Three Reasons To Avoid (And To Offer) “Free Services” In Your Photography Business

September 11th, 2020
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“What!? Work for free?!” I can already feel the inner rage welling up inside of you, my fellow photographers. The bitterness, the sheer awkwardness of being approached to work for free by a friend, co-worker, or random person in the Walmart parking lot, is palpable. There are a lot of reasons to not whip out your camera for free. However, along my photography journey, I have found times when offering my services as complimentary, have actually really paid off. (Pun intended). In this article we’ll explore both sides of the coin. 😉 Sorry, I can’t help myself. 

Top reasons NOT to shoot for free: 

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Value your time and work: Shooting for free sets a precedent for the client. If a client can hire a photographer for free, why would they pay for one the next time they need one? They know someone will do it at no cost. By charging for services, a photographer can educate the public that they should expect to pay for the work we do. Requiring payment allows the market value of our work to go up. What we do is as valuable as any service out there – setting up a payment structure solidifies that fact.

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Business costs: Let’s face it, being a photographer is expensive. The equipment  maintenance, business insurance, health insurance, and all the other expenses that come along with this artful endeavor add up quickly. Charging for your skills and services pays your bills.

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You’re selling your skills and experience, not just your time: The working professional photographer has put in the time to develop a superior artistic skill, lighting experience, purchase equipment, and maybe even set up a studio. It’s not just the hours you spend on the shoot, it’s all the preparation leading up to the shoot, and the effort and time after shoot that you and your client need to consider. There’s value in quality. Stand by it.

All of the above is absolutely, and probably obviously, true. Getting paid for what you’re worth is important. Nonetheless, I have found times in my business and life that offering complimentary work has helped me grow my business, practice skills and improve as a photographer, and it has helped me fulfill personal goals as well.

Top reasons to offer free shoots:

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Improve your skills: When I was first starting out, I was understandably nervous about charging money. Exchanging money meant this whole business thing I had decided to take a leap on was actually real. People were parting with their hard earned money and handing it over to me – this mom turned photographer who wasn’t a year into her business and already, somehow, getting real life clients. I quickly realized that if I did a free session here or there, it took that pressure off almost entirely. Being relaxed in the beginning was what I needed to produce good work. Practice makes perfect, and even though I was a decent photographer, I still did not have the people practice I needed to perform confidently. 

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Fresh work for your website and portfolio: Offering a few free sessions for portfolio updates is probably one of the biggest, most important lessons I learned from a seasoned fellow photographer. Your portfolio should almost constantly be evolving. The same images churning on the front page of your website day after day, year after year, does nothing to showcase you or your talent. Updating your portfolio also does wonders for your search engine optimization (SEO). When you have not done a particular type of portrait session in a while – be it maternity, newborn, etc, and you feel your portfolio is starting to look a little stale, offering a free session is a way to freshen things up a bit with little effort. Social media is a great place to ask for a limited model search, and I would often toss in a few digital images as an incentive. Before the person agrees to a portfolio session, it is important to set clear expectations as to what is included, and most importantly, what is not included.

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Give back to the community: If you have a passion for a particular charity, or you just want to support the ideas and efforts of a certain charitable organization, offering your photography skills for free is just good karma that makes you feel great inside. Associations like these often work on a shoestring budget with volunteers, and getting approached or giving your time is not going to go unnoticed in your community. The personal rewards you will reap from these contributions will be endlessly satisfying and fuel your heart for greater work on all levels.

There is a time and place for everything when it comes to charging or not charging for your time and work as a photographer. No matter what, photography as an art and as a business has value, and so do you! So, tell your neighbor who asked for a freebie photo session that you charge double for all those times she refused to buy Girl Scout Cookies from your kid, have confidence in your boundaries, and give when you want to give. Keep shooting, friends! 

There is a time and place for everything when it comes to charging or not charging for your time and work as a photographer. No matter what, photography as an art and as a business has value, and so do you! So, tell your neighbor who asked for a freebie photo session that you charge double for all those times she refused to buy Girl Scout Cookies from your kid, have confidence in your boundaries, and give when you want to give. Keep shooting, friends! 

Amanda B is a devoted wife and mom to four children. She is part of the Zenfolio Customer Support Team and has been a professional photographer for 13 years.

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