Don’t Ask Me For Free Photos!

I recently saw a post on one of the Facebook photography forums I belong to that said, “Is there any photographers around … that could possibly help me build a portfolio?” This person went on to say that they will “return the favor”. Trying to keep my mind out of the gutter, I did something I wouldn’t normally do and asked what she meant by “returning the favor.” I received the response I expected, “I will show everyone your photos and bring you more business”. I, as tactfully as possible, explained to this girl that her good intentions were worthless and wouldn’t pay my bills.


While the emphasis here is on the “Fauxtographer”, I have to consider the other monster that this market has created, the misinformed consumer. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve had tell me that they would be happy to model for me if I need any portfolio work. The mentality is that a photographer’s time is worth less than their time as a model, they’re doing ME a favor. I should be grateful that they gave me their time and I should reward them by giving them my work for free, to include the RAW images (because they’re good with Picasa and can edit the images themselves).


I also have potential customers (that’s the nicest thing I can call them) that want to “negotiate” a better price. I told one person my price for senior photos, her response was “can I get a better price”. Quick, someone hire her for the hostage negotiation squad! That’s like going to your favorite restaurant and asking to pay a lower price for your meal. These people expect an all day shoot, a DVD with all the edited images, plus they sneak a friend or two in there who expects to just jump in on the package; and they want it all for $100 or less. If you expect to make the money up on prints, forget it, they never get any.


These are the people that have made me a better businessperson. They are the reason I have done a serious breakdown of costs, made contracts, model releases and jacked my prices up to where I can weed these people out. They are the reason the market feels like a bunch of dogs fighting over a dry bone. They have, quite literally stripped away the meat of the market.


So is this the future we have to look forward to? Is this what we can expect if we decide to brave the world of paid photography? I say no. There are plenty of good photographers out there making top dollar for their work. They successfully weed out the “expect everything for nothing” clients. How do they do it? Easy, they don’t do anything for free. They give away nothing. Everything they do has one purpose, make money! If more photographers used their business brain instead of feeling bad about making someone pay them what they are worth, the market might start to re-educate itself.


While it’s a hoot to make fun of all the horrible photography out there, I have never discouraged anyone from learning photography. If you feel it’s your (and I’m going to puke a bit when I say it) “passion”, then by all means, join the masses. But do it the right way! Learn how your equipment works; learn about light, composition, color, etc… Have your work critiqued by people you admire as photographers. If you want to just do it as a hobby then do that. If someone wants you to shoot their wedding, baby, senior photos, etc… then charge them accordingly. Don’t know what to charge? Do some research; find a pro that might, might give you their time (they are out there). If you think you have what it takes to make a living at it, then REALLY do some research. Find out what the market looks like in your area, take some business classes, network, network, network, continue to have your work critiqued,  get legal and by all means, charge what you’re worth. Never feel sorry for asking to be compensated for what you do. Like the Joker said, “if you’re good at something, never do it for free”.


To all of those “potential” clients: Photography is a business. We have bills, pay taxes, business expenses just like any other place you might frequent. Do you walk into your hairdresser or barber and ask them to work for less than what they are asking for? Do you go to the gas station and haggle over the price? Would you go to work and expect your boss to say, “I really like the work you’re doing, but I’m not going to pay you. However, I am going to tell everyone how good a job you do”? I don’t think you would. You wouldn’t work for free, so why do you expect your photographer to. You are not doing us a favor by stealing our time and “telling your friends how good we are.” You will never bring us any business that is worth our time if we give you our time for free. If you value the work we do, there is only one way to compensate us, pay us.


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  1. Matthew Lettington

    I often have conversations with a photographer friend about clients and billing. He often regales me with stories of clients looking for free work. These individuals often give the promise of “exposure”. Together we have come up with a retort. “People die from exposure, it’s in the media all the time”

    • I always ask them if they go to local restaurants and get free food and tell them, “But I’ll give you exposure!”

      I’m sure it works!

  2. A Photographer

    When they offer to “tell their friends about your work”, what they’re REALLY saying is that if you don’t give them what they want, they WON’T tell their friends about your work if not actively encourage their friends not to hire you no matter how good of a photographer you are. There are some petty people out there.

  3. How about doing a beach wedding, getting paid, uploading some images for viewing and then the groom asks if he can get a refund because his wife doesn’t like her hair blowing in the wind? Not only that, but he also wants a refund for the wedding! When hes told NO on both items, he then asks if he can get a “mock wedding” back on the beach for free and wants me to redo the photos….for free. Champagne tastes on a beer budget. This is all too common. Some of these people want more than they paid for. Another upcoming beach wedding next month, he wants the woman who is doing their vows to set up their decorations for FREE. Then he asks me for a contract. Boy did I give him one. He thought it would protect him, when in fact, it protect Me from him. LOL On top of that, he wanted to meet me before the wedding…and the location is 30 miles from me…60 r/t. I told him I’d be happy to Skype with him. That didnt happen. Then I was doing another wedding and said he could meet me there. He didnt do that either. He was too busy. I told him he better list any special images me wants me to capture IN THE CONTRACT. I sent the contract 4 days ago. The wedding is in 12 days. He may be on the beach with no photographer. Either way, I dont care anymore at this rate.

  4. The other month I saw an ad for a photography spot with a local kids sports team. The ad mentioned that they had a sponsorship from the NFL and a large local sporting goods franchise.

    The end of the ad specified that the photographer would get exposure, but they would not get paid.

    I e-mailed them to tell them how ridiculous it was, and without knowing who I was or anything about me, they wrote back and said that “You aren’t good enough to shoot for us anyway.” That is what people believe sometimes… It’s crazy… They think it’s acceptable to offer people no money at all and then insult them for bringing up valid points like, “Your team is sponsored by the NFL and you can’t afford to pay a professional photographer anything at all?”

    They also told me, “Why can’t you just do it for the love of photography and not pay?”, to which I wrote back, “Why can’t NFL players just play for the love of the game instead of for money?”

    I’m still waiting for a reply to that one…

  5. Ugh, I got contacted by an “artist” via FB who wanted to paint some of my photos. So I said, well, check out my portfolio, and if you see anything you like, contact me and we can come to an arrangement. I never heard from them again, and afaik, they haven’t used any of my photographs. But, then a few weeks later she posts a general status update, complaining that noone will let her use their stuff for free, and asked why one earth organisations wouldn’t want their images painted… I almost sprayed coffee all over my keyboard when reading this. They are an artist, and makes money from her paintings, but has an issue when others don’t want to give their stuff away for free….

    Funnily enough, was contacted by another artist who wanted to paint my images as well (a family member), so I told her fine, and we came to an arrangement agreeable to all concerned… why can’t this other artist do the same?

    • I had a friend approach me about painting one of my photographs. Since no one had ever asked me that before I said yes – knowing she would be entering the painting in a local fair competition. She won 1st prize with it and then gave me the painting. It worked out well for me but I don’t think I would have done that for a stranger.

  6. I could be wrong, but I read the first proposal of free photos as to help THEM build a portfolio? I took that as some sort of modeling portfolio. I could see in that case, figuring out a way to do it for free, but I guess I could be the minority. Aren’t there websites set up for that specific thing? Photographers pay for models, models pay for photographers, just help each other out kind of thing? If this was a budding model looking for a photographer to help HER build her portfolio, and now just a random person looking for portraits that will totally help you build yours, then I think the response was a bit harsh. OTHERWISE, I completely agree with this whole thing! I have too many friends that just expect me to do portraits of them for free, and when referring me to their friends will rave about how I will do it for super cheap. Uh…. thanks guys…

    • Rachel, are you saying that just because someone thinks they want to be a model, that photographers should give them free photos to help them build their portfolio?

      • time for trades between photographers and models is quite common, but it usually involves photographers who do something a little different from weddings and senior portraits.

      • ya, I’m thinking more of photographers wanting to get into the fashion / commercial game, more so than family portraits.

      • I don’t mind TFP up to a point. Right now, for example, I have no fashion pics in my portfolio. If a friend asked me to shoot some of their designs for free, I’d do it for the experience because it would be my first time, even though if she asked me for a headshot, I’d totally charge.

        However, I totally agree that once you work for free, NONE of the people that person refers will EVER pay you.

      • Rachel, my take on this is if I, the photographer, offer to do photos for someone because I want to build my portfolio, then there is probably an unspoken agreement that I’m not charging to do them. What I object to is models, or “wanna be models” believing that their time is more valuable than a photographer. I know there’s always going to be a large pool of photographers who will shoot for free, that’s a fight I’ll never win, but when a model approaches me asking to do her photos for free because she “will promote my business”, no thank you.

  7. My prices and reputation have weeded out most of the freeloaders now…but I still get the odd call once in awhile to do a “free for exposure” gala event because they don’t have a “budget” for photography – they’ll even put my logo in the program!!…or some sh*te like that. I ask “Did the hall rent you the evening for free? Did the caterer offer to feed 500 people for free? Is the string quartet playing all night for free?” Uh….no. “Then you can understand why I am not going to shoot this event for free. My rate is (X).” Usually never hear from them again. I also get the totally random skankalicious amateur model who calls me asking if I would shoot her in “sexy underwear”…and then wants to know if I do TFP because she will tell all her friends and help me get business. I ask her if she has visited my website…No. I tell her to take a look at my work and then call me back if she is interested in purchasing a modeling session for $500. Never get a call back. These people are annoying…but there is always some photographer who will agree to do it. THAT is the most annoying thing of all. The professional photography industry is going the way of Walmart. Why pay full price when you can ALWAYS get a deal somewhere else! It’s disheartening.

    • The difference is,…Walmart gives nothing away for free. Nothing, not one thing. If walmart can figure out how to charge, then why cant we?

  8. Tommy Gun

    You can’t critisize my photography. I don’t care if it is not technically correct and you don’t like the composition. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and art is individualistic. Not to mention rules are made to be broken. So there is no such thing as bad photography.

    • “Tommy Gun”: So if there’s no such thing as bad photography, then anyone with a camera can take just as valid and “good” pictures as you, and in fact there’s no reason at all to pay you over someone with point and shoot camera, or even their iphone for that matter, for any purpose.
      Way to (not) sell yourself there, I hope you don’t depend on photography for a living.

      • If there is no “bad”, then there is no “good” either, Connie T. Kind of just shot your argument in the foot there. Now then. Technically, just taking a picture with your phone for Instagram IS photography… it’s not just “professional” photography.

        Now, if you want to go into photography as an art form, it’s simply to express something. A message, usually. And you can’t really be wrong when you express yourself like that. However, there is a norm that people tend to like and pay for. That’s where we get a common idea of what is good and what is bad. But then, that’s all subjective and changes with culture and the ages. Still, just because something isn’t widely enjoyed by people, it is not inherently “bad”. “Bad” is what we’d like to throw onto anything that we disagree with, typically. You can tell where the fallacy lies in there. Subjective. Ergo, we get the saying, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. There are some more commonly agreed upon aesthetics that we may find pleasing, but nothing will ever please 100% of the people, and you can’t just say that since someone isn’t the 99%, they’re wrong. They won’t be as accepted or popular or rich, perhaps, but that doesn’t make them wrong.
        If someone is shooting what you think is “bad” photography, but people are still paying them for it, well… what’s the difference between them and you? You’re both shooting and getting paid and both the client and the photographer are enjoying their work. Of course, if people are paying to have these commissioned, see below.

        Photography as a commercial work is an “art” (art is a broad term in and of itself) entirely different, however. That relies entirely on pleasing the masses rather than yourself, so more people buy and you pull in the cash. Most people don’t know what they want when they want a photo commissioned of themselves. They want something they think people would enjoy seeing (because obviously photos are meant to be viewed), so photographers have taken to learning trade secrets that will please most people. If you like that, hey, good on you. Many people, myself included, do enjoy making cash.

        Point is, before you start talking about something, sort of like above, try to actually understand what they mean. The person you replied to was obviously talking about photography as an art form, whereas you’re talking about photography as a means to make a living. Yes, Tommy Gun was too broad as well, but you didn’t help at all.

        This entire website is a circlejerk of people who want to feel all high and mighty, and it’s honestly quite upsetting. Want a good example of when it’s a great idea to do some free work to get your portfolio built up? When you’re learning or wish to try something new. I would shoot models at my college for free. The trade-off was that I got more shots for my portfolio (and class) for my photography career and they got more shots for their portfolio (and class) for their modeling careers. I still shoot friends and family for free from time to time when I want to try something new, so there’s another time it’s great to shoot for free. Usually models cost money.

        Getting “exposure”, I agree, is a BS excuse.. They’ll most likely tell a few people and forget about it. It’s not exactly worth the effort for so little word of mouth. Word of mouth is fantastic, it definitely helps – do NOT underestimate it. However, If that’s ALL they have to trade, it’s not worth it. Maybe if you weren’t busy with anything else and they let YOU be in charge of the entire shoot, basically acting as a free model for you to practice anything you want, then yeah, go for it.

      • Andy — I read a similar post on PetaPixel that you shouldn’t charge family, e.g. if you charge your mom, you’ll wind up with a bill from her for “services rendered” that you’ll never be able to afford! 🙂

      • Brigade

        I think Tommy Gun and Andy are just trying to hide that they’re “fauxtographers” and are mad that we point out the signs of how to spot one. ;D

  9. MaryAnn C

    I used to do hair, and YES! People did come in and want us to lower prices or give them free services. The reason? “If you want my business you’ll do it or I’ll go to your competitor.” My attitude? “Bye!” I thought a business transaction meant that if you give me X amount of money then I’ll give you Y, not “I am the almighty customer and you will bow to me and give me free stuff just because I said so”. Sometimes we’d provide a service and they’d refuse to pay without giving a reason, thinking that (for some reason) because it’s hair then they don’t have to pay if they don’t want to.

  10. I consider photography my hobby. I take some decent shots but I also take some bad ones. I’ll take photos for friends and family once in a while but it’s so much effort I don’t know how real photographers deal with it. I don’t have the time, I can’t deal with the people and when you start involving people that “saw this thing on pinterest”, it just isn’t fun anymore. I’d rather carry my camera, take photos on my own terms and not get involved in taking the photos other people want.

    The amount of time it takes me to post process my photos and decide which ones I like and want to keep is about the same if not more than the time I actually spend taking the photos. I don’t know how people do it for weddings. I don’t want that responsibility, I’ll keep my day job thanks.

  11. You do anything for free, people just don’t value it.

    • I think there is mostly truth to that statement. I’ve known Photographers that donate services to causes they care about. Normally there’s no harsh expectations placed on them and it’s just an agreement of “I’ll give you a couple shots from this event for your article/newsletter/website/etc.”
      I think you absolutely have to have a good relationship between both parties though. For example, the woman that I know who did this recently did some shots for the Humane Society to get some of their dogs adopted during a “play in the park” kind of adoption thing. I think when someone “donates” their time within reason, places like that genuinely appreciate it. But then again, those are rare cases and causes that usually don’t treat volunteers like crap.

      • iliketag is correct. There are times to do things for free – especially for non-profit groups. You can write those off on your taxes, so it’s extra great if it’s something you really support. I know some photographers in my area that shoot animal portraits for animal shelters. They help a good cause and get to write it off on their taxes as a donation, thus meaning that another comparable shoot they did that year is now completely tax free.

        So yes, there are times to do free work, but if you’re just passing it around all of the time, you’re fucking it up for everybody else.

      • Jude — I’m sorry to correct you, but you can’t write off donated time on your taxes. Only tangible items that have value. Shooting non-profit events for free is karma and port-building only.

  12. What are your thoughts on doing very cheap or free work for family or friends who you know cant afford extra?

    A family friend had a wedding in their yard. they did a bunch of cooking them self and asked others to help bring some food for the event. While they wanted photos of the event, they could not afford any photographers, so I offered to do it for free. I do not expect to gain any paid business from it, but I wanted to offer them decent photos of their special day, and they were extremely happy with the photos.

    While I understand the idea about not offering free work, especially to random strangers, I feel that there is nothing wrong with helping family and friends out, when through your relationship with them, you understand that they cannot afford an important service, but you want to do something nice for them.

    Overall, I feel that there can be exceptions which will not undervalue you as a photographer.

    I also teach at an elementary school, and offer free tutoring to struggling students. While teaching is a job, teaching for free does not undervalue me as a teacher, and the community appreciates it as it prevents students from beginning a cycle where they fall behind on a specific topic that is a prerequisite to a number of more advanced topics, and thus their progression in that specific subject comes to a halt while the class moves on. Most students who misbehave in class and start to perform poorly, will have often fallen behind on a a few specific pieces of prerequisite knowledge, and were too embarrassed to ask for help in class if it seemed like the other students understood it.

    I wont be making money from the tutoring, but it will pay it’s self back in the future when those students do not reach a point when they are cutting class and vandalizing the neighborhood (which happened to many students in the neighborhood, and most ended with entry into the criminal justice system).

    • I think if you’re trying to run a legitimate business, cheap and free don’t pay the bills. I’ve done exactly what you’re talking about only to get burned in the end. I have a client turned friend (which is another issue on its own) that I felt bad for, because they had fallen on some hard times. They were trying to get their daughter into modeling so I did 3 free sessions for them. When they got out of the financial hole a bit, they went and paid another photographer full price for more modeling photos. Not that they didn’t like mine, but models need to take photos with different photographers. However, the expectation now is that I will always give them free photos. If I tried to say “OK, now you can pay me full price” they wouldn’t get photos. They were already getting a cheap price to begin with because I didn’t value my work when I first did photos with them, so now they would never expect to pay any more than what I originally charged them anyway, so again, shot myself in the foot.

      Giving friends cheap and reduced prices is the WORST thing you can do in my opinion. Their word of mouth business will have the same expectation of cheap or free. My best advice would be to stick with your prices. If someone values your work enough, then they should pay you what you’re worth. I have no issues working with people on payment arrangements, but in the end, I expect them to pay my price.

      When it comes to family, well, they’re family. Of course I’m not going to charge my daughter for photos of my grandkids (yes, I have grandkids, I started early). I’m absolutely not going to charge my mother for new head shots for her Linkedin account. Family is family, and I shoot my family for free. I get my daughter the prints she wants at no cost to her. More extended family, I have them pay for prints at a reduced rate, enough to pay for the prints and make a small profit. What I will not do is shoot large events for family such as weddings, I tell them to hire someone else. The last thing I want to do is work at a family event. Same thing goes for friends, I generally tell them to hire someone else, because I want to enjoy their event, not have the stress of working it.

  13. I love this post. I dabble in photography, but I consider myself a “professional amateur,” emphasis on the amateur. I’ve read up on aperture, depth of field, and other such technical things, and have a graphic design degree so I feel good about my sense for composition and angles.

    That said, I try my best to recognize my limits and I have actually turned down a few friends with the mindset of “oh, she has a nice camera, let’s ask her to shoot our wedding” (with “for free” being implied, I’m sure). I don’t have the level of professionalism to tackle that large a task and do it well, so my logic is I’m doing THEM a favor turning them down (assuming they go on to hire someone who DOES know what they’re doing).

    I will shoot friends’ engagement photos–those are within my skill set, but I have a line that if you’re not close enough friends that I would give you an engagement gift, I won’t shoot them for free (i.e., my time and talent is my gift, as it has value). One such not-so-close friend approached me about an e-shoot last year and when I quoted her $200 (below the average in my area, as I’m proud of my work but recognize I’m not a true-blue professional) and she ran screaming; later went with her wedding photog who threw in the e-pics for free. So I have a feeling she wanted a response like, “Don’t worry about it! What are friends for!?” Sorry sweetie, my time IS worth something.

  14. I used to give stuff away until a pro told me straight that my time is worth something and stop being stupid, people were taking me for a ride. I went through the whole “but selling my work is like selling my soul”. That’s absolute garbage! My time, my years of self-learning, a thousand mistakes and I’m stupid enough to just give all that hard won knowledge away? Last year I learned what I’m worth and if people aren’t prepared to pay the going rate for my work well they can just go get lost. Sure I’m just another amateur trying to make some money on the side but so what? If I start undercharging I debase the whole market for everyone and why shouldn’t I get paid the going rate for my hard work.

  15. That’s a little bit like when professional photographers come into my camera shop and try to make me sell them equipment for less money that what it costs.

  16. I like this site, I really do. But isn’t the whole point of the rest of this site about people who are charging and shouldn’t be? Or are selling themselves as photographers and shouldn’t?

    I, like many others, am still learning and I need practice. I wouldn’t dream of charging a model. I’m getting good enough working in my home studio and on location that I can take photos that are good enough for a beginner model or actor’s portfolio. I still wouldn’t charge them for it – not yet – I take too long and my confidence in my own consistency isn’t there yet. I think that humility is a useful thing for an artist (especially a hobbyist).

    Shouldn’t we be encouraging people to practice as much as possible before they go into business? If the subjects in the pictures that you feature on your site asked their fauxtogs for their money back wouldn’t you support that? How do we know that the person complaining about beach weddings wanting their money back or a re-shoot didn’t take images that belong in your regular posts (not to say that is the case but just pointing out the possibility)?

    I suppose I just worry that a post like this will just encourage the very behaviour that this site is meant to be against?

  17. And maybe all of you photographers will stop asking vendors who do handmade props, either sewn.. crochet, etc for free or discounted for pics.. you people get paid to do photo shoots yet you have the nerve to ask someone else who also has a small business for discounts of free stuff? Sorry but that is bull! you get paid to do sessions and expect other hard working people to not get paid for all they do? sorry I felt the need to say this but you dont like people asking you for free help so dont do it to your vendors you buy props from! they spend time and money to invest in their small business as do you, so respect others as you would like your business respected too.

    • I am a photographer and I have never in my life asked for a discount or even used coupons…I have absolutely never asked for anything for free (and never will)…Even when I’m broke!

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  19. An impressive share! I have just forwarded this onto a colleague who has been conducting a
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  20. One of the things I’ve seen on Craigslist that burns my ass, is “photographers” advertising their services, some with cheap rates, and others with none listed…and they even post some photos of “their” work…usually some of the worst I’ve ever seen. Most, if not all, of their images are either grainy, over-saturated, faded, etc. My guess is most of those people stole the photos from somewhere else. There was even one “photographer” searching for “models” to photograph, claiming they were a protege’ of Ansel Adams….seriously?? gtf out of here!

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