STOP ASKING ME TO DO MY JOB FOR FREE: A guide to being a decent friend to a photographer

                                        Topaz Labs December Promo Code: INTROGLOW

Raise your hand if you have a friend who is a photographer.  Now, raise your hand if you’ve ever asked that friend to do their job for free.  No seriously.  RAISE YOUR HAND. EVERY SINGLE ONE OF YOU.  Because you’ve all done it.  How do I know?  Because I have a lot of friends and way too many of you have invited me to parties and told me to bring my camera or told me about this cool project idea you have that you’re certain I would love to be a part of.

Here’s the deal.  I MIGHT love to be a part of it.  AND, if I would, I’ll volunteer.  BUT STOP ASKING ME TO DO IT FOR FREE!  Ask to hire me.  THIS IS MY JOB!

Stay tuned long enough and I’ll give you the script for exactly how TO get us to do our job for free, because it IS possible.

Do you invite your accountant to the party and ask him to do your taxes in the corner?  Do you tell your dentist you have this bad ass cavity he should practice drilling for his portfolio and then tell him if he does a great job cleaning  your teeth you’ll tell all your friends about him? (You know, all your other friends who also don’t want to pay him to clean their teeth.)

Regardless of what you may feel about about the investment level of entering into the field of photography vs. becoming a dentist, paying back student loans and business expenses aren’t the only thing that go into setting my prices. Here’s a basic rule of thumb:

Scenario ONE: Your friend has a great new camera and she loves taking pictures of her kids on the weekends. She also has a full time job and her husband is a doctor and when she takes on clients she gives them all of their digital files for $75.  She doesn’t mind making $2.50 an hour. Ask HER to take pictures for free for you.  

Scenario TWO: Your friend is a full time photographer.  This is their job.  They don’t make money any other way.  Their spouse is their partner in their photography business.  They have children.  They have a mortgage.  DO NOT ASK THEM TO DO THEIR JOB FOR FREE!!!!  

I’m not going to list all of the many things that go into the job that you all think is so easy and that just takes a couple of hours…mostly because I don’t ask my electrician why he charges $95 an hour to fix a .50 cent wire.  I can figure out on my own that his son might want to be on the soccer team and he might want to eat dinner 7 nights a week.

Remove the following sentences from your vocabulary:

It’ll just be a quick shoot.  (Let me assure you, the time you and I are together with my camera in my hand is NOTHING compared to the time I will then have to spend in post removing the chicken pieces off of party goer’s chins from the party your paying job allowed you to throw.)

It’s going to be such an easy shoot. (Perfect!  Here’s a link to a fantastic self timer remote.  You can do the easy shoot yourself.)

You can just take the pictures. You don’t have to edit them.  If I’m going to spend my time doing your job for the “EXPOSURE” do you honestly think I would put out half ass work?  When you ask me to do a free job, I LOVE what I do.  I take so much pride in every photograph that comes from my company.  I will NEVER let you post a photograph that I’m not proud of.

No Pressure.  I’d just love to have you do it for us. Most of the photographers I know will feel pressure even if there is no pressure.  We are for the most part PEOPLE people.  Which means we hate to have to say no.  So we say yes.  Then we do your free shoot and sometimes we even love doing it.  But even when we love doing it, we’re cursing behind your back about how you’re taking advantage of us.  Then we avoid you for the rest of our friendship because we don’t want to have to say no or yes again next year when you invite us to keep building our already well built portfolios.

This will be great exposure for you. Exposure is an exciting concept.  I’ve done plenty of things for exposure.  Magazine covers, networking events, you name it.  Guess how many paying jobs come after exposure jobs?  ZERO.  Exposure jobs get you more exposure jobs.  They get you other magazine covers who now value you as someone who will give them killer magazine covers for free.  People don’t inquire about who did that magazine cover because I simply must have them shoot my family portraits!  They assume instead that since you’re on the cover of a magazine, you couldn’t be bothered to photograph their precious memories.  A great example of GOOD exposure is: You hired me to do your family portraits and you realized right away that despite  my higher prices, every second of the experience was worth it.  You then told your friends that although my work was an investment, you now have photographs to capture your memories that no other photographer on the planet could have provided you. You saw that I didn’t just pop off some pictures and dump them on a cd for you.  You saw that I spent time and energy planning for your shoot and that I put as much into your portraits as I would have into my own. That even though you may have to go to the mall for your photos for the in between years, you’re looking forward to having me photograph you all again in five years as another investment in your family’s memories. THAT’s when exposure is good exposure.

Here’s the thing.  I volunteer for a TON of free shoots.  TONS!  I do free shoots when I have time, energy and when I feel overwhelmingly inspired by something you’re doing.  But more often, I am INCREDIBLY INSPIRED by what you’re doing but I can’t do it because I can’t afford to pay my electricity on inspiration alone.

Do you see how you’ve gone and gotten me all worked up?  Now I’m hungry.  I’m going to go ask the grocery store if I can have this week’s groceries for free.  I’ll give them tons of exposure by posting on Facebook about how awesome HEB apples are.  I’m sure they’ll say yes.

Look, I love taking pictures and I love taking pictures for my friends.  When it’s MY idea.  When I’m able.  If I offer it’s because everything in my life says its a good idea.  I have money in the bank and I’m in the mood to spend some extra time playing with my camera. Chances are I’m also going to send you an invoice that lets you know how much this SHOULD have cost so that I can keep my volunteer hours recorded for tax purposes/let you know what you’re getting for free has a value. Plus most of the time the people I offer free pictures to have actually asked to hire me. But it’s time people stopped assuming that just because my job is a service and they don’t have any iota about what actually goes into producing this service that it’s something easy to just quickly give away.

Now, as I promised before, here is your word for word script for how you can get us to do our jobs for free.

Hey my favorite photographer! I have this great project I’m dying to do (you can also replace this part with “party for my 2 year old’s birthday”).  Since I don’t have a budget, I need to find people who would also love to get on board to help me make this dream a reality.  Here’s the details.  I know that photography is your bread and butter so I would never ask you to donate your services for free so if I could hire someone for this job, you would be my choice in a heart beat.  But since I can’t, do you know any photographers that are starting out and portfolio building that might like to contribute to my project/small party of 900 guests that won’t last more than a couple hours? 

Guess what this does?  It gives me the chance to:

A. Refer you to a local photography forum where I can be upfront with aspiring photographers with this awesome opportunity to portfolio build without having to offend anyone.

B. To say, “Hey, ya know what? I like your project a lot.  I’d love to volunteer to get on board.”

Friendship saved!  And now I don’t have to think you’re a total tool who devalues my service.  Who knows, I may even just show up at your kid’s birthday party with my camera.

Last week I did a free shoot for a friend.  Here’s the actual message she sent me that got me to WANT to do it for free.

So, also…I want some pics of Sawyer. And I know I’m a friend, but you are a business and I want to know what it would REALLY cost to do some shots of him before he loses his teeth and gets awkward. Preferably fun and outside.


Not only did I offer to do it for free, I WANTED to.  It was a great opportunity for me.  Not for exposure.  But for capturing some great memories of our kids playing together while also getting some adorable pictures of her son’s baby teeth. I had the day to spare AND I knew that she was grateful because she knew the value of what I was doing. Kirsten Oliphant‘s “eclectic celebration of chaos” blog gives great advice on just about every subject, not just how to get a photographer to do their job for free.  You should definitely follow her.

Hey Photographers, guess who DOES value your work?  Image Brief.  Check them out.  They’re a great stock website that offers you everywhere from $250-$5000 per image.  They TOTALLY understand your work is worth paying for and they help connect you with clients that get it too. 

Bonnie and Gabe Two Creative Birds are a husband and wife photography/videography team who enjoy working their asses off to give their clients the best experience possible…..and then they use their hard earned money to pay bills and live life.  

 Heck Yeah Topaz Clarity Discount Code! Topaz=my favorite softwares out there. Hands. Down.


  1. Ripeka

    People need to learn some assertive communication skills instead of agreeing to do stuff they actually don’t want to, and then feeling all resentful. Seriously.

      • I wholeheartedly agree with Ripeka here. There is NOTHING wrong with saying “No thanks” or “Not interested, cheers though”. It takes practice and quite a bit of vulnerability to start doing it (the first few times are genuinely scary), but is well worth the effort. I’ve said no to maybe 50 free projects/meetups/people asking me for free Photoshop advice (I get this last one ALL the time). The 3 times I’ve said “Ok, fuck it, I’ll do it” I have REGRETTED it immensely, and have well and truly learned my lesson. Saying “No” definitely does earn you some haters but those people were never really your friend in the first place.

        All that said, I really loved reading this article – you make some super-valid points about better ways to ask for free stuff. Ironically, by *not asking for free stuff*. I enjoy your writing style, very enjoyable to read and you have a great “voice”.

        Your friend who never asks for free stuff,
        Andy 😉

      • Andy, I always wish you would ask me for more free stuff because you’re the easiest person TO say no to. (Mostly when asking me to do thinks like walk over and bring you some sugar and eggs…everyone knows you can’t just walk across an ocean, Andy.

  2. Pingback: Will You Please!!! | vernsPhotography

  3. I love this, Bonnie. Because I KNOW how hard it is. I don’t often get asked to do something for free. But every so often, I have people doing the same thing and unlike the people above who say you just need to say no, it’s really hard. And I’m a NO person! Even though I don’t have a full-time job, I work my butt off on my blog and my other writing that I hope one day will pay for our A/C that just died. (Womp, womp.) So when people ask me to edit something or write up something, I have to make a choice that makes me uncomfortable. Sometimes the no is easy. Sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes I say yes and am glad. Sometimes I say yes and regret it and resent it and hate that I didn’t say no. I think this post is important because I really don’t think people REALIZE how hard it is. The other great thing? You give them an OPTION and a really, really great suggestions for how to get things for free. (Though hopefully people don’t all start emailing you that exact phrase today, ha!)

    All that said, I TOTALLY didn’t want you to do that for free for us and didn’t have a hidden agenda. But I really, really loved our time together and love love LOVE the shots you took. You are so fabulous.

  4. I loved the topic of this post and the clarity with which it is written. I take photos as a hobby, and have recently been using my camera to take pictures for a charity to help with marketing. The whole experience has made me realise the extent of the skills of professional photographers, and understand the full cost of getting a picture right, to order. it is a totally different thing to just “bring your camera along”. Assertive communication skills don’t always educate in the way that this post does….I for one, am happy to have stumbled across your post through a friend of a friend.

    • I truly appreciate hearing your perspective as a hobbyist Helen. I think that a key component to all of this is that people don’t really know the time that goes into a photoshoot. They don’t understand how their hour photoshoot translates often to a week of work on our end. I don’t think that any of our friends who ask us for favors have ever done it with a malicious heart or the intent to take advantage of us. So my hope is that this post can help people communicate that to them so that they can understand that asking for free shoots is a bit bigger than they may realize.

  5. I fully appreciate that. The plus side of what you wrote for me too, is that it makes me feel better about why my own photos taken on the job with no training or experience haven’t quite got the results I had hoped for. “I enjoy taking photos” doesn’t quite cut it when it comes to delivering the desired results from a specific occasion. Or, when it does, it is a happy co-incidence rather than a secure, predictable outcome. Respect to you professionals, you deserve the going rate.

    • I love this discussion so much! Your comment just fills my soul! It’s so nice to hear people appreciate the investment that has to go into building a solid photography foundation. While I know lots of people who either love or hate the fact that there are so many self taught photographers, it really is a cool thing that in photography there are so many resources like Creative Live, and Phlearn and a zillion others where you can learn the foundations for every element of photography you could ever dream of. I love that it’s possible for anyone to become a great photographer with hard work and determination. Now we just need all of those people to begin to charge accordingly so that they can bring the reality of running a business back into the industry. The same element that I love so much is also why it’s so hard for us. You can’t just want to be a doctor and start practicing heart surgery on your friends, so they don’t ask you to. But you also can’t buy a camera and start charging industry prices when you don’t know how to manipulate light and get the images your clients want yet… practice is necessary. AND practice means you pretty much have to do free shoots for awhile. So it’s really a double edge sword as well as a double edge sparkly wand of magic and fairy dust. (TERRIBLE analogy, but I’m only half awake!) 🙂

  6. Ari

    Yes, yes and yes! I get this all the time as a singer and musician. I’m asked to sing for free at least several times per month. While I do have a full time job in another industry that pays the bills, putting together a performance that I am proud of takes a lot of time and energy and usually involves learning and purchasing new music that I am not familiar with. The equipment that I need is also costly. For most performances I bring my own digital piano, mics, cords, mixer, amplifier and generator for outside venues. I’ve gotten much better at saying no over the years as very few “exposure” performances tend to be worth the trouble. I’ve learned that after I say no about 50% will still hire me and pay anyway.

    • Sometimes it takes writing about our own woes to open our eyes to the fact that we’ve asked the same things we hate of others. My musician friends will thank you when their paycheck goes up the next time I need them!

  7. I wrote a whole comment earlier and then my phone had a blip and killed my comment 😦

    I have three friends who are photographers. One does it professionally and has for years and the second two are just starting out. I spoke to the first about maternity shots when I was pregnant with our little boy (who is now heading towards 4 months). There would be the price of the session and then the price of the pictures. It was around £90 for about an hour session and some of the prints. Unfortunately that was a little out of my price range especially will all the bits that we actually needed for baby. I grabbed my DSLR and an assistant and took some of my own – they weren’t exactly what I would have liked but they documented my pregnancy which was the main thing and better than nothing.

    I spoke to friend number 1 when pricing up what I could afford unfortunately the pictures I was sent as an example were blurry or unbalanced which was a shame as I wanted to help them out and help towards their portfolio, the second friend however had got some really good pictures – I didn’t know he was into photography when I was looking at the maternity pictures but when we were organising our little boy’s dedication, I’d resorted to that my Mum or my Brother would need to be armed with one of their cameras and take the pictures. When Second Friend approached us and said that he’d do it free of charge if the pictures could be included in his portfolio I was all for it and some of the pictures are really lovely. One of which he printed out and put it into a frame – it now has pride of place in our living room.

    I recently made a knitted sheep for a project that’s happening at church and have had a couple of requests to make ones but as soon as I put forward that I would need the cost of the wool covered only one person came forward and said yes please I’d actually like one…….

  8. rebecca

    May I please interject a thought from the “other side” of this scenario? Photographers, if you do choose to do a project for someone for free, PLEASE follow through on it promptly, and don’t let it get awkward! Before my second child was born, I was very excited to get some quality portraits of him done, since I’d never had the opportunity with my first child. A friend of mine, who was a “budding” photographer came to me and BEGGED me to let her do a photo session with him so she could get some experience with newborn shots and add to her portfolio. I followed up with her twice before he was born, and then several days after his birth, trying to set details for a photo session, but she had other projects she was working on, and became non-commital. About a week and a half after his birth, I contacted her again, and hinted that I might just set up a session with another photographer, but again she said that she really wanted to practice shooting a new born, and she set up a tentative date for a session at our house. That date came and went, and she never honored her promise. By this time, my “newborn” wasn’t quite so newborn-looking anymore… and I was pissed that I had lost this opportunity for a second time!

    • That IS devastating! I could understand if she was doing it as a practice shoot and she just didn’t do very well, as practice shoots can go….but to promise that and just not follow through! That’s heartbreaking.

  9. Corky Lee

    You’ve hit the nail on the head, I just hope it gets through those thick skulls and makes sense in their gray matter, because it really MATTERS!!!

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  11. Reblogged this on Spookymrsgreen's Blog and commented:
    Wow, this tells it like it is… and the same could be applied to writers! You know the score; a friend says, “Oh, I’m writing a book, could you help me with it?” or, “Hey, do you fancy doing some work on my blog/website/newsletter? It’s all good exposure…” I have to say, all of the ‘exposure’ work I have done up until now is not paying the bills. Truthfully, it is not paying anything…

    • Now we just need to find a way to rake in the big bucks for our clearly much sought after talents! I don’t doubt that every lawyer has every member of their family saying, “let me ask my Uncle Joe what to do…he’s a lawyer…” Yet somehow that guy gets to pay his bills and then some!

  12. I could apply this post to the difficulty of being a writer, too. People struggle to take our ‘hobby’ seriously. I am learning to take the assertive approach and say ‘no’ to more people while I build up a regular income that I can actually live on. Well done you for telling it like it is!

  13. Steven Smith

    Everyone’s a photographer. Probably the most overpopulated “profession” on the planet. You’re basically pushing a button and making a few edits on ridiculously easy editing programs. Now-a-days the camera pretty much does all the work. Get over being asked to work for free. There’s a reason that people ask photographers to do this for free. Because it’s easy work. If you don’t like it, say no. Charging the same amount for an hour of photography that someone with an actual degree makes for an entire days work is ludicrous. What do you really expect. It’s likened to being at a national park and upset that someone asked you to take their family photo and then complaining that they didn’t pay you.

    • lallajo

      If it’s such “easy work”, then why are people asking professionals to work for free?? If it’s so easy, they need to do their own photography. You obviously have no clue what it takes to run a business, regardless of what said business is. Maybe you should come out of your cubicle and use your all-important degree to get a clue. Idiot.

  14. Steven, you obviously have no clue about anything photography related. It is not just pushing a button! There are so many other aspects to it! I wish I could just push a button, do a simple edit, and magically be done! Like any other profession, if you are passionate about it, you want to learn and be the best at what you do. The more you learn and advance, the more you should be compensated for your craft, point blank period. I promise you if you really know what you are doing and have the talent/passion, you are doing WAY MORE than just pushing a button. Live one day in the life of a photographer and you would see it quite differently. And I only do photography part time right now! It is very time consuming and that’s another huge factor in setting our pricing!

  15. Ashley

    Loved this. Except for the husband doctor part. My husband is a doctor but I worked just as hard to acquire my skills and run a business just like the rest of ya’ll! I’d still like to get paid…and not $75. 😉

    • I’m just jealous because my husband isn’t a doctor. 😉 I have no doubt you have to work just as hard. One of my friends who’s one of the very best photographers I know also has a dr husband and her success has nothing to do with him.

  16. I have been dying to write a blog post like this for months now. You hit the nail on the head. Now all I have to do is share this on social media to get my point across! Thanks, love your work!

  17. Sam

    Great post! I would like to mention, however, that this is not something unique to photographers – it unfortunately happens all the time to people of other professions as well. I have two roommates, one is a graphic designer and the other is a software engineer. They are constantly approached by friends or colleagues (from other departments) who want them to “help out” with creating a new app or a new website. I’m a small business owner and people always assume (or sometimes flat out ask) for steep discounts – not realizing that my profit margins are already small and by giving them 50% off of something I would be LOSING money. I can think of friends in tons of professions who probably run into this all of the time.

    My point is that I don’t think when friends or family ask you for free photography services, I don’t think that means they think your job is “easy” or look down on you. My roommate makes $60/hour coding really complex applications… no one thinks his job is easy, yet people still ask him to essentially work for free. I bet even your electrician has been asked to fix something for a friend or family member and only wanted to pay the 0.50 cents for the wire, and not pay for his time!

  18. I would love to share this on our website in a way that gives you credit for the article. I know I could do a rewrite and call it my own but you did a great job. No sense reinventing the wheel. You are dead on the mark when it comes to professional photographers having to constantly explain their pricing, why they aren’t free, etc. Let me know if it is okay for us to share a link to this page from our website. Thanks!

  19. Kelly C

    I totally agree that your friends shouldn’t expect your work for free, but anyone in this situation needs to set firm boundaries. It isn’t easy, but it has to be learned, just like any other skill. People who are artists, musicians, graphic designers, film makers, IT professionals etc etc all have this issue- it is not a unique problem for photographers. I have it too in my own business (hospitality) but I am polite but firm every time someone asks for a discount or a freebie. The reason lawyers and dentists don’t seem to have an issue with this is they have systems in place that prevent it in their workspace. I know that some do get asked for advice at every dinner party they go to, and they hate it too. You’re not going to change other people’s behaviour, so your need to change your own in this case. ‘Creatives’ have a reputation, valid or not, for being a bit wishy washy sometimes and some people are bound to push their luck. You don’t even need to be terse “exposure won’t pay the bills” just let them know your usual rates.

    • agree with you except for the wishy washy part. none of the creative people i know that are in business are the least bit wishy washy. maybe some creative people i know that are too wishy washy to go into business…..but not the business owners.

  20. Pingback: ARTICLE: Stop asking me to do my job for free: a guide to being a decent friend to a photographer | INK

  21. Megan

    Scenario ONE: Your friend has a great new camera and she loves taking pictures of her kids on the weekends. She also has a full time job and her husband is a doctor and when she takes on clients she gives them all of their digital files for $75. She doesn’t mind making $2.50 an hour. Ask HER to take pictures for free for you.

    Here’s an idea: Don’t ever ask ANYONE to do something for you for free, especially if it’s something that you can’t do for yourself, regardless of whether or not it is their only source of income. I am a licensed cosmetologist, I’ve also taken a few photography courses but my day job is something else entirely. I CONSTANTLY get asked to do things for people for free. People that don’t ever talk to me except when they are asking me to do something for them for free. It is NEVER appropriate. Unless someone offers to provide a service to you for free, don’t ever expect anything for free. It is incredibly insulting.

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  23. p

    I’m an amateur photographer. Can someone please write an article about how unbelievably cheeky it is to ask amateur hobbyist photographers to do their wedding photos for them for free. It’s a full time job photographing a wedding and I know how time consuming the post editing is. I have been asked numerous times following a friends shoot I did, and quite frankly the pressure and expectancy I felt would require compensating if I were to do it again. I already have a full time job, I don’t want to waste my only 2 days off photographing weddings for free and spending numerous evenings completing requests ( can I have that in black and white please. Can you send these to my parents?) No i can’t, I have a child and family to give my precious time to rather than satisfy your ever increasing demands. Please people, if you want quality pictures then value them by assigning part of your wedding budget to these memories. Don’t be a cheeky cheapskate who believes great photography comes easy. Especially wedding photography. Rant over………….. until I get asked again.

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