Should aspiring photographers work for free to gain experience?

This question seems to be asked all the time by aspiring photographers. Well, is it worth it? Let’s think about this and see if you come to the same conclusion.

Is Working for Free Worth the Experience as an Aspiring Photographer?

Like many media based industries, the world of photography is full of internships and free jobs you need to hurdle over before you can make a living. It’s annoying and can be very distrustful of your skill and talents, but that is the industry for many people.

Before you can make a living at this, you need to have enough people speaking up for your credentials. The easiest way to earn that, arguably, is to work for free with other photographers or to do some free work for potential clients.

Remember that there is a very fine line between gaining experience, and being taken advantage of. If you have a strong portfolio and you regularly receive comments and praise from people who view it, then you are probably much closer to paid work than you think.

If you can show that you have an artistic eye and that you can capture what matters in a photo, then you are definitely much closer to being paid for your work than you are telling yourself. This isn’t like other media industries, where you need to clock up X hours to get work – if you can showcase your qualities via portfolio, you are on track.

When Should You Accept Free Work?

It’s recommended that one of the few lines of free work that you undertake is for charity. It’s not only a good moral thing to do, but it helps you to build up a very strong recommendation that can help you go far. By working with charities (such as Flashes of Hope)you are helping to promote good causes while building up your portfolio. If you are going to work for free, you may as well make a difference in the world while you do so.

Take on less free work from corporates who can clearly afford you, and give your portfolio-enhancing, free time over to those who actually need the exposure.

Speaking of your portfolio, another acceptable time to go out and work for free is for powerful portfolio projects. If you want to get into sports shots, for example, you should never look to be paid while you try and get some good sports shots into the portfolio. Do it for free, and make sure that you aren’t looking for payment until your portfolio actively points to someone who can take on this particular situation and make your life easier.

A good way to get portfolio work, and not feel like you worked for free without being paid, is to trade services. You could, for example, work with someone – a plasterer, let’s say – and offer to do a free portfolio for them of their quality in exchange for help with the problem you need. Everyone likes to have visual proof of their own skills, so offer that out as part of a mutually beneficial arrangement.

The above reasons are fair, accurate and affordable reasons to work for free. Other than this, though? You owe yourself more than just taking anything to try and boost your credibility. Work for free only when it has a tangible moral or long-term benefit to you! If it doesn’t align with your brand or portfolio, that might be an opportunity to pass it up.

Focus on growth in your experience and portfolio; find the balance.

Are you a photographer?

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JoN McClure

Started FEATUREDphotog with his wife for one reason: To help the aspiring photographer get their first feature! Plus, site has resources, articles, products, and even a podcast devoted to the aspiring photographer that is beginning and wants a long term pursuits of becoming a professional photographer. Subscribe today and contact us to see if we can help in any way.