Working for exposure? No thank you!

All photographer’s get this request from time to time: “Hi, we love your photo’s! We are looking for a professional photographer to cover our event. Unfortunately we have no budget, but this event will give you great exposure! There will be lots of celebrities and interesting contacts. And what’s more: these photo’s will really help boost your portfolio!”

The request may come through email, by phone, or through social media. Unfortunately I see fellow photographer’s fall for it regularly. Which is why I wrote this blog: I want to explain how I respond to this ‘invitation’.

Seeing it for what it is

First, there is the way you deal with the invitation on the inside, in your mind. You need to see this invitation for what it is. Basically, it comes down to this: this person wants you to bring your professional camera gear, your years of training, your professional skills, and your valuable time — and work for free.

The tone of the invitation may sound nice, but in it’s essence it is an unprofessional and offensive question. It does not respect you as a professional.

You can also bet your behind that the person making the request isn’t working for free. So they are asking you to do something, they themselves are not doing.

But there is no budget! you might counter. Listen, budget is a choice. They choose not to budget for photography. To prioritise other things. What they are really saying is: we did not think it was important enough. Or we could get someone for free. Either way, it is not very respectful of your skill.

But what about the promised exposure? Here’s how exposure works: only a select few of photographer’s have name recognition. Think of Annie Leibovitz or Mario Testino. Those are names people recognise (and you better believe they don’t work for free). But when you work for free, you essentially become a volunteer. And no one remembers the name of a volunteer.

Or, if they do, it will be only to ask you to do more free work. The moment you ask a fee, they will disappear. Why? Because you taught them your work had no value.

How to deal with it

Here’s what I do. I delay in giving them my final answer as long as I can, perhaps asking an innocent or ignorant question here or there. I do this for two reasons. One, their approach of me was disrespectful and offensive. Two, as long as they are thinking I will take their job, they are not trying to seduce one of my colleagues.

At some point they will email or call me: it’s tomorrow! we need to know you will be there! We are still waiting for your answer. Here’s what I write back:

I’m sorry for not responding sooner, but did not think such an unprofessional offer really required a response. I am a professional photographer, and I make my living from what I do. Of course I will not be working for free. My rate is xxx; if this is acceptable I am happy to be of service. Otherwise, good luck finding an amateur stupid enough to fall into such a trap. Because if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.

Assume responsibility for your market

Of course they never understand it. And they are always angry. But that really is not your problem. They will threaten never to approach you again – which really is actually good news.

Because here’s the bottomline: clients need to understand that what we do is valuable. Photographer’s who work for free damage their own market. Clients who get our services for free learn that photographers are gullible and naive. Not quite the message we should be spreading, is it?

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