Stop Giving Free Photography Services to Friends and Family

Stop Giving Free Photography Services to Friends and Family

Photography is a commodity; It's not a secret, and we all know it. When I meet a new group of people, it seems that every time the conversation of “jobs” or “careers” is brought up, inevitably, someone is always a “photographer” by trade. Commodification is a process that happens to every industry, and we couldn’t prevent it even if we tried. So since becoming a commodity is unavoidable in any market, we, as small business owners, have to learn to overcome being branded a “commodity.”

First, we have to realize that when we are a commodity, we’re literally fighting a standard market price point, and if done incorrectly, we’ll be fighting until we hit rock bottom and get burned out. When we’re not pricing correctly, we price ourselves out of our target audience and directly into a downward spiral of self-depreciation. And while plenty can be said on the topic of having a proper pricing strategy, I want to stick to a specific area of pricing that several photographers seem to have a problem with: charging friends and family.

I get it. We all start somewhere as photographers. We’ve all gone through that terrible bout of imposter syndrome that tells us we’re fakes, we’re phonies, and we shouldn’t be charging for services that we don’t feel we’ve mastered yet. The fact of the matter is, most typical consumers do not see the difference between the techniques of seasoned pros who’ve been around for decades and timid beginners just starting out. If someone, friends or family included, approaches you regarding using your services, you owe it to yourself, and the industry that you’re a part of, to charge a fee for those services. If you’re just starting out in the photography market, you might be thinking, “But I’ve never charged before. How do I charge someone for something that I’ve freely given away in the past?” I have a personal answer for this. In my business, my rule is if someone approaches me for my services, I charge them, regardless of their relationship to me. Adversely, if I offer my services, I consider that a gift, and do not charge. But friends and family approaching a photographer to use their services can still be an intimidating interaction, even for photographers who’ve been in business for awhile, so whats the solution to alleviating the stress of having to charge friends and family for your photography services? I’ve got a few suggestions for you.

Set Proper Expectations

Setting proper expectations is something that I consider to be very foundational about how I run my business. If you hang around me long enough, you’ll notice I mention proper expectations in many aspects of running a business and in relationship building with people. Pardon me for getting sentimental, but friends and family are some of the most important parts of a person’s life, so it's extremely important when going into business with them that we’re setting the proper expectations from the very beginning. When friends or family bring up the concept of hiring you as their photographer, it's important to set the expectation that the services and/or products will not be free. It's important that everything about your processes are spelled out, and there should be absolutely no assumptions going on. To be on the safe side, as a rule, oversharing about expectations and your business processes is a good thing. Never assume that anything you’ll be doing with them professionally will be obvious, and therefore need not be mentioned. Mention it all.

Give “Friends and Family” Pricing

We obviously love our friends and family and when they have a special event or mile-marker in their life that they’re coming to us to document, a natural inclination is that we want to gift them something. It is absolutely possible to gift them part of our services or products without devaluing ourselves. A great way to do this is by having special pricing specifically for friends and family. Having a “friends and family” price list is also a great way to set proper expectations with a loved one, while also showing them that you love them and are willing to give them special pricing. At the end of the day, we all know that we photographers still need to eat. Our loved ones don’t always understand what is involved behind the scenes and with our overhead, so having a specialized price list is helpful (and again, it's important that we’re setting proper expectations and educating friends and family about our business and our value). To be clear, though, your friends and family pricing isn't about making money off of your loved ones. Its a way for those closest to you to understand that you still have costs of living, regardless of who you're performing a service for. So your friends and family price list doesn't have to make a profit, but it is a good tool in setting expecations with loved ones.

Go the Extra Mile

As professionals, I know we already go the extra mile to make sure clients have the best experience possible. This is no different for friends and family, and should apply even more so. The idea of “underpromising and overdelivering” is especially important when providing professional services for friends and family in order to maintain a strong relationship outside of the business relationship you’ve established. If you’re still feeling uncomfortable charging friends or family, consider gifting them a product like an album or wall art. There are ways to add value to the experience you’re providing beyond giving a discount to people. When in doubt, think of ways you can add value to yourself instead of taking value away when people ask for it.

In the end there are a few things to remember. Your personal relationship is what matters with friends and family, and it's important that your professional relationship strengthens your personal relationship with loved ones. Let this be your “why” behind going into business with a friend or family member. Also remember that you owe it to yourself to not be undervaluing yourself. Friends and family want to value you too, but it's up to us, as the professionals, to educate them on our value and why our value is what it is. Next time a friend or family member approaches you for photography, the last thing you should be thinking about is providing another free session.

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55 Comments

Mark Niebauer's picture

Never get into the business unless it has been verified that you are good at it. Too many egos out there making it impossible to have a photography business. Just look at their terrible portfolios. . .

Dani Riot's picture

true friends wouldn't take money out of your pocket.

Elan Govan's picture

True friend won't exploit another.

Drew Valadez's picture

True friends would help one another.

Elan Govan's picture

of course, without exploiting. we can go on, exchanging....

Drew Valadez's picture

I wasn't disagreeing with you though...

Friends help each other with everything - I'll spend a day lugging heavy furniture when they move, they'll spend an afternoon under my car, why is it so different because I take pictures for a living ? In fact I'd rather help them with photography than lugging furniture, since it comes easier to me.
I don't see it as devaluing the service any more than when a mate tunes my carburettor. I know it would be expensive to do at a garage and just feel lucky that I know someone who is willing to help out in this instance.
And it's not really money out of our pockets, it's just not having your overheads contributed to.
Of course friends might start taking liberties and ask for too much, but I handle that just like I do when they want me to spend too much time on any project.

Anonymous's picture

Damn, that's cold. I don't know about y'all's families, but we don't charge each other, whether it's photo services or HVAC install. Maybe we're an anachronism, and this cr@p is the new normal. I call it Trump's fault, because, why not?

Michael Jin's picture

Umm.. What? Why would I charge my friends and family for photos? It costs me next to nothing—at least no more than going over on a weekend and helping them move a bunch of furniture, which I don't charge for. It has nothing to do with devaluing yourself or your services. It's called acting like a friend or family member and looking out for our loved ones as they look out for us.

It's a bit different if there's a real material cost on your part like having to buy or rent certain equipment for the shoot, but if you already have all of the necessary equipment, then the cost is just your time and the wear and tear on your gear. Under normal circumstances, the wear and tear on your gear should be negligible and if you can't give a friend or family member a bit of your time and energy when they need it, I think you're in a place where you should probably be re-evaluating your relationships.

Then again, that's just me...

Joel Cleare's picture

When you HELP someone move, you help. It makes different when your friends / family ask you to move their stuff and they do something else. Will you take professional photos of me = will you come over and move my stuff.

Michael Jin's picture

I'm not really sure what kind of friends or family others have, but from my experience, requests directed toward me from friend and family be they for photography or assistance in moving furniture always come as that: requests.

It's usually, "Hey, I've got this thing happening, would you be able to take some photos for me?" or "Hey, I'm moving this weekend. Would you be able to help me out?" It's always understood that it's my choice and that what I am doing for them is a favor and subject to my own convenience and desire.

I've never had any friends and family, except perhaps my mother, issue me an imperative. Nobody looks at the fact that I have a camera and says, "Hey, come take photos of my wedding for me." nor would anyone I am friends with ever say, "Hey come clean my house while I watch TV.". That's just not the type of things that happens and honestly, if you have friends like that, I would highly encourage you to find better friends.

So while photography isn't the same thing as helping someone move, I have yet to come across any situation in my own life where a request made to me has been unreasonable. Most of the time, it's just a request for some new photos to put on their profile or something. I have had a single request to photograph my friends' engagement and wedding which I declined not because I would have had a personal issue with it, but I explained to him (and eventually her) that it's just not something in my wheelhouse and given the importance of the day, I thought it would be better for her to find someone who specializes in it and I'll just bring my camera along and take some photos, too. After explaining it, they agreed that this was probably the best course.

That having been said, if I felt confident doing it because I was a professional wedding photographer, I would have gladly done it because photography certainly can be expensive, and if possible, I would like to do my friends a favor and help them save money that they could probably use for other things in their life.

Obviously, there are limits to everything and things would probably be different if a friend asked me to attend every single one of his kid's soccer matches to photograph them or if a friend came up to me and asked me to photograph their cousin's music recital or something. In the end, we choose where we draw those lines because the reality is that we can't help everyone in the world and we do have to put value on our own time and sanity. There is a difference, however, in saying, "Don't let yourself be exploited." and "Don't give away free photography."

I get it, but this article does come across overly harsh on the topic.

I was a professional mechanic in a former life, now an IT guy /Software Developer. Guess who gets my free expertise on either matter? Mother, Father, Brother, Sister. Maybe my favorite Aunt and a couple cousins, and my "would take a bullet for you" best friends. Almost everyone else, it turns out is more than happy to pay me a token sum for my professional expertise, because they understand there's thousands of hours (and dollars) worth of learning and tools behind it all. They get professional expertise at 10% of the going rate, I get a couple six-packs out of the deal -- everyone wins! If I were running an actual business in either case, for those closest to me, the work would be done for cost.

Also, as other have said, Relationships are give and take -- I do a brake job, they help me move, I set-up their wireless, they take my kid's pictures. Payment doesn't always need to be in cold-hard cash. As long as no one is feeling taken advantage of, there's no harm.

**Note, I stopped doing a lot of free IT work for extended family because I did start to feel taken advantage of. But that was my hang up and me over extending myself.

glad i'm not in her family. Me, family gets free photos. i use and abuse them when i want to try out new stuff too. digitals, free. prints, they purchase them at cost. that's just me and i know eventually it will come around in my favor if i need something.

Joel Cleare's picture

Are you a professional photographer ? I tried to look up your website. Can't find it.

Wow! She's hard core!
Family (that I like) is free. Always. The best of my friends. Free. Always.
Hell, I'll even shoot for my wife's (best) friends for free if she wants me to. In fact, I just shot my wife's life-long best friends sisters wedding for free.
Family and close friends help each other. That's just what you do. Well... That's what WE do, but perhaps the fabric of our relationship is different than the authors.

ALEXANDER TARDIF's picture

Oh boy, I thought this was just an unfortunate clickbait title choice, but nope - you really meant it. Ouch.

p.s. it must really suck to be your friend or family member... I can imagine Little Johnny or Little Suzy come up to her aunt with that big grin on their face to ask to have their 5th birthday party photographed, because they worship that VSCO C1 filter on your Instagram... and BAM!!! Just like that their dreams are crushed when they hear you respond: "Of course, Johnny, I got your back! My "F&F discount package" should suit your needs perfectly! Now go check your piggy bank!"

Danette Chappell's picture

Hey Alexander, thanks for reading. Firstly, I'm not into clickbait, so my titles are exactly what my articles are about. Second, my photography business is my full-time job. I have no other source of income, meaning, if I agree to photograph a wedding (since that is what I do, I'm a wedding photographer), I do have overhead that will need to be taken care of, as well as a wedding date slot that gets retained. I also have a mortgage, and a plethora of other bills that must be taken care of on a monthly basis. My friends and family are very important to me, however, when I perform a service for them, realistically, I still need to make my overhead. That isn't to say that every circumstance is black and white. Obviously, every situation is different depending on the photographer. As a wedding photographer, it is an endeavor photographing a wedding for anyone - family and friends included. This article is meant for those that know they are losing overhead and how to solve a sticky situation.

p.s. - Obviously I'm not talking about Little Johnny or Little Suzy. I'm talking about obscure relatives who may want photo services. I'm addressing the situations that photographers may not feel equipped to face regarding distant family members whom they're not close to. I realize the article was more black and white than it should have been. I'm also addressing photographers who make a living solely off of photography. Thanks for editing your comment after the fact to bolster your point, I got you, don't worry. ;)

If you have some constructive input on rectifying working with friends and family while still maintaining overhead and a good relationship, I'd love to hear it.

ALEXANDER TARDIF's picture

Constructive input? Simple - being a friend or family member comes with the inherent perk of doing things for each other just because, you know... it's a friend or family.

We could probably get into a lengthy and dull debate about all the what ifs, the fixed costs vs variable, the opportunity costs, and this and that, but what would be the point. Since you're sticking to your guns with the "Stop Giving Free Photography Services to Friends and Family" stand on this topic, we fundamentally differ on how we treat our friends and family.

Michael Jin's picture

While I can understand the cost of overhead for performing a job you're not equipped for, saying something like, "Hey, if you want me to do the wedding, it's going to cost ______ to rent the equipment that I would need so just cover the rental cost." is different from "It can shoot your wedding for _____ (taking into account making profit on top of the actual cost of any rental equipment, wear/tear, and opportunity cost of not taking another job in that time slot." I would have no problem with the first simply because that's equipment that I don't actually own (but that I presumably need for this job) and it makes sense for them to cover that. The second is me treating it as a job rather than a favor for a friend.

If you're a professional wedding photographer, you probably already own everything you need so what exactly is the "overhead" that you're speaking of? Is it the negligible wear and tear on your equipment from popping the flash or actuating the shutter? Is it the time and electricity spent in the work space that you already have spent editing the photos? Without a better description, I'm not really sure what you mean when you say overhead in this context because it seems to me like it's mostly stuff that's either really negligible or stuff that you'd be paying for anyway (unless you rent a work space to edit your photos by the hour).

Yes, the wedding date for that friend or family member's wedding that you're scheduling yourself to shoot is a time slot that's being occupied so technically, I suppose there's an opportunity cost issue. That having been said, I would imagine that if a friend or family member is having a wedding, you're probably going to be there one way or the other (whether you're shooting or not) so if you're going to be at the event anyway, where exactly is the opportunity cost?

Maybe I'm missing something, but I just don't see where the "sticky situation" is. If it's really that much trouble, just decline. Most people will understand if you just tell them you'd rather be able to enjoy the event as a guest and celebrate with them. If it's just an issue of some rentals or material costs, explain to them the situation and ask them to cover the cost of the rental equipment you need. I'm sure we all have different types of relationships with our friends and family, but I don't see how this could possibly be more complicated than that.

Mayur Bajaj's picture

Ask your car showroom owner friend to give away you a free car. Let's see what he says.

ALEXANDER TARDIF's picture

Terrible analogy, completely invalid.

Mayur Bajaj's picture

So this is a terrible analogy? Then what about people comparing the shit like helping to move and cooking food, with the business. Isn't that terrible? This is the problem. People never consider photography as a business. They always see it as someone's hobby or passion.

Drew Valadez's picture

How about not doing business with friends or family?

I come from a family with many friends whom own businesses and watched many of those people cross paths doing business with one another, or exchanging services. It always ends up bad and rarely goes well.

As an IT guy for a living and a hobbyist photographer, I work on NO ONES computer that aren't my parents or in-laws because I cannot accept money from other family or friends. I'll give tons of advice for it but won't touch it. I have also done near a dozen family photo shoots for friends for free, obviously not as a profession, and a few times have been offered up to the same pay as another photographer but declined. The involvement of that check/cash can turn friendships and relationships sour. What I gave them was my time to do such service for them. If I printed, which I have before, I ask for the amount spent on material. Otherwise, my free time was given to them on my behalf.

If money is so tight that one cannot perform a service on the house for a family or friend, don't do said service for them. You're not losing money if you giving them your free time to do it.

Mayur Bajaj's picture

You said that photography is your hobby. This is why you can't undertsand about the photographers who just make earning by clicking, specially photographers like me, who come from not so strong financial background. If someone of your friend owns a car showroom, he simply can't give you a car for free. This is completely relatable if you can relate.
No offense buddy. That's just my perspective to see this business.

Joel Cleare's picture

I get it. I wouldn't ask any of my professional friends for free work. I've done free photos in the past for friends. I don't do them anymore. Once the word gets out that I did free photo for friends then it became a normal thing. That had to stop. My family never asked for free photos. I've always offered them to my family first. My wife is a NP. Same situation where friends need / want free medical advise. She works hard at work. She doesn't want to take time away from us to work for free. Family always get any help they need.

Dennis Qualls's picture

I'm going to amend my original response to this article for several reasons, but mainly it goes against my nature to be negative. I took great offense to it because I do a lot of charitable shooting for low-income families and I also shoot at no charge for my close family.
If you're shooting to make a living, then I completely understand the logic behind this. However, I do wish you would take a different perspective in light of multiple disciplines of photography. Not everyone is the same, thus, you cannot set a standard for all to follow.

Danette Chappell's picture

Thanks for the comment Dennis. The article definitely came across much more black and white than I meant for it to be, and I completely agree with you that not everyone is in the same situation. I wrote this for those who've had family or friends (whom they may not be super close with) approach them for services, and weren't sure how to maneuver the conversation, although they may have wanted to ask for some type of compensation. Although everyone's situation is different, situations like this may come up at some point for everyone (that is, everyone shooting to make a living), so the advice could still be relevant at some point. Thank you for your input, I greatly appreciate it!

Dennis Qualls's picture

Thank you Danette. Please accept my apologies if my initial comment was offensive. I do agree; some family/friends can take advantage of free or discounted sessions and in the end, undervalue your services. It’s amazing really. Some have highly compensated me for a session while others won’t even bother to purchase a print. It just depends, but discretion is important in those situations.

Danette Chappell's picture

Your initial comment wasn't offensive at all. You brought up valid points in a very civil manner, so thank you for that!

Thank you for the article, I am not a professional, and have charged my friends for photography services. It did motivate me to give them "their moneys worth". Why wouldn't you support someone you know in their business ventures? Especially one that is so expensive and needs so much technical knowledge. I've read the comments here, and feel that even if you are exchanging services such as helping a friend/family member move for tech help or photography, you are charging for your service plain and simple.

The author of this piece is trying to explain that if you give away your time and skill for free, then those things are worthless to you. Do you go to your day job and work for no monetary compensation? I know weddings can be huge events, are you going to give up a day or three to shoot it? How about the wedding album and prints? If you are doing that, are you giving a wedding gift as well? If your service is a present, and you were willing to do it for free, how much is the gift worth? Congratulations, you've just made any professional in your industry of "expertise" lose the ability to charge time plus expenses plus profit (you know, the American dream) to anyone in your circle. Once it gets out you work for free, that's all you'll be doing, and that will be your "new normal".