Free Photo Shoots: Why and when you should do them

(Adobe Stock)

To shoot for free or not to shoot for free, that is the question.

There is a longstanding debate among photographers about whether or not it’s ever appropriate to do photo shoots for free.

Many photographers argue that doing any sort of free photo session devalues your work and the profession. Others say that shooting for free is necessary to building up a portfolio and getting pictures for your website.

In my opinion, you should shoot for free, but the reason why may not be what you think.

Sure, I will agree that in the beginning of your photography career it’s beneficial to build up a portfolio by offering a few free photo sessions to friends and family. I often used my kids as models, and I still do to this day. I’ve also asked my neighbors for permission to photograph their children for composites and provided free photos in exchange. However, this is not the only reason you should offer gratis photography services.

Often, as we grow as a photographer we quickly forget what it was like to be curious about our camera, intrigued about capturing a creative composition, or moved by lighting. Once you figure out the basic settings it can be easy to fall into a routine and stop practicing and trying new things.

For this reason, I do encourage you to go out and shoot for free. The only way to build your photography skill is through practice, and sometimes that means going out and photographing for the sake of your own development.

Now, this doesn’t mean you have to go offering your photography services without pay around town. It may just mean asking people you know if they’ll let you use them as subjects to practice a certain technique or going out to shoot different times of the day to practice with various lighting.

Say you admire a style that you want to develop, or there is a niche you want to break into. Then it would be to your benefit to take the time to achieve your vision, even if that means not getting paid for it.

On the other hand, when should a beginner photographer start charging for their work?

When it comes to photography, there is no set number of free photo shoots you should do to build up your portfolio and no one is going to come and magically give you permission to start charging clients.

You can gauge when it’s the right time to make the jump from amateur to full photographer by your level of comfort. Once you start feeling comfortable enough with your camera and equipment so that you can dedicate attention to your subjects, you are shaping up to start charging for your work.

In general, when you can deliver a good photo and are also able to engage with your clients during a shoot then you are ready to provide a proper paid photography service.

So, don’t always be quick to turn you back on a free photography gig if it means you stand to gain either better technique, more recognition, or a stronger portfolio. Knowing your own value and worth means knowing when it’s necessary to charge for your services, and when you can do work for free and still benefit from it.

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