If you’re reading this, you’re either one of my friends or family members who is nice enough to follow me, or you’re a poor photography soul stumbling around on the internet who happened to land here. Regardless of your intention or origin, you better settle in because I’m going to rant about one of the most annoying things I’ve started to encounter as a photographer who charges for his services; “Friends” asking for pictures.
You know how this conversation goes:
“Hey, how’s it going? *Insert small-talk* So I’ve been following your photography and your pictures look great on Facebook! I always check them out when you post them! [Unrelated Sidenote: If you look at my images on Facebook or Instagram, Like them, damnit! That’s how I get business; from your friends noticing the stuff you follow!] Anyways, I wanted to get a headshot for [Insert reason such as: LinkedIn, finally lost 30lbs (kudos by the way), Tinder, etc]. How much would you charge for something like that? I only need like one picture, so it’d be really quick!”
Now comes the internal debate I have with myself every single time I get one of these queries. The flow chart typically works like this:
The are two reasons this debate takes place when it’s someone I know:
- I’m a self-proclaimed nice guy and hate charging “friends” full price. My roommate yells at me everytime I bring this up and typically says, “No! You’re a professional freaking photographer. Everyone should pay full price. Stop giving discounts! Family included unless the photography is your gift to them.” And she’s right - I’ve been busting my ass getting to where I am, which in my mind isn’t far but I’ve made one hell of an investment (with occasional family help), and I need to start making a return on that.
- Being a (semi) professional photographer is still new to me. Hell, I’m not even sure I should be charging sometimes! I’ll look at my images and think, “What the hell are people raving about? This shit sucks!”
So what usually happens is I feel sheepish and give my friends a discount that I fear is still too expensive, and it’s 50/50 for them to respond in favor or against my offered price. The worst is if I tell them I’ll help out and no price is agreed upon prior to the shoot. They hand me $50 afterwards and I try my hardest to slap on a big appreciative smile.
Now when it’s someone I don’t really know or someone I don’t like, the debate usually goes more like this:
- Are you freaking kidding me? I'm a semi-professional photographer! Have you even looked at my website to know what my rates are in comparison to what you're asking? Blasphemy!
- Oh god, I really DO NOT want to take your picture. You're annoying as hell.
I can hem and haw all day about how annoying it is for professional photographers to treat jobs with friends and family. But what the issue really comes down to is this: People don't appreciate professional photographers anymore.
Being a professional photographer sucks nowadays because nearly everyone has a badass cellphone camera, or an entry level DSLR they got for their birthday. The market is over saturated with people saying, “Well I can take this picture myself and it comes out fine. Why should I pay you hundreds of dollars for the same thing?”
Whenever this comes up I just wanna take a trip to the Old West and have a shoot out competition with cameras. Same day, same scenario, and we can even swap cameras. I bet I’ll still take a better picture. Why? Numero Uno: “It’s not the gear, it’s the nut behind the wheel” Charles Glatzer (Though better gear can help). Numero Dos: I’ve spent thousands of dollars and hours upon hours of my time researching, learning, practicing, and perfecting my craft. You want to compare that to your friend who thinks taking a portrait in the middle of the afternoon with harsh sunlight and no modifiers is a good idea!?!? It’s the same thing as letting someone who races RC planes think they can fly an F-22 Raptor.
I read an article once that professional photography, especially for weddings, is a luxury expense and I couldn’t agree more. You can get lucky with an upstart friend/photographer who is fantastic and doesn’t charge much because they don’t have a ton of experience. But people can’t turn around and want a seasoned professional to handle their big day for the same price. Its insulting, quite frankly.
I currently charge $300 for anything up to a two hour session. That covers the jobs that are way short to balance out the ones that nearly go the full two hours. It also covers my gas to travel, meals while on the road for the shoot, the time I sit on the computer editing files along with the coffee to fuel the editing motor, and the high end gear I’m using to do my job. I’ve put in lots of hours and dollars to be good at what I do, same as every other professional photographer. Respect what we’re worth and be willing to pay for it. I don’t want to charge someone $300 for a thirty minute shoot; that’s just insane. On the other hand, the cost/benefit ratio isn’t good enough for me to do a 30 minute shoot for $50.
So where’s the balancing variable in this equation? Know your audience. If you want a single headshot, then find an upstart photographer who is willing to do it for cheap or pay a little bit more and make an investment out of it. You’ve already paid the sitting fee for two hours, so take advantage of it! Do multiple locations or outfits, try some silly photos and some business ones. You’ll walk away with lots of images that can be used for a number of scenarios, and they’ll be high quality images from a professional. If you’re a photographer who wants to do single headshots, then either do a group rate to make it worth your while (10 people for $300 in a 2-hour block) or don’t expect to make big bucks until you’re on the level of Joel Grimes.
Respect peoples’ passions, their crafts, and their budgets at both ends of the business relationship; client and contractor. And please, please, please, quit being offended when you ask me for a single picture and I tell you, “Great! That’ll be $300. Want to do more than just one? Same price, just put up with me for 2 hours!”
Yeah, but what happens when a photographer asks me to model for them?