Work for Free?

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The big thing in the photography blogosphere this morning seems to be David Hobby’s front page post – “Four Reasons to Consider Working for Free.”  

Chase Jarvis brought it up on his blog.   And even Moose Petterson rushed in to post as I am here – I’ve got to run out the door.  

But here’s what I will say (quickly) – talking about, or getting involved in any online discussion about “working for free” is like tying Kryptonite to oneself.  It is a LOADED question and discussion.

I’m very very much against working for free.   In fact I don’t like people working or interning for me for free.  It’s just not good business.  Period.

That being said – there is value is what David Hobby is saying.  But it needs to be CRYSTAL CLEAR:  if there is an INCREDIBLE assignment – where there TRULY is no funding behind it (either due to the people putting it on – or these days the economic reality) AND it is a portfolio/career builder – THEN and only THEN should you consider it.

Big name actors do occasionally work for free, so do big name talent in all areas – IF THE PROJECT is AMAZING – and not backed by a HUGE company sitting on cash.   This is a VERY IMPORTANT DISTINCTION.  

IF YOU ARE WORKING FOR FREE – simply to get “a” job – you risk destroying the entire business for everyone.   In fact – your dream job – that you do for free – will be a job that some qualified person will no longer be getting paid for.  And you’ll hurt that person’s chance of feeding their family in accepting to do that job for free.  It’s quite that simple.  

That being said:  you do AT TIMES (and that’s the key – this is 1 project a year at most maybe – as Chase is suggesting – and I agree to that) need to develop your book – expand your horizon and your book – and roll the dice.  I.E. – I’m a qualified to do “x” but have never done and proven that I can do “y” – so I’ll do it for little or nothing – BUT – one time only – AND I RETAIN THE RIGHTS!   i.e. – you and I can use it for self-promotion and so can I.  BUT you can never generate any profit for it – if you do – we split it.   If anyone makes ANY money – we all benefit – that’s KEY.

You can see why this can very easily get very complicated – and dangerous.  Some people – such as Chase Jarvis – know how to navigate these things.  And make sure that if that “free” awesome assignment somehow become a hit – he’ll be able to profit in it – and not get caught feeling left out.   

What worries me – is that most of David Hobby’s readers – are not pros.  And when they offer to do things for free – they don’t have Chase’s business acumen.  And they may do more harm than good to our industry – that is already struggling.  If everyone starts working for free – it’s OVER for everyone.  So I think we need to make this more clear out there – and help define this more carefully for everyone – both for the pros and the advanced amateurs.

So if you want to – do it max once a year.  That’s my suggestion.  DON’T LET IT BECOME A HABIT.

And by the way:  this is coming from the guy who shot a little film called “Reverie” and did it “for free.”  Canon did not pay me – or fund anything.  It was something that I did on my own.  I spent my own money to fund the production – and reeped great professional benefit from it.  It was a big win for me and my career – no question about it.  I own the work and copyright OUTRIGHT and made that clear.

BUT – when Canon asked to use the video after I produced it.  I made sure they paid.  And they paid well.  A  lot more than I would have made had I been commissioned to do the project in the first place.  That’s the important part here.

This was supposed to be short … now I’m late and have to run out the door.