I know how hard it is to earn a living and to get people to notice you. There are so many fish in the sea, freelancers like you, chasing the same food. But what ever you do, whether is to be kept busy or to get exposure: Do not work for free, no matter how big or prestigious the title or client. You will end up shooting yourself in the foot while spoiling the chances of other freelancers to get paid work.
I have lost count how many times potential clients asked me to provide photographs, text, features and other services for free in return for “a credit” or “great exposure”. There is one incident I will never forget. It was just before the 2010 World Cup when some American guy emailed me with regards to my pictures on Flickr.
He was busy writing what he called “America’s prime guide to the 2010 World Cup” and was “absolutely stunned by some of my photographs”. He wanted to use about twenty of them, from landscapes and people shots to all sorts of soccer related scenes. The book would be published by Penguin Books – not a small player in publishing land. The ridiculous Terms & Agreements were as follows:
I am requesting that you grant permission to me, New American Library, Penguin Putnam Inc. and their licensees, successors and assigns to include the photo indicated below in all editions and derivations of the Work throughout the world in all languages, and in the advertising and promotion thereof in all media now known or hereafter devised.
Credit will be given in the form you specify below either on the same page with the photo, on the copyright page, or in a separate section for credits.
In signing below, you represent that you are the sole owner of the rights granted herein, and that the material indicated below does not infringe upon the copyright, privacy right or other rights of anyone. Kindly sign one copy of this letter and return it to me.
Oh, did I tell you there was nada pay involved? “We have a small budget, but it would be great exposure,” he said. To which I responded:
As much as I would like to help you out, I cannot give away my photographs for free. Firstly, I need to make a living. A credit – it goes without saying that photographers are credited – does not pay the bills not does it put food on the table.
Secondly, by giving my images away I will be spoiling the market for not only myself but also for other photographers out there. The more of us who are willing to work for free, the less clients like yourself will be willing to pay for images in the future. I mean, why would they as they can get them for free?
Lastly, if your guide will be as successful as you expect it to be, the publication will eventually generate income. This means that there will be money at some stage for the compensation of the contributing photographers.
He then told me, noting that he did understand my position as “he was a freelance writer too”, how many greatly talented amateurs were willing to cooperate for free: “They are so happy and grateful to do so. And some of them are so fantastically talented. I just think it’s great in this day and age that someone who isn’t a professional can get their work out to the world through the Internet.”
To which I replied that even amateurs should be paid for their work: “If their images are good enough for a professional publication, then they should be getting a professional fee.”
That was the end of the discussion – he never contacted me again. Good riddance.
Look guys and gals, every freelancer – whether junior or senior – should get paid for their work. Yes, juniors too. Even amateurs! If the potential client believes you are are capable of delivering a professional service, the clients should pay you a professional fee. Just think about it: Your toilet is broken and there is shit everywhere. You call a plumber and he arrives instantly. You discover he only started working a month ago. Would you ask him / her to work for free? I don’t think so. The same should work for us freelancers.
That does not mean I have not done stuff for free. I in fact have provided an image or two, for instance to a small grassroots soccer NGO in the DRC, free of charge. There is a difference doing stuff for free to help a small NGO raising much-needed funds and to do stuff for free for a company/ individual that intends to make money from your work. Having a pro-bono client actually looks good on your CV. Just choose them wisely.
Dear freelancer, are you still not convinced about the above? Then watch this video.
Miriam Mannak / freelancer, seasoned through and through
PS: South African freelancers: the Southern African Freelancers’ Association has drawn up a list of recommended rates for freelance writers, freelance journalists, freelance photographers, etc.