Are you Poor ?

Written by: Glyn Dewis

Published: February 18, 2011

Category: General

Admittedly an odd title for a blog post, but let me explain…

A few days ago my wife Anne told me of a conversation she’d heard on BBC Radio 2 in a regular daily slot called ‘Pause for thought’. The title of the subject was exactly that…”Are you poor” but rather than what you might at first think, the word ‘Poor’ was actually referring to: Passing Over Opportunity Repeatedly.

Maybe it’s just me but the first thing I thought of was my photography and how I’m a big believer in personal projects and doing work for free. Now don’t misunderstand me here…I’m not talking about undercutting fellow photographers or devaluing what I do but what I’m actually talking about is taking on projects / shoots that I wouldn’t maybe get commissioned for but with it in my portfolio, may well open doors in the future; does that make sense? In other words…not turning down opportunities that arise.

Heck I’ve done more ‘free’ personal project work than I can remember and will continue to do so but guaranteed, every single time it’s paid off in the end because it’s resulted in me being able to add images into my portfolio that I’ve then shown to perspective clients and ended up being hired for; images that I may never have been able to add to my portfolio if all I was doing was my ‘paid’ work.

The whole issue of working for ‘free’ has been across the web many times and always stirs up mixed emotions. In this case what I’m talking about is taking up opportunities with folks that you think would be good to photograph and then doing it, but doing it in such a way that you’re getting images that stretch you and mean you both end up with something you may never have had the opportunity to get. Everyone’s a winner!

Editorial Portrait Photographer David E. Jackson [Link] eluded to this in his recent Guest Post [Link] and went on to say that personal work and taking on the opportunities for projects is vitally important if we are to grow as photographers.

I’m no betting man (unless I’m in Las Vegas for Photoshop World of course) but I’d put money on it that every high profile photographer out there that’s photographing the kind of stuff you’d like to be has and continues to work on personal projects, so that they can both stretch themselves and produce work they wouldn’t necessarily have been hired to do because it wasn’t in their portfolio. I’d also say that doing these ‘free’ projects’ is what ultimately led to them working in the area they are today i.e. they saw an opportunity and grasped it with both hands!

So, my question to you is simply this…”Are you Poor?”

Thoughts? Comments? then as always please feel free to make use of the comments section below; I’d love to hear what you think and if you are indeed taking the time out to work on personal projects/shoots or should I say ‘opportunities’ as they present themselves.

Enjoy 🙂

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  1. Ruth

    Completely agree with you Glyn, it definitely helps you achieve more in the long run. I personally have been doing this and I definitely think it pays :O) x

    • Glyn

      @Ruth…Couldn’t agree more; very beneficial to do this plus in quiet times can help to keep you focused 🙂

  2. Andy

    I think this is part of a piece of the puzzle I’m trying to work through right now! I’m starting a new site and when it came to editing through my current work I found myself disgusted with it. I found a small handful of images I will use, but not enough to form a portfolio. I feel capable of producing so much better work than I have to this point, and I want my best to represent me.

    I’ve wrestled with the idea of working for free. On one hand, I don’t want to devalue the industry I want to be a part of. On the other hand, how will anyone know what I can do unless I show them?

    This post kind of helps me strike a balance between the two ideas. Thank you so much!

    • Glyn

      @Andy…Sounds exactly how I felt mate when you mention about your portfolio. Doing this for me was a great way to be able to show and then eventually get the kind of work I want/ed to be shooting.


  3. Tim Skipper


    It drives my wife crazy that I do “free shoots” I’ve never got her to understand that the free shoots prepare the way for the paid ones. Truth be told, most times I would rather show my free shoots than my paid one because I can show how I think vs. how someone wanted me to think (if that makes any sense).

    The biggest problems are finding models and budget.

    • Glyn

      @Tim…Totally hear you there mate 🙂

  4. kelley

    Glyn, wonderful post. I totally agree with you. I have two things on my mind regarding the subject.
    1. My personal work clearly shows more passion and style of who I really am and I often use that work in my portfolio. In turn people see that and the ones that hire me are the ones who want that type of photography.
    2. Only once have I regretted any charity work and it was because I took it on knowing I previously, purposefully moved away from that type of photography. So I was doing what I hated and doing it for free. Not a good combo.

    I was told once by a business instructor that you should post in your portfolio what you want to do more of. It’s simple and it makes sense. If you have to make more of those images in your personal time and for free than get to it. The more you post the more people who love that photography will hire you to make more of it for them.
    Thanks for the reminder and for causing me to think about this subject again.
    All the best, Kelley

    • Glyn

      @Kelley…Agree with you totally there Kelley. If I hadn’t done any ‘free’ personal work then there’s no way I’d be photographing some of the stuff I get the chance to now and plan to be in the future.

      Thanks for looking in and commenting,
      All the best to you,

  5. DaveT

    Hi Glyn,

    Apart from the benefits you, and others, have already articulated. I think doing personal projects is something that can give tremendous personal satisfaction. Even if the work never makes it into your portfolio, it’s the internal pleasure of actually taking those images that is so gratifying for the soul. In my case it takes me back to my grass roots of why I started doing photography in the first place.


    • Glyn

      @DaveT…100% with you there mate

  6. Ernie Atkins


    Another blog post that “hits the nail on the head”. My wife and I do pro-bono work for charities for multiple reasons. First we just love doing it, second we gain valuable experience and finally it builds a community presence for our business.

    By the way – David Hobby (aka Strobist) had a similar blog with the same attitude. Doing pro-bono work can be a win-win for everyone involved.


    • Glyn

      @Ernie…Absolutely mate; everyone’s a winner 🙂

  7. Lloyd Williams

    Hi Glyn,

    Can’t agree more with you on this one. All photographers are looking for new ways to improve their portfolios. When I first started shooting weddings I absolutely accepted the fact that I’d have to work as an assistant for free, waiting for the opportunity to get some of my own shots to start building a portfolio of my own. The same principle applies to any kind of shoot or project. I think the problem is lots of pro’s don’t consider the doors that will open as a result of ‘free work.’
    Too many pro’s know they have to make a full time income from photography so will charge every time.
    It’s a shame because free work always benefits!


  8. Paul Pride

    Great post Glyn! Like @Tim my wife also hates me not getting paid for my photography (saying I’m too good to be working for free… blah, blah, blah) which has resulted in myself being reluctant to do any more free shoots. This, in turn, has had an impact recently on my photography in general.
    I have been trying to think of avenues to get paid work rather than enjoying my photography like I should be. It also doesn’t help that I dropped my flash on the floor a few weeks ago and it’s a write off (roll on the deals at Focus!)
    I will, one day, get my photography off the ground. My 1 year old daughter has eaten into a lot of my time so as she becomes less dependent I can focus more on photography.
    Thank you for yet another inspiring post. It has really helped to give me a boost again after the new year blues!
    All the best,

    • Glyn

      @Paul…Cheers for commenting mate and it’s great to hear the post has helped.
      Working for free is one of those things that’s hard to explain to others but something we really need to do from time to time if we’re going to develop and put together a portfolio of what we really want to be shooting and yeah I totally relate to what you’re saying mate. Mrs D understandably couldn’t understand it at first but now sees the benefits; gut it just takes time.

      Looking forward to seeing what you come up with mate 🙂

      Oh and re the funky portrait pictures…check this out:

      Cheers, Glyn

  9. Paul Pride

    Also, how do I get a funky little portrait picture in the comments?

  10. claudio.von.grubens

    hi glyn

    nice one and i think it is much more relaxed an creative working with no commission for a social project!


    • Glyn

      @Paul…Ah there you are…lol 🙂

  11. Govind Vekaria

    I did a freebie in Portugal two weeks ago. It actually cost me(flights, hotel etc) and I even bought specific gear for it 🙁 But the returns – not money – but photos, contacts, a life time experience, the praise, the publicity – absolutely made it worth my while (at the personal level).
    I almost didn’t take up the oppertunity.
    Would love to tell you more about (if you have time for me sometime).


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