working for free

There is a lot of discussion in many creative circles abut the issue of working for free. Many people are very violently against this idea, for a number of reasons. Of course, it’s perfectly reasonable to be against working for free when this means you don’t get an income. But there is a big backlash against photographers (and many other creatives) choosing to give their time how they wish. 

I can understand the argument that it devalues the industry, that it takes work from professionals, and I fully agree that many big events and publications try and get work on the cheap. But surely it’s up to an individual how they offer their time, and many grassroots causes or events cannot afford the fees that full time professionals have to charge to make an income.

So what do we do…

I actually give quite a lot of my talent for very little in return. This is the way I am, I like to pay it back and I am not entrenched in a capitalist money based society. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I love money because it gets me things I like. But I also like to trade, and help. So how do I do this?I  make a distinction between ‘working for free’, ‘volunteering’, and sharing something I have produced for my own reasons or for fun.

Working for free I do not do. If I am working I expect to get paid. I do not gain my primary income from photography or music so actually I rarely work, but if someone says to me ‘Please can you do this, to my brief for my purposes’ that is work and they pay me.

Volunteering is when I offer my services. I do a lot of volunteering an various areas. There may be things I agree and form a contract to do, but I agree to them. One example of this is some local festival events where I have been a part of the management, stewards, or given my artistic skills. No-one gets paid for these, we do it to celebrate and inject some good into our community. Another is a charity which is run by a friend of many years and due to my relationship with them I offer help. But I have also in my time helped old ladies do their gardening, or cleaned up the local park. Volunteering is not working for free, but it I may not be paid for these events, but I should not have to pay to do them, and I do not – my expenses are always freely and obligingly covered. If that needed to include childcare then covering the costs would dictate if I was able to help on that occasion.


The final one is when I do something to have fun and share the results. I shoot at some music events because I enjoy taking my camera out clubbing. If I turn up with my camera at many of the events I go to get let in free and sometimes a bit towards my taxi/beer. In return I post my shots of the event and link them from the events social media. The main issue here is that there is no ‘contract’ that I must fulfil. I am not bound to produce anything but if I do when I am somewhere I have gone to have fun then I will get something back. Sometimes I will shoot over a hundred pictures, sometimes only 20 because I am dancing too much.

But if a club or event I was not going to for my own enjoyment called me and said can you come down and shoot 60 shots of our DJs and Punters between 10pm and 4am then that would be a fee based on 6 hours work and 60 processed images. What I charge for that is open to negotiation, but there will be a charge.

But try me… I’m very reasonable.

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