When Free Isn't Actually Free

June 16, 2016

"I work all night, I work all day, to pay the bills I have to pay. Ain't it sad. And still there never seems to be a single penny left for me. That's too bad." ~ Money Money Money by Abba

So this has been something that's been ongoing for a while for me but I've never really made a big deal about it - until now. As someone who's involved in the creative industries (or at the very least, someone who is aspiring to be involved in the creative industries) there seems to some expectation that the work I do can be done for free. I mean, how hard can it be to just point and shoot a camera? Doesn't the camera have an automatic setting that just makes the photos look good anyway? Absolutely! I mean, that's why I spent all that time getting qualified and spent all that money on an expensive camera so I could learn how to use the automatic setting properly. *sigh*

 

Since the beginning of the year, I guess I've grown up a little bit (in the professional sense anyway) and I've stopped taking on work people expect me to do for free - because it's really not free. It comes at a cost. To me. Basically when someone says "it would be great exposure for your business" I now interpret that to be: "I don't value your time - at all. Your time is worth far less than mine and that photography thing you do is literally worthless to me so why should I pay for it." Sure, it might sound somewhat harsh and exaggerated and I might be taking it to the extreme...or am I?

 

Realistically, if I don't value my own time then no one will. The costs for equipment, insurance, electricity, travel costs, education, a bunch of other incidentals related to running any business and of course - my ACTUAL time. These are things that all cost something. Something financial. I've paid to buy the equipment. I've paid to gain the knowledge and qualification. I've paid to gain the experience that I have to get me to the point I am now. I've literally put blood, sweat and tears to get to the point I am now and to do work for free (well, for the "great business exposure") negates all of that. It devalues my entire history, experience, knowledge and that of everyone else who is involved in the creative industry and that's not right.

 

I'm not saying I won't ever do the work for free because I will but it will be because I've initiated it and on my terms. It shouldn't be something that people expect or make out like they're doing you a favour by having the opportunity to work for them for free. Admittedly I feel somewhat nervous about making this stand and who knows how many opportunities I might miss out on by rejecting "free work" but I think for my own personal and professional integrity (and professional development and the wider creative industry community) it needs to be done.


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