This is How to Respond When People Ask You to Work for Free


Among photographers, the idea of working for “exposure” (i.e.. for free) is a hot button topic. It seems that every other week there's an example of somebody being asked to shoot for free for some multi-million dollar company or other. Take heart though, as it seems this is not just a problem we in the photography industry deal with.

This fantastic two and a half minute video from ad agency, Zulu Alpha Kilo has been getting a lot of attention recently. In it, an actor asks several professionals (not actors) to work “on spec” which is the ad industry's equivalent of working for free.

The reactions are hilarious and something that many photographers will appreciate.

This is an important issue for all creatives, so take a moment to go and check out No Spec – the site set up by the ad agency to educate people on the intricacies of the “work for free” problems in the creative industry. Well worth a read.

Via Adweek and Petapixel.

About Author

Rob is the founder of Light Stalking. His love for photography started as a child with a Kodak Instamatic and pushed him into building this fantastic place all these years later, and you can get to know him better here.
Rob's Gear
Camera: Nikon D810
Lenses: Nikkor 14-24 f/2.8, Nikkor 50mm f/1.8

I would LOVE to see the reactions after these people have been told its an act. I’ll bet some of them have asked a photographer/graphic artist/etc to to work for free or for ‘credit’ before. Maybe it would open their eyes.

Dear God I love this video. I’d love to keep it to show potential clients how stupid they look asking us to do our job for free.

Can I just save target as? And own the rights exclusively? (Yes, before people get their panties all twisted, that was sarcasm.)

The big difference compared to the other professions being that digital has meant that millions of people can buy a “camera that takes nice pictures” and take pictures “good enough” for people who want them for free. This results in more people expecting a little for free from those who generally charge a lot for their services.
Videos like this have no effect on the changes that are happening in the digital age besides getting some attention by pandering to the professionals who get a sense of justification out of their indignation – but not much else. Responding to requests in the ways suggested by this video will close many doors for professionals in exchange for feeling a sense of justice for being rude. Changes are happening, we can’t all earn a living doing something we enjoy, the real survivors will be those who adapt to changes and are polite with potential customers.

What you say is true. However, as a professional photographer who pre-dates the digital era, I opened my studio in 1984. I can tell you that these expectations lived in those years as well. It wasn’t as bad- but it was still there. Your fee really depended on your reputation and your ability to say no to a low paying assignment. A client then, and now, can always find someone who will do it for less. And there in lies the true problem. Producing photography is a very esoteric business. Most of the assignment work back then, (I don’t even know how it works now), was boring, mundane, stuff (at least in my market). For example, shooting engine parts all day, for a week, for a catalog. My mantra back then was, “I do 80% of this work, so that I get an opportunity to do the other creative 20%. My point? The digital era killed that 80% market. Clients just don’t need to pay for that anymore. The 20% probably still happens to some degree. But let’s say in the old days, the client needed shots in Singapore. They would likely hire a photographer they knew and trusted and send them over there. Now- they can most likely find the images online, or pay tiny fees at a microstock outfit, or easily find a photographer based in Singapore that will charge little or nothing because they need money. The real root of the problem- and this goes way back- is that photographers (themselves) don’t truly believe what they do has enough value- to charge what they would need to charge- to achieve the similar financial success of other professionals in different industries.

I just like taking pictures. People ask me to take photos for them, they always offer to pay me or ask how much I will charge. I usually say “Don’t worry about it.” and they usually pay me for my time anyway in some way or another, whether it’s cash, a gift certificate to someplace they know I like, and sometimes they just return the good deed and help me change a tire or move a refrigerator up a couple flights of stairs. I get “professionals” wanting to paid, but I’m tired of the attitude that anyone working for free is somehow destroying the industry. I mean, sometimes things get ridiculous. If photography was my career and someone wanted me to shoot a wedding for free I would tell them no. If I could hook them with a free photo or two and get them to return and pay for more than why the hell not? The lights in the studio are already set up, the backdrop and props are already in place, and a couple photos are taken in a couple of minutes. Put a watermark on the samples and send them to their phones and charge for (watermark free) prints or files if they like them, if they aren’t satisfied delete the photos and never see them again. I know I’m in the minority, but sometimes people take themselves too seriously. GIVE THE MAN A SMALL SIP OF COFFEE! LET THE GUY HAVE A SMALL BITE OF A SANDWICH! Don’t, however design a house. That is something that take considerable time and expertise and years of training to do, it’s understandable to charge for things like that. Expecting someone to spend hours designing something for you isn’t really comparable to taking a quick photo for someone to go show their parents or friends. Besides that, a quick photo or two is not going to break the bank. And if it is going to break the bank, maybe your business model needs a little more work anyway.

Oh, my goodness! The lights are set up, the backdrop is set up. You have no idea how much a professional has paid with blood sweat and tears to get that studio. Not to mention the professional fees to get the training to get that perfect portrait. Yep, you can just delude yourself into thinking that anyone can get the perfect photo at just the right time and just the right light. I’m thinking that anyone can by accident get it. But the professional knows how, and can get it in the shortest time. I Jane modeled for photographers

Try being a musician… Friends invite you to dinner and then ask you to play the piano to them all…!!! It takes years and years to train and it takes hours and hours a week to keep that skill to that standard, yet you’re ‘just a musician’ and friends think that you’ll be quite happy ‘working’ for free!! Or, someone has a party and wants your band to play but they ‘don’t have much money’. Well then plug your iPod in!!

As well as being a photographer, I am also the lead singer and drummer of a band so I know this situation all too well! It takes a lot of time, effort and money to get good at what we do (equipment, lessons/courses, studio time / rehearsal time etc) – getting paid for a job is recouping what you’re spending sometimes hahaha

Made me smile. It is shocking to think that people expect creatives to work for free in certain situations. It makes me smile even more when people then try to justify that ‘campaigning about NOT being expected to work for free’ is somehow more unacceptable than ‘being asked to work for free’.

Especially hairdressers. I don’t tell people anymore, as it’s always “What would you do with my hair?” Ugh!! And family always expect you to have your scissors with you and cut their our their kids’ hair for free anytime you show up, on demand!! Or color or perms!(back in the day.) wow.

Great video. As a writer I have been asked to take on a number of spec assignments. I learned to say “NO” a long time ago. I’ve lost a number of jobs to content mills and been told I was over priced many times. No creative person should work for free.

I love the video as well as comments below. I’m payed for my pictures. I’ve worked for free too. Only difference is if an artist value himself. The time and skills and all that hard work behind. If we are in learning process then work for free brings opportunities, right? But… can a client expect that same quality from student as from master? I believe not. We set our own prices by ourselves – they pretty match our confidence. And personal work? Is it really for free? How we value the time we could spend with family, friends, doing things we love… or live? Lights and backdrops can be set if nobody will press the button 😉

Quilter are always being asked to make something for nothing. And so many say ok that it undermines the entire industry. Quilters undervalue their work, time, effort and education and don’t think that they deserve to be paid – because after all, “it’s just a little hobby”. But I deserve to be paid! The only time I give my efforts away for free is when I want to. And it’s never to anyone who asked for something for nothing.

Great video! Thank you.

I think all of us eventually get hit with this because I sure did and, being a young dope, fell for it. Another time, I took shares of the damn company which was equally empty.

“On spec” is “free.” NEVER give your work away, EVER.

It took me a to learn this lesson. You know I would never do it. I just was asked to do a job and I wasn’t really Keen to do so I asked for twice as much as I usually would. And darn if they didn’t accept it ! At least it will feel like it’s worth my time and maybe I’ll raise my other prizes too.

I get it..but what about just doing something nice for someone…even someone who has treated you like S*it. I was a not-so-welcome guest at a wedding where the photographer didn’t show up…the brides parents didn’t even have the courtesy to ask me themselves…they went through my boyfriend, their brother, ….the brides’ side were all Assholes to me…didn’t even say “thank you” ….but the groom’s mother & grandmother -who couldn’t be there because she was ill- thanked me so much the grandmother sent me a handmade crochet blanket….worth the “being the better person” value of it all.

They should have paid you at least what they were going to pay the no show photographer. Instead you were taken advantage of by ungrateful people. You still earned that blanket for stepping up in their hour of need, but you deserved to be paid as well.

A doctor and a lawyer were out playing golf one Saturday afternoon. The doctor asks the lawyer if he gets asked for free advice and if so, how does he avoid working for free? The lawyer answers that he does usually give them a little advice and then sends them an invoice the next day. It doesn’t stop them in the fist place and they rarely pay, but they never ask again.
While out to lunch on Sunday, the doctor gets asked about a friend illness. He offers a little advice and on Monday morning instructs his secretary to send out an invoice.
The next morning he’s feeling a little guilty about having invoiced his friend for a little medical advice, but feels instantly better when he opens his mail to find an invoice from the lawyer.

I was contacted by an individual who took a step further stating that they just love my photos and my blogging and wanted me to do a blog promoting their product. Free of course

As a visual artist, I used to be asked to donate a painting for a charity auction. I’d always prefer to donate money. Mr response is usually “ People have died from exposure.”

Try computers. 2 DIFFERENT men followed me into the women’s bathroom, and no, they weren’t drag. Two different men, at 2 different times. To ask their computer question. I told them to get the F#*K OUT of the woman’s bathroom, and that NO computer question was that important. The 2nd time, the 2nd guy, said he’d wait for me in the hall. I said, NO, you WON’T STALK the tech from the hall. Ladies would ask me IN THE STALL, “Are those YOUR shoes?” and literally start telling me their computer issues. Parties? Weddings? Birthdays? Street Intersections? Yep. I don’t tell ANYONE what I do now. Retired after that.

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