The people I photograph for free are almost always artists of some sort. I grew up around painters, musicians, architects and what-have-you, and almost all of these talented people could have used a good picture or three for marketing themselves and their work, and for the same reasons they would need a photo, they also couldn’t afford to hire a professional to shoot a series for them.
There are thousands of struggling artists in the world, but naturally I can’t afford to give away my photos all the time.
I extend the offer to people I really like. The people behind the work are more important than the work itself. I am a storyteller, and those always have their root in people. It ties into combining Kindness and Hard Work as well. The people I help are genuinely grateful, and they tend to remember me later. In the past this has led to referrals, more work (some of it still for free), friendships and collaborations. And with each and every shoot comes inspiration and learning, and that’s the real pay-off.
A couple of people I have photographed have later gone on to have some success, which hasn’t made me rich (nor would I dream of taking credit for their success, which had everything to do with their own hard work) but it’s gotten me lots of really cool, fun experiences that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.
Giving away my work also gives me a sense of applying my talent where it matters. That’s a very direct and fulfilling thing. I’ve met naysayers who claim one of two things: it’s undermining “the industry”, and you’re killing yourself for nothing. To those I say, you don’t get it. I’m not doing this for business – not directly anyway. I’m doing it because it’s who I am, how I was raised and it’s what I love doing.