There are many, many people and companies out there who will try to get you, and other creatives, to work for free in exchange for ‘exposure’. While some of them may actually think this is a valid form of compensation, there are others who are just trying to rip you off and get something for free. In this article, dear creative, I am going to tell you why you should never, ever, work for ‘exposure’.

never work for exposure photography haiku

How common is it to be asked to work in exchange for exposure?

It is soooooo, so common there is actually an entire sub-Reddit called Choosing Beggars with nearly 2 million members sharing stories of being asked to work for free.

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When I started out as a photographer (and designer), I was so anxious to get more work and get my name out there that I fell victim to this particular form of predatory ‘hiring’ for several projects.

It took a while for me to realize that the only people benefiting from the arrangement were the people getting my hours of hard work for free.

Is any exposure good exposure?

When you’re looking to get more business, the initial inclination is to think that ‘getting your name out there’ is really important.

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Photo by Pixabay on

And, don’t get me wrong, getting your work seen by more people can potentially increase your profile, but are the people who your work is ‘exposed’ to going to hire you?

You should also ask how you will be credited. If there’s no link/tag/photo credit, how will people even know you were involved in the project?

Who is going to see your work?

Here’s a big question you need to ask yourself. Who will actually be seeing your work?

never work for exposure
Photo by Cristian Dina on

Are they people who might actually hire you in the future? If not, then why does the exposure even matter?

Just because the person or company who wants you to work for free has 100,000 followers on social media does not mean that any of those people will be interested in hiring you.

Trust me, I’ve had photos shared by pages with a million followers that led to absolutely ZERO inquiries.

If you can’t convert potential viewers of your work into potential clients, the ‘exposure’ has NO VALUE!

You will now be known as “the person who works for free”!

“I’m going to tell everyone I know about you!”

Great, but what are you going to tell them? Are you going to tell them that I worked for free?

In my experience, the people who ask you to work for exposure will then try to pass off that information to other people they know to make themselves look important.

“Hey, check out this photographer I got to do this project for free!”

Every time I worked for free or for exposure, I got another 10 contacts from other people they knew asking me to also work for free for them.

Are the people hiring you benefiting commercially?

Is this something they would normally pay a lot of money for? Are they just trying to prey on your desperation?

Do they stand to MAKE money off of your creative work? Are they using your work to sell a product or service?

Photo by Alexander Mils on

If the people behind the shoot are planning to make money, they should be willing to discuss paying you. It’s not a ‘great opportunity’ if they’re just using you to make more money for themselves.

Even though a company might be a ‘start up’ or whatever they choose to label themselves to say they ‘don’t have a budget for photography’, ask if they plan to do any sort of advertising buy. What is their budget for advertising and where are they advertising? If they’ve got $50k to spend on ads for their product, they have enough money to pay you for your work.

“But it will be great for your portfolio!”

This is another common thread among the

I have been contacted numerous times by companies and organizations asking me to either work in exchange for exposure or telling me how unique the project is and that it would be great for my portfolio.

Photographers and other creatives who are starting out are more susceptible to this type of offer because they feel that they don’t have the work to justify getting paid.

That is not the case. While your level

Exposure won’t pay your bills…

As I mentioned before, even if a million people see your photo(s), it doesn’t matter if none of them are going to hire you.

Unless you can actively convert the people seeing your images into paying customers, none of the exposure matters.

Landlords won’t accept exposure to pay your rent…

Credit card companies won’t take exposure instead of a payment…

You can’t buy camera gear or pay for editing software with exposure!

I am not saying you should never work for free…

There are times and places that you should consider working for free.

For example, if you are truly looking to expand your portfolio, there’s nothing wrong with that. Or if you want to put together a spec or styled shoot that everyone involved can use to promote themselves, that is absolutely fine and happens frequently.

As long as everyone involved is on the same page and no one is being taken advantage of in the long run.

Also, there are worthy causes that you can donate your time and skills to. Working with charities is a great example. Many of them need great photos to help spread the word and raise money.

Choose something that is close to your own heart and you’ll be happy to donate your time. AND, you’ll be surprised that you might actually get some clients from that donated time. Charities are often quite good about letting people know who donated services and that is an example of ‘good exposure’.

Just make sure they’re a legitimate charity and not someone looking to make money while you don’t get paid.

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