Why I don't work for exposure - and you shouldn't either

I was lining up at the post office the other day when a new email landed in my inbox. As I skimmed through the lines I heard myself asking out loud: "Ummm... what?"

I could not stop shaking my head while I was filling out the customs forms. From the outside, it could have seemed like I'm just one of those people who hates the whole admin struggle, but in my mind, I was somewhere else. I was recapping the offer in my email coming from one of the biggest retail chains in Canada asking me to photograph their 6-figure event for free.


Not for free. 

For "exposure".

Even though I get these emails every once in a while - I felt kinda betrayed.

I imagined offering a social media mention to the woman at Canada Post in exchange for mailing my package. I mean, I'm sure she could use some exposure, right? So does my barista at my favourite coffee shop. Yet, somehow it never crosses my mind to offend them with anything like that.

So here's the thing: there are way too many 'for-credit' requests flying around, asking people to do a not so fair trade.

It's time to cut this bullshit.

As photographers (or basically any other freelancers, bloggers, designers, etc.) we need to help each other by saying no.

Working for free will never lead to 'potential opportunities'. Free work leads to more free work. And you working for free is really just people taking advantage of you. Your photos will give someone else exposure. Someone else will sell more products. Someone else will have more materials for marketing and content. And you will feel used, and will be left without compensation. So next time just say: thanks, but no thanks. 

If you find yourself getting some of these cringeworthy emails, try and educate your clients on why it is important to make sure that you get paid. Perhaps list all the amazing things that investing their money into your services will get them, like: 

  • Professionalism
    Showing up early, knowing how to dress, where to stand and what to say AND delivering within the deadline. 

  • Knowledge and experience
    Knowing what to shoot and how to shoot it.
  • Time
    Your time on the project starts with the request email coming in, the negotiations, the shoots, then the uploading, culling, editing, retouching, transferring and handling the extra file/edit requests
  • Talent
    Your unique eye and way of capturing moments.
  • Equipment
    Have you ever sat back and added up the value of all your gear? Do clients know that cameras bodies die after a certain shutter count - therefore every photo you take costs you money? 

The next time someone asks you to work for free think about all of the above - think about your worth. You are worthy of compensation.

Each time you say no to a request for free work, three paid opportunities will come from somewhere else. I promise. 

Once I implemented this into my strategy and stopped trying to please everyone, things started to change. My priorities shifted from wanting to work for 'big brand names' and moved to keeping my cash flow nice and healthy.  And yet somehow, the big brand names with actual budget found me and got me working on projects where I felt appreciated and respected as a photographer.

These dreamy clients are out there, waiting for you too - you just have to be really clear on your direction and firm on your prices. 

Struggle is not required.