Work For Exposure

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Have you been asked to let someone use your work for exposure?

What is the value of your photo? That’s a question we’d all like to answer. The problem is that there are many people who want to use your photo, but they don’t want to pay you for the privilege. Instead, they tell you that it’ll be great exposure for you.

When to Work for Exposure

If that seems insulting, it is. How should you respond? Is there ever a time to trade your photo for exposure or to work for free? That’s the topic for today’s post.

I’ve given photos to some requests when it suits me. It’s my choice if I want to be charitable.

However, most of the requests I receive asking to use my work for exposure are simply due to cheap businesses who don’t budget accordingly. They know there are plenty of photographers out there who buy into the myth that exposure will drown them in new business or prospects.

Promotion requires planning. If you use your photography to promote your business or a cause, then you need to have an objective that the promotion will fulfill. People who request your work for exposure aren’t marching to that drum. It’s up to you to determine if these requests are an opportunity or a waste of your time and resources.

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PHOTO FLUNKY – Episode 5


I’m your host, William Beem. Welcome to the Photo Flunky Show, Episode number five.


Today we’re going to ask the question: How should photographers respond to a request to work for exposure?


Think about this.  Someone wants to use your photo in print. For some photographers though, that excitement may subside when you hear these words: “We really don’t have a budget for photos, but being on our page will give you great exposure!” And your heart just sinks. Exposure? How am I going to pay my bills with exposure?  It almost feels like a slap in the face.


For some people, if you’ve never done any work before, you’re not interested in being a professional photographer, you’re not interested in selling your work, you may still be excited just to see your stuff in print and if that’s the case and you want to do it, it’s a personal choice. You can do it!


For a lot of other people though, it just really boils their blood at the idea that they want your photos for free, but yet they still have to have the magazine or the website or whatever the agency is, pay for everything else they do. Why are photographers singled out?


I guess one of the ways to get working photographers really upset is if you even talk about the idea of doing unpaid work or an assignment and all they’re going to get is exposure from the client.  It seems insulting. And that’s because it is.


What the client really wants is a charity.  Now whether they deserve it or not is up to you.  But just don’t be tricked by potential exposure without thinking it over.


So here’s some of the criteria that I think ought to go through your head before you decide on whether or not you’re going to accept or decline their offer.


Can they deliver on the promise of exposure?  How large is their audience going to be? How prominently will your image be featured? I mean, you’ve got to ask the question, is this going to be on the cover or above the fold? Is this going to be an article heading, or is it just another photograph that’s going into a piece some place, you know, just buried below the lead?


The next question that you really want to come into mind is, how is this going to benefit you?  No matter what size they have, is it your market that is going to be reading this? In other words, is there anybody reading this, whether it’s something going out to a few thousand people or a few million people,  is there anybody reading this that’s going to say, “Oh! William Beem shot this photo. I need to hire him. I need to buy this as a print. I need to give him money out of my pocket.”  If there’s nobody in that audience that they are going to share it with, the exposure has no value whatsoever.  Exposure to an uncharted audience is just absolutely useless.


One of the questions that I brought up before that you may want to ask them is, are they paying other people to produce the final product?  They can pay a writer, an editor, a publisher, a printer … why can’t they pay the photographer? Why is the photographer being singled out as something that’s not worth being a live item in the budget?  My thought is anyone who has an audience that is sufficiently large enough to benefit you also has a budget to pay you.  They may be just feeling you out to see, can we save a few bucks here?  And then after some negotiation, maybe they will throw something your way.  And whether you accept that is, again, up to you.


Are you insulted if they try to come after you for free?  I would be. If they come back around and say, “OK, well we’ve got some budget”, do you need the money that badly, or is it just a matter of ethics or integrity that they didn’t even offer you anything in the first place?  That’s a personal decision and quite honestly I understand the people that are going to come with the ethics and integrity part, and I also understand the people that are living hand to mouth and need whatever money they can get.


I see it as a business decision rather than an emotional decision.


Is this a good way to get started if you’ve not really been in the business before and you want to get started in the business?  You want to go off and show people what you can do.  Again, my opinion is no.  Unless you’re a college intern, I cannot think of a single job that does not pay you for work. The clerk at your grocery store didn’t start off working by hoping for exposure to get hired.  Anybody who’s working is getting paid for the work.  Photography is a skill, it is a talent, it is an art.  It is deserving of money.  I’m just astonished that this concept even comes up that people just want you to give away what you’ve got.


I think they are preying on people’s ignorance of the value of their work. That’s why a lot of photographers really get upset because they figure that doing work for free or giving photos away for exposure devalues their work.  And it probably does, but honestly, I don’t care about that aspect of it.  Other photographers have their business. I have mine. What’s important is to know your own value.


The people who are asking you to work for exposure are basically preying upon your insecurities and your lack of confidence.


Does this mean you should never work for free?  That answer, also: no!  It depends on your values.


Working for free and working for exposure are two different things.


Let me explain. Working for free is your own choice.  You may feel charitable.  You may want to do some work for a good cause or because you genuinely want to help someone out or even help an organization out.  There are needy people and needy organizations in the world and sometimes they genuinely don’t have the budget and it would be a nice thing to do.  That is your prerogative to decide whether or not you want to help them out with your photography skills or an image that they would like to have.


That is very different from working for exposure, which implies a promise that can’t be met.  Whenever someone is telling you, “Oh the exposure will be great for you.”  It’s never great.  It’s never your audience. If you didn’t go approach them because you’ve already researched their audience and you know that you want to get in front of them, working for exposure is just a fool’s errand.  How are you to respond when someone comes up to you and offers you an opportunity to work for exposure?


You may feel insulted, but why burn the bridge?  Here’s the thing.  They may come back around and offer money after you’ve rejected them, so the best thing to do is be professional.  If you don’t like an offer, whether it’s an amount of money or the fact that they just want to offer you exposure, simply say, “No thank you.”


If you’re willing to do it for personal reasons, then you can say yes, but state your terms of usage.  Make sure you place your intentions in writing and the limitations on their usage of the photo.  Just like any other contract.  Even though it’s free, it doesn’t mean they can do whatever they please.


Thank you for listening to the Photo Flunky Show.  The show notes are available at  You can find the transcript of this show there for free.


I am William Beem.  If you’d like to stay in touch, it’s pretty easy to do.  All you have to do is send a text message. Just text the word FLUNKY to 33444. You’ll subscribe to my list and I’ll keep you updated on photography and blogging information.  There are no extra charges from me so only your standard messaging rates from your carrier apply.


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Hope to see you there!

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