The very thought of working for free makes most photographers blow their top. Many of us would agree that working for free is a no-no, but there still are some exceptions. What happens when close friends and family ask you to take their photos for free? It can be a tricky situation. In this video, Tony and Chelsea Northrup discuss this issue and give you some tips when and how to do it (or not to do it).
I’m pretty sure most of you have been through this: your friends and family know that you own the “big fancy camera” so they ask you to take their photos for free. I remember writing about it before; it’s one of the situations that make me feel rather uneasy. If you are more than just a hobbyist like me and photography is actually your bread and butter, it may be even more difficult for you to make the decision. Should you take their photos for free? If you accept, what are the boundaries? And if you reject, how do you do it? So many questions… Here are some thoughts Chelsea and Tony had about this topic.
Who is asking?
The first thing to help you decide is to think about how close you are to the person who’s asking for the favor. If you’re very close to someone and they’ve been there for you throughout your life and career: go for it. The couple says they’ve done it many times. I have done it for close friends and family members too, and I’d do it again.
If you decide to take the photos for free, there are some advantages to it. If you’re new to photography, you’ll get some practice, so it is basically a win-win situation. If you enjoy making someone you like happy, that’s another good side of helping them get nice photos. Also, there’s a potential for the word of mouth referrals. However, make sure that those who recommend you don’t say that you did it for free. This leads us to some of the disadvantages.
The most obvious disadvantage is that, well, you won’t earn anything from the shoot. If the friends and family you photographed recommend you further and say that you did it for free, you might have a hard time charging your full price for the next shoots. Then, the time you spent doing a free shoot could be spent doing a paid gig or promoting your business. Finally, there’s always a risk that the person might not appreciate your gesture, or you can disappoint them – both of which can lead to hostility.
As a photographer, you know how much work actually goes into preparing for the shoot, taking the photos and editing them. However, most people don’t know it because they only see you press the shutter (and they think your fancy camera takes those nice photos anyway). So, don’t be offended when they ask you to work for free. You are free to say “no” because you value your time and effort. If you want to justify your decision, you can also educate the other side about the nature of your job.
If you say “yes”
If you decide to say “yes” and take the photos for free, make sure you set up a certain protocol.
Set boundaries: be specific about the details of the shoot: the type, location, duration and the number of edited photos. Don’t let the situation get out of control because you’ll waste a lot of your time and get frustrated.
Set your own deadlines: I’m sure you know how impatient people can become to get the photos after the shoot. So, make sure to determine your priorities: if you have other (paid) work waiting for you, do that first. Set the deadlines for post-processing the photos you did for free, and make it clear to the other person when they can expect the images.
No bait and switch: it can happen that people seem all laid back before the shoot, and then ask you for so much more once you actually start shooting. So, make sure to determine in advance what you will do and be clear about what you’re offering.
Prepare to be asked: people will often catch you off-guard with the question for a free photo shoot. So, prepare your answers in advance. Set up a protocol and rules for doing free photo shoots or for giving a discount. This way, you’ll be prepared for these situations and it’s up to you to decide whether you’ll say “yes” or “no.”
Beware the wedding: no matter the genre you generally shoot, you will be asked to photograph a wedding. For free. Wedding photography is a lot of work, and my hat’s off to anyone who’s capable of doing it (I mentioned it here before). Even if you just need practice and you’re willing to do it for free: don’t. It’s a very high-pressure situation and you might ruin the wedding shots if you’re not experienced. If you want to practice and give your photos away for free, you should start as the second shooter.
Another thing is: wedding photographers generally charge a lot, and it would be a really generous gift to give. If you’re willing to give it, that’s cool. But remember, unlike other guests: you’ll need to stay focused and sober. And it sucks being sober at a wedding.
Finally, remember that the post-processing is hard work in wedding photography, so you’ll spend the additional days and weeks to edit the images afterward.
Photographing for free has its good and bad sides, so be aware of all of them. By setting clear rules for both yourself and the others, you’ll avoid misunderstandings, frustration and you won’t fall out with the people you like.
I’m curious to know, what’s your policy for photographing friends and family? Do you charge them full price, give them a discount or do it for free? And how do you determine what to do?
[Free photos for friends & family: YES OR NO? | Tony and Chelsea Northrup]
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