to say I’m not.

The same goes for models that mail our studio.
We get a lot of mails from starting models that need their portfolio build, however they all want to do a TFP shoot (Time For Print), in other words you don’t get paid but you do have to work 2 days because they often are not satisfied with 5-6 great images, no they want a CD so they can choose and you have to retouch what they want….. hummmmm good deal ? didn’t think so 😀

Yes there is a budget…..
Often we also get mails from companies that do have a budget, but also there it’s not always what we want.
“Dear Frank,
Thank you for your reply.
We would like to have 28 dresses shot for our new catalogue, they have to be worn by 4 models.
Locations have to vary between 50% studio, 25% street or outside city and 25% nature/beach etc.
Looking forward to your reply”

Ok now these are the interesting assignments, because with this kind of work you can really create something and because we can supply the models ourselves I also can work with the people I like to work with, so I decided to make an offer they could not resist.
In our quotation I used a very extensive matter of explaining all the costs, like the sample you see here :

Shooting time : 5 days xxxxxxx
Models : xxxxxxx
MUA : xxxxxxx
Assistants : xxxxxxx
Retouching : xxxxxxx
DAM : xxxxxxx
Licence fee : xxxxxxx
Small extras : xxxxxxx

We also added some extra materials and other costs of course but as you see we decided to make a very clear quote.
The reason for this is simple.
There are a lot of photographers out there that just quote one price, for the customer this can seem high, by using a method in which you show the client how the total amount is being build up it can help you get the assignment much easier. In this case however it was not of any use….. Within 2 days I got a nice reply.

“Dear Frank,
Thanks for your quote, however this is a lot of money.
We also asked another photographer and he is willing to do the whole project for € 500.00 if we can get somewhere in that region we can without a doubt talk because we really prefer your work.”

I don’t think I have to say that for € 500.00 (and yes you really read this correctly fivehunderd euros) there is no chance in a lifetime I’m doing a weeks work with renting locations, hiring an assistant and doing the licence etc. etc…….

It’s a snakepit
I do consider myself extremely lucky with the assignments I get and the work I do.
I mainly focus on the workshops and seminars and the assignments I do take on are the ones that are great for my own portfolio or the ones that do pay you the amount you deserve, and of course I often take on jobs that don’t pay the money it should but you sometimes should, some assignments can give you a great exposure or give you the option to work with a great team, talented people or unique characters. And yes sometimes you will break even or even loose money on a job, welcome to the snakepit called running a photography business. It’s been so for many years.
I once read an interview from a famous photographer (sorry forgot his name) in which he stated that all his work for Vogue cost him that much money he had to work for a while to earn that back, but he could simply not pass that by and would do it anytime even it meant working for free or giving away money. And I have to say I 100% agree with him/her.

So what to do and what not.
It’s of course ridiculous to shoot a wedding for € 250.00, an advertising campaign for an unknown brand for free etc.
However you REALLY have to realize that sometimes you HAVE to work for free or throw money at it to get further.
I’ve had my images published in almost every photography magazine in the world for over 6 months in a page wide spread for a big brand and they money I got from that was….. well let’s say we did not loose money on it. However it did bring me further in my career (a lot further).
I’ve also done work that paid very little and didn’t pay back anything, waste of time, waste of energy.

You NEVER know in advance.
So the moral of this story is double.

1. The photography business is being destroyed by GWCs (Guys with cameras) that work for free.
And the troubling part is that they do deliver nice work most of the time 😀

2. Make sure you choose wisely.
Don’t never work for free, but choose your assignments.

Also remember that when you are working for free all the time people are not willing to pay top dollar the next time.
So that’s why I call this the snakepit.
This is an open blog post…. meaning it’s not done yet……
Share your experiences and build the post from here on and I will participate and answer any questions.