Response ≤ Strobist: Four Reasons to Consider Working for Free

This is a response and some sharing of personal experience to this article

Strobist: Four Reasons to Consider Working for Free (his words in italics)

“A check is a good thing. It puts food on the table and keeps the business running. But that same check can also keep you from growing in the direction in which you want to grow.”

I find this a discouraging way to start the discussion, and one that removes both the responsibility and the motivation.  Why?  let me lay out my points before I try to prove my thesis.

“Tenet One: Free Buys Access”

Really? coming from a guy who’s had a press pass for 20 years and he wants to convince me that free buys more access?  Humm, something feels warped here.  My ability to access people or places has more to do with my attitude and demeanor than money or power; as an art student I was written off by some crowds, and as a professional I’m mistrusted by other crowds.  So now, I just feel my way through things and try to keep on people’s good sides.  Balance in my approach is the result, and my attitude is the only real issue.

“I want to be a location people shooter. More specifically, I want to make engaged and technically sophisticated portraits of people who excel at what they do. I want to benefit from both the photos and the experiences of meeting my subjects.That is my personal photographic compass point. Where the photos get used is secondary. As is how much — or even if — I get paid for them. For now, anyway.”

David Hobby mourns the death of the editorial portrait?

The fact that he uses ‘technically sophisticated’ in his want list tips me off.  I’ve been surrounded my whole photographic come-uppance with guys who made a full career out of ‘technically sophisticated’ portraits and almost made it into retirement before the were extinguished by the market.  They were card carrying ASMP members, when it was a technical challenge to make a portrait with a medium format camera and a truck load of lights.  The need for the technical expertise is gone, with the help of very sensitive sensors for cheap.  And so are the careers of the guys doing that….how about an amazingly talented artist you’ve never heard of, ring up Woody Packard….and ask…

“Because I want to grow by photographing extremely interesting people. It is for my portfolio and whatever use you can find for it. Because that is the fastest way to get the photos I want into my portfolio. And you can judge the last question for yourself after seeing my work.

And hopefully, I am circumventing the photographer’s Catch-22 — that you won’t be hired to shoot subject matter that you can’t already show in your portfolio.”

But you won’t necessarily be hired to shoot what you can show in your portfolio either! and this is where the rub comes between the check and creativity.  

“Tenet Three: Free Buys You Near Total Control”

But on what day of your life are you not given control?  you have the control to say no to any paying assignment you don’t feel you can complete.  And you don’t have to half heartedly complete any assignment you’re given – how you commit is again your attitude and your spirit.

“Why couldn’t I hook up with him and create a series of portraits of chefs at some of these places? Make his blog look as good as a decent food magazine, create a nice project in my portfolio and hook up more people with great local food?”….

“Answer: There is no reason why I couldn’t, if I take money out of the equation. If I wait for money, this little project will never happen. But take the money out, and it could happen in a heartbeat — and on my schedule.”

So here’s my personal story.  In late 2006 I started out to build a portfolio and promote it to commercial agencies.  I combined my love for action, my love for a unique photographic moment, and a technical palette that was colorful and bright.  I couldn’t sell it.  Why?

Because an art director couldn’t put it in a brief …. and because the market is shrinking.

I had art directors call for a quote asking for my people skills, the humanistic perspective, and turn around and tell me their client won’t justify the cost.  Of course the AD and myself know they’re buying 10 billboards across the city, but they’re not going to justify the custom content to go on them.  The iStockPhoto effect – it’s a part of your daily life.

“Tenet Four: Free is Powerful Karma”

“But I Don’t Want to be Branded as a Free Photographer”

“You wouldn’t be. You are not working for free because people asked you to. You are offering to collaborate on a project. And therein lies a huge difference.”

Collaboration is a creativity of a different kind.  One that has a goal.  A goal who’s monetary value has yet to be determined.  Much like the internet that David has made his living from…hold that thought.

Karma is the opposite of freedom, and I just felt the need to make that clarification.  Karma is causal and influentially determines what you’re going to do tomorrow – so if you need to work for free today, what in your past would create that need? 

Carry that thought and realize that your attitude on every job you did is creating your ‘karma’ for your life now.  So my point is the cycle is to find balance – not to invest in the future.  Balance is the natural state – and one from which your creative powers are unleashed.  Doing something to impress the future is in itself an imbalance. 

“When a company or organization asks you to work for free they may be (okay, probably are) taking advantage of you. When you are in control, no one can take advantage of you. You have the ability to offer your work for free, but you retain the ability to decline a request to work for free.”

Just because you decline doesn’t mean the company is going to stop expecting it for free, or keep searching for someone who will do it for free, or for a $400 day rate with all rights.

“Why Now? Isn’t the Whole World Caving In?”

“This makes the most sense right now, for so many reasons. How many people or organizations could use photos — but have no budget? How many days do you sit waiting for the phone to ring with an assignment?

How often have you looked at your home loan / stock portfolio / shrinking newsroom / etc., and just wanted to feel good about something, personally and/or professionally?

You may not have piles of excess cash to donate, but you have skills. You can leverage your value to someone through your pictures — and grow as a photographer at the same time.”

From a scientific point of view, the products of creative thought (sometimes referred to as divergent thought) are usually considered to have both originality andappropriateness.

That’s from the definition of Creativity on Wikipedia

Creativity is a mental and social process involving the generation of new ideas or concepts, or new associations of the creative mind between existing ideas or concepts. An alternative conception of creativness is that it is simply the act of making something new.

Social Interaction with other like-minded people

From Camera Dojo

Two weeks ago I got together with a number of other photographers up at Robert Evans’ studio in North Hollywood to do a trash the dress shoot for a couple. They probably ended up with hundreds of images from a dozen photographers, none of which charged a nickle. Robert opened his studio, I brought fog machines and dry ice, Candice supplied several dresses, and a dozen people worked together on a project that was for the betterment of all involved. This was so fun and worthwhile, we have decided to try to do it once a month.

Free exchange of thought will solve this current economic problem, we will create new efficiencies to solve the economic imbalance (as long as the government [antithesis to creativity] stays out of the way) We as a people must become and demand moral balance (with the government as our agent for social morality).  We are not ‘entering’ a depression, we are experiencing a correction – it only becomes a depression if we frame it that way in our minds, and begin to act that way.  Continue to think freely, act responsibly and we’ll solve the problem.

In your personal search for balance, I hope you achieve freedom of thought and heart to create what we must to pull together.  And remember, everybody is free


Yours in the image!

New York photojournalist signature