Whoa! That looks like a pretty in-your-face-title for a blog post, right? Well, it's time to address an issue that I, along with other professional photographers, face on a regular basis. When you hear what it is that I'm referring to in the title, you'll probably understand why it's such a hot-button. And it's not a problem faced solely by photographers, to be sure. But since that's what I do for a living, we'll use the photography profession as the primary example.
Have you ever heard the phrase, "Money makes the world go 'round"? I'd be willing to be you have. Do you think it's a true statement? Before you answer, it's important to get some perspective. Most people pay bills, in some form or another. It costs money to keep the lights on. It costs money to heat and cool your home. It costs money to communicate beyond in-person, face to face conversation. It costs money to drive to the store. It costs money to access the Internet (for the most part, although you might find free access here and there). It costs money to feed your family. So, as you can see, money plays a pivotal role in our day to day lives. Without it, many of us would lose access to many things that we depend on from day to day.
Now it's time to get on to the point of this piece. It's really simple, and it may shock some readers. Here goes. If you want to look like a jerk, ask a professional photographer to shoot your for-profit event for free. There. I said it. And you know what? It's true, and it happens more than you may think. Just prior to writing this post, I had someone, who works on the organizing team for an event that collects hundreds of dollars per ticket, to ask me to "volunteer" to photograph their event. Seriously? How am I supposed to pay my bills? How am I supposed to support my family? How am I supposed to cover the high cost of professional camera bodies, lenses, tripods, cases, and editing equipment? How am I supposed to pay for the insurance that covers it all? How am I supposed to pay for the gas that gets me to and from your event? How am I supposed to pay for the parking? Oh, that's right..."exposure". Sorry. Not this guy. I may have been born at night, but I wasn't born last night.
Oh, it got better. When I politely explained (and it's hard to be polite in that scenario) that I am a full-time photographer, depending on work to support my family, this person came up with an alternative. "Yay," I thought to myself, "This should be good." She proposed that the group would be willing (stick with me) to "waive" the ticket price for me, in exchange for coverage of the event. Wait a second. She was going to charge me to volunteer, prior to her generous (add sarcastic tone) proposal? She rocketed past jerk, at that point, and landed squarely on, well, let's just say I'd use a much more colorful label to describe her.
To be perfectly clear, this was not someone asking me to volunteer to photograph a charity event. I've done that, on occasion, and probably will again, from time to time. I'm a firm believer in giving back to the community, as well as supporting worthwhile causes. This was a for-profit event. Revenue is being generated off of ticket sales from this event. It's in a market segment that generates close to $100 billion (yes...with a 'b') annually...but they want a professional photographer to work...for free. She even boasted that it was a sold-out event. Sold-out...but you can't afford to hire a professional?
Of course, they can afford to hire a professional. But they don't want to pay. They're hoping that some poor sap will fall for the "but it's great exposure" line, and work their tail off for two full days, walking away with nothing to show for it. How do these people look at themselves in the mirror? And yes...I mean to sound harsh. If you're making money and then asking someone else to work for free...you're a jerk. Period. I'm not one bit sorry for saying that, either. Never in my life have I asked someone to work a job without compensation. Again, we're not talking about a charity event. We're talking about people raking in some serious profit, while hoping to take advantage of someone else in the process. It's disgusting.
So, if you're in need of a professional photographer, or any other professional, do the right thing: pay them for their work. They've got bills to pay. They've got financial responsibilities. Don't be a jerk and ask someone to work for free. Be better than that.