Why do you feel it's OK to work without pay? Other occupations charge, and they charge handsomely for their expertise, but photographers are seemingly shy when it comes to money. Knowing this crowd, I'll need an obligatory qualifier: Not all photographers are shy, but a lot of them are.
Maybe photographers feel guilty about charging because there's a false belief we must suffer at work and that it ought to be unenjoyable. What if we have fun doing it? Perhaps some have no idea how much to charge, where to start, and then build up from?
That's why I created the $25 Rule for photographers, a solid starting point to build up from. For many photographers that I mentor, the hardest obstacle was getting to the pro part of the equation. How much you charge as a professional and the incremental increases are easier. If you have a formula that functions well, keep that! This article and video are for the photographer who is afraid to start, the one who has no idea how much to charge and what to bill for. If you're that photographer, watch this video!
Is it Bad to Shoot for Free?
Everyone has their own answer to this question. My personal rule is that the photographer should always benefit the most. The idea for the free project should come from the photographer first. If it came from another person, it's likely to help them more. If you want to build a portfolio, I stick with the rule of three. Three "test shoots" or free shoots are enough to give the potential clients an idea of your abilities. Three people are enough to show some variety but not enough to spread the word about you being the town's freebie.
Why Is the $25 Rule Important?
Start at $25, as it is a nominal amount, and it's a great qualifier. If a potential client cannot afford that cost, it's likely they'll never be a paying client. They could be the most incredible humans, but not for your bank account. $25 is a solid number to start at, and the vast majority of the clients you want will be able to afford that.
Starting at $25 is not that much higher than what some politicians want the new minimum wage to be. Remember that for many businesses, this is a tax deduction.
While there are numerous other benefits to the $25 Rule, one would be training your clients and community that you are now a functioning business. You are no longer a free photographer, and they need to start seeing you this way. You're affordable to most, and where you go from there depends on your market or clientele. Sometimes, we must train others to treat us as professionals.