Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Free Photography - Does it Pay?

A Bird I'th Hand...

A few miles from where I was born and raised, in Lancashire, UK, was a pub called "A Bird I'th Hand" - a phrase intended to be heard in a Lancashire dialect (as up lad, get thy clogs on, there's trouble at mill) and which translates to the first part of the old proverb: "A Bird in the worth two in the bush".

Those wise words advise us to be satisfied with what we have, rather than to dream of what we might get. The "birds" of our hopes and aspirations fly away all too easily, so holding onto what we have, even though it's not as much as we might want, is better than having nothing at all.

I having been trying, for some time now, to "break into" a particularly lucrative sector of the commercial market, involving hotel room photography and I recently had an opportunity to discuss business with a very important client in that sector.

Because this client did not know me, and had only seen a small sample of my work (including my image of the "Flying Staircase" at Glin Castle Hotel, County Limerick, above) I decided to make an offer he couldn't refuse. I suggested that I photograph one room for free. The agreement was that, should the image I produce be regarded as similar in quality to that of previous work he had purchased (for substantial fees), I would be offered a contract to photograph another 7 rooms, in one of his premises. I would also speculate that the possibilities of further work for that client, beyond the next 7 rooms, would be very strong.

The client asked if I would bring a room stylist with me. This was a service that previous photographers had provided, and it was an important "value-added" aspect of the work that the client appreciated. By chance, I had been talking to a room stylist, a few days earlier, and had mentioned the prospect of teaming up with her on room photography projects - and she seemed very keen on the idea.

So, last evening I called her to talk about the new assignment. At first, she was very interested. But, as soon as I mentioned the words "free sample", she became less interested, and then suddenly found that she was too busy to even consider it. She was, however, honest enough to say that she didn't work for free and it was a long way for her to travel (about 70km one way) - and work for a day for free (I had considered paying her expenses myself - but we didn't get far enough into the conversation for me to offer). She knew of the client, and she had some idea of what the paid commission would be worth (the bird in the bush) but she couldn't be convinced that it was worth the risk.

So, now I'm looking for a room stylist that believes in birds in the bush - and who can see the possibilities that working for free might hold.

I'll let you know if my birds fly away - or if I'm the one who is "crowing" at the end of the day.

UPDATE 17.30pm 26th November

Well, that didn't take long. Not two hours hours after making the original post (above) I telephoned a women who owns a room furnishings shop and who has a great "eye" for style and design. We met over coffee and she is totally enthused by the assignment, and was practically telling me what the advantages were of offering to do a free sample. I'm hoping to arrange the job for next week - and I'll update after that.

See the follow up to this story here: FREE PHOTOGRAPHY DOES IT PAY PART DEUX


  1. It's tough to enlist others who don't want to be enlisted. But it's a great story. I'll be interested to see how it turns out.

  2. Hi Stephen

    I offer a similar system for family and model photography. I do the shoots for free and then just charge them for the photographs. I store them online for them to preview.

    This has workd far better for bookings then previosly expected. The only disadvantage i have come up against is cancellations which for you probably won't happen.

    Keep us posted would love the hear how it goes.



  3. Interesting Blog Stephen, and I am sure that you will get a mixed response to the question you pose. I am a strong supporter of the Pro Bono style of doing business. I have always found that you receive much more in return,- and it fosters strong links, friendships, and cements good relationships.

    As a result,I tend to enjoy working with people I like,yet still manage to get my fair share of reward -

  4. Hi Stephen - very interesting post again. I've often done stuff in the past for free with the dangling carrot of paid work. It has worked for me in the past, but on occasion back-fired too...let us know how it pans out.



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