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We take the education part of our mission very seriously; we have a dedicated Director of Academics, Paul Meyer, who vets every instructor and workshop curriculum to ensure an educational structure for all our offerings. While we are quite exacting when it comes to our curriculum, it doesn’t stop at just teaching the visual and advanced technical components that HSW is known for in the industry.

Countless numbers of our alumni have gone on and now shoot professionally. Some are full-time in the industry while others are weekend warriors, balancing a day job with their passion for photography — and making some money on the side!

During our recent Workshop Summit, we closed the event with a “roundtable discussion” about being smart in the business of photography, led by the HSW instructors (all professional photographers) along with our guest speakers. The goal of this interaction with the Workshop Summit attendees wasn’t to provide for them lessons on how to start or run a business but rather, quite simply, how to not get taken advantage of when it comes to selling your photos, and to learn how to value yourself as a photographer and value your photographs for the creative intellectual value that they deserve.

[imageeffect type=”none” align=”alignleft” width=”121″ height=”150″ alt=”” url=”/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/BetterBizPrac.png” link=”http://www.amazon.com/Best-Business-Practices-Photographers-Second/dp/1435454294/” ]One of the resources the entire panel recommended for the attending photographers was John Harrington’s invaluable book, “Best Business Practices for Photographers“, seen at left — a must-have for anyone who has ever been asked “How much do you charge?” We can’t stress enough that if any aspiring photographer were to have only ONE book on their bookshelf related to photography … this is it.

Continuing with the direction set forth during the Workshop Summit, we’d like to share John Harrington’s “12 Excuses for Shooting Photos for Free—And Why They’re Bogus!” list. I have heard pretty much every one of these excuses at least once during the many years I’ve been leading workshops, as workshop students seek professional advice. And every one of them is truly bogus. Trust us when we say they say they don’t work. But better yet, read what John has to say about why they don’t work!

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12 Excuses for Shooting Photos for Free — And Why They are Bogus!

by John Harrington

Ninety percent of small businesses fail within the first two years. With few exceptions, working for free is the fastest way for freelance photographers to become part of this 90 percent. Here are a few excuses I’ve heard for working for free, along with my responses:

1) I’m trying to get into concert photography, so when bands have called to ask about pricing, I’ve told them, “It’s on me.” It’s a great way for me to break into that market.

It’s a great way to break into that market known as “free.” How many times do you think musicians have screwed themselves over and given away the farm to music labels? Too many to count. Don’t make the same mistake.


2) I just did a free shoot for a young actress trying to make ends meet, like many starving artists. It helped her and was an opportunity for me to practice my lighting techniques.

Romanticizing being a “starving artist” isn’t really a good thing. It’s nice when you’re sipping a chai tea latte with your beret in the local java house listening to beatniks recite their slam poetry, but other than that, it’s mostly a good way to remain starving. Doing a trade-for-prints/trade-for-CD deal is for C-grade models and photographers who almost never become pros. And while you may think that it helps you with your lighting techniques, it doesn’t help you grow in the area that matters most — the confidence to know that your work has value.


3) I offered to shoot free family photos for all my neighbors for their holiday cards. It’s a good way to promote my business.

It’s nice to be a good neighbor. Then again, you might soon be getting lots of invitations to weddings and Bar Mitzvahs, with the suggestion: “Hey, why don’t you bring your camera? We’d love to have some photos, and you would really be saving us some money.” So now, you’re an even better neighbor than you intended to be — and you’ve knocked some local wedding photographer out of a paying gig. Or, if you respond with, “Oh, those holiday photos were a one-time thing; I charge to shoot events,” you’ll probably get something like this: “Come on, neighbor, you’re going to be there anyway!”


4) I got some valuable event-photography experience shooting one of my company’s employee celebrations for free. I got to shoot an event for a Fortune 500 corporation, and my pictures received excellent exposure on the company Web site, with over 25,000 hits. I was even given a free photo printer for my effort.

A free photo printer? You mean one of the dozen printers your company got for free when they ordered the last batch of CPU’s from Dell or HP? As someone who has shot for over half of the Fortune 500, I can tell you that I’ve earned $1,000 or more per assignment shooting company picnics, holiday parties, and so forth. It’s not glamourous, but it helps pay the bills. That is, unless you have someone willing to do it for a free printer. By the way, who insured your personal gear against spilled sodas or any other accidents? Let me guess: no one.


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

Right, word of mouth. As in, “Hey, I know this photographer who will shoot for free…” Congratulations! You’ve just become known all over town as the guy who doesn’t expect to be paid for his work. Maybe if you’re lucky, you’ll even get a client who offers to buy you lunch.


6) I’ve been doing some free portraits of friends for fun, to use as their Facebook profile photos. When people see my pictures on Facebook, I’ll expand my network and it can lead to jobs.

No, it will lead to more requests to take pictures “for fun” — from friends, then friends of friends, then people who just don’t want to pay to have their portraits taken. And you’ll be making lots of new friends among the professional portrait photographers whose livelihoods you are damaging. Happy networking!


7) I like my day job in IT, but at night I am passionate about photography. I don’t mind self-funding my work because it gives me more creative freedom.

Guess what, IT guy? When India’s night work takes over your day job, don’t call me crying about it. Also, don’t bother trying to make a living from your “passion,” because you’re already doing all you can to undermine your chances — as well as everyone else’s.


8) I’m a young amateur photographer, close to graduating from college, so I’m focusing on building a portfolio I can be proud of. Money? Later.

Excellent. One more student photographer who doesn’t care about money. I predict that when Sallie Mae comes a callin’ for payback on those loans that funded your education, money will become much more important to you. And I assume you’ll have things like rent, food and clothing to worry about, too. Unless Mommy and Daddy are still paying for everything — which is really nothing for you to be bragging about.


9) I did some high-profile assignments for free, and now I’m published in major magazines with a photo credit.

“Will work for photo credit” is one of the more asinine mentalities among photographers today. You’re helping no one, including yourself. All you’re doing is killing editorial opportunities for others.


10) I recently graduated from photography school and have been shooting like crazy, mostly for free. I’ve been getting very good experience. I’m also making contacts, and once the economy improves, I’ll be in a much better place than had I sat around waiting for paid assignments.

That’s some photography school — where you didn’t get experience! Your problem is that you just want to shoot pictures rather than earn assignments. You don’t “sit around waiting” for work; you market yourself to people who are willing to pay for your services. Those contacts you’re making are worth about as much as your photography is worth to them.


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

No, actually, pixels are not free — but thanks for playing. Cameras and camera shutters have a lifespan of a few hundred thousand frames. Divide the number of frames you shot for free by the cost of the camera, and you’ll begin to get a sense of how much that shoot cost you. That doesn’t count the cost of Photoshop for post-production, storage of the raw files, burning them to CD for your clients, and on and on.


12) Once I stopped worrying about charging for shoots, I have had offers and requests coming at me from all directions. I want my photographs to benefit the world and to help other people. It’s not about the money.

Of course you have “offers and requests” coming at you from all directions. So does the drunk girl at the club who hops on the slippery oak bar-top with a short skirt and no underwear and says, “If you see anything you like, I’ll be in the back offering it for free.” You’re surprised that a line forms immediately? So, you want to “help other people.” How about helping those who earn a living producing photographs by not undercutting them? That’s the best way to ensure that great photography continues to benefit the world.


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[imageeffect align=”alignleft” width=”50″ height=”50″ alt=”” url=”wp-content/uploads/2011/12/Bio_Mug_MichaelMariant.jpg” titleoverlay=”no”]Michael A. Mariant is the founder and Director of Workshop Operations for High Sierra Workshops. Michael leads several workshops and courses with HSW, including “Advanced Photography: The Zen of Thinking in Yosemite“, “Yosemite in Winter”, “Yosemite in Spring”, “Death Valley”, “Time Lapse Photography”, “Eastern Sierra & Owens Valley” and the highly-acclaimed and immensely popular “Ultimate Travel Photography Workshop”.