Just Say No to Free Gigs

My dear photographer and artist friends everywhere,

I know how hard it can be to set a price for your services. To say “this is how much I’m worth”… this is how much value my creative skills hold. It’s not something anyone else can do for you, but yourself. I feel the need to address this issue because unless we want things to change we have to keep talking about it and actively working on it, and there are still people out there who just aren’t aware this is even an issue.

The Issue

Sometimes we tend to forget how much labor we are putting into something when it’s something we love and enjoy doing, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be appropriately compensated. Sometimes others don’t understand why we should get paid for it when it’s something we love and enjoy doing, and they don’t see the level of hard work that goes into it, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be appropriately compensated. When determining what price to put on your services you have to factor in a number of things. These things include the cost of your gear, the cost of producing the shoot (securing a location, paying makeup artists, etc), the overall cost of the labor you spend (shooting, editing, location scouting, etc.), the cost of gas getting too and from locations, and not to mention your experience and creative skill level.

The Reality

The reality is many of us are severely undercharging. That meaning we are doing way too much work for little to no money. Unfortunately we live in a world where it IS hard to get paid for our skill and it’s only getting harder. New technology puts accessible photography in the hands of everyone through smart phone cameras, photo editing apps and other gadgets. There has also been an increase in the amount of hobbyists out there who have/had really good paying jobs and are now retired and pick up an expensive camera and shoot for free because they are doing it for fun and don’t need the money. Whether they recognize it or not, the issue is they are doing gigs for free that we as working photographer’s are trying to get people to pay us for. I even once had an older friend who was going out and photographing all the same bands and concerts I was for free because he didn’t feel the need to get paid. At one point, while we were at the same show, he turned and said to me, “I’m probably hurting you aren’t I?”, to which I grimaced and after a minute of letting it sink in looked down at me feet and replied, “Yeah, kinda…”

Don’t Be Afraid to Say “No” to Free

We have to stand up for ourselves and each other. Every time we accept a free gig we are telling people it’s okay to hire photographers for free. That hurts the whole industry. I’m not saying you can’t work some free gigs when you’re just starting out to gain some experience, confidence and exposure, but know your worth. Learn when to increase your prices. Don’t be afraid to up your rates after you’ve invested in some new, high-quality equipment that will turn out better photos. Unless you personally feel you are gaining value through the shoot or are trading services, free is not acceptable. 

One of the hardest things can be charging your friends. Just please remember if they are true friends they will want to support you. If they don’t get that the best way to do this is to show you you are valued through paying you, then kindly explain that to them. Paying someone for what they do translates to, “I respect and appreciate your craft and value the service you provide”. If their expectation is that you should just “hook them up” with free services, a better alternative is to trade. I recently did a personal shoot for my friend, Brittany, and in return she is offering me reiki and yoga sessions. Everybody wins.

It’s Worth it to Stay True to Your Worth

Unfortunately, you will run into people who will scoff at your prices or turn you down because they are too high, you will have people who bargain with you or tell you to lower them, and you will always have the people who think you should work for free to “gain exposure”. Don’t succumb to this. Hold firm to the rates you set. You will find the people who will pay you what you are worth, and it will feel great to be respected and recognized in this way. I promise, you will find it’s worth it and just remember not only are you helping yourself, you are helping all of us.


Sara of SJT Photography

Here are some further articles on the topic that may be helpful:



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