Deep background: Written after two assistants called me to talk about "offers" they'd received soliciting free labor. The offers were from working photographers either doing personal projects or projects for which they would be paid or benefit from indirectly.
I keep seeing tweets and posts and other stuff wherein ostensibly working photographers are putting out the call to Attract/get free assistants. They want people to stand around for a full day in the stinking hot sun to shoot second camera, video camera, behind the scenes camera or to provide some other function in the service of the photographer's project. The dodge is that they are justifying the "free" ask by claiming the process will be: fun, educational, a way to garner potential work experience/resume fodder or (the most disingenuous) a way to participate in an innovative social networking event. The final argument might also be: "Hey! I'm not getting paid (directly) for this either!"
Let's break it down: If a photographer with decades of experience is doing a project big enough that it requires multiple assistants (and even more so, anonymous assistants) he is doing it with the expectation that there will be a payoff of one kind or another, for him, down the road. If it is true that he is not currently getting paid perhaps he will be willing to pay you by giving you a percentage of his take when, and if, the project does become profitable down the road.
For a project to be "fun" it would have to be challenging, entertaining, comfortable and leave you with good memories. Perhaps you can't have all the things on my list but you should expect a combination of some of them. It might be intriguing to learn how to hold a light stand in a brisk wind but I think the fun value might be more like......five minutes. Not eight hours. Will the volunteer opportunity be catered? Or will you be expected to be delighted with a bottle of Ozarka water and an out of date PowerBar?
For a project to be a learning opportunity it would need to include time for you to observe the process, unencumbered by volunteer work. And there would have to be something to learn. Perhaps the lesson is: "How to take advantage of people who want to be in a creative occupation so badly that they'll work against their own enlightened self interest."
Ah. The resume. I started working as a full time professional photographer in 1988. That's 24 solid years of good and bad experience. In all that time I've never had a client request to see a resume. A portfolio of my own work....yes. A resume? No. I thought I might be an anomaly so I asked around. Nope. No other working photographer keeps a resume on tap. Doesn't come up.
Oh goodness. The chance to participate in a social networking experience! I thought these only happened in Paris, Los Angeles and Tokyo (sarcasm served up piping hot...). I heard from a professional rep who went to a talk given by a photographer who has probably donated/thrown away/wasted/spent more time on social networking, tweeting and other forms of "Hi! I'm here. This is what I'm thinking about right now. Look at this link! Please remember me?!" The rep asked the world famous social networker point blank: "How many paying projects have you gotten from all the time you've spent doing this?" The honest answer? "TWO."
So, next time you are asked to do a job get a bit mercenary (take care of yourself first) and ask, "What's in this for me?" If you want to ask a lofty question you could always try, "How will this project move our industry forward?" And if you are totally pragmatic you could always ask, "What's in this for you?....and how do I get some of it."
Remember that the barriers to entry are about an inch high when it comes to technology and working with the photo gear. Learning to do a one inch high hurdle shouldn't be a lot of leverage in exchange for a day of your valuable Spring season time. The only other product of most creative products is the expression of creative vision.....but I can almost guarantee you that it won't be your vision in the project and few people have found a quick way to teach in depth creativity. In other words....go into any volunteer project with your eyes open and an understanding of what everyone stands to gain.
You might find the weekend to be more enjoyable hanging with beautiful friends, taking fun images and relaxing around a pool. I get being a volunteer for the Red Cross. For Bob's Photo Hut Inc.? Not so much.