How to Respond to Requests for Free Photography? (My Advice)

Have you ever been in a situation where you are asked to work without getting paid? Believe it or not, but this is the reality for most start-up photographers (and even some professionals, too).

A lot of people think it’s okay to ask for free photos, when in the realest sense, it is quite not. So much so if you do photography for a living.

It is just not practical to keep accepting requests for free images to the point where you compromise your main source of income as a photographer.

So, just how will you tell these people to stop asking photographers to work for free in the most professional, non-rude way? That is what we will be talking about today.

Saying No to Free Photography Requests

At one point in your career, you will probably be asked to work for free.

And unfortunately, the very people who ask you to do this are usually the ones closest to you like family, friends, and neighbors.

While it is okay to grant some of these requests in a very selective manner, it is somehow difficult to say no to these people without offending them.

Now, let’s discuss the various ways on how you can get a guy to stop asking you for free pictures, be it a family member, a close friend, or an old acquaintance.

Here are a few steps you can follow:

  • Get straight to the point

If you mean to say no, then don’t go beating around the bush. When you do that, the person on the other end might start convincing you to say otherwise, and you don’t want that to happen.

Directly, but politely, tell them that you can’t accept free photo requests. You have to be firm with your decision and tell it straight to the requesting party without being rude.

I understand this might be hard and more complicated if the one asking is someone who is personally close to you. However, there will be times when you will need to say no to them. But if you really can’t do it, then tell them honestly why.

If it’s about overlapping schedules, then that might be a little easier for them to understand. However, asking them to pay up for your services may be trickier than that. You just need to have courage to ask them for a fee, and if they really do value you as an artist, they will willingly oblige to do so.

  • Stay as professional as possible

Receiving requests from strangers who are so demanding can really be upsetting.

However, you should always remember not to let your emotions and anger get the best of you. The last thing you would want is to get involved in unnecessary argument with a stranger who has the power to badmouth you to other prospect clients.

If you received the request via email, then you have more time to think about your response. You can start off by stating that you appreciate them thinking highly of your work, but that you also need to make something out of it.

However, if you’re getting one too many requests, replying to each and everyone might not be possible. When you find yourself in this situation, you can create a generic email (a pre-formatted one) and send it to everyone whose requests you want to decline.

  • Explain to them that this is your livelihood

Most of the people who ask you to work for free are those who wants to save up their budget for something else. Yes, that’s the hard truth. A lot of them approach you with secured funding for photographers, but just want to try out if they can get something for free. This usually happens to newbies, which is kinda unfortunate, honestly.

The best response for these people is to explain to them that this is your livelihood. Tell them that you also need to generate funds to cover for your expenses just like they do. There is nothing wrong with being honest.

  • Get the message across that you are supporting a cause selectively

Sometimes, people will call you out for not supporting charitable causes by not offering your services for free. However, you have to remember that you are not a charity-event organizer. You are a professional photographer.

If you are already supporting a different cause, or accepted some personal offers for free, then you have to make it clear to them that this is a very selective matter. Tell them it’s a personal commitment that you want to partake in, not some random request for free photography.

In a nutshell:

It is not wrong to say no. In fact, you have to start saying no to free photo requests. But you need to do it in a polite and professional way.

It’s still important to maintain a good reputation even among those people whose requests you rejected. You never know whether you’ll meet them again in the future as a paying client.

Now that we have discussed the different ways on how you can respond to requests like that, here are some things you need to know about your craft.

Things You Need to Realize about Photography

If you are just starting your photography journey, then it’s very likely that you have not yet realized a few things about it.

Here are a few things you need to know about the industry and your talents:

  • Photography is an expensive hobby/craft

This type of hobby requires you to invest in gears that are “more expensive” than that of other crafts. To start, you need to get a decent camera that will allow you to capture great photos.

Aside from that, you might also have to purchase your own lighting equipment for a more advanced photography gig. And there are so many more accessories, things, and photography courses you’ll need as you continue your journey.

You have to keep in mind that you need to secure funding for all these things, if you really want to turn this into an income generating activity. If you have lots of financial resources to spare and cost of equipment is not an issue, then good for you.

But it doesn’t change the fact that it takes a lot of money to venture into this kind of career path.

So, it wouldn’t really give you much benefit when you keep accepting requests of people who want to use your images for free.

  • Photography takes time and a lot of practice to master

This is not a secret.

Everyone knows that it takes a lot of time, practice, and dedication in order to succeed in this field. And sometimes, these things don’t even guarantee 100% success rate. There are still other factors you need to consider before you can get what you want out of your craft.

Most likely, you will be spending many months, or even years, practicing and searching for the right genre you want to specialize on. And it’s not always a smooth ride. You’ll definitely encounter hardships along the way. That’s just the truth about photography.

So, if there ever is someone who wants you to work for them without compensating you, think back about all the struggles you’ve faced so far. Ask yourself, is it really worth giving them your services for free?

  • Editing is part of photography

For some, photography is only about snapping photos, but you know better than that. Most of the time, it requires editing – and this takes so much time, especially if you are still learning the ropes, you get what I mean?

(By the way, check out my Lightroom Editing Mastery course review here.)

In fact, editing requires even more time than actually doing the shoot. A lot of principles and disciplines come with this post-processing technique. In short, you need to dedicate as much effort and time into it as when composing your shot.

If you don’t realize it yet, your effort and time matters so much, and that is another reason why you should not always let people get free photos from you.

  • The industry is very competitive

If you think getting into the industry is a walk in the park, you thought wrong. This is one of the most competitive industries right now. With thousands of photographers wanting to offer their services, you have to have a strong edge that can make big companies and clients notice your skills.

This is one reason why a lot of new photographers invest heavily on promotional offers and advertisements. This just steps up your game and gives you more chances of landing big clients.

However, this too entails additional cost on your end. So if you think offering your services for free, then you might be losing a lot more than you can imagine.

  • Your craft has very high earning potential

As much as it is an expensive craft, this one has a really high earning potential. Once you become established and your brand known, you will have a lot of clients lining up for your services.

And sometimes, you don’t even need to advertise your skills and services anymore since prospects might have already heard about you from others who already tried working with you.


The next time someone asks you to work for free, remember those things mentioned above and stop worrying about being branded as rude. After all, photography isn’t something you learn for free.

If it is that easy, then they should just do it themselves, right?

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