Is free Photography is a good idea?

I recently had the pleasure of photographing a dog’s play-day at St. Andrew’s on the Square in Kamloops. They had an obstacle course, a bucketful of doggy treats, lots of toys, and even a (yuck) dog food cake. Dogs and their owners showed up throughout the morning and I photographed them jumping over gates, running through tunnels and having fun with their people. My friend, Melody Formanski, director of St. Andrews and dedicated dog lover, sent me the advertisement when she organized the event and was surprised when I told her I would be there to photograph the dogs. But I like dogs and I like photography and looked forward to the opportunity.

My favorite location was at the end of one tunnel. Some dogs came through nose down following other’s scents, some were puzzled and seemed to wonder why their owners wanted them to wander though a meaningless opening. Others had to be coaxed from the far end, but there were those that loved to run and obstacles like the gates and tunnels made the experience more fun. However, I admit I ruined some pictures because I was laughing or getting licked instead of concentrating on being a photographer.

I will be providing Formanski with the pictures I made. I hope she will use them for the club and give pictures to the people that attended that otherwise would only have low quality point and shoot pictures of their dogs. That’s my gift to them for the entertaining morning.

That “gift” brings up an opinion that is flourishing on some websites and photography organizations. I recently read an online forum post that condemned a photographer for giving her photographs away to an organization in which she participitated. The writer stated that, because a photographer spends time and money developing skills as a photographer, their work should always be paid for. I think that is an interesting topic and my opinion is, it depends.

The contention by those that believe all photographs should be paid for is that giving one’s work away drives the price down and reduces the value of photography of all those in the profession, plus it makes it hard to earn a living as a photographer.

Many individuals or community organizations take advantage of beginning photographers by recruiting them to photograph an event for free and saying, “this will be good for your portfolio”, or “ this is a good way to advertise yourself”. I emphatically say that doesn’t work. People will not say, “Thanks for the free wedding, I will tell everyone to hire you”. The organization you worked for will not say “those photographs you spent hours taking for our expensive advertising campaign (for which everyone else was paid but you) are so good that we will recommend you and hire you for the next job”. As I said, that does not work to the advantage of the photographer and won’t further their career.

After writing that, I still don’t agree with the opinion that photographers should only make photographs for money, and will continue to believe that giving away photography, as a gift is a good idea. I have hobbyist friends that are good photographers and I think their photography deserves to be seen in more places then just on their home desktops. All those great pictures make good gifts and its fun to have your work hanging on relative’s and friend’s walls. When to charge and when not to charge really depends on the circumstances. I suggest readers consider carefully, and politely pass on those, “this will be good advertising for you,” requests. I will, by choice, continue giving away photographs to those people I like (without any expectations of anything back) and hope there will be those that had as much fun as I did at the doggy day that enjoy my freely given photographs of their dogs.