A group of talented professional photographers from around the country, who I’m blessed to know and talk shop with, have decided to join forces this weekend to share some insights with readers through a blog carnival. Because we all have both clients and fellow photographers following our blogs, the articles may be of use to one or the other, or both. At any rate, you’ll enjoy the articles and come away a little more prepared when choosing a photographer for your next portraits. Because my article speaks to other photographers, it may give you a different kind of insight; maybe one you can apply to your own career and volunteer work. So when you’ve finished reading this, please follow the link at the end, and you’ll find yourself immersed in another article by my friend Marianne in Chicago.
ARE YOU VOLUNTEERING, OR WORKING FOR FREE?
I was recently talking with a good friend about volunteer work, and to my surprise, it prompted some comments about how my volunteer work is hurting the photography industry. While I completely understand the arguments against working for free, and I myself have been quite vocal on the subject, there is a difference between the working for free that damages the industry, and geniune philanthropic work. So let’s take a look at each of these.
Undoubtedly in the course of your business, you’ll find yourself being asked to provide your photographic talent for far less than it’s worth. You’ll also hear all kinds of reasons why you should. The companies, organizations, and individuals expecting this of you benefit greately, so listen to their reasoning with a grain of salt. They stand to profit heavily off the amount they don’t plan on paying you.
For-profit companies search out unsuspecting new portrait photographers to do the work of commercial photographers, in hopes of appealing to their ambitions to get published. The companies profit heavily from the work, and should be compensating the photographers for it. Sadly, they get away with it anyway, and photographers who do this for a living are finding it more and more difficult to get paying jobs. An ever-increasing number of those jobs are now going to the cheapest, not the best.
Not-for-profit organizations are doing the same thing. At first glance, you might think they can’t afford you, so you should volunteer. But “not-for-profit” doesn’t mean “non-profit.” That’s why the classification name of these charitable organizations changed several years ago. Their main objective may not be profit, but many of them do make profits. Whether they do or not, people are getting paid. Directors, staff, and other contractors. So expecting photographers to work for free is inconsistent with the manner in which they acquire other services. They’ll say “it’s not in our budget.” And it isn’t. You know why? They don’t budget for photography because they keep finding it for free. Not by volunteers, but by photographers who think that’s the only way to get the job.
And then there are always the inquiries from portrait clients looking for free portraits, or all the files included with a small session fee. This wasn’t the case just a few short years ago. But with the recent and continuous surge of hobbyists with websites, and new photographers who don’t know the first thing about the true cost of being in business, those who used to hire talented professionals are now either bypassing the pros or expecting them to give their work away for free too. If this current trend continues, there won’t be any decent photographers left for families to hire. We will have all quit.
These are the arguments I heard from my colleagues, and I wholeheartedly agree! So why am I doing volunteer work? Because there are organizations who truly need volunteers. And they can use any skills you might have.
I happen to possess photography skills. I may not have a lot of money to donate, so my time is all I have to offer. I chose a charitable organization that is important to me, and one that I felt could really use some help. Sometimes it’s stuffing envelopes; sometimes it’s using my camera. Everyone running the place is volunteering their time. Of course in this situation, I can’t expect to be paid, and I wouldn’t want to be.
The line between working for free and volunteering may seem a little blurry to some, but I think it’s rather distinct.
You do have to be careful, and put thought into it, but do get out there and volunteer where you can. Don’t let semantics get in the way. When you decide that an organization truly needs volunteers and your time would be immensely helpful, then just do it. The world will be a better place, and nobody can argue with that.
The next article in this blog carnival is by Chicago Children’s Photographer – Marmalade Photography who has written about caring for your photographs…a must read, so go check it out!