Dad-ing, opinion

Working For Free Makes Me Happy

Since I was a boy, photography has always been a big part of my life. My father has loved it since he was young and still teaches students at a university in England where he’s worked for over 30 years.

My favourite memories of school were always when I’d bring my old Nikon F-301 35mm camera, loaded up with black and white Kodak film, and take photos of my friends. I’d then bring them home and my Dad and I would develop them in our dark room. The next day, I’d bring the fresh prints to school and hand them out.

After college, I went to work on cruise ships as a videographer and photographer, which gave me the incredible opportunity to take photos of faraway lands and the people I met along the way.

Peru – 2009

In 2009 I settled in Australia for a year and worked as the lead photographer for an entertainment agency, working with dancers, actors, and models. Once I returned to London, I set up my own studio in a shared house where I’d accept small commissions for headshots and portfolio-building shoots.

Try as I might, it never really supplemented my day-job income and it was around 2015 that I accepted that it may never be a great earner for me. The jobs are too sporadic and they’re never guaranteed.

As my career in Marketing, Content Creation (including product photography) and Social Media strategy progressed, as well as getting married and had a beautiful daughter, I found less and less time for photography or doing anything toward growing my hobbies.

More recently, I’ve put self-care and discovering what makes me happy and making sure to put it as a priority. As well as pottering around the garden, nurturing a few vegetables and berries to be eaten either by my daughter or the squirrels, I’ve started to take the time to relaunch a side-career in photography.

More specifically, I’ve been making myself available to local people who want to have a photo shoot and come away with some professional portraits of themselves. I understand that not everyone can afford to pay for this service, I do it for the fun. I love that they get to have someone with my experience and personal photography style give away to spend time with them. But mostly it’s that I get to meet people while practicing something that makes me happy.

Michelle, photographer, vancouver photographers, best vancouver photographers, cheap photographers, bc photographers,

Last night, I was at Jericho Beach with Michelle, a local video game character artist. Last week I met Andrew who works with autistic people. Before that, I met Lottie, a young Lifeguard and trainee Paramedic.

I would have never gotten the chance to meet these wonderful people if it wasn’t for agreeing to work for free and rekindling my love for photography.

I feel that I should add a note to say that of course people deserve to be paid for their time, equipment, and the many years it took to work on these sharable skills. I do gladly accept payment for shoots and insist on it when the client is either making money from the photos or using them in a professional capacity. For those who just want some photos to look back on or share with their friends and loved ones, I’m happy to share my time.

Am I alone here, or are you willing to work for free simply because it brings you (and perhaps someone else) happiness?


  1. Reg

    June 20, 2019 at 4:18 pm

    Such a great post James. It’s nice that you offer your talent for others to enjoy. I really enjoy blogging and writing and I’m also open to working on things without payment that are near and dear to my heart.

    1. jamesrcsmith

      June 21, 2019 at 9:08 am

      Thanks, Reg! I think it’s important to realize why we do the things we do and have something in each category:
      1) To pay the bills
      2) It helps me or someone else
      3) It makes me happy

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