I am a 43yo photographer working on the west coast for nearly two decades. I often receive requests from nonprofits to photograph for a discount or to “volunteer my time,” aka shooting for free. I have yet to take a gig without pay, and I still stay very busy.

Look into the company. Ask them what other vendors are volunteering their time or offering what discounts? Chances are they are paying for a venue, food, bar, mc, a/v, etc. There is a *big difference* between supporting a local non-profit or start-up that you believe in or benefits your community directly with a discounted rate, or, say, a free hour of your time after booking x amount of hours, as opposed to offering that same deal for a national company that pays their CEOs huge or doesn’t have the best track record. Personally, when I am passionate about a nonprofit, I offer to volunteer or help in other non-photo related ways. It keeps me grounded and I like the separation from photography work.

True story: another photographer called me the day before his nonprofit event asking if I could shoot for him because he was injured. He casually said the rate was $250 for a couple of hours documenting some kids for a nonprofit. I countered with a higher offer, wanting to help him in a tight situation, but still making it worth my time. Turned out it was the client’s yearly fundraiser event, $$$-per plate luncheon, formal attire, raffle tickets costing more than what they were paying me, and the org raised loads of money in 45 minutes. They treated me poorly, I wasn’t paid on time, and when I was, the check bounced, which is a career first for me. Pure madness…

This brings me to my second point: please be transparent with other photographers/creatives when you ask for their assistance. What I thought would be me covering children in our community event turned out to be so much more in scope, and I had to compartmentalize my anger the entire time I was there. In the end, it was my fault for not clarifying what was actually transpiring at the shoot because I was busy when he contacted me. Have I learned a lesson here? Definitely.

You can be friendly and still require fairness in business. Pick up the phone and ask questions. Above all, know that it is okay to say no to shooting (true scenario) a 3-hr cocktail, black-tie affair for a national nonprofit you’ve definitely heard of at my city’s most-expensive venue for FREE and instead, take the night off or work for a different client. Your mental health will thank you.

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  1. I’m a 71 y.o. advertising photographer for the past 43 years. based in Atlanta, and my work has centered around shooting people and industry across the U.S. and around the world. Throughout my career I’ve donated my skills and services to causes I’ve found worthy, from ‘March of Dimes’ to ‘The Battered Women’s Shelter’, ‘Toys for Tots’, ‘Stop Childhood Cancer’, “MtotoAfrica’, ‘Step Ahead Scholars’, Common Good Atlanta’, and the list goes on.

    For the past 14 years I’ve also been a documentary filmmaker, shooting/producing films based upon social justice, the arts, and the environment. Five of those in the past 7 years have been about the civil rights work (and books) of Lillian Smith, another about a lone professor bringing a college-level humanities education into the prison system (Common Good Atlanta), just being premiering this month is ‘Saving the Chattahoochee’ (River and GA, AL and FL water basin from pollution), and currently “Just Another Bombing” premiering in Feb., about the KKK blowing up a house in my best friend’s Jacksonville neighborhood in the 1950s, and the repercussions still today in Jacksonville .

    A number of these pro bono projects have been featured by national and international print competitions and award shows and publications, awarded at film festivals, screened on broadcast tv, and all projects have garnered far more funding and attention for their worthy causes, than by me simply donating my time as ‘manual labor’ to their efforts.

    And to this photographer’s main point about being hounded for freebies that offer ‘little or no pay’, I suggest choosing a few causes that you really believe in, and provide them your very best efforts for their benefit.

    Not only will that lead to some of the most interesting and rewarding projects, people and clients you’ll ever work with, but you’ll honestly be able to tell anyone else who asks that your ‘calendar of pro bono projects is filled over the next 12 months’, and feel good while saying so. Unless it’s a project that excites you, and fires your creativity in new directions. As has happens to me, regularly.
    Best wishes in that regard!

  2. Who works for $250 anymore? I have been a photographer for over 40 years, and the one thing I have found is that clients that want to negotiate downwards are the worst clients. They make promises they don’t keep, and they rarely pay on time. The clients that pay you what you deserve are the ones that treat you with respect as a professional.

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