When Friends Want Your Photography Skills For Free

Every photographer reading this is groaning inwardly at the title of this blog.
Every friend who took advantage is feeling defensive, maybe even angry.

As photographers, we all know exactly how this feels.

It feels.. fucking gross. 

Sorry. There is just really no other words for it. Someone you consider to be a friend has devalued your skills, your time, and your trust by asking you to work for free. Ouch.
Let’s try to imagine for a moment what this might feel like for you, if you are not a photographer. Let’s say you are an electrician, like my husband.
You have spent years learning and perfecting your craft. In fact, as in my husband’s case, you may have nearly multiple decades under your belt. [As do I with my photography, but I digress.]
You have community recognition as a stellar craftsman, and your work is spotless. You’re polite, professional, and neat. You have nice equipment that you have paid out of pocket for, as an investment into your business. You expect that investment to turn around and benefit you, naturally; as you take on more and more jobs and expand your clientele base. And as revolting as this is to type out.. imagine you are a man and people respect your work and do not question you for all of the above. (PUKE) That is a hard topic for another post, for sure.
Ok. Now imagine that a close friend of yours asks, even expects that you will hook them up with electrical for free. Zero return on your investment, you pay out of pocket to drive to their home, for the materials.. you put hours on your equipment, hours on your body.

If that sounds like garbage to you, I assure you, for a photographer, it’s even worse.

Because for a photographer, after they’ve showed up and paid for the gas, the childcare, and probably provided props and/or a location, their hours/years/decades of experience in posing, lighting, composure, not to mention driving their beast of a camera skillfully and properly; WHICH IS WHY YOU COVET THEIR WORK TO BEGIN WITH — They then have to take all that home and spend an additional hour plus on finish work.

The same reason why you hire someone to do your electrical for you is the same reason why you hire someone to do your photos for you. And the same reason why I hire someone to engineer my foundation. Because we want it done well, and we don’t know how to do it ourselves.
Ok, and maybe because you don’t want to get electrocuted! But ugly pictures are basically the same thing, right?!

Example.

Her photo.

received_1156083207890059[1]
So, obviously she’s gorgeous; her hair and makeup are on point. But.. the lighting is poop, her skin looks gray, the background is bleh, the resolution is awful, and I doubt she wants to frame this shot and put it on her wall.
Now, my photo of her.

IMG_2243 copy
The lighting is lovely, her skin tones are perfect, and the background is not distracting. Her beauty is all that dominates this image. Definitely canvas worthy.

You don’t have to be an educated photographer to see the difference here at all.
One is clearly better than the other, anyone can see that. What makes the second one better here is not the camera anymore than a fancy million dollar oven can bake the best bread in the world. It is the artist’s knowledge of light, composure, angles, camera settings, and post production photo editing software. And that, fellow photographers and friends using them for free, IS WORTH SOMETHING.

In fact, I dare say.. it’s worth a lot. We should not be giving away our skills for free, or for meager pay. People don’t question my husband when he hands over a bid for his services. If someone thinks his fee is beyond their budget, they decline his services, and either go without or hire someone cheaper. We get what we pay for, don’t we folks?
And why is it that people assume that unless we loathe what we do, then we should be thrilled to work for free? I love the creative process in my work. Shooting births is my absolute passion and I did do that for free for 8 long years, until I had a mortgage to pay. That being said, I hate posing people, my camera weighs a thousand pounds and kills my neck, I don’t work in a studio so lighting is a constant struggle, and trying to edit while my kids are needing me or it’s 1am sucks.

So. No more mincing words.
It is of high probability that your photographer friend does not need “practice” and your facebook page with your grandma and high school friends as an audience hardly accounts for exposure. Exposure is bullshit anyway, even in high society circles in NYC. Your photographer friend definitely does not enjoy long hours of making you look beautiful while you can’t even be bothered to shake down a single coin. My god, sometimes I can’t even with how rude this is. Once, I shot a 2 day long induction free of charge for friends. I knew they were really struggling to get by, [as was I] and I was beyond honored to be there. However, I did not receive a single thank you card, candle, bath bomb, gift card, NOTHING. She was a professional baker. I could have traded for some pastries or a homecooked meal, or at least a promise of one down the line. Some tiny token of acknowledgement that made me feel like I didn’t just get used and tossed aside. This is one isolated example in a sea of “friends” who took without giving back a thing.

I’m not anti-altruistic. Like I wrote above, I worked for free for almost a decade. (when will we ask men for such a record?) I am basically a bleeding heart for my birth clients and take on one or two pro bono clients per year. I guarantee your photographer friend has done many, many sessions free of charge as well.  What I want to stress here today is that you, as the friend who has benefited from your friends skills free of charge, makes a conscious effort to stop using your friend. Cringe. It’s true. You have been taking advantage of an artist and exploiting their skills for your own personal benefit. 

BUT! It’s not too late. I urge you to reach out and thank them for their services, and apologize for not offering any compensation. Even if it has been years. Own it. A simple text or facebook message will do. And if you have a few bucks, buy them a gift card for coffee, or a houseplant, (yes!) or even something off their wish list.
Be a friend. And make sure they know exactly the reason for the gift. You have no idea how what you’ve been doing has strained your relationship. Every photographer friend I know has lost friends over this very issue. We have cried, and felt the heartache of the ones we trust using us like we were valueless. Then seeing the same friend blow hundreds of dollars on some bullshit item. Ouch ouch ouch.

To the photographer — You are worthy and talented. Or else your friend would not feel the impulse to use you! It’s not too late to claim your worth. Set your bar and don’t budge for incoming clients, and for friends, work out a system that leaves you feeling good afterwards. If you value your session to be $250, then tell your friend you will trade for something of equal value. Are they selling something you’ve had your eye on? Trade for that. Can they watch your brood so you can have a few date nights? Do that. Does their partner have skills you’d like to benefit from, but otherwise don’t have the cash? Trade for services. Just because you’re offering it for free doesn’t mean a price isn’t being paid. When your friendship is on the line; The price is way too high.

Let’s turn this ship around!!
Please, set a price for your services. Sometimes it’s easier to tell a friend you will trade than it is to put a dollar amount on your session.
Let’s not allow our friends to take advantage of us any longer!

Fin.

Author: birthdivine

Broken hearted, profane, and learning to love. Collector of all things strange and beautiful. Especially the worn, tender flickers of soul essence you thought nobody could see. Creator, builder, fidgety shit-talker. Too in-tune to exist as a normal human. Also, always dirty, (because farm) likely has chicken shit on her shoes and probably an egg, a screw, and some variety of animal bones or insect exoskeletons in her pocket.

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