If at one point you have decided that photography is more than a hobby and you would like to take it up professionally the first thing you need to do is start charging people. Here’s a few reason why we like to start for free (been there done that) and why we really shouldn’t.
1. If I do free shoots of my friends, family and neighbours it’s a good way to promote business.
Well you are most likely to be invited to a lot of events with a subtle hint of carrying a camera to it. Every now and then my extended family gets crossed if I’m not carrying the camera for an important function. Somehow it’s assumed the most fun I will ever have is when I am looking through the lens.
2. Word of mouth is a great form of advertising.
It really is, most of the gigs I have bagged are because of word of mouth. But if you charge nothing, the words being spoken are usually “Here’s a good photographer who shoots for free.”, so you might want to think twice.
3. I did some high-profile assignments for free, and now I’m published in major magazines with a photo credit.
It’s nice to see your work in the magazine/paper, it really is, and not to mention a photo credit, but then again it doesn’t pay your food bill.
4. I am just starting out, trying to build my portfolio, will worry about money later.
The problem is there are a lot of such people around, and what it does is they undercut a lot of professionals, and askew the market. You need to remember you plan to shift to the other end, and as long as the let me shoot it for free culture remains, it will bite us back.
5. Back in the days doing a free shoot would mean eating the cost of films, prints, processing, but now it’s digital and the free shoot only costs you time.
The new cameras and the camera shutters have a life span of few hundred thousand frames, now divide the number of shots by cost of camera? What about the post processing? The cost of Photoshop. The storage of RAW files and then burning CD’s to provide clients, and the same time you could have spent in doing something for you or making money doing something for others.
6. We have so many hits on our website and we will give you credit.
This is one of the most common offer I get and I sometimes would take up the offer only if I have total creative control over what I want to shoot, plus I would want it to be not the regular kind of stuff they get done all the time. Same holds true for shooting corporate events, they above all can afford photographers.
Does it mean I never shoot for free?
I have never shot professionally for free. If you are hiring me to shoot, then my priority is to shoot. If you ask me to come for an event and shoot in between, then I shoot in between as and how I wish to. I have even carried my cameras to my friends’ or cousins’ weddings and have taken candid shots of the event at my own discretion, (honestly I think they make a great gift; since you are likely to have your own style that would set them apart from their regular photographer).
Always charge a client, you might charge someone less, but still do as good a job as you are capable of. Always make sure you get something worth the time you have put in. It could be in terms of kind if not cash when it comes to friends, but never shoot for free in the name of exposure.
And while you are deciding how much to charge, ask around, and don’t be a bitch and charge less than that. If you think you are good, charge the market price, and try not to undercut other photographers. If you think you are not good as them and hence should charge less, then go practice and up your game.