Feb 27, 2012

Why I shoot for free*.

* if you're a client of mine, put down the phone. This will make all sense soon. 

I had fun with some beginners photo tips recently. And by "recently", I mean "around the time Sarah Palin was a contender". The best part was that I re-learned a few things that I had either forgotten, or taken for granted along the way.  Here is one—I don't know, intermediate?— tip I've been meaning to throw out there. Some wouldn't call this a "tip", they might call it "heresy".

Shoot for free. Whenever you can.

I quietly applaud when I read that free and cheap photography is (still) killing the business. Well, yeah... Canon Rebels and eleventy-terabyte SD cards have certainly put a fork in the old business. But, boycotting the new paradigm isn't a solution, and prosumer technology hasn't hurt business for those who have kept busy... and fresh.

Haters gonna hate, shooters gonna shoot. 

It's quite easy to take a good shot now—give my Mom a D3 with an 85mm f/1.4 and sooner or later, she'll have one in the bag. So, if it's easy to shoot good, you gotta get serious about shooting great. And turning up your nose at shooting something great just because it doesn't pay is worse than snobby, it's foolish.
Seventh St. School Dance Party
When electric bread-makers hit the shelves in the 80's, crappy bakers probably shook their floury fists at the sky. "How will we sell zees bagettes now?" The great bakers? They rejoiced, because customers now had a hands-on opportunity to find out how amazing the bread they had been buying actually was. "Long live West Bend," they shouted.

If you're regularly shooting for cash, and business slows down to a crawl, you have some options:
  1. Quit the whole scene.  There's a time and a place to do just that, by the way.
  2. Shoot as a hobbyist only. Nothing wrong with that.
  3. Bag your camera and wait it out. There are always people who will pay top dollar because you "deserve" it. Besides, you went to film school and you have decades of experience, right?
  4. Shoot, shoot, shoot. Even if it's "for free".
Help-Portrait 2011
Writers don't stop writing just because their last story didn't sell. They slip on a Starbucks apron, and do what they were born to do after their shift. And if they're smart, they put their unappreciated writing skills to use, maybe helping on a friend's blog or juicing up their own C.V.

Landscape photographers don't stop shooting because Outdoor isn't returning their emails. Food photographers don't stop lacquering up fake pizza because iStockphoto "killed their business". So why would a portrait photographer think he's above the odd freebie?

Find some people and shoot them. Help-Portrait doesn't have to be once a year. Start your own Free Photo Day whenever you want!

Party in the Park

Unlike Viv Savage, I don't have one particular motto, but here's a maxim of mine: "Buy it or not, I'm still shooting it". It's worked for me. I love the opportunity to shoot gratis... under certain conditions, of course:
  1. It's gotta be win-win.
  2. I call the shots. (re: Piper v. He Who Pays Piper)
  3. I meet new people. (by far, the most important of the three.)
Yes, I do have the luxury of a full-time job right now—knock on wood. But even if I were a full-time portrait shooter, I'd have to keep the rust at bay when times were slow. When no one calls (hello, winter) I get off my ass and shoot something—anything—preferably something challenging which will broaden my horizons. 

Note: this does not mean setting up my gear and shooting a bloody Macbeth chart or a garden gnome at different apertures and lighting angles. Go shoot something new; something that scares you—rabid dogs at a clown night-school, perhaps?

Depending on where you live, there are likely three or four places within range of a good Pocket Wizard, just dying for your talents. Schools, community-centers, arts groups... Be a hero, and give something to your community. The smiles you generate are worth it.

Help-Portrait 2010

And, not for nothing, you throw around some spiffy photos, on the house, guess whose name is going to come up when an actual paid gig is on the table? (Hint: it's not the guy with the mint-condition Leica, who's been waiting for his Google Adsense to start paying off.)

Love to hear your comments. They, too, are free.

P.S. Here's a fantastic book on "free"(that you can get at the library... if you're okay with destroying the whole publishing industry as we know it).