A few weeks ago I bought a DSLR camera.

I’ve always been interested in photography, but never had the courage to really invest into it until now.

Within 2 days of buying the camera, I had a $300/month contract with a local co-working space to photograph two of their events every month.

How did this happen?

I literally walked into their event with my camera, didn’t know anybody, and I asked if they could use some photography work for free since I wanted to practice. Throughout the night I was taking pictures, networking with people, and gaining hands-on photography experience.

The pictures turned out great and I shared them with the coordinator for free. She offered to pay me if I committed to 2 events/month because she liked the photos so much.

There’s no doubt I was a bit lucky getting a paid gig out of my first free one. So I investigated further. I tested different strategies with different potential customers.

It turns out this is a science.

After experimenting, adjusting, and testing, I’ve figured out why this method worked so well. I’ve also learned how to recreate it with consistent results, and I want to share it with you.

I am going to teach you step by step how to make your camera pay for itself in 30 days or less.


Part 1: Do Free Work

Starting by doing free work has three main benefits:

  1. Get hands on experience
  2. Build your portfolio
  3. Make connections (leads)

Here’s how:

Step 1 – Find the work.

The first thing you need to do is find potential customers. I recommend starting with events since they are easy to find, easy to approach, and there’s always a need for photography. These can be sporting events, professional events, conferences, concerts, anything really.

This journey begins where all self-directed learning starts: Google.

Search: “Events in (my city).”

Yep. It’s that simple. You can get more specific if you’d like.

You’ll find a lot of concerts this way, and you might get linked to a local news outlet calendar. Both of these are worth checking out.

You can also check Facebook events or Meetup.

You don’t necessarily need to stick to events. You can also offer free professional headshots, senior photos, etc. as long as you’re confident you can deliver quality shots.

Action: List 10 events that seem interesting to you.


Step 2 – Make the offer.

Now you have a list of 10 events. When the first one rolls around, it’s time to make the offer to do free photography.

I did this in person on the day of, a couple hours before it started. You can call ahead too, but I’ve found it’s more difficult to convince someone anonymously over the phone to trust you.

Seeing you standing there with your camera is proof that you’re really a photographer and you’re there to take pictures. There are no surprises. They don’t have to make a decision to pay you. Having a free photographer show up last minute is never an inconvenience.

Even though this approach is short notice, it often comes off as an unexpected surprise and they will typically be happy to welcome you in.

Here’s a sample pitch of what to say when you walk in:

Me: Hey, how are you?

Them: Great!

Me: Do you guys have a photographer for the event tonight?

Them: No. (OR) Yes.

Me (If no): Would you like me to photograph the event? I can send you the pictures for free afterwards. This will help me build my portfolio.

Me (If yes): I’ve been getting into photography lately, would you mind if I took some extra pictures? I’ll send them to you for free afterwards. This will help me build my portfolio.

Be confident. Don’t overthink it. The fact that you’re doing it for free should loosen you up a bit. There’s no pressure.

The only objection I can see happening is them showing resistance if they already have a photographer. They may be worried you’ll get in the way.

In that case, say something like this:

“It never hurts to have extra photos. I’ll stay out of the other photographer’s way. It’s completely free, and you won’t be taking advantage of me because I want the experience.”

Note: You can also approach the other photographer and ask if he needs help with capturing other angles.

Just walk in and be honest. They won’t be able to tell you aren’t experienced. Be yourself.

There will be a time and place for professionalism, but don’t worry about that now – your goal is to get some photos to use as social proof. Just get in the room and have fun. A added bonus is some additional experience and connections.


Step 3 – Shoot the event.

I won’t focus on the details of this since I’m focusing more on the business side. I want to accelerate you to get your first paid gig in the shortest amount of time possible.

I’m assuming you have some general knowledge on actually taking photos and have already played around with your camera a bit. If not, the best thing you can do is get a camera and start practicing now.

When I pitched free work initially, I had been exploring my camera and taking shots around town for several hours the day before. The barrier is low, but it helps to have some background. It’s pretty straightforward. Just get started.

If you don’t have a camera yet or haven’t used it much, here are some in-depth resources that might help you:

  1. Extensive Guide on Buying a new Camera
  2. How Cameras Work – The Specifics
  3. In-Depth Guide on Shooting Events

In short: Show up on time, take pictures, and be friendly.

Action: Before you leave the event, find the contact info of the event coordinator.


Step 4 – Deliver.

Deliver the photos within 24 hours. Give them all your photos, even the iffy ones. People like to have options, and the quality of photos can often be subjective.

I like to hand them over in person on a flash drive. You might have to spent $5-$10 but it’s usually worth it. These things are universal and it gives you an opportunity to talk with them face to face afterwards, so you can fully leverage this connection.

Dropbox and Google Drive each work great too. You can upload your photos into a private folder and share them using the coordinator’s email.

Keep in mind photos take up space quickly on Google Drive.


Step 5 – Leverage this.

Here’s where it all becomes worth it. As you’re handing her the flash drive, your customer is ecstatic. She just got free professional photography that she can use for marketing, you were easy to work with, you delivered within 24 hours, and after she takes a look at the photos she’ll be even more impressed.

Action: Ask for a testimonial and 3 referrals.

These two pieces are pure GOLD. Do not miss this step.

You’ll never get them unless you directly ask. This is why it’s beneficial to give them a flash drive so they have an incentive to meet up in person after the job is done.

Click here to download a simple Testimonial and Referral Request Form.

Print this out. When you’re delivering the photos, have them fill out the sheet on the spot. If you did a good job they will be happy to oblige.

I’ll show you how to leverage this later in the series.

Congratulations! You’ve just completed and delivered your first project. Approach all the events on your list. Do 4-7 free events and you’ll have hands on experience, enough content to build a killer portfolio, reliable social proof, and a list of contacts that will connect you with your first paying gig if you play your cards right.

Comment with your questions!

Part 2 will cover using your photos to create a professional portfolio. Coming soon.