There seems to be a lot of "talk these days about doing things for free in a photography business. Everyone wants a photographer.....
Let's break this down: You don't go into a "business with a storefront" and ask them for their merchandise for "free" so I am still struggling to understand why a "one man band" that obviously is not backed by a corporation is asked to "give their services?" It's interesting that for some reason this photography industry is so completely "fly by the seat of your pants"....one photographer can offer one price and another a different price. I am NOT here to debate the photography industry, but to shed some light on why FREE is not valued and WHAT is....
When you do something for FREE you are doing it with no strings attached-there is no value in the outcome other then you have done a "favor" for someone. There is no conversation about "I would love to do this for free, but there is MUCH more to taking the photos, there is the sorting, processing, and finishing the images so that they are professional and complete." Somewhere people think "free" means hey come and take some pics for me and that's where the mind stops.
I have decided that I no longer do FREE. Why you might ask, because FREE is not a win win and let's face it when I am taking time from my family and spending time building a business that I am so passionate about and love it's not a good use of my time.
Now this might sound like I'm being negative...read on because I am not! ;) There is a word that I have grown very fond of and it's DONATION which is a TOTALLY different conversation then free. Donations are beautiful-they are valued and they have purpose. The people that have reached out to me and asked me to donate just gives me this whole new passion in the world of photography. Whether it's photographing a military member reuniting with their loved ones after deployment, meeting recipients of high medals and honors from their wounds in the war, capturing the very last photo of a well known General and his wife at the Air Force Charity Ball just days before they were in a very unexpected plane crash and died, attending a volunteer appreciation luncheon for Hannah's Treasure Chest and catching all the smiles, laughter, and pure joy this group has for their mission, being the photographer at my husband's parents retirement party.....the list goes on, but you get the point-there is purpose, there is value, and there is a feeling of gratitude. I ALWAYS walk away from donating my time feeling so touched by whatever I had the opportunity to take part in.
Now comes the balance, I would love to be able to say yes to every single request that comes my way, but that is just not possible. I have picked a handful of "causes" that I am so very passionate about and will always do for donation. If someone asks me I will think about it and decide if that is something that fits in my scope. I don't say no to be rude or mean, but as we all know we have to have a sense of balance. I am very well in tune with thinking now about the "full experience" instead of just the hours I am shooting, which actually tends to be the least time consuming part of the whole photography process.
So, you ask, what might you do to make it a win win when you are asked to photograph something for free? My advice is this...first, decide if this is something you want to DONATE your time and efforts to. Think about the whole project from start to finish, figure out your timing, your family schedule, and if you truly think and want to commit to it. If you say yes GREAT. Here are a few things you can do to make it a win win.
1. Trade is great-if you have something they want and they have something you want then go for it...
2. Ask that your business be noted in a program or possibly that you house the photos on your website so the traffic by default will come your way.
3. Watermark your images and make sure that you get photo credit and that the images link to something-whether it's your facebook page or your website...
4. Ask whomever is your point of contact to consider referring you or share you with others-after all the more people talk about you the more your "name" gets out there and that my friends is how you build a solid clientele....word of mouth, referrals, and truly doing exceptional work!
5. Know that when you donate your time you are making a commitment so make sure that you are fully on board with your decision. It's much better to say "no thanks" then give the client poor work because you are either over committed or don't put this "donation" high enough on your priority list.
6. Have fun and take each opportunity to walk away with something new and wonderful to implement the next time. This business is truly trial and error and self reflection. Some things works, others don't and all you have to do is learn and move on and make different choices next time.
In close, I hope that people would value photography a little more. Yes everyone has a camera, but does everyone have the expertise to process and set the camera and consistently to get the same image quality day after day, shoot after shoot, and event after event? That is WHY you pay a professional and in my opinion why we should not work for free.