I feel like this is one of those “Duh” topics, that when you read it, you’ll go “Well, obviously.” But sometimes it seems many are still a bit confused about how a photography business works, so I must address. 🙂
Do you ever walk into a supermarket, pick up your meats and vegetables, and then walk up to the cash register and ask them if you can have them for free? Or do you go to the mall and ask store managers for free outfits and matching shoes? Ask the post office to ship your package for free? Do you ever succeed?
So why should you ask any photographer to take your photos for free? Why should a photographer be any different from the supermarket, the mall, and the post office? Is it because a photographer doesn’t actually give you any tangible product (except for when they offer physical photo prints)? Why should any product seller or service provider give you anything for free?
I’ve been doing fine art photography for 5 years now and I can’t count how many times I’ve been asked to photograph someone for free. I’m sure every photographer experiences that at some point in their career. I’ve worked really hard to make photography a career for myself. And, to put simply, it’s not going to progress if I keep doing it for free.
Let me break down some reasons why I just simply cannot, will not, shoot for free anymore, for anyone.
I’ve invested thousands of dollars worth of high end photographic gear because I believe in providing the best and professional quality of images, and that can only be achieved with top notch camera bodies, lenses, and other necessary accessories. Just like any business, what you invest in must pay out in one way or another. My gear investment needs to pay for itself over time.
Time is Money
I’m sure you’ve heard of the “Time is Money” expression. It’s like your full time job at some company, paying you an X amount per hour. Every minute spent working at your job is compensated for. A photographer’s job is no different. You’re asking me to spend an hour or two photographing you and your family of 4. To you, it’s no big deal because it’s only an hour or two. But what you do not realize is that my time is just as valuable as yours, because I could be making money in the hour or two that I spend working for free, for you. And what you also do not realize is that, a photographer’s job is NOT done after the session is over. We go home and spend hours and hours editing the images. Which brings me to the next point.
What You Are (or Not) Paying For
When you pay a professional photographer to photograph you and your loved ones, you are not just paying for me to pick up the camera and click. You are paying for a wide array of things, including: reserving a spot just for you so I can’t book anyone else in that time slot, my consultation time, my driving to your desired location (I wish gas & vehicle maintenance were free), my shooting time, my creative photographic talent (ie. posing, lighting, composition, etc.), my time spent processing (editing) the images after the shoot which could take hours or days, and the resources that I’ve paid for with my business money such as costly camera equipment, editing software, file storage and hosting, etc. Resources I use to capture and deliver the final perfect photos that you can treasure forever. It’s never just the half-or one-hour session time, as there is much behind-the-scene work that is not transparent to you. And you are asking me to do all this – for free? Just think about that for a moment.
“Exposure for Your Work”
“But you’ll get great exposure for your work when I share the photos on social media!” To your, what, 20 friends? Your post getting 2 likes? As much as I appreciate the sentiment, exposures do not pay my bills. I can’t take a bag of exposures to the bank to deposit so I’ll have money to spend on life’s necessities – like mortgage, food, and water. I can’t put gas in my car to drive to my next shoot with exposures. If I get injured, exposures won’t pay for surgery. I can go on and on, but you get the gist. I hope?
The Friends Factor
When anyone starts a business, it’s only natural they go to their friends to buy whatever it is they’re selling. Although it seems to be the quickest and easiest way to get the word out, you will soon find that it’s just not that great of an idea. You will feel bad for taking money from your friends, charging your friends for a photo session, or selling your friends photo prints. On the other hand, you will run into those friends who will ask you to do free photo sessions because, well, they’re your friends! “C’mon, dude, we’ve been friends since junior high! I gave you money for that hot dog, that one time. Remember?” Yeaaah, I remember well. Who knew I’d have to back this much later in life? If I say “Yes, I’ll shoot for free” I won’t make any money but I’ll make my friends very happy. If I say “No” I might lose that friendship. It’s really a lose-lose situation.
So you see, I just simply can’t work for free. I have a business to run and bills to pay. And quite frankly, if you value my time and work, you wouldn’t really consider asking me to work for free in the first place.