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Working for free, or not? Most professional photographers tell you don't work for free. And I do agree with them. It is damaging the food photography industry and decreasing the value of photographers. But I also encourage you to work for free because these projects offer much value. The value is not always money but an opportunity, visibility, experience, and building credibility. This will help you build the business when you are just starting your journey.

So, let's discuss when working for "free" makes sense and when it doesn't.

Free work to grow your food photography business

When You are at the beginning of your food photography journey and you want to work with clients one day, I understand that you need to build experience and confidence. And one of the ways to do so is via free work. 

Free projects help you build a successful business faster, as they help you build visibility, experience, and credibility.

Visibility is putting yourself out there so other brands (aka your potential clients) can discover you. So, when considering free work, ask yourself this question: will such a free project help you get more visible in front of your ideal clients?

Then, there is Experience - and I guess you don't need an explanation there… working for free doesn't stress us that much as working for your first paid clients. With free projects, it's okay when we make mistakes and learn from them. So, free projects are great for that.
Here, the question would be: will that experience teach you something new that you don't know yet? Because if it's something you already know, it doesn't make sense to work for free.

And, credibility - means that clients will trust you as a photographer. Seeing you in a magazine and working with other clients strengthens your brand and makes your clients believe that you are great at what you do. So, the question here would be: is this a type of free project that helps you build credibility in the eyes of my ideal clients? If yes, go for it 🙂

Brands can approach you and offer a product in exchange for images. When you are in front of such a proposal, you must evaluate if the product is worth your time. And again, evaluate if such a project helps you to build your brand. Or,, you are super interested and excited about the product.

Email template: accepting a free work

Dear (Client's Name),

I hope this message finds you well. I would like to express my sincere appreciation for reaching out to me with the opportunity to collaborate on your photography project.

I believe that this collaboration will be mutually beneficial, and I'm excited about the creative possibilities it presents. Your brand and project align with my values and interests.

Can you please provide me with more details about the project's objectives, timeline, and any specific requirements you may have? This will help me prepare and plan accordingly.

To ensure a successful collaboration, I would propose a Zoom meeting to discuss the project further and address any questions or concerns. Please let me know your availability for the call.

Thank you once again for this opportunity, and I look forward to working closely with your team to bring this project to life. If there's anything specific you'd like to discuss or any information you need from me, please don't hesitate to reach out.

Kind regards,

(Your name)

(your signature & all the links for the Portfolio & IG)

But, very often, the products or brands don't give us any value. So you can refuse such a project and explain that you are happy to work with them for the payment. Here, I share with you an email template of how you can politely refuse free work:

Email template: Refusing a free work

Dear (Client's Name),

I hope this email finds you well. Thank you so much for considering me for your upcoming photography project; I genuinely appreciate your interest in my work. It's always exciting to hear about new opportunities, and I'm honored that you thought of me for this project.

However, after careful consideration of my current commitments and workload, I regret to inform you that I won't be able to take on this project for free. Please understand that as a professional photographer, I receive numerous requests for my services, and my schedule often fills up quickly with paid projects and personal commitments.

While I'm unable to participate in this project for free, I'm more than happy to discuss the possibility of working together on a paid basis, which would allow me to dedicate the time and attention your project deserves.

Therefore, I attach a welcome presentation, where you can read more about my services and my rates.

If you decide to explore a paid collaboration, please don't hesitate to reach out, and we can discuss the project details further over a zoom call. I'm confident that we can create beautiful and impactful work together.

Once again, thank you for considering me for your project. If you have any questions or would like to discuss the possibility of a paid collaboration, please don't hesitate to contact me.

Kind regards,

(Your name)

(your signature & all the links for the Portfolio & IG)

Grab my freebies and improve your skills

Join my VIP e-Library and get access to all my freebies and live training replays to help grow your food photography skills.

When it's time to accept free work in food photography?

Let's look at a few examples when its time to approach brands and offer free collaborations.

It makes sense to approach magazines and offer them a free contribution to their publications. Whether it's a one-time thing or a long-term collaboration, you exchange your time and work for visibility, credibility, and experience. I also did it at the beginning of my food photography journey and pitched a magazine. They answered me, and I had four pages in the following publication. It was a fantastic experience.

It also makes sense to offer a free shoot to a restaurant. This allows you to build your restaurant portfolio, get experience, and develop new skills. You can also contact up to 5 different restaurants, do the shoot in exchange for photos, and build a fantastic restaurant portfolio. You can eventually give them 5 to 10 free images; the rest can also be purchased after. Or, offer a free shoot, and if they love the images you create, they will pay for them afterward. There are many options for how to approach such a collaboration.

The same goes for hotels. Or if you want to build your “reportage” portfolio. 

Practically speaking, approaching brands with free work is the fastest way to build a stunning food photography portfolio. And at the same time, it will help you build visibility, credibility, and experience.

How to offer free work to grow your food photography portfolio

So, what does the process look like when approaching clients with such proposals… 

  • Create an engaging and exciting pitch email, and explain the offer & your goal
  • If they are interested, offer them a Zoom call to discuss the project. During the Zoom call explain how all works and what they get for free work. And discuss the project in detail. 
  • Then, create a brief agreement where you define that the work is for free, what the client gets from you, what the client gives you in exchange, and the limits of this collaboration. For example, you shoot at a client's premises, and you provide them with 10 free images, they can use on Instagram and the website. They can buy more images from you for xy € per image if they want. The license could be included with the free pictures, and in the price, you offer the rest of the photos.
  • And you can also agree with the client that they will tag you when posting the images. If yes, add it to the contract or agreement you prepare for them. 

It's essential to communicate clearly what you deliver - and where the free work stops. That way, the client won't ask you more for free. And, if they extend the scope of work after the free work starts, the extra work they require would be compensated by money. This is what you can include in the agreement.

No matter it is free work; I advise having a written agreement with the client. There, it's clearly stated what the free work is about, so brands can't just ask you to produce more and more content for free.

Inside our Members' Club, I created a template for an agreement my members can use for such projects. You can become our member, access the course: Pricing For Food Photographers, and use the template right away 🙂 Check our Members Club here.

Grab my freebies and improve your skills

Join my VIP e-Library and get access to all my freebies and live training replays to help grow your food photography skills.

Email templates for pitching free work

I understand how hounting can be to put together a pitch email to offer such a collaboration to your potential client. I prepared for you two email templates for pitching magazine and a restaurant, that you can download for free inside our free FOODlight community. You can subscribe and access our VIP e-Library on this link.

What about free projects for larger brands?

Remember, however, that brands have a budget to pay you for your work. If you are approached by large international companies, they have lots of money, and they can afford paying for content creation. However, many of them are using the system because, nowadays, it's easy to find beginner photographers or influencers who accept working for free. 

So, if you consider accepting such projects, there must be value for you. If such a collaboration is not interesting for you, just move on. You can answer their email, where you explain that you don't work for free, and offer them your services. You can find this template above.


So, I hope it helped you clear some doubts about how to approach a free work, and if you have any questions, or you want to share your experience, please, use the space below.

Hi there! I'm Lucia

Award Winning Food Photographer, Teacher, Business Coach, and, Founder of FOODlight. 

I am passionate about food photography, online business, sharing my knowledge & building a community of amazing like-minded creatives, such as yourself, that inspire and support each other. 

Feel free to reach out to me via my email or via Instagram, I'll be happy to connect with you!

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