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…

130 Responses to Will Work For FREE?

  1. Anonymous December 5, 2008 at 2:24 am #

    Ok. I’m wetting myself. Must. Think. Of. Cool. Shoot. Now!

  2. Erik Hersman December 5, 2008 at 2:59 am #

    I’d like to take one Chase Jarvis special shooting some of the ingenious inventors and entrepreneurs in Africa that we cover on AfriGadget… we can never do them the credit they deserve.

    I’d say an East Africa tour would work best, but hey, Ghana and Nigeria have a ton going on too!

  3. J son December 5, 2008 at 3:11 am #

    This could be cool. I’d bank you’ll get a range of ideas, from simple to complex, low ot high budget and near to far. The shoot could be anything really. The point has been nicely made. Thanks for link to Strobist too.

  4. Armand Dijcks December 5, 2008 at 3:19 am #

    Totally agree. Doing stuff for free allows you to do exactly what you want and how you want it. This will eventually show though in the result, and before you know it, people will be begging to pay you for the kind of work you think is fun to do.

    Just this morning I was thinking I’d like to hire you for future projects, if only I could afford your kind of rates… guess I better come up with a good idea now :-)

  5. Will December 5, 2008 at 3:36 am #

    This is an awesome idea. I am interested to see the ideas and what you choose to do.

  6. Freelance fotograaf Jürgen Doom December 5, 2008 at 4:45 am #

    Great to see this “out of the box” thinking. Just like people arguing about how much damage digital camera’s are doing to their business (which, in my opinion, is not correct), doing things free of charge at times means putting your heart into it. And this can only be encouraged.

  7. Stewart December 5, 2008 at 4:48 am #

    I’m in…

    I have an idea which I think will be right up your street and even some concept shots for it too. Might take me a few days to pull it all together as a proposal. But it will be sent.

    We too are doing stuff for free for other photographers. It seems our approaches are very similar in many ways.

    Nice idea…

    • Servizii fotografici April 27, 2012 at 12:53 pm #

      Unleash creativity, in many cases leads the gain of money. Thanks for sharing.

  8. iintrigue photography December 5, 2008 at 5:44 am #

    Awesome morning read. Strobist’s was equally great and inspirational and followed the similar line of though about photographing WHAT you wanted.

    As for shoot idea, just to throw one out there, I think a zero-grav shooting (Vegas?) or a free-fall skydive shoot could have a ridiculous amount of potential.

    I’d love to elaborate if you find the possibility remotely interesting!


    Montreal, Qc

  9. Iván Baña December 5, 2008 at 5:50 am #

    I would see this pictures with the chase´s visual style it will be so dinamic!


    I take that shoots and 11 pictures more for an academic work, I did it for free. I want to use this work to promote Taekwondo martial art because is one of mi passions.

    Nice idea in the last post, you are always openmindend.

  10. iintrigue photography December 5, 2008 at 5:52 am #

    oh, this just came to me spontaneously:

    To shoot: a person being shot out of the water by a Geyser.

    I have no idea how it'd be done, or where, but…it just sounds…fantastic >

  11. Paul Alford December 5, 2008 at 6:06 am #


    Don’t we all shoot tests to improve our books? If we don’t, we should. These are free, aren’t they?

    It’s just another small step to realise this concept. Great idea.

  12. Tom Legrady December 5, 2008 at 6:37 am #

    We had an election here in Canada just before the US one. The Conservative party got more seats than anyone ones, but not a majority. In their first budget statement, about a week ago, they messed up, trying to take away the right of civil servants to strike, taking away the well-established government financing of political parties ( $1.95 / vote ), doing little to handle the economic crisis, and a lot more.

    The opposition parties were going to bring down the government in a non-confidence vote. Most of the time, bringing down the government leads to a ne election, but this time the oppsition parties united to for a coalition, which would replace the current party in power. Prime Minister Stephen Harper reacted by shutting down Parliament for 7 weeks, to avoid holding the non-confidence vote that would have destroyed him.

    The problem is the opposition parties have been fighting each other, in the past, and not the government is doing everything to make them look bad.

    We need a champion who can make the opposition, coalition-to-be look good, decisive, capable. We need something that will sway public opinion away from Canada’s neo-con lapdogs and enable some northern change to believe in.

    Google ‘liberal party of canada email’ to find contact info.

  13. Anonymous December 5, 2008 at 6:53 am #

    Like Paul Alford was saying, working on a project of your choosing without getting paid isn’t working for “free”- photographers do that all the time to get new pictures for their portfolio. That’s different from getting only a smile and a pat on the back for doing a shoot for a magazine or a non-profit or whatever that you really have little intrinsic interest in. Moreover, the pictures probably won’t be anything special. Most of the time the client really has some money to pay but they are being cheap and don’t value your skills and time. So, yes, do projects and tests that you are excited about, but work for free, NO!

  14. Eric Doggett December 5, 2008 at 6:53 am #

    Chase -

    You and David have discussed some excellent points, and it was a process that I’ve been going through very specifically for the last 3 months.

    While I cut my teeth on weddings and portraits, I’ve been wanting to do more stylized portraiture. Of course, I couldn’t show people wedding work and get that kind of assignment.

    So, I created the ‘No Budget Shoot’. It was a way for me to shoot what I wanted in the way/time I chose. The original blog post was humorous (‘you must have a budget of at least $0′, etc.) My plan was to shoot dynamic, multiple light images with some special photoshop processing. I sent out facebook/twitter messages, and found 10 volunteers for this.

    The shoots went great, everyone is happy, and now the images are part of my new portfolio. In addition, some paying work has already come about from the sessions!

    You can view the new images at:

    Thanks for the article,

  15. Reflections by the Hill December 5, 2008 at 7:00 am #

    I believe you and David said right. As I begin my photography business this year, I have done several shoots that are free. But I know that I don’t want to stop once I get my business going. Your post, David’s post and this post here http://www.mattnicolosiblog.com/index.cfm?postID=111 has really affected on how I want my business to run. Thanks for sharing.

  16. Marshall December 5, 2008 at 7:03 am #

    My Mom would like a good picture of me.

    (Just kidding, of course. Very interesting read.)

  17. glongman December 5, 2008 at 7:05 am #

    I don’t know diddly about photography, professional or otherwise. I’m glad I found this blog though.

    Chase, this post is up there on the long list of reasons I like this blog. And you.

  18. RichardJ December 5, 2008 at 7:15 am #

    Everytime I read or hear of giving free photography out, it usually comes from professionals who are making tons of money in paying jobs, thus can afford doing personal projects on off days.

    Or, it comes from photographers who have a day job, and don’t need photography revenues to pay their living expenses.

    Or, a working spouse allows for the passionate photographer be the “artiste” he or she always wanted to be.

    Or, simply a passionate amateur who has no idea about the reality of a professional, maybe because s/he has not lived having someone taking his/her day job away because of a cheaper salary. Of course, it happens every day when jobs are lost to China or India. People who have kept their comfortable jobs have not been hit by that reality yet. So, they can’t extrapolate in the photography industry.

    If you do live from photography and have to scrape to get by, I’m wondering if you should not be marketing, and promoting yourself on you off-days, instead of doing non-paying personal projects.

    Rich people give a lot of their time, and money to charities… because they can afford to.

  19. alek December 5, 2008 at 7:37 am #


    I’m a long time lurker (who also enjoys Strobist) – good followup on David’s post.

    WRT that “free project”, I’ll toss one at ‘ya. Since it is the holiday season, how ’bout some wild shots of the Controllable Christmas Lights for Celiac Disease? I’ve taken some that are semi-decent, but would be awesome to have you take it to the next level and add your incredible artistic flair.

    I’m located in the Republic of Boulder, Colorado … so we could hit the ski slopes afterwards. Along those lines, might enjoy this Ultra-Wide shot of my 9 year old son catching some air.

    Best Wishes,

  20. Ryan E. Walters December 5, 2008 at 7:51 am #

    An additional benefit to working for free form my own experience in the film (motion / video) world is that it allows you to take bigger creative risks in a project. I’ve always walked away with something useful from these endeavors – even when the rick was large and it didn’t completely pan out.

    Not being shackled by a budget and a specific direction opens up all kinds of possibilities that may not have been there. This in turn influences my paid work, as well as jobs that I am asked to do in the future.

    Working for free from time to time is not something to be afraid of- at the very least it allows you the opportunity to make the pictures your are passionate about.

  21. Chuck December 5, 2008 at 7:53 am #

    I completely agree with just about everything you’re saying here. I think there needs to be some perspective for your last point. True DMB can sell just about anything out, and doing a free show wont devalue JT or any other celebrity musician. But the fact of the matter is that most musicians, even professional musicians, dont play anywhere close to that level. They play on a “Wedding Singer” level. While you may be at the DMB level of celebrity in the photography world, most of us (myself included) are at the wedding photographer level. Free is defiantly good and the cream always rises to the top.

  22. The Nothing December 5, 2008 at 8:14 am #

    I’ve always wondered why “pros” don’t shoot things for free. Its always made me wonder that they do when they’re not working on the next assignment. Many photographers always state that you need to take photos for yourself to maintain passion and creativity. So, are they getting paid at this time?

    You don’t have to shoot a wedding for free. You don’t have to do some commercial shoot for free. Hell, I wouldn’t suggest doing anything you’d normally get paid for free. But, I would suggest finding a cause, or a hobby, or something other than what you normally shoot. This is something Robin Preston is doing in the UK and Germany. While he’s not shooting cars for some big manufacturer, he’s shooting pin-up and alternative cultures and hoping to be able to sponsor under-privileged teens to help them reach their artistic and creative goals…

    Approach a minister at a small church and ask him if he has any weddings approaching that might have a hard-off couple. Perhaps they don’t have a photographer coming, and maybe not much family. Perhaps you and the minister can surprise them. Brides always want pictures, even if they cannot afford the wedding, let alone the photographer.

    What ever you find yourself doing, it won’t be work.

  23. Karen Ard December 5, 2008 at 8:19 am #

    It surprises me when I hear people do NOT shoot anything for free. To me then, photography is just a business for those people. When photography is your passion and you feel that pulsing through you, you want to do what you can through your photos…. even for free. I shoot families in need for free throughout the year. There is nothing like it.

  24. Anonymous December 5, 2008 at 8:36 am #

    I read the Strobist blog first thing this morning and of course he linked to your site. I’ve recently took up photography again and didn’t take it seriously the first time. Now, I’m passionate about improving my skills. A lot of credit for that go to you and David Hobby.

    I’ve taken a couple photography classes to get me into the habit of shooting assignments. Now I find time each week to shoot anything.

    I’ve also been thinking about learning more and improving my portfolio, not because I plan on becoming a Pro (although that could change), but for my own personal growth.

    I started contemplating how i could gain more experience and challenge myself. I had the same idea as you and David and will be approaching an organization that I feel strongly about.

    It’s great to see that a Pro at you’re level is willing to give and promote such an idea, than can be personally rewarding and beneficial to someone else.

    Great work on every level, which is why I frequent your site.

  25. Anthony December 5, 2008 at 8:39 am #

    I read David’s post ealier, and then yours on the same subject. I have to say I was impressed by your ninja project.
    I don’t know if you work when you’re in Paris, but one of my “working for free to develop myself” projects is to assist a pro on commercial gigs. So let me know if you can do with another assistant here in Paris. I can shoot and I know my way around studio light.
    Thanks for the inspiration and for sharing so many info !!

  26. mendittophoto December 5, 2008 at 8:41 am #

    I teamed up with another photographer to shoot personal work at Ellis Island South. We selected it in part for its personal connection to many families.

    We opted to do the whole thing in High Dynamic Range (HDR). The project was self-funded, not cheap and took much negotiation. The location is under lots of construction for their stabilization efforts, and we wanted to get in there to capture the stage between pristine un-touched and their final vision for the park. Also, it looks like the National Park Service is declining new access so they can concentrate on stabilization.

    The intangible benefits are that we’ve got a body of work that you won’t see many other places. A self-published book is just a first step. Coincidentally, I just used it as a basis for an HDR blog post, and a couple of months ago in a local radio interview (WDVR-FM NJ).

    My fellow photographer Tony Sweet has already used it as a basis for his own blog and material for upcoming published book.

    Down the road, we hope the images can help the park. I don’t think we would’ve gotten the same mileage out of it without the latitude of it being personal work.

    Thanks for the post, Chase.
    mark menditto

  27. Anonymous December 5, 2008 at 8:48 am #

    I think you make too much money to say anything. But then again… how many free projects did you do before you were a hassleblad and a nikon master?

  28. Anonymous December 5, 2008 at 8:49 am #

    I work for free! No, really, photography brigs a zero profit to me! (Zero money).
    But I get a lot from photography! – Peoples, contacts, blogs, a lot of good memories. Work for free gives me more shoots of “myself”!
    I just like photography! And I like to photograph peoples, that all. Sometimes persons very like my photographs, they are really happy (!) and they WANT to give their “thank you” to me. And my “clients” satisfaction is one of the main reasons why I take camera in my hands.
    Valeriy Veduta

  29. Jonny December 5, 2008 at 8:54 am #

    I wouldn’t be doing this for money if I hadn’t done it for free for a (seemingly immeasurably long) time.

    I am 100% in support of the idea. I’ve done websites for free, i’ve done photography for free, i’ve done print media for free, i’ve taught things to people for free, i’ve consulted for free.

    Now, I have people calling me day in/day out asking me to do work for money… The best way to make money is to give away things for free… it’s the age old truth. And all the better if your MOTIVATION isn’t to make money anyways, as Chase has pointed out so many times

  30. Jonny December 5, 2008 at 9:00 am #

    EDIT* … to my above post …

    My 'free' project right now is creating large (7' x 4') images for a local non-profit organization that allows drug addicts (and others) free housing & counselling while they work and work towards becoming independant. It's been very successful, and although I don't have the capital to foot the bill for the materials, i'm planning to do the photography for free.

  31. Yankee Doodle December 5, 2008 at 9:22 am #

    So I cant believe that the opposition coalition in Canada is asking an American Photographer to help make them look good. Overthrowing an elected government sucks and no fancy photography will change that.

    Even further into it, I cant beleive the bloc (a French separatist party) would compromise their ideals to work with ANY other political group. After all they want to be free right?

    While I think about it, I cant believe any other party would even take the Bloc seriously.

    While the conservatives dont have the total majority, they do have what, 46%? BY ELECTION! The rest of the parties are splitting the difference. That’s not a majority either. That’d be like if the republicans won the house and senate back in two years and said “Obama, you’re done. Pack your things, we’ve chosen a new President without an election.”

    But then again, I’m a dumb American, what do I know.

    Sorry to politicize your blog Chase, but Tom Legrady started it!

  32. Arpad December 5, 2008 at 9:26 am #


    I think definitely there is a difference between being “hired” to work for free and create projects where you do not charge. The first one is not placing enough value on the profession, and we should not do these, on the other being creative about how we can help someone or how we can use a pro bono work as a benefit – whatever that may be – can be an exciting opportunity. Less can be more if done creatively. (Google may be a good example of how “free” can be more.)
    Personally, offering to do a project free allowed me to launch my business and do the work without the anxiety of having to perform or follow other professional’s work. Ultimately I could create my own method and style of work and it helped me to define a niche within the competition.

    On my blog I posted couple examples and the full story. Maybe you could share it with others.


    Thank you for this inspiring post.
    Great topic.

    Cheers, Arpad

  33. Michael December 5, 2008 at 10:34 am #

    I’m a travel photographer, a couple of years ago I travelled to Naples for a month, and purchase new tent for the trip, it took an absolute hammering but stood up to everything man and nature could throw at it, I took several images of the tent throughout the trip in different situations, because it did it’s job so well, I decided to send the manufactures a thank you note with a couple of snaps, the company ask me if I could supply the same images in high quality to hand in their shop, I did so free charge.

    The result I have shot their outdoor adventure catalogue for several years now and send me all over the world never complaining should things over run, naturally I give more than we planned but who cares I it’s fun.


  34. Wayne Mah December 5, 2008 at 10:37 am #

    Free is often win-win.

    When I first started my wedding photography, I had no experience. I shot this wedding as a second shooter for free.

    I gained a lot of experience and it turned out that their main photographer lost their photos. They were so grateful to have my photos and have given me at least one referral to a paid wedding shoot!

  35. Chase Jarvis December 5, 2008 at 11:10 am #

    I left this comment over at my pal Vince LaForet’s blog, and I’ll leave it at Strobist too. It’s worth sharing here:

    Fun and spirited discussion. But what’s funny is that my blog post from last night is not making any “big” claims. Every single photographer in the world has worked for free before, at some point, without exception. Period. Vince, you get it, as do some readers (although a good chunk of the discussion online today misses it). The simple concept really hinges on the word “work”. For example one could think of it in terms of “personal work” or “giving back” or “hunting for something interesting”. Do those labels change reality or simply perception? Sure prudence here is prudent, of course. Underscore that. I know the value of my work and can navigate those waters comfortably. So can lots of people. It’s been happening since the beginning of photography, since the beginning of business, and the beginning of time. Reverie is a great example and there’s thousands of other examples just like it.

    I’m interested in fueling the discussion in part as an awareness builder and as someone who’s trying to call it what it is: nothing new. Certainly interesting, but nothing new. And my blog post yesterday was aimed at punctuating that, albeit more publicly, from the perspective of a busy pro as differentiated from an aspiring strobist, a struggling pro, a college student, or anyone else.

    More than anything its cool that we can share in this discussion in real-time from around the world.

  36. Anonymous December 5, 2008 at 11:51 am #

    Chase, your cool head prevails. This is not for everyone and certainly not for no reason nor at any time. Your post makes us think, which is what this sort of stuff calls for.

  37. David Duncan December 5, 2008 at 11:56 am #


    I like the word pro-bono better than free.

    What we have done is found a non-profit to partner with in our town. We approached them with our idea and how we would like to work.

    We produce all their photography, multimedia and video content pro-bono. We decide what to cover; we have creative control and come up with the ideas. We also make sure to get credit for all of our work.

    It is a win, win, they get the exposure and are able to expand their mission in the community. Our work is seen by the masses and by their national origination as well as the community business leaders that sit on the different boards around town. We control how our work is used and retain our copyright.

    The end result is creative work is being produced for a good cause and we are now working on larger paid jobs because of what we have produced for the non-profit.

  38. Anonymous December 5, 2008 at 12:18 pm #

    For years after college I worked in photography studios – both my own and other’s. We had two strategies – 1)When a charity would ask for free photograhy, we would offer to exchange checks with them. They paid us the price of what the photos were worth, and we wrote them a check as a donation. That way, they truly knew the value of the photography services we provided and WE got the tax deduction. 2) If it wasn’t an actual charity – we would shoot for in-kind services. For instance an ad agency got photos and we got a new promotional campaign and literature for the business.

  39. Scott D. Coulter December 5, 2008 at 12:19 pm #

    Here’s a great real-life experience report on working for “free” — this guy set off to do a free gig and had booked 3 paying jobs before he had even finished it.


    I think it’s a great follow-up to the ongoing discussion here and at strobist.

  40. Stephen Power December 5, 2008 at 12:25 pm #

    You might want to check out my own report on working for free, which I did this week, with excellent results.

  41. Dan December 5, 2008 at 12:25 pm #

    Really this is just an artist point of view or a photographer’s personal project. I believe Mr. Strobist needs to add the idea that all this “free” work should have a personal goal, as it’s a little understated in his post.

    Like if you really wanted to talk about working for free. I would look at your Nikon deal. The D90. If any project could have been a WOrk for free deal, it would have been that one. Your company and Nikon are both selling something. One, Nikon is saying your a great shooter they want people to see you with their product. On the other hand, you’re being call a great shooter by Nikon so that will help you gain future jobs. I mean what better complement can you get then having a camera company ask you to create images for them to sell their product.

    I’m sure you didn’t work for free. But it the most real “work for free” concept.

    But then you have to look at you Snowboard book. That was a personal project that gain you work, then also become a product. Did something you love, wanted to do, sold yourself as an photog and made money in itself. Very smart and it’s exactly Mr. Strobist is talking about.

  42. Greg Jordan December 5, 2008 at 12:31 pm #

    Chase- I think you’d have a blast teaming up with FREE evangelist Chris Anderson and brainstorming on photo shoot ideas that would promote a good cause.

    Philosophically, I think FREE can mean you’re being selfless, which is generous. But FREE doesn’t mean there’s no profit to be had. The person(s) who benefited from your FREE product/service are stoked. And you’ve simultaneously created immeasurable brand value and excitement for you and your team.


  43. Anonymous December 5, 2008 at 1:18 pm #

    Chase, I think that working for free doesn’t devaluate the business for other people, it devaluates the work for the person shooting for free… Knowing how to market and how to identify potential costumers.

    There is also a big error people think trade work is free work, no if you are trading it means you receive something in exchange for your services, like a TFCD shoot, model, photographer and mua trade their time in exchange of a CD of images for their portfolio, it is a beneficial situation for the 3 of them.

    Why haven’t you nor David said something about donating your work to a charitable NGO goes beyond me, I loved donating my time for the local red cross and habitat for humanity, both are causes I believe in them and I got great photos for my portfolio and they got great photos for their PR/publicity needs, in the end I feel nice that the photos will be used for a charity I believe and not by a company that will make revenue from it when I didn’t see a penny of those profits.

  44. Ryan Hainey December 5, 2008 at 1:33 pm #


    Perhaps photograph Kiteboarding, do a documentary on a particular kiter or of the kiting culture! Could be Midwest, West Coast, somewhere warm, or even snowkiting out in Utah! It’s crazy seeing those guys snowkite up a mountain and then jump off and just float all the way down to the bottom. (A favorite hobby of mine) – Somewhat meshes with your ski photography.



  45. Robin December 5, 2008 at 2:30 pm #

    I really really like what you’re doing guys!
    Chase, you and your thoughts about this world rocks.

    Keep up the good work and spoil us with pics and videos.

    Robin from Sweden

  46. RaceTrout December 5, 2008 at 4:15 pm #

    If you end up anywhere in the South East I will volunteer my services as a voice-activated light stand.

    I was thinking about doing a project of the churches of Bayou La Batre, a shrimping town south of here hit hard by Katrina.

  47. Anonymous December 5, 2008 at 5:49 pm #

    you and the strobist are 2 of the biggest idiots. take a look at some of your heros web sites and see how many of them do work for “free” including donating their work to charities, etc. You will find quite a few. The whole notion of working for “free” as you put it sounds terrible. Rewrite this and talk about working on a project that has personal meaning or working on a project that will bring attention to a cause. I.E. Katrina or Darfur …Projects like that will bring interest and you will get back all that you have put in. In these times your idea of bringing the whole crew , dog and pony , down to the final file sounds like a desperate man and your clients will laugh all the way to the bank when they mark you up. There are many charitable organizations that would welcome great photography. Get real here.

  48. Your Photo Tips December 5, 2008 at 6:32 pm #


    I really like the idea of ONE free assignment a YEAR.

    And yes, it better be freakin’ awesome.

    Damien Franco

  49. UrbanPlebe December 5, 2008 at 8:22 pm #

    Not trying to compare myself…or any of you…but, check to see how many images Vincent Van Gogh was paid for. Glad he didn’t quit.
    I have already pulled out some business cards that I had kept for ‘who knows what?’….now I know, but…I’m NOT cutting my ear off for free

  50. James Falsken December 5, 2008 at 9:04 pm #

    Your blog is great in subject and topics and thanks for taking the time for the rest of us struggling photographers. One note would be the font and size make reading difficult for people with vision problems can you please increase the size to at least 12 point instead of the 6 point you are using?

  51. Anonymous December 5, 2008 at 9:57 pm #

    Let’s get real. A client takes no risk to hire you for free and you get essentially a crack at a new client to your paid roster. First, if its a reputable client they would turn this offer down since clients who have the means to invest money in their brand don’t go around taking on free photography even from a pro like yourself. It’s a brilliant marketing move and its essentially spec work which in the ad industry is nothing new but in the design world is sin.

    Everyone has done free or discounted work at some point in hopes of getting their big break. Everyone. However, once you reach the level you have with your roster of paid clients the opportunity to donate your services, your crew and your time would be better spent helping an organization or cause that can’t afford to pay your rates versus helping yet another company sell more crap to consumers.

    Your images have the potential to actually impact change and I’d hope you’d take this opportunity and act of good will to focus on people, on change instead of adding another client notch on your already full belt.

    I’d like to see you turn this opportunity into something positive for yourself and for the greater community. I bet you will yield the attention you deserve, the future clients who actually have a social conscious and the praise of the photographic, advertising and brand community by thinking not of yourself but others who are fighting for change. In the end everyone wins.

  52. Michael Warth December 5, 2008 at 9:57 pm #

    WHAT ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Today, in that “job” I go to in order to pay my bills I imagined my compass point (to steal a phrase from David Hobby). I’m not that good at shooting pictures but I love doing it, and I really want to be a successful oil painter. To combine the two, I envisioned traveling cross country to take reference photographs of a successful person (Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Chase Jarvis, Ozzy, whoever) and fly home to paint their portrait in my studio.

    This is just too weird…between you Hobby I feel like I can seek out what I want to do by doing it for free to start that portfolio and become the painter I really want to be.

    Thanks for such a great, inspiring post. Now all I have to do is find someone (with affluent/famous) friends willing to let me paint them for free. This could be harder than I thought – Know anyone who fits the bill?

  53. Fotografi December 6, 2008 at 12:51 am #

    Remember balance.
    It’s nice to unleash creativity but you must earn money.
    Remember also about the work of other photographers.

  54. Light Cipher December 6, 2008 at 7:23 am #

    This reminds me of Open Source software. What really rings true is that Open Source projects get started because they are something that the developer wants to create. NOT because some corporation thinks they can sell it. I see a lot of parallels to what you and David are saying. If Open Source is an indicator you guys are on to something.


  55. Paul Hodgson December 6, 2008 at 8:08 am #

    I’m all in favour of this…good karma etc. O yeah!

    For years I’ve been shooting stuff for Oxfam and Marie Curie charities all for free and I truly love doing it.

    It broadens my networking opportunities and gives me a tremendous sense of satisfaction by working with these orgs – I love it.

    Right now I’m trying to get involved with childrens charities to help children suffering abuse but that discussion is taking a long time to get undeway, but with tenacity there’s walls to be broken down.

    Thanks Chase, superb thread.

  56. PhotoRunner December 6, 2008 at 8:54 am #

    Mr or Ms Anonymous Grump: You must not be paying attention. Chase? Desperate? I’d venture to say that Chase is in the top 1% earners of all photographers worldwide. So, actually your points aren’t about him. If you’re talking about me, that’s a different story. I’m in the middle 50%.

    I think what Chase (in contrast to Strobist) is doing is to call attention to something that needs dialogue. I agree with Chase that this is not new. This has been happening since the beginning of time, and mostly for good things. The time now is to discuss it openly.

    His Dave Matthews example is a good one, and almost a one to one analogy. DM can play a benefit concert for free without impact other than purely positive to the whole picture. Chase can do the same. I have a hunch that Chase is aiming to help a cool non-profit organization as a part of his well-documented “giving back” agenda, and I’m sure it won’t be a Nike or a Gatorade.

  57. Saul J. December 6, 2008 at 8:59 am #

    I wanted to pull an excerpt from this post because I feel like a few people haven’t read it closely before responding:

    “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.”

    It sounds like the scope and type of project is entirely open, i.e. it may be for charity, for art, for commerce, etc. I am surprised to see people assuming this is a publicity stunt in an effort to get a good commercial job. I believe we can all agree that Chase has already figured out how to get interesting work. I for one have been inspired by this discourse to look at how the value of my photography changes in monetary, aesthetic, and ethical value depending on the agreements made before shooting.

  58. Neely December 6, 2008 at 9:06 am #

    For those photographers who have concerns that donating their services, whether it is called “pro bono” or “working for free,” I have a suggestion. Always ask yourself, “Would this work be done if I or another photographer did not donate these services?” In the case of all the organizations that I have ever done work for the photography would have to have been done for free or would not have been done at all. I never donate my services to any for-profit companies nor do I try to offer lowball prices. In every case that I have worked for free there was never a question of taking work from another photographer.

    I always approach these jobs as a learning experience. First I get all the shots that I think they will need and then I use whatever time I have left to try out new techniques. It’s a win-win for both of us. The organization gets photos they can use and I expand my own abilities. As a bonus, at most of these jobs I have made contacts that have led to other paying gigs. Volunteering has allowed me to meet some great people, to gain access to locations where I ordinarily would not have been allowed to shoot, and to travel to some countries that perhaps I would never have gotten to.

    One organization for whom I have done some work is Healing the Children. They send doctors and nurses to countries in Central and South America where they perform operations on children and train the doctors there in new techniques. I was allowed to shoot in the operating rooms and all other areas of the hospitals. It was a win-win situation for everyone. The organization obtain some photos to use in their fundraising efforts, and in working around the logistical problems involved, I became a better photographer.

  59. Nathanael Gassett December 6, 2008 at 9:33 am #

    Here’s an idea. Come to Natchez Mississippi and reconstruct a war scene from the 1800’s. We’re talking southern bells trapped inside plantation homes (One image in my head is of a woman in full 18th century get up leaning out of the balcony, the portion of house behind her on fire.l), and civil war scenes. Big fashion, high drama. There are tons of old houses and sites that could be used in this area. There are also reenactor groups here complete with some wicked bad horses, guns, swords, the whole nine yards, that could possible be involved. I’ve seen them perform once, they really get into it, yelling and shouting, a lust for blood in their eyes, it’s great.
    Rodney, MS is near by as well. It’s sort of a ghost town, with an old church and abandon buildings. The church has a canon ball still embedded in the side of it from the civil war. Could be a great place for a shoot.

    I’m so stoked about this idea that even if you end up picking something else (which will undoubtable be frikin’ amazing), I want to eventually do this. Some day, some how, I will get these images out of my head.
    Thanks for the inspiration, as always!

    If you like the idea or want to talk more about it, you can contact me at ngassett@gmail.com or go to my website at http://www.NathanaelGassettPhotography.com

  60. Chase Jarvis December 6, 2008 at 9:42 am #

    @ James: you can adjust the font size on your own in your browser by simply hitting command (apple) + or command -.

  61. admin December 6, 2008 at 12:04 pm #

    Good stuff Chase. Hope I send you some more traffic from my post.


  62. Greg December 6, 2008 at 1:18 pm #

    Graffiti artist have been giving it out free for years, im talkin cool colored stuff that takes hours or all night to do… Of course no one values it, but they do sell the same like piece's in gallerys for thousands of dollars just for one piece and are sponsored by company's & do commercial campaigns…. To get paid like that & still go out at night & spray for FREE is a love & dedication graff artist understand because they have their sub-cultural roots…. Photographer's that dont get this post I think do not have: roots,culture,love/dedication in their art because none was established so they want to get paid just to have a conversation with eachother..

  63. Christian Davies December 6, 2008 at 3:33 pm #

    Coming from a small town (100,000 people) I find that poor photographers charging large amounts of money for poor work does more to hurt the industry than good photographers working for free on the odd occasion. In fact good photographers getting out and doing some love jobs for people who normally couldn’t afford to access these skills can only improve these peoples expectations of photography and in turn more paid work will go to better photographers.

  64. Eric Hamilton December 7, 2008 at 12:43 am #

    Chase, I’m very interested in how this project turns out. Keep us posted! =)

    I dropped you a link from my blog.

  65. Paul Alford December 7, 2008 at 2:47 am #

    “Anonymous said…

    you and the strobist are 2 of the biggest idiots. take a look at some of your heros web sites and see how many of them do work for “free” including donating their work to charities, etc. You will find quite a few. The whole notion of working for “free” as you put it sounds terrible. Rewrite this and talk about working on a project that has personal meaning or working on a project that will bring attention to a cause.”

    I think you’ve misread this post. That’s exactly how it IS written, and I’d assume most readers have taken it.

    Also, do you REALLY need to be so offensive? Your opening line was uncalled for.

  66. Barney D. December 7, 2008 at 11:54 am #

    Honestly I think the confusing part of this is the terminology. Photographers rarely do anything for “free”. “Free” means there is no benefit for the photographer, but there is for the client.

    I’ve done several “free” assignments, but everytime it was to build my portfolio for a specific area.

    In the same way, the models I usually work with are not “free”. I give them prints/web copies. We both benefit, and that’s what matters.

    Cash is just another type of benefit, imo.

  67. Brandon D. December 7, 2008 at 1:07 pm #

    “I’ve always wondered why “pros” don’t shoot things for free.”

    Uhhhhhhhh, I think it’s been pretty well established that on certain occasions Pros have worked for free. And in some cases, it has helped them become very successful. It’s just good Karma. Photographer Kareem Black has admitted to working for no money on some occasions.

  68. Anonymous December 7, 2008 at 1:23 pm #

    I appreciate the balance of your points, Chase. Daring, but smart, poignant and honest. I also appreciate you calling it what it is…nothing new. Free has been around forever and markets such as ours have successfully managed the free with the paid. Photographers are not the exception. The fact of the matter is that good artists that understand business thrive and poor artists with bad biz skillz dive. If you have one or the other but not both, you’re likely somewhere in the middle. This vetting has always existed and likely always will.

  69. Anonymous December 7, 2008 at 1:52 pm #

    What a terrible argument. It’s a poor analogy to use Dave Matthews as your example because most of us aren’t in the top threshold of photography (like Matthews’ is in music). We’re Dave Matthews of 25 years ago – before he had a name for himself.

    The idea that we should work for free “because it happens anyway” is not the reason to do it. It’s not the reason to do anything. Terrible argument. It sounds like you’re complimenting your buddy David Hobby, but you haven’t put much thought into this.

  70. Nathanael Gassett December 7, 2008 at 2:45 pm #

    @ Anonymous (1:52PM)

    I think the idea is that every time you pick up your camera you won’t get paid. Be it Christmas at the family’s house, personal experimentation, or whatever. Dollars and cents don’t fall from the sky when you flip the power switch on. That said, why not collaborate and possibly benefit someone else? No money means if the project fails, oh well, you live and learn, but if your crazy idea succeeds, than you’ve got some kick-butt photos.
    Shooting something for free (in measure) doesn’t hurt the business. Charging $200 for a wedding hurts the business. Free is harmless in moderation, but cheap conditions cheap, and customers will soon think fair prices are outrageous.
    As for the DMB reference, I’m sure Dave and the guys didn’t demand the benjamins when no one had heard of them. They probably played some gigs for free.


  71. Richard Cave December 7, 2008 at 3:38 pm #

    I do one charity event a year for free, however I do not let guests know I am doing it for free. I have business cards and flyers to hand for any enquiries.

    I just have a concern of amateurs clogging the market whilst they are trying to get a foot in the door. Just as long as they act responsibily.

    Id suggest a photography charity that other charities could use for for PR. The only tenet is that they look after the photographer for the period and credit them. It would be like an agency that a photographer can join. The charity does not know if the photographer is pro or am and the photographer is supplied at random. All the photographer has to do is give up a maximum of a week. Any profits that are made from the sale of images is split 50/50 with the hosting charity. the other fifty percent would go the photographic charity and this would pay for admin. The remainder would go into a fund for distressed photographers who are injured, ill, lost work, or come of age. I would call it f2.8 as it is wide open for work.

    I have a project that I would like to do if you would like more info please email me


  72. Anonymous December 7, 2008 at 3:46 pm #

    siding with Nathaniel against anon above.

    the DMB reference is pretty much a perfectly legit analogy coming from chase. you’ll notice the paragraph above says that “free has a place”. its the “place” that chase finds himself in. the paragraph after cites how he’ll “underscore his DMB point” by doing the same thing himself. it’s actually a pretty tight analogy, so i’ll have to use that logic refute your complaints.

    btw, just finished reading john herrington’s post and vincent laforte’s point via a series of cross links on the same topic. sadly, they both miss the point too.

    i’m an art director so this discussion is fascinating to me(anonymous not to avoid my opinion here, but instead so i don’t get emails from the many trollers looking for work).

    i can tell you from a lifetime of experience in this industry that chase would never be asked by any legit commercial campaign to photograph for free. people generally like a fair deal. free? never. no way. and he knows this. and you should too. when a guy like chase talks about shooting for free, it’s to help or explore. trust me. it’s laughable to think that someone would ask DMB to play for free for some TV commercial. there’s budget for their song in that case, so the question isn’t asked. if there isn’t budget, you just don’t ask DMB, otherwise you look like a fool. but, it’s legit for dave to be interested in a cause or his friend’s wedding.

    it’s just as laughable to think that some major campaign would suggest using a free chase or equivalent. laughable, won’t happen. it would never be asked. that’s just plain not how it goes.

    the lower echelons of photographers will fight over free or low paying scraps, which is fine because less than 1 percent of that group has what it takes to become a professional. a prayer even. so this does not undermine anything, it happens in everywhere, acting, design, everwhere. those jobs aren’t “real” nor are those photographers in scope. (might be nice people and can take pretty snaps of their kids, but have no chance or aspiration making it to the pro ranks, any more than you or i do winning a grand prix, despite that i like to drive fast). this is a natural filter that happens in every industry.

    the upper echelons of photographers can do work for free because it will in no way undermine the industry and will almost always make good for anyone lucky enough to be involved.

    kudos to chase and anyone else who understands what i’m talking about.

  73. Anonymous December 7, 2008 at 5:46 pm #

    He Said, She said.

    Harrington say’s this.

    Hobby say’s that.

    LaForet proclaims this.

    Jarvis say’s that.

    He Said She said.

  74. Adam December 7, 2008 at 11:27 pm #

    This conversation can come from a lot of angles…my angle is this: I teach high school photography, I ask professionals I know for free work all the time. My class just finished a project where a veteran pro and a custom chopper builder came in and we shot bikes in our auto shop all day. It ruled. It was a great interaction on all sides. Check us out here: BikeShoot Since I stopped trying to be a real photographer and started teaching it has been liberating as an artist because I can do what I want without worrying about a paycheck. (Summers and break!) It is harder to get motivated though! If someone calls you for a job, that is very motivating. Your own personal art can always wait another day!

  75. Jenny Hill December 9, 2008 at 6:27 am #

    I’d like to challenge anyone venturing along this path to work with any of the invisible demographics – women over 40, single parents, teenagers in care, the elderly in western society, I could go on but I’m sure you get my drift.

    It’s a wonderful idea…however I expect this will ultimately be a marketing exercise and as such will steer a well trodden course around anything remotely un-cool. I’d love to be proved wrong.

  76. Q December 9, 2008 at 7:30 am #

    As you’ve already said, pro-bono work is nothing new. Regardless of the work being done – the free work counts towards those 10K hours of practice it takes to be undeniably good!

    With that said – if with your offer, you select something in town (Seattle) – I’ll work for you for free 8-D

  77. Jesso December 9, 2008 at 9:21 pm #

    Chase your ideas are awesome!

    Here’s an idea, shoot my bands CD release party in our hometown february 28th 2009! We are a 5-piece high energy crazy fun performing pop rock band! And we draw really awesome crowds at our hometown venue in iowa. If you’re interested in more information shoot me an email.



    Ps, I will get your team into the show for free! But of course!
    Thanks and God bless!

  78. Gabriel Lance December 11, 2008 at 2:58 pm #

    Chase, I’ve herd you say a few times, that you like to give back to the photography community. The fact that you would take your time (which we all know is the most precious thing a photographer at you level has) to do something like this, not to mention all the other things you have done to give back goes to show the type of person you really are. even tho i will not be the person that benefits from your great generosity and free work. i wanted to say think you for always setting the bar for other photographers and always pushing the envelope in every creative thing you do, even when not getting paid. let us know where this whole thing takes you.
    thanks again!–Gabriel

  79. IAN AITKEN December 12, 2008 at 2:54 am #

    To confirm what you mentionedin your post about agencies doing stuff for free, The Creative Director of a large london ad agency has said “that only about 15% of the creative work they produce is ever accepted by the client!” thats a hell of alot of free work.

  80. Nuge* December 12, 2008 at 7:19 pm #

    Chase – you rock!
    I have a concept for your shoot that I will write a little concept about and e-mail it…I think with your creativity it would be really cool.

  81. shawnpix December 13, 2008 at 5:11 pm #

    Hey Chase,

    I also wrote my own reaction to the debate over working for free. I’d love it if you’d check it out, possibly even leave a comment about it.

    Check out the posts at:




  82. Anonymous December 14, 2008 at 8:32 am #

    Morning Chase,

    Great idea, work for free! I especially like the #1 reason you post, “It’s already being done”. Well, heck, can’t argue that logic. Everyone else is doing it why shouldn’t I? Especially since there are a preponderance of amazing photographers still loosing their businesses due to way to many shooters, charging way too little and producing dramatically poor imagery and running rough shod businesses.

    All of this is hogwash. There should be NO discussion of ‘free’, but EDUCATION OF VALUE and the use of TRADE. FREE should never be incorporated, because that is what causes all of the issues of ‘de-valuing’ your work and destroying your business, efforts, experience, labor, materials and expertise.

    I NEVER work for free, however, I do work for TRADE, as in establishing the true value of the job, and still re-cooping that money through using the client as a marketing source, free promotion, ad space, graphics work, heck even food.

    Chase, use your influence to please help photographers to be clear and understand their BUSINESS as much as their art and imagery. It takes a lot more work doing things for free, and then getting that money elsewhere. Work for TRADE- you loose nothing, it can be tracked and valued and measured. Free cannot.

  83. Anonymous December 14, 2008 at 10:47 am #

    @ anon (8:32am) dude/ette: irony about your comment is that chase is one of the biggest advocates of sound business practices in photography in the whole industry and by contrast he’s not overly fanatical about it like some other industry mouthpieces that have half the talent/acumen as Chase but twice the attitude. Chase has fought high profile court battles and spoke around the country (I saw him at Brooks Institute a few years ago) pushing for photographers to understand business better. He advocates this in every talk I’ve seen or heard online. You’ve got to understand that post about free is a conceptual and philosophical one. Would Chase be where he is with giving away all his work, or even one half of one percent of it? Of course not. He’s clearly found a balance. Perhaps read the post again more carefully. You’ll get my point.

  84. Loren Callahan December 15, 2008 at 11:50 pm #

    Hummm. Ahh you got to be kidding. I have not read all the responses to Chase’s post. So I will only respond to Chase’s post. Hey man go for it if you have the dough. That’s one thing, and if it is a good concept well that much more power to ya. But here is that thing and again I have not read all the responses. Giving is good, getting run over cuz you don’t know your worth or the industry worth for a job is a road you should get off of. Or at least learn something about before you start biding on or doing free work.

    Being a rich rockstar, you should have the nuts to help others and contribute to the greater good. But learning that a newbe undercut me by $2000 from a buyer for a $2500 job is destructive for the industry.

    While I know that your rate is much higher than my example above and I know your 20G under bid dabacle experience, it is still a problem no mater what ever level rate card you are holding.

    Chase, if I am off point here please let me know I mean no disrespect to you, great concepts or commonality. I would just like to see that people are educated. Especially the ones just coming into the biz.

    P.s Wow what a great way to bring in ideas. What ever happened to the post about coping ideas back in the spring time that made such a big fuss?


  85. Kevin Halliburton December 16, 2008 at 7:19 am #

    Great read Chase. Incredible that your detractors are here on your free blog project soaking up invaluable info and arguing that the occasional pay it forward freebie is a bad idea.

    I recently had a friend ask me in front of a couple of well paying clients to shoot a Christmas card photo of them for free. I offered to meet them on location, set up the lights and do a full shoot for $50 because he had recently spent about two hours fixing my laptop and that was all he had charged me. I even offered to trade a couple hours of music lessons for my son if they couldn’t swing the $50. They had another friend point and shoot them and she did a pretty decent job but we will both pay each other full rate next time. I think this is the scenario most of the detractors have in mind.

    On the other hand my wife and I have another friend who gives, and gives, and gives of herself. I recently gave her a full portrait session on location and several hours of digital editing as an expression of our appreciation for all she has done. They were the best client photos I’ve shot to date. She actually wept when she saw the final images, and then praised my work to everyone she knows. I may never book another shoot out of it, or I may book a hundred. Either way, I’m a far richer man, and a better photographer for it. That is the scenario we should all be looking for, often.

    By the way, thanks for all the free seminars here. I don’t know if this blog has been lucrative for you in a measurable way but I’ll wager the amount of time you spend in service to others is one of the main reasons you can now afford to. It may be one of the best “insider secrets” you’ve shared. Ah-pree-shate-cha!

  86. Kyle December 26, 2008 at 12:45 pm #

    I couldn’t agree with you more. Trading a little time for free advertising and new friendships is a great idea. Building relationships is what this or any business is all about.

  87. f.57 February 2, 2009 at 2:40 pm #

    Possibly this all done by now? However I heard a story on the radio the other day about a Cambodian Amerian who got repatriated to Cambodia as a young man after getting into trouble in the States. He’s come good over there and runs a break dance school as a way of helping local youngsters stay out of trouble on the streets. Apparently they’re performing internationally. Can’t remember more than that but hey if it sounds like what you’re after google’s there to help!


  88. Anonymous February 4, 2009 at 8:36 am #

    I think the point being missed here is free after success is easy. Just like being generous when rich (or are those exactly the same thing??) When you’re trying to make ends meet and can barely afford rent, doing pro-bono work isn’t an option. It’s easy to sit on your soapbox and proclaim that we should all be doing free work on occasion – but i don’t have two houses and spend my time in multiple countries.

    This argument goes hand in hand with the age-old equipment debate. Great equipment will not make you a great photographer, however great equipment will allow you to be a great one. I’m so sick of (highly successful) photographers claiming that their $5k camera and bag full of lenses didn’t make them a great photographer – of course it didn’t! But i’d like to see the quality of images you’d make with a sub-300 dollar zoom lens and a Nikon D80 like many of us are restricted to.

    I am all for giving back to the community, but you need a leg to stand on first.

  89. another Chase February 4, 2009 at 9:07 am #

    @ anon just above: i don’t by the camera argument. have you seen chase’s iphone photos on facebook? they’re better than 95% of the pros with a hasselblad.

    • kj February 26, 2011 at 5:12 pm #

      iphone pics better than 95% of pros with a Hassey? Certainly subjective, but I shelled out 13 bucks or whatever it was for “the best camera…” and I was completely *underwhelmed* by about 75 per cent of the images. if anyone else’s name was in the byline, that book doesn’t get published. just saying.

  90. PDX February 13, 2009 at 8:38 am #

    I liked this comment from an interview on toomuchchocolate.org

    “We got to meet and hang out with David Lynch for no money and at the end of the shoot he said “it was a real pleasure watching you two work”. That’s worth more than any money they could have paid us! We’ve shot Slash multiple times at his house for no money. We have countless stories from those shoots and he even came and talked shit for 4 hours on my silly internet radio show after getting to know him from those shoots. Again, worth more than any magazine budget. There are so many of those stories and we never think back and say how much did we get paid to do that.”

  91. Jason Wallis (Wallis Photo LLC) April 15, 2009 at 6:07 pm #

    Hey Chase! I work for free the whole time and that leads to BIG well paid jobs. Here is a conversation I had with Garret Gervaise (a celeb makeup arist about that)

    Regards Jason

  92. Jonny April 21, 2009 at 12:53 pm #

    I remember reading this and thinking it was a good idea a while back. Now, a few experiences later, i’m thinking it should be taken with a MASSIVE grain of salt.

    Where is Free good? Free is good when you have control over the project. It’s a cohesive unit of work that, as the artist, you are collectively dreaming up, producing, and then at the end, donating to the absolutely END client under your own steam. Did I mention there should be adequate time to actually finish the project?

    Where is it a bad idea? When you help out someone with a project, put in valuable time, skill, and equipment usage and then deliver the work to them so they can finish it off and deliver the product to the client…..

    …. except when they don’t finish it on time (or put no effort into the project on any level whatsoever, even though they are getting paid to do it), and when the client asks, Joe middleman/project manager responds with “oh, uhm, no, cause uh, no they screwed up the footage”. Yep, feels good to be a scapegoat.

    Will work for free? Been there, done that, been screwed, learned my lesson. Never again.

  93. mat May 11, 2009 at 7:50 pm #


    i agree with your concept of ‘free’ work, in fact i recently donated a shoot for a friend to raise money for their children’s school… as for my idea, my wife works with kids with special needs in a new therapeutic horseback riding program in CT.. i shoot the horses at work all the time but i think your sports photography background could put a nice twist on things and show what these special athletes are really made of (both the kids and the horses) let me know what you think…

  94. mat May 11, 2009 at 7:55 pm #

    sorry chase,
    i entered the wrong URL in my last post so if you respond click on my name under this entry…

  95. Anonymous May 12, 2009 at 5:45 am #

    it can be done sometime, like for self promotion or for an exchange of services…but what the hell, just once in a while….working requires earning, with all the expenses we have..

  96. Anonymous August 6, 2009 at 8:29 pm #

    To Tom L. I don't feel a photo blog is the forum to post your politiical agenda, sorry buds.

  97. davidbaer February 8, 2010 at 9:34 pm #

    There is no doubt in my mind what so ever that Profit lance will show you how to make money online, but there are many obstacles your going to face in order to do it or to get to where I am at. What I mean is, there's allot of information, tools and resources in this course that your going to have to get familiarized with before you can become successful. Yes you will earn money but to make a living out of it your going to really need to understand how everything works.


  98. Travis Forbear June 14, 2010 at 1:07 pm #

    I just found this article and thought I would give it a read. About a 2 months ago I approached a local business owner with some ideas about how to improve his public image. I offered to do a free shoot, to prove I could do more than “artisitc” style images. Within a week of handing over a CD of images, I was hired to do a 1 year project, not a high paying job, but a great chance to show off my skills. I work in my free time, still have time to work on personal stuff and paying jobs. The up side to the project: I’m meeting new vendors weekly, my personal work is finding a space on the walls of the store, and I’m generating interest with other local stores and restuarants because of my ideas. While other photographers are struggling to make ends meet, I’m getting paid a little, but I’m making the kind of connections that will carry my business into the future.

    Free work has only improved my business not hindered it. Open doors are meant to be walked through.

  99. cityville January 5, 2011 at 1:49 am #

    lol a couple of of the remarks many people put up make me giggle, mostly i wonder if they realistically read the content pieces and reports before placing a comment or whether they only just read over the subject of the post and compose the first thing that one thinks of. in either case, it really is pleasing to browse through smart commentary from time to time rather than the same, traditional blog vomit which i constantly notice on the net have a pleasant day

  100. Anthony Perez January 11, 2011 at 12:32 pm #

    Your such an out of the box thinker, youu really dont see that all that often, wish i had some crazy idea but i just want to travel and take photos!

  101. Servizi fotografici February 23, 2011 at 1:15 pm #

    it’s nice about to unleash creativity but need to earn money.Thanks to share it.

  102. Aziz Grieve July 1, 2011 at 2:33 am #

    Very cool idea. I can’t wait to see what project you end up working on.

    There is nothing more worth while than giving of your self, just because you can.

    To quote some one wiser than I…

    “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.”

    Rabindranath Tagore quotes (Indian Poet, Playwright and Essayist, Won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913

  103. EmmaJane July 14, 2011 at 2:23 am #

    I wonder if this is still going, this would be amazing! All I really want to do (as a model) is create amazing art that challenges me and the photographer, So many times you have these ideas and a $0 budget and somehow need to find someone who will be able to get on board and carry it off! The budget comes not because I don’t want to be able to pay people I just cant afford to! Anyways I guess the best bet is to come up with an amazing idea and email and see!

  104. Jason November 17, 2011 at 12:15 am #

    On the whole I like this idea, especially getting a combination of professionals to work together, for free, for the love of it, to create something unique.

  105. Winnebago Industries December 17, 2011 at 1:27 pm #

    Your own invaluable tutorial means a great deal to me and moreover to my workplace workers. Thank you from everybody of us.

  106. Robyn January 6, 2012 at 10:53 am #

    My lifelong dream was/is to be a fantastic photographer, to have a photo published in National Geographic Magazine.
    But life happens as it will, so at the ripe yound age of 42 I am still a blank slate with the same BIG dream……
    What do you think of “Teaching someone as best you can in a pre-determined amount of time?” Not exactly the creative shoot you meantioned but certainly a creative challenge. Basically, i’m asking for a chance for you to train me. If you’d like to talk about it feel free to email me rmusteen@gmail.com.

  107. Kevin January 29, 2012 at 2:44 am #


    You seem like a decent guy, but comparing Dave Matthews or yourself working for free with someone starting out or just turning pro is completely different. You have a MARKET VALUE, not just based on the quality of your images, but on your reputation. People hire you just to say Chase Jarvis shot our campaign. You are a brand. So, when you agree to work for free people bow down and consider themselves lucky and honored. And this is the same situation for any internationally known photographer. But you are the top 10% of photographers (being generous, really most likely top 1%) ,,, THE REST OF US MUST fight against clients who expect everyone but the top 1% to work for credit, portfolio contact etc and be happy. SCREW THAT. For most pros they are one step away from being out of business. They MUST be paid regularly in order to not just live but pay for gear etc. Sure an occasional job for a friend or a special client who has paid you well for several shoots is possible. But that is NOT what we are talking about. We are talking about an UNRELENTING ABUSING DELUGE of “clients” who expect that you will work for free because you are NOT a BRAND. YOU ARE NOT WORTHY TO EXPECT T BE PAID. And sorry, this happens because stupid kids out of photo school funded by Daddy’s money have taught clients it’s okay to expect or at least try to get photography for free. Try to find ANY qualified electrician, no matter how inexperienced, to work for free. WON’T HAPPEN. This must stop and it will only stop when photographers don’t work for client’s for free. DO ALL THE TEST YOU WANT. That is your work for your use, but don’t work for someone else for free. This is a game of chicken. Clients would shoot it themselves if they could. If they are coming to you it is because they need you so MAKE SURE THEY PAY if not for yourself for you fellow photographers.

    • Anonymous April 11, 2012 at 12:39 pm #

      I think you are misinterpreting this altogether, especially if you read the strobist’s post. They are not saying that photographers should work for free for people who call them up and ask them to do so. On the contrary, the strobist’s says that you should definitely NOT work for those types of people and businesses for free. They are saying that coming up with projects or assignments on your own and offering your skills for free can be very beneficial. For one, it grants you complete control, Two, it allows you to pursue a project or develop a skill that you might not get paid to develop and three, it could result in PAID assignments or jobs down the road as a result of the images you produce.

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    I drop a comment each time I especially enjoy a article on a website or if I have something to contribute to the conversation. Usually it’s triggered by the sincerness displayed within the post I looked at. And after this article Will Work For FREE? | Chase Jarvis Blog. I was excited enough to write a thought :-) I actually do have a few questions for you if it’s allright. Is it only me or does it give the impression like a few of these remarks appear as if they are written by brain dead individuals? :-P And, if you are writing at other places, I’d like to follow you. Would you list every one of your communal pages like your linkedin profile, Facebook page or twitter feed?

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