Nancy Borowick for The Touch A Life Foundation
Nancy Borowick: I’ve certainly snapped a few friends’ head shots for a bottle of wine here and there, but generally, no, I would not work for free. Starting out, I took a few small jobs for pretty much pennies, but I also had no work to show in my portfolio, so who was going to hire me with no experience? I was in Ghana years ago, when I was still very much an amateur photographer and had been working on my own project when I came across an organization that worked with trafficked children. I fell in love with the children immediately and wanted to help raise awareness for this program. I asked if I could photograph the children and get to know them, and I ultimately shared those images with the org free of charge. They didn’t pay for the images, but I not only took advantage of the opportunity to shoot and connect with a this cause now dear to my heart; I was able to build up my body of work and prove to the org that I could be an asset. Since then, they have hired me and flown me back to Ghana numerous times. I think you have to make smart decisions about how you charge and your relationship development with clients.
Seth Casteel: My entire career is based on working for free. I started out as a volunteer photographer at animal shelters which led to a part-time gig as a lifestyle pet photographer. My general advice on working for free is that there are situations where it absolutely makes sense, but as a full-time photographer, you have to be careful to find a balance between paid gigs and non-paid since you have bills to pay. But there is no question that working for free has unexpectedly opened many doors for me.
Peter Dench: I’m answering these questions for free, which is beginning to feel like work in contrast to the sound of tinkling of wine glasses from the bar opposite.
In terms of providing a service as a photographer, I would never work for free. Personally, I think it’s an insult to my profession, colleagues and family. I understand the argument and that the decision, particularly for those starting out in the profession, can be a tricky one, but it must be up to the photographer to say “NO! I have a skill and that skill has a value.” The photographic industry must unite to end unpaid work and send a message to those who are culpable that there must be change; as long as photographers keep saying yes to unpaid work, the question will continue to be asked for them to do so.