In New York, the mere act of hustling is executed nearly every single day. Whether it be the guy trying to sell you “I love New York” t-shirts or the sharply dressed business person, everyone hustles just a bit to get what they want.

When I was starting out as a photographer I had no guidance from other professional photographers or any formal training under my belt. (Everything I know to this day is through self-study and practice.) All I had was the support of my family and their logic about business practices to guide me along.

And since I still have no (official) formal training or field experience, I am not ready to charge for my work. I started out by developing contacts and utilizing New York’s plethora of fashion models through various resources, mainly a non-profit that was organizing a fashion show. Myself and many other photographers worked for free, trading our time for the models’ and the makeup artists’. It was a fabulous system as everyone developed their portfolios, and I gained valuable field experience. Heck, I even made some awesome contacts along the way.

Unfortunately, I had to tear myself from those contacts/opportunities to pursue my new life in the Northwest. Now that I’m back to square one, I’m back to trading my time for the models’ and the makeup artists’.

Honestly, I would rather shoot for free than charge a client for work that I consider sub-par. Photography isn’t a money-making machine to me, it’s an art form and something I have a deep-rooted passion for. I wake up nearly every day with a gnawing feeling of wanting to take pictures!

Additionally, a small fraction of me also refuses to charge for my work because I don’t want to become one of the many photographers who charge for their work and it looks just … blah. Although I definitely don’t think my work is “blah,” I definitely do not think I am at a place where I can confidently charge my clients yet. Let alone take their money and believe I am providing a top-notch service to them.

Recently I came across some people who seem to think that photographers who don’t charge for their work give “real” photographers a bad rap. As if to say that photographers who charge for free are “wannabes.”

Honestly, I strongly disagree with this. Strongly.

Not charging for your work is a great way to obtain experience without the pressure of creating amazing results for your client. It gives aspiring photographers the freedom they need to experiment as well. I can understand if photographers that don’t charge for their work develop certain expectations within clients, but by the same token, photographers who charge for work that looks like total rubbish develop clients that become numb to other (more skilled) photographers.

It should be noted though that only the photographer can decide when to begin charging for their work. Shooting for free is definitely not a permanent choice, it’s just a starting point that requires a bit of hustling.