Will Work For FREE?

Many of you know David Hobby, aka Strobist. He and I are dear friends. We talk often. And we’ve been talking for several weeks now about free photography.

Free? Huh? Whadaya mean FREE?! FREE? This is where some of you may freak out.

Ya, I mean free. Not as in licensing photographs you’ve already taken, but as in taking pictures for someone’s use, in exchange for zero money. A project, a test, an assignment. I’ve been waiting for David to post his idea on this for some time now, and he’s finally done so in thoughtful fashion – it’s worth the read.

It’s likely of little surprise that the comments over at Strobist’s post have begun to pour in on both sides of the fence. Lots of readers are on board for this working for FREE idea… “Of course you should take photos for free, you can get x, y, and z (read: portfolio shots, experience, clients, etc, or whatever).” On the flip side there are–as you well know–some other folks, “What?! you’re devaluing the industry, devaluing your skill set, my livelihood! Stop the madness!” Both sides have something to say… [click the ‘continue reading’ link below]

I say hold your horses. This is fun. Let’s look at this on face value.

Quite frankly, I think the FREE that David is discussing is not evil. It can do some good for a spectrum of those involved. It can do bad things if mismanaged, but it needs conceptual discussion. And I think so for a couple of reasons:

1. FREE already happens all over the place, right now, today, but people rarely talk about it. It’s not always unhealthy nor malicious. Photographers do stuff for free all the time. Good or bad, wrong or right, whatever your opinion. True, people often don’t speak about it publicly or openly, but it does exist on widespread basis. In fact, since my soapbox has long been about removing the black box of photography, I’ll let you in on a little secret…FREE happens at every level of the industry, from simple favors to entire ad agencies doing entire campaigns pro bono, or at a huge loss in the hopes of getting to do something cool, interesting, or something that will ultimately come full circle to help the world, help themselves, or help their business succeed.

2. FREE has a place. Should all assignment photography be free? Of course not. That’s totally absurd. Only a tiny tiny fraction could ever be considered. Should some people give their work away in some cases to meet certain objectives? Sure, under certain circumstances depending very specifically on level, quality, career stage, business cycle, or perhaps a whole host of other considerations. There are a number of dynamic factors that require consideration, and both wisdom and moderation have their places. But don’t bother with the slippery slope argument or the stigma argument. I ain’t buying it. FREE has a place and it has since the beginning of business. It’s certainly not everywhere and it may not even be often, but it has a place. Why? See point one above.

Let’s take for example a well known musician, someone with broad appeal. Dave Matthews Band is a good example, love em or hate em. I chose him after a quick Google search looking for top grossing music tours. Dave can sell out any stadium. A LOT of people like him. If he does a benefit concert for free, is he selling out his other artist buddies. Is Justin Timberlake suddenly out of business? No. Can Dave turn around and sell out another stadium the following week? You bet. Has this free concert devalued the music industry? No. Other things might be devaluing the music industry, but The Dave Matthews band playing a select benefit show for free is not. I’m banking that, for Dave, at the end of the day, he wants to play music and he wants to balance his playing of music with making a nice, sustainable living and working on interesting and worthwhile projects. Period.

To underscore my point, consider this: I normally charge a considerable fee for assignment work. But, effective immediately, I’m looking for one, interesting shoot/project–the right project– to do for free. Anywhere in the world, any subject matter, photo or video/motion. Send me your ideas. I don’t care if you’re a low budget magazine, a break dance crew, an individual, a non-profit, an agency or a brand, whatever. If you have an interesting project in mind–large or small–send me reasonably detailed brief, describing the opportunity and referencing this post, to info at chasejarvis dot com. I’ll review whatever comes in – if anything does, and I’ll get back you. Whether it takes three weeks or three months or longer — if something sounds like a good match, creative, or cool to me, then I’ll contact you, and I’ll do that shoot for free. It will be fun.

Don’t hesitate. Be bold. We’ll have a blast – I’ll bring the whole dog and pony show and do it right, front to back, concept to final file. And then I’ll go right back to charging my normal rates, I promise. And no one will get harmed in the making of this point. I have no idea if this idea will have any traction, but…

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