So this is a little bit of a rant post. Actually, it is a rant post. Why? Because like others, I’m sick and tired of people expecting work for free.

The last 15 or so emails I’ve gotten from my website have all been people wanting to book with me. Awesome! That’s exciting. Until I tell them my rates. As soon as money is brought up, the game changes. No one wants to pay for photographers or hair or makeup. Is there something about this profession that says “Hey, we will work for free! We don’t have bills or families or anything to worry about so I can just waste my time on you!”

Do you go into a doctors office and say “I love how you healed my friend. I’d love for you to fix me too!” and expect them to do it for free? (bad analogy, don’t care) No you don’t. You walk in and expect to pay them thousands of dollars because what they do is their job, they spent TONS of money and years learning their practice and going to school to help you not die.

I don’t go into a grocery store and ask for free stuff. I don’t expect them to give me free bread or drinks because I told them I love their store. So why is photography any different? Us as photographers have spent YEARS learning our craft, perfecting it. Some of us went to school for it and have to pay off loans, we bought thousands of dollars worth of gear, computers, hard drives, and not to mention we spend hours dealing with you as a client and other clients in meetings, editing, driving to the shoot, etc.

We have families to feed, bills, travel costs, etc and I’m not quite sure how people expect us to pay for those things if we don’t make money.

Having companies approach me with offers such as “in return, you will receive exposure to our 150,000 user base each month”……. if you have 150,000 users each month, I’m pretty sure you can afford to license out my images. Your clients also have no reason to hire me. They are there buying your albums or whatever it is you’re selling and unless they are here in my city, they most likely will not be flying me out to take senior/family pictures.

Having “models” saying “LOVE YOUR WORK!!! WE SHOULD SHOOT!” and then you send them your rates and they respond with “I don’t pay for shoots”…. It’s getting really old and needs to stop and there is a WHOLE community I know of to back me up on this.

Anyway, happy St. Patrick day.

P.S. If a client approaches you and offers exposure. Tell them no. Your work is worth more than a few people looking at it and spending money with the company that just ripped you off.

Chris Lambeth is a Phoenix, Arizona-based commercial portrait and fashion photographer. This article originally appeared here. Lead image by Chris Lambeth, text added for flair, because fuck you, pay us.

  • Steaphany Waelder


    I do not believe this is particularly an aspect of the photography industry. My primary career has been in Electronic Engineering and Product Development. Photography is an aside that I hope to make something extra with.

    I have had prospective clients tell me they want me to design their product for free and then they “will” buy my sub-assembly to include in their product.

    I have had a prospective client actually say to me that they loved my design proposal and technology direction, that I provided the best they’ve seen and knew I’d be a perfect choice, but as I was too expensive, they will be turning to college students since they’ll work for free.

    Others times I have actually been told that I would receive part ownership in the business if I provide a 50% reduction in my billable rate.

    When comparing billable rates that I charge with other electronic design services, I’m in line with the industry here in Texas and the US. But, just take a look as the same type of service firms in other countries, the billable rate charged to US clients by firms in India are at 5 to 10% of the domestic industry standards. How can a US based electronic design engineer or engineering service firm complete ?

    A friend once wanted me to shoot portraits of her grand kids, but before rates were even brought up, she got a new iphone and said with her new iphone, she’d didn’t need me.

    Your medical analogy is misplaced. Most people have medical insurance, they pay the insurance with the expectation that their insurer will be doling out the thousands to millions to keep them alive. The patient does not see or expect to pay the “true costs”.

    When it comes to professionals providing goods and services, the prospective clients and customers have no clue of economics, they get far to much for “free” and are expecting all providers to operate the same way.

    I recommend that everyone reading this check out

    They too have a #NOFREEWORK code of conduct

  • Fab Photos

    I agree with other commercial organisations but with Models it becomes a little tricky.
    They too need to be paid so is comes down to if you want the model for a theme you are interested in, pay them.
    If they need to photos for their portfolio they should pay you.
    If you are shooting for someone else they should pay both of you.

  • As hard as this is going to sound, if people are not prepared to pay what you think you are worth then you are going to go hungry.
    Yet the problem is much more complicated than that. Because providing a service and getting paid is a combination of your cost of living and running a sustainable company vs. Perceived value and cultural views of the service you provide.
    There seems to be a certain lack of negligence in the industry of comparing services like commodities. Sadly their is no way of stopping it because as new people join that industry they will offer their services for free or will be prepared to be exploited by the term ‘exposure’ to gain market awareness. If people are not prepared to pay a cent, you have a problem, a problem that can be resolved in a number of ways. Educate the client and explain the benefits of why they should pay for your services, find a mutually agreed fee or alternatively realise that value and experience is not important to that client and they are not worth anymore of your time.

    • Leslie Hoerwinkle

      Thank you, Capt. Obvious.

  • Darrin Nightingale

    This attitude seems to be endemic the creative industries. I write and see request like this on job sites all the time.

    “Looking for a screenwriter to write a drama. This is a drama about a Syrian refugee who was forced to flee his home and his journey to Europe. It is a story based on true events. Think the film 12 years a slave. I can’t pay anyone for their services up front but will be looking to raise funds for the project via kickstarter so can agree on payment if funds raised. This can be discussed in more detail if interested. Ideally looking for someone: Who can write a script to industry standard. Who has experience writing drama.”

    In my view, if you want someone able to write something with the dramatic complexity of 12 years a slave, you need to pay; otherwise write it yourself, see how far you get.

    There is a fundamental disrespect at the core of these requests. I refuse to be treated like that anymore. Once bitten twice shy. I have no idea how I will progress in this industry but I know it will not be because I give away my hard work for free.

  • Bo Dez

    Just say no. I have one line that shuts them up and moves them on quickly. “If you don’t believe in your product/project/idea (or whatever) enough to invest money in it, then I don’t either I’m afraid”. Move on as quick as you can and don’t waste a moment on these people. Oh and get used to being asked because it doesn’t stop.

  • I doubt this practice will ever go away. For as long as there are photographers accepting/offering services in return for exposure, there will always be companies who exploit them.

    • Michael Taylor

      And that is the source of the problem: people shooting for free, and quality isn’t even considered anymore.

  • kylesford


  • philnolan3d

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen jobs posted or been contacted about jobs where they don’t want to pay but I’ll have something to add to my portfolio. Heck, I can add stuff to my portfolio all by myself! It’s ot just photographers, I’m a CG artist and some of these were feature films.

  • Markthetog

    This used to be a problem when I started out and I believe it is related to the amount of marketing I was doing. Leeches look for those doing a lot of advertising and intuitively know that the advertiser is desperately seeking clients.
    I am a commercial photographer and not a wedding or portrait photographer that needs to market endlessly for business (my clients are regulars who feed me referrals).

    As my business grew I pretty much stopped promotion .
    The requests for free work have ceased.

    My advice is keep marketing and stick to your prices. Comments about your price being high just mean some fool doesn’t know what they are shopping for.

  • umptious

    FFS: Put your rates with your contact details and tell people you won’t shoot unless paid. And don’t bother the rest of us with this. If models are willing to shoot with you if they can get you for free but not at the rate you are charging, that doesn’t mean anything other than they have judged you’re not worth what you think, which is their right.

    And provide some honest bloody context for your article. Are these people models in the (semi?) professional sense? You imply it towards the end, and it’s quite normal for models and photographers to cooperate to build their portfolios. People aren’t expecting you to work for free, they’re just contacting you for a standard trade deal and you’re throwing a hissy fit rather than politely saying “No thanks.”

  • Phoenix

    On a flip side, as a model, I’m equally fed up with togs that contact me offering shoots that require me to travel to the location (happened before that I was asked to travel across country, 4h drive to do 2h tfcd outdoor shoot starting 8am with not even expenses covered), provide my own make up, do my own hair, provide all outfits, access, etc and not get paid for any of that but be expected to sign a model release allowing them to sell my images…

  • Mr Hogwallop

    It’s Spring! Time for “that post” again!

    First off a lot of doctors do provide free services. My doctor friend works with 2 nursing homes in FL every month helping people who really need it. His education cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and the 4 doc practice is in the millions….Apples and oranges my friend.

    “Some of us went to school for it and have to pay off loans, we bought thousands of dollars worth of gear, computers, hard drives, and not to mention we spend hours dealing with you as a client and other clients in meetings, editing, driving to the shoot, etc.”
    “We have families to feed, bills, travel costs, etc and I’m not quite sure how people expect us to pay for those things if we don’t make money.”

    News flash…They don’t care. Most of that is the cost of doing business. They want a photo for which they will pay $X . It’s up to you to convince them that your photo is worth $XX for being a great photo not because the $ you invested in your biz.

    It’s time to up your game. Get serious about getting better clients.
    Stop dealing with bottom feeding clients that find you via your website or Facebook or Craigslist. If you are good enough to play in the next level up it’s time to make that move. If control your marketing you will be able to get people to pay the costs of hiring you. YOU make the choice, not them! In essence you need to be able to pick and choose who you work for and not bitch about those who don;t appreciate you or cannot afford you.

    Photogrpahers often form symbiotic relationships with models HMUA assistants where they hep eachother out without chorg with the hope that when the paying jobs come along they will hire the same crew for real $.
    Photographers and Clients need to “find” each other, its like dating. There are very few 10s dating 3s and vice versa, Unless the 3s are either very rich or very talented LoL

    As the late Nancy Reagan said “Just say no!” when asked to do things you won;t get anything out of for free..maybe say
    “No thank you..” would be nicer.

  • Except on those occasions where a $0.00 job might make sense…..

  • Al Hudson

    You should try graphic design for a while.

  • Paul

    I just reply “do you work for free?!” Usually to newpaper editors etc

  • Justin Case

    Just curious, but does Resource pay it’s contributors? (And I don’t mean the people listed as writers, I mean people like Chris Lambeth who wrote this article for his blog).

    • Allen Stuart

      I see at the foot of the site that Resource are looking for unpaid interns for 3 months

  • Jeff

    Dude – we’ve never met, but I could have wrote this word for word! Hats off, thank you!

  • pitbull123

    Exactly the way I feel. Recently I was doing work for a magazine and they promised me they would pay me. Hohohohoho. Still waiting. No pay no work. Now if they want me to work for them they can pay me up front. Once bit twice shy.

  • Kanu Gupta

    Totally true!! No matter how small or big you are in your field it never stops.
    Well guess what, just happend to get the same kind of approch barely minutes ago before i saw this post.
    Maybe that’s why i waa heee more keen to read.

  • ShowHarmony

    This is really quite simple: If you think it is “work”, don’t do it for free.

  • Pierre

    True. Get paid and pay your models too. Unless mutually beneficial there is no reason to do it for free on either side.
    I guess that’s why we created , it educates the clients on the real prices of pro photographers. Most people have never hired a pro before and obviously are surprised. Eventually they get over it and are happy to pay 🙂

  • csabaD

    Agree! 100% here is a great answer too:

  • Jennifer Brown

    Consulting or fee based jobs are so misunderstood. This asking for freebies (especially in art world type jobs) will never stop and these comments and your ideas on handling it are great. When you start out it is ok to throw a few free jobs in to spread the word and make partnerships or a trade- your work for theirs. But after having a stocked portfolio and experience, don’t do it. I have also gotten burned doing a lot of charities and auctions etc. They did not lead to anything and found out it was just big parties for rich people where hardly any of the money raised went to the charity.