Amateur Photographer



Ninety-five percent of new businesses close their doors within the first two years. With very few exceptions, working for free is the best way for freelance photographers to stay in the ranks of the unemployed.

Here’s just a few of the excuses I’ve heard from wannabe photographers who try to justify working for free.

I’m attempting to break into concert photography. When a band calls me to ask about pricing, I tell them, “It’s on me.” It’s a great way to get into that market.

Well, It’s a great way to break into the marketplace known as “free.”  How many times do you think bands have screwed themselves and given their melodies “free” to music labels?  Too many to put a number on, so don’t make the same foolish mistake.

I just did a free shoot for a starving actor trying to make ends meet. It helped him and was a chance for me to practice my lighting.

Being romantic about being a “starving artist” really isn’t a decent thing. It’s nice when you’re tasting a chai tea latte in the local java house, listening to someone recite slam poetry, but other than that — it’s a good way to remain starving. Doing a trade for prints (or CD) deal is for D-grade models and photographers who practically never become pros. Yes, you may believe that it helps you with your lighting techniques, it doesn’t help you grow in the area that matters the most — gaining the confidence to understand that your effort has some worth.

I volunteered to shoot free photos in my neighborhood for friends’ Christmas cards. It’s a good way to boost my business.

It is sweet to be a “good neighbor” — it worked for State Farm. Being a good neighbor will also get you plenty of invitations to weddings and Bar Mitzvahs with the suggestion, “Bring your camera.”  So, once you get better, and you’ve gotten some paying gigs, you’ll probably get something like this, “OK, neighbor, bring your camera and get us some shots. You’ll be there anyway.”

I got some great event photography experience shooting one of my company’s employee celebrations. I got to shoot a Fortune 500 event and my images received excellent exposure on the company website. I was even given a free printer for my effort.

Wow!  A free photo printer? You mean one of the dozens of printers your company got for free when they ordered the last batch of CPU’s from Dell?  As a photojournalist who has shot for many of the Fortune 500, I can tell you that I’ve earned plenty per assignment to shoot company picnics and holiday parties. It’s not glamorous, but it pays the bills. By the way, who insured your photo gear against spilled sodas or other accidents?  Let me guess — no one.

Every photography job I’ve gotten has been through word of mouth — often because I did something for free first.

Right, word of mouth. Sure.  As in, “Hey, I know this guy who will work for free.”  Congratulations! You’ve just become known all over town as the guy who doesn’t expect to be paid for his work.

I love my day job in IT, but in the evening I am fervent about photography. I don’t mind self-funding my labor because it gives me more creative freedom.

Guess what?  When India’s night work eliminates your day job, don’t email me moaning about it. Also, don’t attempt to make a living from your “passion,” because you’re already doing everything you can to weaken your chances — as well as everyone else’s.

I’m a young, amateur photographer and will soon graduate from college. I’ve been focusing on building a portfolio I can be proud of. Money? Later.

Great.  Excellent. Another student photographer who doesn’t care about money. I guess that when it’s time for your student loans to be paid, money will become more important to you. I guess you’ll have things like rent, food and clothing to worry about.  Unless Mommy and Daddy are paying for everything.

I did some high-profile work for free and now I appear in major media outlets — with a byline.

“Will work for a byline and photo credit” is one of the most idiotic mentalities among photographers today. You’re helping no one — including yourself. All you’re doing is killing opportunities for others.

It’s different now; there’s digital photography. Ten years ago, shooting for free meant eating the cost of film and processing unless the customer paid your costs. Today, all a shoot costs you is your time. Pixels are free!

No, pixels are not free — but thanks for playing, “What a Dope I Am!”  Cameras and camera shutters have a lifecycle of a few hundred thousand frames. Divide the number of frames you shoot for free by the cost of the camera no you’ll begin to understand how much that shoot cost you. That doesn’t count the cost of post-production, storage of the files, burning them to CD and so on.


Jerry Nelson is a freelance photojournalist whose work has taken him to over 150 countries. Busy on assignment in South America, Jerry is always interested in discussing future work opportunities. Contact him today at and follow him on Twitter.