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Exposure Triangle - Photography Exposure Explained

The Exposure Triangle.

exposure-triangle.jpg Do not get me wrong, sometimes working for exposure can work in your favor, that is when YOU identify it, and YOU choose to do it.

Never have I seen nor heard of anyone accepting exposure work, get paid work due to that free work.

Far too often I get asked if I can shoot something as a favor or for exposure, clients promising the world to me. 90% of the time, I just do not do it.

If one can not be paid in money, then one should be compensated with something, anything with a perceived value, and Future Exposure, honestly does not constitute any fair value.

Also be weary of the promise to pay or promise of compensation, I have gotten burned by breaking my own rules and shot an entire Runway Season during Los Angeles Fashion Week with the promise the venue would facilitate between the designers and I. -- well, I earned $0 in sales, and spent close to $700 out of pocket to shoot the event, Gas, Insurance on equipment, liability for my team, compensation for my team, Food, etc..

Here is an ad I found online, again, a fashion show venue looking for free photographers, remeber, these venues charge money for the designers to show/walk, in the range of $6,000 to $50,000


To me, I will shoot for:

  • Money, always first choice.
  • Food, good food, make it a great dinner, I will think about it
  • Access to an event that I can not gain on my own
  • Full travel expenses to a location (I can use this as my vacation)
  • Camera Equipment
  • Amazing painting that I am in love with.

Anything that once took money to purchase, or an investment of time, has a fair value.

Here is how I separate it and make the distinction of when to do it and when not to:

Do exposure (free) work when:

You identify the client as someone who is recognized, powerful, influential, and most importantly, is a good quality person.

Let me explain, I personally know 2 Billionaires, and I would never shoot free for them, not because I think they can afford it, but because I know they have no interest in helping people out, and just taking advantage of you and moving on.

At the same time, I shot for a designer for free one time, because I knew they were starting out, and they showed how appreciative they were for my help. In turn, we became dear friends, and have helped one another along the way for both of us to grow.

DO NOT DO exposure (free) work when:

The client is overstating how important they are, if they really are that big and powerful, then they can pay you.

When the client is complaining about money, or boasting about money.

When the client tells you that their friend has a camera or they can shoot with an iPhone, this means they have no value for you and your work.

If they promise to pay you when they get sales. -- if this the case, make a contract.

All in all, if you shoot for free, you will be known as the photographer who shoots for free, and when the client has a budget, they will look for someone who can do better than you for money.


  • Client has no money, you are a $500 photographer, they offer exposure, you are now the free photographer with no value.
  • Client has $500, they move to a $1,000 photographer and talk them down
  • Client has $1,000 , they move on to a $2,000 photographer and talk them down

To those that are offended or think I am wrong, thats ok, and here is how I address that:

  • You think I am wrong: then you are the exception, there are always exceptions
  • You are offended: sorry, try to figure out why you are offended
Mike Bradley

Author: Mike Bradley

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