The very mention of working for free makes most photographers and filmmakers blow their top. But what if, in some cases, working for free can actually be good for your business? Aviv Vana of CineSummit discusses this topic and teaches you how to get more work by doing free work.
Many creatives refuse to work for free: they claim that free work undermines the profession (and I agree up to a point), and there are even some comical videos about this topic. But on the other hand, there are some situations when working for free is totally legit. In some cases, it can even help you jumpstart your career, which is exactly the point of Aviv’s video. You can hear stories from creatives who have had this experience, and we have seen some examples from the world of photography before. These are some of the ways working for free can benefit your business:
Building a portfolio
When you’re just starting out, you can get out there and contact the people you’d like to collaborate with. Director and Jakob Owens connected with a young musician and shot his videos for free. He added the videos to his YouTube channel, so he built his portfolio which brought him more paid work later.
You can do this as a photographer as well. Let’s say you want to do fashion or portrait photography. You can collaborate with a model who is just starting out so you both build a portfolio and gain experience that will help you get gigs in the future.
Building a network of people
If you have a clear idea of the area you want to work in, you might contact people from within it to ‘get a foot in the door’. Let’s say you want to shoot music videos for rock bands – you would contact the bands whose music you like and with whom you want to work. They can be known or relatively unknown, but working for them will get you into the circles where you’ll be able to get more gigs like this.
Developing your style and building your authority as a creator
Remember, when you shoot photos and videos for free, you’re in complete creative control. As Ed Verosky mentions in one of his videos, when you take commissions, sometimes you’ll have to compromise and let the client partially direct what they want you to do. I believe that, when you work for free, you can (and should) call all the shots. This will let you develop your own style, and with time build your authority as a photographer and a filmmaker.
An important thing Aviv mentions is that success doesn’t come overnight. You have to be patient and do a couple of free projects before the effects show themselves. But according to him, it pays off.
I personally think that many of these points make sense, even though many of us refuse to work for free. When you’re just starting out, reaching out to the people you want to work with and doing a couple of free projects can be a good start. However, I don’t think it always pays off. I think it’s more like a lottery and a lot of factors other than your skill will determine your later success. But I believe it’s worth a shot.
What do you think? Have you worked for free in order to get paid jobs? And do you still work for free sometimes?