Are you relatively new to photography? Don’t be shy, everyone was at one point. Lucky for you, an industry lifer works among us at Resource—photographer Douglas Sonders has shot everything from editorial portraits to VR content, and travels over 100k miles a year on assignment. Ask him anything here—we can keep you anonymous, just be sure to tell us what genre of photography you work in.

How Long Should Aspiring Photographers Work For Free to Gain Experience? 

This is the big question for every young photographer. There are so many talented photographers who say that they’re afraid to charge because they feel like they arent ready, meanwhile their portfolio is amazing and shows enough skill to compete in the marketplace. I understand the need to build your portfolio and experience, but there is a fine line between learning and being taken for a ride by others. Here is my quick list of the ONLY reasons you should work for free:

Charity: Personally, I take portraits of rescue dogs as well as orphaned children in the foster system to promote their adoption. Using photography, I can directly help save animals as well as help place children in forever homes. It’s incredibly rewarding.

Family: If your immediate family asks you for help, you should help them. Although, if it is anyone other than your immediate family, you should consider charging themTHAT INCLUDES YOU AUNT JOY.

Portfolio: Art directors at agencies and magazines do not hire you based on promises that you can shoot a particular subject. Thus, if you want to shoot cars, you need car content in your portfolio. Want to shoot athletes for a brand? You need that content in your portfolio. Make sense? So if you can imagine a shoot directly helping fill a void in your portfolio, I see no harm in shooting it.

Trade of services: This is very much an under-utilized aspect of the photography industry. Your talents have a value. If someone cannot afford you, but you want to humor working with them, maybe they can pay you another way. I knew a photographer that shot a catalog for a kitchen appliance company. They couldnt afford his rate to shoot an ad campaign, so they gave his studio all new appliances on top of the fee they could afford as a partial trade.

What editing do you almost always do to your photos?

Although each shoot should be treated uniquely based on the desired final product, there are a handful of things I do with every digital file to ensure optimal quality and refined final result.

First, I do every shoot in Raw and process my images in Phase Ones Capture One Pro 8. Wait, youre not shooting in Raw for every important gig or personal project? Are you crazy?! Shooting anything important in JPG mode is like buying a Ferrari, but putting lousy gas in the tank that doesnt make the most out of every bit of horsepower. Your cameras Raw mode delivers you the best quality images that your camera can offer. I understand there are some cases for shooting in JPG modes, but if you arent shooting in Raw most of the time, then why did you spend all that money on an expensive camera system? You will thank me if you make this a required aspect of every shoot.

Second, I add sharpness to every file. Whenever you resize an image or are simply processing an image, you should absolutely add sharpness. Do not add so much so as to create digital artifacts in your file, but enough to ensure your edges look crisp and refined. Understanding your editing programs different sharpness tools is a crucial aspect to delivering professional-looking images.

Third, I tweak contrast. Some like things to look vintage and faded, while others (such as myself) like their images to pop. You should always take time to refine your contrast in order to create a particular mood for your photo. Back in my darkroom daysyou know, before computersI loved playing with contrast filters to create black-and-white images that had solid blacks and crisp whites. It helped establish my photography style early on, just by playing with contrast.

All questions answered and written by Douglas SondersThis article was originally published in the Spring 2015  “Comedy Issue” of Resource Magazine. Visit the Resource Mag Shop to pick up a copy.