WHY WORKING FOR FREE AS AN ADVERTISING PHOTOGRAPHER IS A GOOD IDEA

Alright, first things first. I know that some of you are already triggered to tell me to delete this post right now. I completely understand the reasons why you might think so but I sincerely request you to read the whole article first. Thank you.

Hello! I’m Ashwin, a Chennai based freelance photographer and my primary focus is on food photography right now. I am, by no means an expert and the motive of this article is just for me to share my experience so far and hopefully bring some value to those who take the time to read it.

Some background on me – I’ve been into photography since the tender age of 13 and have been shooting pictures rigorously ever since! I knew for a fact a working at a 9-5 job is not for me and have always thought along the lines of working for myself and owning a business. And my parents have been extremely supportive of this decision.

Before I expand on the title of the article, let’s get down to the basics for a minute. What is business? Business is basically trading products and services in exchange for money. Now photography is a service so let’s focus on that.

Photographers operate like any other business, we offer our services in exchange for money. Who do we offer our services to? why clients who need our service of course! There is abundant money in the market and a seemingly infinite number of companies and businesses would like to pay for YOUR photography service.

You might be thinking… “Okay smartypants, how do you start working with these businesses as a photographer starting off in a field that is absolutely new to you?”.

HOW I STARTED IN ADVERTISING PHOTOGRAPHY

When I first decided I wanted to venture out into advertising photography, I had no idea what to do. I worked in partnership with a friend of mine for a couple of shoe brands which was some pretty good work experience for me. However it was not exactly what I wanted to do for the rest of my life so I ventured out and tried different things. I shot for some referrals of my friends and peers and as much as I enjoyed those shoots, I was not really working with the businesses I really wanted to be working with.

Some agencies and companies did approach me through Facebook (the organic reach days) and through referrals but they were simply not okay with my charges. One reason could be that I had no prior experience shooting the type of stuff that they wanted me to shoot – Food products, restaurants, interiors and a whole variety of things. So my portfolio and I wasn’t inspiring much confidence in them.

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None of my peers were really doing the kind of work that I was looking to do so I really had no one to ask. Until I came across some business videos and also reached out to a lifestyle photographer who was actually doing the exact kind of work that I wanted to do, through Instagram. She simply said ‘start photographing the things you love and perfect your lighting and composition… tag the companies featured in your pictures and they’ll re-post it or reach out to you if they like your work. That’s a good place to start.’ And so I started… I created content around stuff I wanted to shoot and posted them on Facebook and Instagram and even messaged some of the companies I wanted to work with.

 

 

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However I didn’t stop there. As mentioned above, that was just a start. With the help of Gary vee‘s content and bit of thinking on my own I got this idea to reach out to companies and businesses that I wanted to shoot for and offer to do a test shoot for them AKA giving them 3 pictures of any 3 of their products for free. If they like it, and are looking for a photographer, then we discuss a full fledged photo shoot and all that jazz. If not, they’re still free to use the pictures. So there’s really no downside for the prospective clients to take up the deal and makes this a no-brainer.

Now let’s break this tactic down…

PROS AND CONS OF WORKING FOR FREE

Pros

  • You fill up your portfolio and social media with the kind of pictures you wish to shoot for a living and hence attracting exactly the right crowd for you, who are looking for the kind of work you display.
  • You’re providing value to a prospective customer way more than any other photographer on the market and hence getting on their radar. Even if they’re not looking to do a photo-shoot right away, if they have a good experience with you and should they ever decide to have photos taken for them later, they’re more likely to contact you for it. (Yes it has really happened! It actually works!)
  • You have the leverage since YOU are offering THEM a service for free so you can be choosy on who you decide to provide this value for based on what you want to do and what you want in your portfolio.
  • If you don’t have enough (or any) experience or the confidence to take up a big shoot that you wish to, this could be a great learning experience for you! It’s free anyway so you can’t really disappoint anyone even if you tried!
  • If the company or business decides to use your picture on social media or their advertising, you can have that as proof of working with them which adds to your credibility and could also help get more exposure for your pics.
  • People only get used to discounts and not free stuff so I don’t think this is going to devalue your work or reputation in any way.
  • If the company sells a product they want pics for, they happily give you the product to shoot. This would still be better than shooting that product on your own since you wouldn’t have to buy it to shoot it. I was reaching out to companies like this only since I had more time than money so this worked out well for me.

Cons

  • It definitely takes time and effort that you spend which might not immediately bring returns to you in terms of money.
  • You can possibly be ‘taken advantage of’. Some have tried to push me to do a couple more pics than I first agreed to and I’ve given them more pics if I felt like they’d dealt with me professionally or when I just felt like shooting more. But something to look out for.

Now just in case it was unclear (in spite of the title) I’m all for this tactic however I do not advocate companies that approach you that claim an upper hand and extract full-fledged photo shoots from you for free in the name of offering ‘work experience’ or claiming that they’re a startup and that newcomers should help each other. Unless you think the deal would bring value to the both YOU and the client, do not accept it.

It’s a completely different energy when you offer trial shoots to someone on your own Vs when someone comes in asking for free work.

This is most applicable if you’re fairly new to this field of photography but I honestly still do free work just to create some content for myself and for providing value to people in my market. Food photography is definitely something that I’m passionate about so I still offer free shoots to a few brands even though I’ve already done a bunch of paid shoots of the same kind simply because I really want to work with that brand (UPDATE : relatively a much lower number now since I simply buy the products to shoot instead nowadays)

I went on a spree messaging about 30 brands/ restaurants that I wanted to work with, a couple of months back and did some trial shoots and even landed a super cool long-term client from there. I honestly don’t know why I stopped. So after a sudden realization, I went on a bigger spree last week (Jan 2018) and messaged about 57 restaurants in a day on instagram (I got banned from DMing twice that day so I suggest chilling it with the spree DMs and spreading it out over a few days)

That, my friends is why I think doing free shoots isn’t at all that bad. I hope you gained something valuable from this long-ass article.

If you’ve made it this far, thank you so much for taking the time to read all this! Do you agree with me on this? Do you disagree? Do you think I’m a disgrace to all food photographers on the planet? Let me know in the comments below. Would love to hear your thoughts on this matter! Send me a DM if you have anything to ask me on @ace._photography!

Don’t be selfish! Share it with a friend who might find value from this 🙂

P.S. All the pics featured in this article were taken as part of trial shoots or on my own and here are some more! You catch up on all my pics on Instagram @ace._photography!

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Check out my Instagram @ace._photography for behind the scenes and more pics like these!