The abuse of “volunteer” photographers

You’ll have to excuse the following rant, but I’ve noticed a trend of asking for volunteer photographers that is starting to irk me.

It used to be that photography was a hard profession to break into and mere amateurs either didn’t have access to equipment or lacked the skills to get good looking pictures. That has changed greatly since the birth of the digital age and I for one love it. The problem is that because of the access, some people underestimate the time and effort it takes to take good pictures and simply think that it’s something that should be readily given away. This is wrong.

Don’t get me wrong, I think if you have a set of usable skills, you should volunteer some time for a good cause without expecting anything in return except for your own satisfaction of doing a good thing. A couple of times a year for instance, I volunteer my time for the Texas Alaskan Malamute Rescue group and do some photography for their fundraising calendar and another event they have. I like doing it because everybody there is a volunteer and they do very hard work year round to keep perfectly good animals from being killed and finding homes for them. Others may volunteer for cultural events or taking portraits of the poor. I have no issues there either.

The problem I have is when businesses who are making money off an event start looking for “volunteers”. This in itself is not a problem if the “volunteer” gets as much out of the event as the organizer. Maybe the photographer gets access to taking pictures of something they don’t normally get to photograph and it truly is a great opportunity that they can both learn from and use in the future and make money off of. Unfortunately, most of the “opportunities” I see are basically looking for quality photographs of very specific things without wanting to pay for it.

I don’t see how they can get away with it and why other photographers subject themselves to this sort of thing. This week for instance I saw a “opportunity” to take pictures of a comic book convention that charges $45 for a 3 day pass. They expect the photographer to be available for 3 days, have their own equipment, go through a selection process, and then after all that, they will be assigned to photograph particular events which could in fact be something they have zero interest in. Keep in mind that 10’s of thousands of people will walk through that door.

Will the people selling the tickets and waiting at the gates to check tickets work for free? No.
Will the people at the booths selling crap be working for free? No.
Will the guy sweeping the floors be working for free? No.
Will the guy/girl who’s asking for free photographers be working for free? I’m going to guess No.

So why is it that a skilled photographer with $4000 of equipment around his neck is expected to work for free for 3 days? What makes us so special? When fellow photographers ask for this, this is just inexcusable.

Here is a random picture from my first volunteering work. I’m proud of this because nobody got paid and it may have helped another dog get a home.

Alaskan Malamutes


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