Should Photographers Work for Free?

Should Photographers Work for Free?

Ah the life of a photographer, always trying to gain new clients and prove the value you bring.

Starting out in any creative business is hard. No one really talks about the little steps you have to take in order to build the foundations of a successful business. One of the harderst things to navigate is your rates. How much do you charge? Should you work for free? When do I increase my prices?

There are many different opinions on this topic but as a food photographer at the beginning of my career, I have already learnt a few lessons from my mistakes.

Elle Frizzell Food Photography Hampshire Hampshire UK

My Thoughts on Working for Free as a Photographer

It can give you experience. If, like me, you get very anxious in new situations, it can be benefcial to do a job for free. Use it to prove to yourself nothing terrible is going to happen and you CAN make your hobby your career. Furthermore, it can give you expericence of working with clients, from initial emails to shoot feedback, and delivering your work.


It can be hard to work with that client again for payment. I made the mistake of working for free for waaaaay to long. The clients I worked with for product exchange (nice, but doesn’t pay the bills) were happy with my work and expressed interest in working together again. However, it soon became apparent they only wanted to work with me if I did the work for free. This my friends is not ok. At this point you need to make it clear that your time and skill provides them with value. Plus, the investment into camera equipment, software and learning your craft costs money.

If they don’t understand this, then move on. Always try to leave things on amicable terms, you never know when your paths may cross.

You’ll get a reputation for being free. As I said I worked for free for too long. I now get frequent emails asking for me to do a photography job and when I state ‘I can send you a quote’ they either refuse to pay me, or ghost me.

You see the thing is, people see you as being worth as much as you tell them you’re worth. If you work for free, then they perceive you as not being worth paying.

Make it very clear from your first interaction that you are providing a professional service and that payment is required.

Things cost money. And being a photographer is one EXPENSIVE hobby:

  • Camera = anything from £350 to £3000
  • Lenses = anything from £99 to £2000
  • Tripod = around £100
  • Backgrounds = each one is going to cost around £20+, and you’ll probably need a minimum of 3.
  • Bounce boards & diffusers = approx £20
  • Props = even the basics (linen, plates, bowls, cutlery, pinch bowl, mini milk jar) will set you back £50+
  • Food to create recipes = £20+
  • Editing software = £9.99 p/m

That’s already an investment of £800 to over £5000 and we haven’t even factored in the cost of website hosting, email services, courses to further your knowledge, household bills, and rent.

You are worth being payed. We all have goals; professional and personal. Although photography is your passion, it should also provide you with financial stability to be able to support yourself, lead the lifestyle you desire, and invest back into your business so it can grow.

I’m not going to lie, it’s going to be tough the find the right clients; the clients who fit your niche and see your worth. But hang in there, keep pitching, and let go of the clients who don’t value your time.