As a Photographer what should I charge Friends and Family?

When I got my first DSLR, I couldn’t seem to pay them to let me take their picture. I was putting it out to my family, friends, the stranger with the cute kid at play-land… ‘Let me take your picture!?!???? … Pleeeaase!??!’ It seemed nobody had time to let me practice, practice, practice. What, oh what was a girl to do?

New Years Eve with 2 amazing friends, Carrie (left) and Steph (right).

These days it’s a little different.

These days everyone and their cousin and aunt and barber want’s a hook up. For some this wouldn’t be such a  big problem… I’m not ‘some’, it reeks havoc on me.

I’m one of those pleaser people, the one who will say ‘yes’ while in her head can already hear her husband saying, ‘you volunteered us for what?!*&^%$???!’  Yep, I’m one of those types and it’s a problem.

So first let’s talk about why and what the problem is with doing favors for everyone…

The bottom line is that this is my business, yes it’s fun, yes I love it, and yes I’m lucky to say that it doesn’t feel like work but it’s still my business and it’s still how I bring in my livelihood. This isn’t, ‘hey can I borrow a cup of milk?’ This is ‘hey, will you give me some of your paycheck?’ You see, I (like you) wear several hats. I am first a wife and next a mother, I am then a photographer and last a designer and blogger.  

On average I invest 15 hours into each client I work with from first contact to product delivery. Because of where I set my priorities, I only accept one session per week.  If I want to maintain any sort of balance (or attempt at it) I can’t take on anymore then that. My clients invests a substantial amount per session. If I give that weeks spot to a friend who doesn’t want to pay, than I’m hurting our family’s financial stability. If instead, I try to take on their session and a regular session I loose balance in my home. It’s a very delicate balance that I’m trying to maintain, unfortunately that’s what happens when you’re trying to be more things than the hours in a  day want to allow for… Wiggle room just isn’t an option.  Add to that the fact that there are costs involved, than you realize that it is not just my time I’m giving away… I do have a bottom line associated with every session that I do, so if I do it for free I’m essentially paying them to let me take their picture. I know you’re seeing the issues!

Now lets move on to the next situation at hand. I initially tried saying that the session was free (for really really close friends and family) and I explained that I was excited to spend time with them and just be around them so I couldn’t imagine asking them to pay a session fee and that they could order whatever products that they wanted and I felt it would work out alright that way. The problem was that all of a sudden I was pretty much giving away the products too and in some instances I felt like they were asking for it. Also the time thing was a huge issue as well. I kept trying to squeeze a friend/family session in around my already booked schedule but than I didn’t have the time to finish on the back end so they would have to wait and wait and wait. I’ve even had people joke about their {free} pictures taking too long. Now of course I do know that this was meant as a harmless joke but it meant that they were aware of the waiting and that shows me that maybe the magnitude of the gesture wasn’t fully appreciated.

Which brings me back to another point. I really enjoy all my sessions, I genuinely have a great time every time I shoot so does that mean I’m not going to charge anyone? Of course not, I found something that I love to do but in no way does that mean I should apologize for accepting a fee. Last time I checked professional ball players are doing it ‘for the love of the game’ and they’re expecting to be paid millions for it.

So what do you do? Some photographer’s follow what they learned back in the D.A.R.E. program and practice just saying “no”. While I can completely understand this, it’s just not something that I can do. I’m still trying to work out all the kinks in how I’m trying to handle it, but a resounding ‘no’ just doesn’t sit well with me. To start, Taylor (and me a little bit – but remember I needed him to take control because I say yes to e.v.e.r.y  t.h.i.n.g)… Can I just say that I am so lucky to have a husband that takes such a vested interest in me, my business and my welfare and although I quite often disagree with his recommended approach it feels good to know he’ll be my backbone for me when I need him. So after watching my stress level skyrocket a few too many time because I’d said yes when I really should have said, ‘I’m sorry but I just can’t’ he helped me make some rules.

Rule #1. I only do one family/friend session a month. If the family/friend wait list is 10 years they may want to find another friend with a camera or decide that I’m worth paying at regular fees.

Rule #2. It is never 100% free (unless it’s charity and that would be totally different if that also fell under the friends and family “plan”). It’s not free for me, I do not do my own post-processing and if I decide to take on the post processing in order to save the money than I throw my family life out of whack and that is not acceptable to me. So free is not an option unless I 100% plan to gift it to someone, which sometimes I do!

Rule #3. Create a policy that is written ahead of time and when someone facebook’s, email’s or whatever I can just send that. It’s obviously generic and this is on purpose so that they can understand and appreciate that I get asked a lot but it’s also sincere and from the heart.

Rule #4. Not all friends are created equal (and neither is family). I have friends who have done so much more for me than I feel I could ever repay them for and for them I would do anything. Now on the other side, there are extended family members who I don’t even talk to, with whom I have no relationship and some have even gone so far as to disrespect my husband and or myself but in the name of “family” feel they somehow deserve my services for free… In that case I can (politely) say no.

Rule #5. You can say yes, but not right now. If it’s summer time and peak season for you and you’re plenty busy with full paying shoots it’s more than okay to explain that you have no availability right now but in a few months (say February when you’re deader than dead) you’ll be happy to do something with them. Than you can spread good will and fill up your blog with some fresh content. Make it work for your schedule, after all you are the one doing a favor, you shouldn’t also be put out because of it.

Rule #6. This is really an idea not a rule but I’m hoping it will inspire your own thought process. When I’m doing a “friends/family” session I explain a few things and basically it’s this: I won’t be editing the normal 30-35 that I would for a client. You will get my very favorites may that be 5, 10 or 20. I also use these sessions as creative sessions where I can try out ideas and concepts that I’ve been playing around with in my head so I try to make these sessions work for me in my marketing or portfolio in some way whenever possible.

I don’t have this one all figured out. I told you our rules but the truth is, I’ve already broken them. I guess I really just follow my heart. I think about how I’m feeling and I let that make my decisions. There will always be more money to be made but great friends are precious and they’re a lot harder to come by. Money will never be more valuable than a genuine friendship. I think the most important thing to consider when determining your policy is your family (I’m talking about your spouse and children) their time and their needs should never ever be compromised, no matter what.

What about you? Do you feel like you’re being taken advantage of? Do you have a strict no policy or are you in process of trying to figure out how you’ll handle it? I’d really love to hear your thoughts and get your feedback. And no that’s not directed to someone else, it’s directed to you. Yes, you. You are reading this right? Well I want to know if you liked it, hated it, agree or disagree.

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  1. Amber H says:

    I have issues with saying the “N” word too! Thanks for the reminder! This has pushed me to be more strict with my policies! Thanks.

  2. Emily says:

    Great thoughts! I really appreciate your suggestions and “rules”…I’ll be putting some of them to use today:).

  3. Spanki Mills says:

    i can relate all too well! i have 2 friends that i shoot for free, they are the ones i talk to about eveything (they have NO interest in becoming a photographer), so i feel like it is okay to open up. i let them buy their products at cost.

    however i have done “family” deals…BIG lesson learned! they always want MORE. so, NO MORE DEALS! done.

    it’s a hard line, i have given discounts to good clients who own stores, but when i purchase from their store, i get no deals! slap in the face!

    thanks for sharing this! makes me feel better!

  4. Adrienne says:

    Love it! Thanks so much for sharing! It’s just what I needed! I am not good at saying “No” either. I may think “No way!” in my head but “YES” just automatically comes out of my mouth!! I just squeezed in a free session for a family member last week because she needed pictures asap. Short story – After a few different requests from her I have been pushed way behind on my other photos to edit and now I’m just stressed! But I definitely learned a lesson. 🙂

  5. Kalli says:

    Hey! I am the one who asked this question on formspring! And I LOVE your answer. I have one friend specifically. “Friend” in this case is defined as someone we hung out with 2 years ago, and since then have seen once. Oh, and they live a 45 minute FLIGHT away, and 5 hour drive. My friend was always making comments on my blog saying how much she loved my pictures and my style and wanted me to photograph their family. Since she never went the formal route of setting up a session, contacting me through my web-site or through e-mail, I always said, “Yeah, sure!” And left it at that. Finally she left a rather terse comment on my blog, wanting to know just when I was going to be able to take her family pictures. So I e-mailed her to see if she wanted to set up a session. Great! She said. And then said that she just got a really bad haircut, really needed the pictures done by October, and was only available mid-September. And she wanted me to FLY down to her, and I was afraid that she was also expecting this all for free. I made the mistake of not telling her my friends and family rates up front. (I now say that first thing.) I gave her an alternate date (pretty much saying this or nothing), and told her I would graciously give her my friends and family rate. Oh, and since then there has been no reply. Great.

    But I’ve also been the “friend”. My brother-in-law is a wedding videographer, and before I got married thought, “Great! We’ve got a hook-up! We’ll get a videographer for FREE!” When he said he’d give us 15% off I was a little upset. This is his brother-in-law he’s talking to! And we were horrible. We wouldn’t get him things when he needed them, etc, etc, etc. We totally took advantage of him because he was family. How incredibly inconsiderate and rude that was of us. Since I’ve now begun my own business, we’ve talked and his advice to me was “Just don’t work with friends and family.” It’s hard not to get the respect and professionalism that you deserve from those that are closest to you.

    I now try to tell friends and family my rates, and tell them to research me just as they would other photographers to make sure that our styles fit. Just because I’m their friend doesn’t mean that I’m the best fit for them. I love the idea of sending them a formal, pre-written letter so that they can get the idea and the feel that I am a businesswoman running a business. (I’m not just their friend and they’re not just doing me a favor.) Thanks for the post!

  6. Erica says:

    Thank you for this post. I’m struggling through this exact situation. My personality is very similar to yours, and I’m definitely a “yes” girl. I have great intentions and want to make everyone happy, but the result is me being miserably tired and spread too thin. My husband keeps telling me this is going to turn into the most expensive hobby ever – not my career. Your tips are going to help me. Thank you!

  7. Amy says:

    1st of all, could the three of you be any more gorgeous!? This post is very timely as my husband and I just had this conversation the other night. I am in the process of turning my decade long photography hobby into a successful business. In order to make this transition, I feel as though I have to do sessions for free (whenever friends and family members asks) or offer them a severely discounted rate in an attempt to build cliental/get my name out there. My husband on the other hand could not DISagree anymore; he keeps telling me if I want this to be a successful business, I need to stop treating it like my hobby and he is exactly right. It’s just finding the balance and confidence within myself to know where to set the boundaries and be able to enforce them.

  8. Vanessa says:

    Thank you for your post Leah. After thrashing this out for awhile I decided to offer 10% off my products for family and close friends. But my session fee, unless for charity, is non-negoitable.I explain much like you did why I can’t discount in the most gracious but un-apologetic style (still working on this…) It can be so tricky though. It has made me realise conversly that when someone who I knows works for me to pay them what they normally would charge and not ask for ‘mates rates’ and really show I value them and their work.

  9. Happy Astorga says:

    Ahh, I love this!! I have talked to my husband about this same topic so many times and have been trying to figure out what my answer to the “free session for friends” would be. I have moved around a lot and have kept in touch with most of my friends from each place I have lived (mostly all around FL), so I am having a hard time deciding who to say yes to and who to say no to. Thank you so much for the ideas! Especially the one about telling them how much time the editing takes and that I’ll only be giving them 5 or 10 pictures. LOVE IT! One thing that I do now is I ask my friends who I do give a free session to, to not tell anyone that I did their pictures for free, because if they tell someone else that I know or that I am not as good of friends with, they will expect a free session too. So I tell them, when they are asked how much I charge, to just share my regular session fee, and not, “Well, she didn’t charge me.”
    P.S. I think if I hadn’t emailed you, I never would have noticed your comment button on TOP of the post. Maybe that’s keeping others from leaving comments too?

  10. It is so funny that I read this post now…..I just had a “friend” come up to me at work. She wanted to know where I order my specialty products from. She is wanting to have some magnets made from a photo. She told me that she has looked around online but it is so expensive to have done. I told her that I use a professional printer but don’t know the price of the magnets because I don’t do them that much. I know she is going to want me to have them printed for her at my cost……which just gets me so aggravated. I guess I could always just tack on a handling fee or something. I don’t know I am going to have to talk to my husband (business partner)…

  11. Do you have cameras in my house? I have been thinking about this a lot lately. I have a few friends that I barter with, but a few more friends and family that expect a free shoot. I used to not mind, but it seems the people who want free shoots, want pictures all the time. So I’m working on coming up with a new strategy. I’m thinking no sitting fee, but they have to buy pics at my regular price. Still working on it though. I like the “off-season” idea though. I’ll have to put that into play.
    Thanks again for a wonderful post. See you soon!

  12. Mrs Soup says:

    I have been HORRIBLE with this. So horrible. I did a wedding for my coworker friend for $200. I am NEVER making that mistake EVER AGAIN.

  13. Morgan says:

    Leah! What a great post. Seriously, I loved it. I think that everyone struggles with the friends and family issue. We want to be nice, but not taken advantage of. It really is a hard thing to explain to people, how much time we put into our craft. We don’t just take pictures and voila! They are perfect. So, I was thinking… I would guess that every industry struggles with this to an extent. I immediately thought of Gap. Every once in a while they have friends and family day where they get 20% off. So, maybe we could do something similar. You could decide to have a whole set of mini session in an evening for a discounted price. Twenty minutes per appointment that is made by friends and family and they get about 5 to 10 images edited. They would feel like they got their pictures done and you could feel like you didn’t take a whole evening away from your clients that are paying regular fees. You could totally have a stylized shoot or practice ideas and concepts with several different group.

    • great idea !! love this !!

    • Leah Remillet says:

      Morgan this is great… Krystal had some great ideas to add to your thoughts. I think the two of you should colaberate and write a guest post for Go{4}Pro

      • Morgan says:

        Leah- That would be a ton of fun! I would love to write a guest post with Krystal if she is
        would like to. Thanks!

        • Krystal says:

          It does sound like fun but to be fair to you I need to mention again that I am not a pro. I have never worked for pay. I would love to at some point but I don’t think I have the skills yet. I’m sure you have my e-mail from the comments. If you still want me to do that send me a line.

          • Leah Remillet says:

            You do not have to be pro to have great ideas!! I’d love for you to write a post. I’ll email both of you!

          • Leah Remillet says:

            24.20.169.186
            2010/08/18 at 2:21 pm | In reply to Krystal.
            You do not have to be pro to have great ideas!! I’d love for you to write a post. I’ll email both of you!

  14. angie t says:

    Thank you for this! I think so many people think we just “take pictures” with a “nice camera” They don’t understand all that goes into it. I love these tips!

  15. Karen Taggart says:

    I’m just starting out AND just found out I’m pregnant. I LOVE this post!!! I’m going to print I out and refer to it often. I love photography and want a successful business, but my husband and new child come first. Real friends & close family will understand.

  16. Stephanie says:

    I can relate to this post on so many levels. I have a hard time saying no to people as well and I have found that it makes it very easy to get burned.
    The worst case of this for me was when I went into business with a friend. I truly thought we both had the same ideals, goals, and drive. Over time I realized that I was doing the bulk of the work. I was designing all our marketing materials and wasn’t getting re-imbursed for her half of them. I was the one spending tons of time continuing to educate myself. I started to feel very used and when I tried to relay my feelings to her the business relationship fell apart…as did our friendship.
    The experience has made me much more cautious about going into business with friends as well as working with them in many ways. It’s just too easy to be used when you are a naturally giving person.
    Thanks for sharing your own insights and thoughts with all of us! I love the ideas!

  17. Krystal says:

    I like the rules, Leah. It keeps you from over commitment and makes your answers easier. I do want to help others with the gifts I have been given. I want to be a generous person (but my family comes first).

    With that in mind we have been shown lots of kindness by others: my dad has fixed half the the things broken in our house, my BIL is lowering the price on his grass feed beef, a close teacher friend has offered to administer tests for my kids (they are homeschooled), I can’t even remember all the people that have given of their time and resources to do field trips for my kids, my SIL gives me a stack of books every time I see her.

    I could go on and on but my point is that our family does have to come first but we need to make a little room to give to others as well. It is true that your real friends and family that cares about you will understand. The teacher friend has asked me to take her two year old’s pictures. I am not a pro and shouldn’t be accepting pay but she likes my work enough that she really wants me to do it. However she will not allow me to do it unless we trade for babysitting. Even at that I will be checking my car’s cup holders for $ that she will try to leave behind.=)

  18. hi leah,
    great post and one i have struggled with as well….
    i have come up with 1/2 off for a few very special friends and no charge for 2 best friends ….and no charge for 2 awesome friends i saw this summer who i haven’t seen in years – they weren’t full sessions, just fun times at the beach .. the bad part is since i have returned with their images from our summer trip – they have sat on the back burner until i can get to them … which i hate! but when i got back home , work was scheduled and i am trying to be conscious of getting images to clients a lot sooner than later ( “under promise – over deliver ).
    and when a friend needs a head shot – i will charge $50.
    it is definitely hard saying no or asking for money –
    i don’t have clients spending $1000 on sessions( i wish- but i don’t) , so that would throw another dynamic in for sure …
    thanks for posting and getting the discussion about this going …
    terri

  19. Jamie says:

    Wow, it looks like everyone has dealt with this! I am having a hard time because I am just starting out and portfolio building. Even though I am offering sessions at a huge discount from future costs, people seem to think they are doing be a favor by LETTING me take their pictures and don’t seem to want to pay.

  20. Krystal says:

    This is a good idea! And how fun could it be if you got everyone involved and have fun with it. Everyone brings a dish to pass, one person helps organize on that day, one person is the assistant or second set of hands, One person gathers and brings props, one (or more) person comes over later in the week to watch your kids while you edit. Get whoever knows the most about what they are doing with the camera to turn it on your family. Then everyone has fun afternoon/evening while they are waiting or are finished getting pictures taken. With some thought that could be a really great idea.

  21. Leah Remillet says:

    I can not even tell you all how excited I am to have so many comments today. You all have made my day… I love comments. No seriously {LOVE} them. It makes me so happy to hear from the other side of the wall!

    I can’t believe how many great ideas have been suggested. I knew lots of you would be dealing with what I’m talking about but I had no idea you would be so reponsive. Are you getting the idea on how happy I am to be reading all your thoughts?

    Krystal and Morgan … I think you two should collaborate and write a guest post on your awesome idea!!!

    I want to know, is there anyone who doesn’t offer any discounts and how have friends and fam responded to you?

  22. Carrie says:

    Wow! Those 3 girls in the picture are gorgeous!!! LOL!!! 🙂

    Leah, this is fabulous. I just moved back to where all my family are living withing 20 minutes of me and I’ve already been asked to do 3 different sessions. My problem is that they even said, “Oh, and of course we will pay you”, BUT then I (being the apologetic sucker I am) immediately replied with “Oh no, don’t worry about it!”
    Yes, I know, IDIOT!!! I did already have in mind that I would only be giving around 10 edited images to them in the end, but still……..

    I love your rules and I’m going to implement them ASAP. Something I’ve thought of too with the “it’s never 100% free” is to do some exchanging of services rather than having them pay you with actual cash. I know I’m going to need some serious babysitting over the next several months, and while I know close family members would do it for nothing, I usually feel bad for possibly being a burden on them, so I can set up a # of babysitting hours for a “free” session trade up!

    Loving it….it’s got me really thinking….thanks!!!

    • Leah Remillet says:

      I had a whole story about you and all you and David did in Hawaii for us including have Adi for days while I was in the hospital with Elle or taking her home with you every time you noticed I was having a frantic day. But that story got really long and I decided it probably wasn’t as relevant as I felt it was only I wanted to explain that there are those special ‘Ohana’ who will always get anything for nothing because they will always do everything with out question for you!

      I also 100% agree with the trading. If you feel good about the trade it makes it a great deal and it’s still not 100% free! I’ve done the b-sitting trade a few times and it has been a lifesaver for me!! And the value of that is honestly way higher then cash sometimes.

      It’s also awesome to have an incredible photographer best friend you can trade services with!! 🙂

      • Carrie says:

        ….awwwwwww……..

        *haha! Yes, but it’s even better to have your incredible photographer best friend be Leah!*

        🙂

  23. Andrea says:

    Thank you! Thank you ! Thank you! For writing this post. It’s exactly how I feel. As a matter of fact I was recently asked to photograph my brother in laws wedding. I was very excited since this is an area that I would like to expand my business too. But ofcourse they wanted it for free. Apparently “real” photographers were too expensive and out of their budget. So they asked me just to have someone take photos.. they only needed someone to take pictures and didn’t need a “real” photographer… OUCH. I wasn’t going to charge them for the photos,(since they were family) just for them to sign a release for my portfolio. I hadn’t told them that yet. But when they just assumed that It would be for free, I was so insulted. So my great husband told them that my camera needed some work and they would be better off finding a “real” photographer for their wedding photos. It’s ashame that ever since this incident, I have felt so bummed out and have started to doubt my skills. Some people are just so unconsiderate.

    Thanks for the great post. I am so glad that I am not the only one that this has happened to.

  24. Brandi says:

    Thank you for writing this. I’m in that ‘I need experience so I’m asking everyone I know, but I need to start making some money or I’ll be stuck at my rediculously low paying job forever’ part of my business right now. Wondering how I’m going to start asking for money when friends and family start asking for portraits. You’ve outlined some good rules. Definately something to think about. I read another post this week along the same lines. The photographer said that you need to establish value for your work early on. Their suggestion was to give everyone an invoice. Even if you don’t charge anything. Write down what everything would have cost you and mark no charge at the end. That way people understand what a value they got. I thought that was a very smart suggestion.

  25. Meli says:

    Awesome post and comments by others. I am still at the “begging” stage, but know this will inevitably come up in the future. Thanks for such great ideas!!

  26. kristi says:

    I needed this today! Besides being a wife, momma, and new photographer, I am a high school teacher and this was our teacher work week. One of my husband’s cousins called me Tuesday morning and we did a photo shoot that night, because that was my only opening this week and she needed pictures taken before Thursday. True to myself, I said yes, when I probably should have scheduled it for another time. Needless, to say, I ran around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to accomodate them and stayed up until 1 that morning to offer a little sneak peak of the session. Oiy! Thank you for this great reminder. I really needed it.

  27. Thank you for the post! I have a best friend who is also family (double whammy lol) and I know she values my work. The economy has hit her family hard, as it has many people. One of her sons is my God son and I have been trying to think of a way to offer her a session. Well, I need pictures for my Fall advertising so I told her I’d love to use her boys as well as two of my other nieces. I guided them on what to wear and chose the location and we are having the session tomorrow. I know she wouldn’t let me do a session for free so I thought this would be a win win for everyone.

    Love the idea of a friend and family night! Bravo!

  28. Lori says:

    This one definitely hits home for me. Not only do I hate the time spent away from my family, but “friend” sessions usually get pushed to the bottom of my to-do list so they end up taking me twice as long to get the results back to them, so not only am I bogged down, but I spend every day feeling guilty that I haven’t gotten their “free” images finished yet.

    How do you handle it when they just request a digital copy of the image? For example, they will save me the ordering and packaging time, because I can just give them the images on a disc and they will order themselves.

  29. Alison says:

    Oh this could not have come at a better time! I work a demanding full time job and my business i growing by leaps and bounds. I have done better in the past few months at not “squeezing” people in and over doing it, but it is so hard! I am thinking your rules my find a home on my desk…. 🙂

  30. Destiny says:

    Excellent post!! My husband and I both have really great, but really huge extended families and ever since we started our photography business they have been coming out of the woodwork and asking for sessions. And I have such a hard time saying no! I have a set Family and Friends rate that is probably too generous on my part but I’m such a people pleaser that I still have trouble even mentioning the reduced rate to family because I feel so guilty for charging them. This post has eased my mind greatly and I love the idea of having an already written up letter that I can send when someone asks about a session. Thanks for all the great ideas!! Love, love, love your blog, by the way!

  31. Rebecca Pierce says:

    LEAH…this is SUCH an issue for me! I think we are a lot a like and this has been out of control for me. I like the rules that Taylor gave you and I think they are good. Especially the one where you only do one per month and let the scheduling get pretty spread out.

    One thing I do with my closest friends for whom I sincerely want to do it for free is swap. For example, insist on paying someone for babysitting if I am going to go make money while they have my kids. However, if I do their pictures for free, I don’t feel bad asking them to watch my kids for free for twenty hours. With my closest friend, I will edit while she literally cleans my house.

    Another idea if you are comfortable with this is to make them pick their faves, and limit it to ten. I figure, from a whole shoot no more than ten will likely ever be printed, so I don’t want to edit them. Also, if I shoot 100 pics and look at each pic and compare some to others, I might spend 100 minutes just narrowing down to ten images. No thank you! I feel like if they are good enough friends to get the deal for free, I don’t really care if they see the SOOC images. I put them on my computer and when they have time they narrow them down for me.

    As for family…Chris’ side already has a free photographer who is way more talented than me, and I so love not having that role on that side! As for my side…ummmmmm…one brother’s family doesn’t value photograps, another “lets” me take pics of their kids and then they frame crappy sears pictures, one is single and the other loves anything I do and is always super fun and easy to work with and grateful and I adore that! Oops…did I just put that in order? Lol.

    Anyway, this is a monstrous problem for me. I have started saying to people that I reserve my freebies for foster kids and they usually get it…I’m not being greedy and not giving back, I just want to focus my giving on people who really, really need it.

  32. Lori K says:

    Gosh, WONDERFUL post! I have been struggling with this. . . and to be honest, the “free” sessions have done more to hurt my business than I would have ever anticipated. I have created a monster network. Essentially, I have a group of “friends” and family who love my work and love a good deal. …and can’t stop talking about what a good deal they are getting. So all of their referrals are, you guessed it, asking for the same good deal. UGH.

    So, I’m printing out your rules, modifying them for myself, and I am really going to try to stick to them. I’ve been trying, but you’ve given me some additional fuel, and I can’t thank you enough. Love your blog!

  33. Christine says:

    I really loved reading this article, as I think it’s gonna be something I will have to deal with in the future. I’m a very newbie photog and in the past week, I’ve had like four random people approaching me. Right now this is okay because I want the practice, but I can just see as time goes by and I improve, more and more people are going to be approaching me.

    I will be bookmarking this article and revisiting when/if that time comes. 😀

  34. In response to Lori who asks:” How do you handle it when they just request a digital copy of the image? For example, they will save me the ordering and packaging time, because I can just give them the images on a disc and they will order themselves.”

    I have people ask for this too. My concern is that whatever they print is going out as your work. If they get it printed at Walmart and the colors are dull or “off” and they show it to their friends, it is representing your work.

  35. Beja says:

    This is one of the very things that I have stalled on. Thanks for giving these tips because it is not fair for people to ask for something for free when you’re trying to run a business. What if you went to Target and asked for a free Dyson from one of the co-workers? That doesn’t make business sense, and it’s not fair.

    Thanks for helping me stop in my people pleasing before I ever get trapped in it.

  36. Maggie says:

    Thanks for this post all the great comments; this has been on my mind lately too!

  37. Amy Murtola says:

    I actually emailed you about this just a few weeks ago! I asked if you could approach this sensitive topic on here when you got a chance. Thank you for doing it and so quickly.
    I am so glad to see there is such a large response and that I am not the only one that worried about this. I felt guilty when I emailed you, think I would come off as selfish and greedy. Thanks for being so graceful about this and letting us know some great advice.

  38. clair says:

    AWESOME rules and wonderful discussion and ideas in the comments.

    It is sad (and annoying) that so many people feel it is okay to ask for/ expect free photo services.

    I have had a bit of a buffer to keep me out of getting many such requests, because when I moved 3 years ago that became the perfect time for me to make the transition from free/ discounted portfolio building to “Hi, I’m a photographer and you can see my prices on my wesite.” My hubby is military and we did not have any former ties to our current station. For those who don’t have the opportunity for such a clean break from former “models,” I like the idea of sending out an email saying how much you’ve enjoyed the opportunity to gain experience and that you are now excited to be moving on from portolio building phase. Then, direct everyone to your blog/ website for session details and pricing.

    I do think it is a wonderful gift to give someone of our time and artistic talents. (keyword- gift.) Gifts are not asked for or expected, and they are instigated by the giver, not the receiver. You want to do something big or small for someone– enjoy!

    Having a referral policy in place is one simple way to say thank you to clients for spreading the word. Doing a session for a great friend? I think even small tokens of friendship like a surprise few extra prints can go a long way in saying “Thank you. I appreciate you.” (keyword- surprise.) You make the judgment call on what is fitting and doable for your business.

    I think swaps can be great if both parties are interested. I recently swapped a family session for 3 months of piano lessons for two of my kids. The teacher and I looked at our set prices and figured out what was an even trade. It turned out great.

    Thanks, Leah, for your great tips on safeguarding our businesses and still being nice. 🙂

  39. Daisy says:

    I noticed a common thread throughout some of the resonpses…. THANK YOU hubby’s for being there as our solid rock. So many times when my heart turns to mush and I have a heard time putting my foot down or saying no, my husband is always there to point out the reasons I have prices in the first place.

    Great post and great responses!! Thanks!

  40. Misty says:

    Sorry this is kinda long… I’m a newbie photog… In an effort to build my portfolio and my clientele, I’ve been offering free photo sessions… My rules: (1) I only shoot on Saturdays and in the town that I live in (I have a full-time job Monday-Friday 7:15 am – 5:30 pm), (2) I shoot first thing in the morning (9:00 am) because I have a 4-1/2 month old daughter who tends to get extremely fussy post-11:30 am, (3) my free sessions are only lasting January – March (April 1 starts investment pricing), (4) clients must pay any entrance fees to desired photo sites, and (5) I’m only offering disks with high-resolution images (until I establish my business and find a lab). As of today, February 5, I have 2 free sessions left…

    Everybody interested in a photography session has had the decency to e-mail me and ask my rates (even if they’ve seen all of my advertising for my free sessions)… That was until 1 “friend” (who I haven’t seen in the 10 years since I graduated) contacted me about getting pictures of her 7 month old. In her contact e-mail she said that she could “not afford to pay for the pictures” and that it would “help both of us out.” This kind of made me twinge at the thought of our first contact in quite a while… (I think what makes it even worse is this person is heading our 10 year class reunion, making tickets $50 / person for appetizers and alcohol and a horrible local restaurant for a family who doesn’t drink and realizes how many diapers $100 could buy.) Needless to say, like most of you I can’t say no. I agreed to the free photo session explaining the previously mentioned rules… Her response was there was absolutely no way that we could do 9:00 am, that the earliest she could schedule due to her family not being early risers was noon… Um, NO! I finally put my foot down. After many days of e-mailing back and forth and me continually giving her excuse after excuse of why I could only shoot at 9:00, we finally compromised on 10:00… So, now I’m taking photos for an ungreatful “friend” who expected not only the session to be free, but she expected me to do free prints…

    On another note… I expected way too much when I thought my clients would be nice enough to offer some sort of tip (monetary or other) for my “free” work… Ha, that was a funny thought… In my 1-1/2 months of shooting, I’ve had one family nice enough to offer to have a shirt company design and embroider a company shirt for my business… This was even better than a monetary tip because now I feel like I can look professional in a work uniform.

  41. THANK YOU! I am new to the photography business and have been doing a lot of research and reading so much. I have found your personality and thought processes to match mine more than anyone else’s! It has been great reading back through your archives and this post has been especially helpful. Friends and family assume that I will take their photos for free and I feel too bad to expect a fee… Seeing as I love to do it, it helps expand my skills and they’re family! My husband sounds a lot like yours… He has the “business” and my well being in mind and will often be upset for doing a shoot for free or saying yes to something I shouldn’t! He is my bookkeeper… So he really knows the bottom line. Anyway… Thank you for sharing this! On my to honey-do list is to make some rules for friends and family sessions!

  42. Renee says:

    Thanks for asking Leah this question, and for your reply! I JUST had this come up last night, a friend of mine i’ve known for a while SAID “you should do our family photo, we really need one! and since you’re on christmas break next week that would be a perfect time!” – and this was all after she just got finished telling me how she doesn’t have any money. So i know she wants them free. This post couldn’t have been more timely for me to come across. Thank you for freely sharing your experiences and your process, it seriously helps a lot to form my own. I don’t know why, but it does!

    • You’re so welcome Renee! And you’re so right, it really is instrumental to be able to learn and gleam off of those who have already experienced and found that working solution. Finding success is possible !! and it comes through so many different paths but to many people choose the hard route (just throwing things over and over and hoping at some point something will stick)… I just want to help photographers ALLOW themselves to get on a fast track to success – it means investing in themselves and that can be scary — they’re not worth it… But oh how they are… HOW YOU ARE! That’s exactly why I created The Thriving Photographer!

  43. Marie says:

    When I first started up, I wanted to gain experience and figured giving away free shoots was a great way to build exposure. Boy, was I ever wrong. It was kind of helpful in word of mouth, but I hadn’t thought my plan all the way through. I didn’t think of the endless hours of editing, the gas $, the CD$, the wear & tear on my camera & computer, my time with my family or my talent being literally given away. I immediately began to feel taken advantage of – as friends would come to expect free shoots and even ask for them. Meanwhile, like you said, in trying to start up once before I could not even beg someone to let me practice on them – even a friend. But once they saw my work, they began to line up & suddenly have faith in me. I took that very offensively. I also found some people difficult to work with, quite demanding on my time, my edits, my poses & what I provided on CD – considering I was doing it for free. Looking back, I would have stated that the shoot was free, but if they were pleased with the few pictures I posted & wanted a CD without a watermark for printing, along with a few extra images, a normal session fee would be required. I now learned a huge lesson in why photographers limit the time of their shoots, the # of family members in a shoot & the # of images they provide. I had so many people asking for a free shoot & I, at first, said yes to them all – not realizing that there just isn’t enough time in the day. I gave up valuable time with my family, and fell far back in typical family errands even. It made me hate the thing I once loved. I agree with one shoot a week – that is what I have decided. I’m still at a loss over what, if anything, to charge family & friends – or to just say no – or later – or something. Glad to see I’m not alone. You live & you learn I guess.

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