Should you work for free?

I think I’ve written often enough about my own attitude to providing photographs for free. I share a great deal of my work on Facebook and on the web, where as well as putting current work on My London Diary I also have extensive web sites on Hull, on London, Paris and on the River Lea, as well as several others and a number of smaller sites. I’ve also contributed work to various other sites, including Fixing Shadows, one of the earliest of photography web sites – still on line – and many more.

I’ve also provided photographs free of charge to many groups I’ve photographed¬†for their own use, and generally am prepared to do so for campaigns or organisations that have no paid staff. But groups or organisations that can afford to pay people to work for them I’ve always demanded should pay me for my work as well, particularly if they are making money from publishing it.

With small charities, campaigning groups and educational projects I quote at a considerable discount on my commercial rates, but still feel it important that I’m paid. Not so much because I need the money (though photography is an expensive habit and I couldn’t do all I do without it generating some income) but because giving my work away would be unfair to all my colleagues. It isn’t easy to make a living from photography, and harder still to make one from work which I think worthwhile and important.

Today I’ve read two rather different articles about working for free. One in Peta Pixel,¬†by Gil Wizen, Why I Rejected Your Request for Free Photos, and the second, linked in one of the comments to that piece, an opinion piece of Digital Photography Review, What I’ve learned after sharing my photos for free on Unsplash for 4 years by Samuel Zeller.

Wizen’s article is a pretty much straight down the line NO, with an explanation why and some illustrations of unreasonable attitudes, though he does describe one exception to his rule. Zeller’s is more interesting in his discussion of changes in the web landscape as well as of how contributing images to a site which shares them free can contribute to building a career.

A photographer choosing to share some images (as I do on the web) is quite different from other people deciding they would like to use your work for free. Unsplash does seem to offer a significant amount of exposure in a way that few if any of the proposals that people and companies who have hoped to use my pictures for free would have provided. It is a platform on which you can advertise yourself as a photographer, paying for it in pictures rather than cash, and for some photographers and some kinds of work it may be appropriate to do so. Though not I think for me.

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