Unpaid Shoots: When to do them and how to handle them / by Alice Zilberberg

The thing about unpaid shoots

As photographers, we will all at some point get asked to do a photo-shoot for free. The Internet is filled with advice on how you should never do this. Every situation is unique. There are no rules on when to say yes.  At the end of the day, it’s up to you to decide what works for you. When getting presented with an opportunity to do a photo-shoot for free, use the following to aid your decision.

Should I do pro-bono work?

Ask yourself

To assess whether an opportunity is for you, start with asking yourself these questions: Is this opportunity worth my time? How likely is it that I’m going to benefit and get back something from this? How likely am I to cover my costs? Will I get new clients and profit in the long run? Do I know other people in your network who have done similar things? 

Trade pro-bono work for something of value

 When you agree to take on a pro-bono photo-shoot, it’s important to know that you’re getting enough value out of it.

One thing to consider is doing an unpaid gig for your portfolio. If you like the project that is proposed and feel excited about shooting it, consider taking it on for the benefit of the images. This way you can turn it into potential work in the future when potential clients see the images in your portfolio.

If it’s a well-known person or organization like a charity, it may also be good to do the shoot for the purpose of adding the client to your client list. It may also be appropriate to communicate to the potential client how much you would typically charge for a project like this. This way if there’s a budget in the future, they know what to expect and they will value the gift they are getting.

Another thing you can do is trade services. If you have a friend who works in graphic design that needs photography services, maybe you can trade for a logo for your business or a new website.

An additional way to generate value is to ask for referrals and recommendations. In exchange for the favor, your potential client can refers you to 3 people and or write a nice recommendation you can include on your website or Linkedin profile.

Another scenario to consider is working with a person who has a lot of social media followers, which could generate promotion for you when the images from the shoot get posted.

Make sure you’re happy to do it

There are many kinds of benefits you can generate from free work. In any case, whether it cost you your time, or your soul, make sure that when you're saying yes to something that you really want to do it! Make sure you’re excited and are looking forward to it. That it's a "hell yes!" for you and not an "okay...sure". If you don't really feel like doing that photo-shoot with the weird old guy who messaged you on craigslist, or shooting your friends band, or for that client that told you that shooting their product will be "good for your portfolio" when you know it’s not, then don't.

Treat unpaid shoot like paid shoots

All of the above is completely useless without this point.  In order to get the benefits from the unpaid shoot, you must do just as good of a job as you would on a paid gig. Consider that your potential client or referral will assume that however you handle the shoot is exactly how you would a paid one. If it’s a potential client, your future gig depends on this.  If you do a poor job because you just don’t care, it will show. Maintain professionalism on this shoot. Smile, don’t rush to finish and do the best job you can.