Before I let this one out I just want to say I have two organisations that I do shoot for free. They are both good causes and it is my way of doing my bit. The work I do for them is appreciated and it is work I have chosen to do.
Right, time for my rant now.
I've owned businesses, worked for others and worked for myself and have never asked anyone to work for free or (until photography) been asked or expected to work for free.
From an amateurs point of view I can see the attraction of being able to shoot something they would not normally have the opportunity to shoot and I really don't have a problem with that. Their choice, their opportunity etc. The client takes the risk that the work will not be to a professional standard or even may not be done at all but so long as both parties are happy with this then good luck to them.
From a pros point of view I do have a problem when people ask or expect me to shoot for free. The scenario I liken this to is a restaurant owner recruiting someone to peel the potatoes. "We've seen some potatoes you peeled and really like them and would like you to come and peel potatoes for us. We wont be able to pay but we'll let everybody who eats here know who peeled the potatoes. By the way can you bring your own peeler?"
The camera manufacturers have tried to de-skill photography and project photography as easy. Just buy our camera and it will do the thinking for you. This projection of photography as unskilled and the general perception that photographers just point a camera at something and shoot is were the basic problem sits. We know pro photography is not unskilled, we just have to remind our clients occasionally.
I don't want to cast aspersions about the skill level of the guy who peels the potatoes but whatever your view on the skill needed to peel a potato the potato peeler will get paid. This isn't just about skill it is about someone taking from you.
Then we have the little twist spoken in the same tone as someone giving you the secret to eternal life. "No, of course we don't expect you to shoot for free we are going to give you a credit." This is usually followed by 'we don't have any budget' said in a tone that implies hurt that you should have asked for payment and hinting at the great rewards which would have been yours if they did have a budget. Basically, they want you to give your time and expertise, supply all the kit, pay your own costs and if they remember they will put your name in the teeniest letters they have somewhere near the image. Publishers must have a special typeface for credits, 'Inviso Script'. When my kids get to the breakfast table and ask for a great big bowl of lovely munchy credits that is when I will consider shooting for credits.
Shooting for free or shooting for credits is shooting yourself in the foot unless it is something you strongly believe in.