Should You Give Free Photography Services to Family and Friends?

Michael Gabriel by Michael Gabriel on

One of the things photographers often encounter is a family member or a friend asking for free services. Whether it’s for a birthday, wedding, anniversary, or for a school project, there are always people who will take advantage of the fact that they know you personally.

Some photographers give discounts instead of offering free services. In reality though, this should never be. While it’s true that family and friends can help you with referrals, it is important for them to know that you invest a lot of time, effort, talent, skills, and money into your profession. It is important for them to understand that taking good photos is not simple. It involves a lot of hard work.

Should You Give Free Photography Services to Family and Friends?

Why Photography Services Should Not Be Free – Even to Family & Friends?

There are many other reasons why photographers should, ideally, not offer their services for free. Here are some of the most significant ones.

  1. Photographers are considered a commodity, which means they need to determine whether to sink or swim. And the only way to do this is come up with good rates. You need to establish how much you and the quality of your work are worth. And you have to stick with it. Once you become too lax, you can lose your hold and sink in the middle of all the healthy competition. Starting out can be a bit difficult because you don’t really have an idea of how much your services – your artistic properties – are worth. But you can always come up with a safe estimate. All you need to do is determine how much you are investing or have invested (including your time, equipment, and hard work). Also, it can be challenging to come up with a good rate for family and friends, but there are effective ways to go about this.
  2. Professional favors from family and friends have a tendency of eating up a lot of your time, even if it wasn’t the original intention. In most cases, you may have to retake some images or do a lot of editing work. And because you wouldn’t want to disappoint family and friends, you won’t mind scheduling and doing re-shoots. Before you realize it, you’ve already spent hours upon hours of work on a free project, and it has taken up most of your time, which should have been used for working on shoots with paying clients.
  3. Professional photographers are passionate about what they do, but they also need to earn not only to support their business and its needs, but also to provide financial security to their families. If you do not have kids or aren’t married yet, you’ll need something to help keep you afloat financially. Additionally, as previously mentioned, photographers invest on their equipment. So you need to have something you can use for purchasing new or better camera gear, electronic equipment, shoot essentials, and photo editing stuff. A lot of photographers also invest on continuous learning or training. As such, your earnings can be used for workshops, seminars, and competitions.
  4. Free gigs do not usually come with contracts. Therefore, you do not have assurance of protection, particularly in terms of gear and equipment. Something can happen to your camera while doing the shoot and your family or friends will not feel obligated to spend for repairs. In addition to this, there are some people – including family members and friends – who may want to get the license rights to your photos. Any photographer in their right mind will not adhere to this. Your photos are your intellectual properties. They should be yours and yours alone.
  5. Professional photography is a serious profession. It involves more than just clicking the camera and taking several photos. A lot of things happen when a photo is taken. Professional photography is not a hobby. It is an art, a passion, a livelihood, and a special talent.
How to Make Family and Friends Understand Why You Need to Be Paid

How to Make Family and Friends Understand Why You Need to Be Paid

Breaking the news to people who are important to you will not be easy. But there are ways to help your family and friends understand that your services are not for free.

  1. Set expectations and boundaries early on. One of the best ways to do this is to be clear from the start that your meeting or discussion is purely for business. You’re not there as a friend or as a relative but as a professional photographer willing to offer high quality services. Let your friend or relative know your expectations. You should also give them an idea of what you’ll be doing and spending to make sure that what they want is delivered on time. This will give them a peep into all the hard work, efforts, professional training (talents and skills), and photography gear you will be using or providing.
  2. Even if you are dealing with a friend or family member, it is important to have a contract or a letter of agreement. Do not agree to anything that’s only verbal. In addition, include all the essential items in the contract, such as mode and terms of payment, total project cost, and guarantees pertaining to camera gear (in case of damage or similar incidents). Everything you agreed on should be written in black and white. This should include price cuts or discounts, if ever there are – as some photographers agree to do this in certain circumstances.
  3. Give them an idea of what some of your favorite clients pay for a shoot. You can do this by telling a story so it won’t be too obvious. Better yet, give them a list of your rates.
  4. Finally, if they want to pay but have a minimal budget, offer the most practical rates and then ask for permission to do a commercial release of the best photos in the project. Explain to them that you can use the photos as promotional materials for the business, or to sell as stock photos to some photo agencies.
When to Agree to Offer Free Services

When to Agree to Offer Free Services

There are certain situations that you can consider as the best reasons for offering your professional photography services for free.

  1. When you want to learn how to do photography in a new field, such as wedding photography. Your first and only option should be to assist the main photographer at a wedding. Working with an established wedding photographer is the best way to learn about the flow, how to shoot, which situations to focus on, and how to interact with and tell the story of the bride and groom through images.
  2. When you are doing or are offered a creative photography project, it is all right to give your services for free. A good example of this is something like the Humans of New York project. This should be a once-a-year project, though; not something that you should do every week or month. And it should be something that can help you grow and improve professionally and personally.
  3. Offer free services to family and friends if they are asking you to do it for a non-profit group or project you care about. Let this be a part of your social awareness program and contribution to your community or church.
  4. You can also ask family and friends to barter or for an exchange of deals. As such, you can offer your professional services for free in exchange for something of similar financial value. So, if your friend is a computer specialist, you can ask him to set up and manage a website for your studio, one that has an equal value of the services you will provide him.

In the end, the decision is really all yours. However, it’s important to keep in mind that if you keep allowing them to use your services for free, they might get used to it and abuse their privilege. Choose a decision that will not impact your business negatively. The final word, after all, is always yours.

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