I recently saw a post on one of the Facebook photography forums I belong to that said, “Is there any photographers around … that could possibly help me build a portfolio?” This person went on to say that they will “return the favor”. Trying to keep my mind out of the gutter, I did something I wouldn’t normally do and asked what she meant by “returning the favor.” I received the response I expected, “I will show everyone your photos and bring you more business”. I, as tactfully as possible, explained to this girl that her good intentions were worthless and wouldn’t pay my bills.
While the emphasis here is on the “Fauxtographer”, I have to consider the other monster that this market has created, the misinformed consumer. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve had tell me that they would be happy to model for me if I need any portfolio work. The mentality is that a photographer’s time is worth less than their time as a model, they’re doing ME a favor. I should be grateful that they gave me their time and I should reward them by giving them my work for free, to include the RAW images (because they’re good with Picasa and can edit the images themselves).
I also have potential customers (that’s the nicest thing I can call them) that want to “negotiate” a better price. I told one person my price for senior photos, her response was “can I get a better price”. Quick, someone hire her for the hostage negotiation squad! That’s like going to your favorite restaurant and asking to pay a lower price for your meal. These people expect an all day shoot, a DVD with all the edited images, plus they sneak a friend or two in there who expects to just jump in on the package; and they want it all for $100 or less. If you expect to make the money up on prints, forget it, they never get any.
These are the people that have made me a better businessperson. They are the reason I have done a serious breakdown of costs, made contracts, model releases and jacked my prices up to where I can weed these people out. They are the reason the market feels like a bunch of dogs fighting over a dry bone. They have, quite literally stripped away the meat of the market.
So is this the future we have to look forward to? Is this what we can expect if we decide to brave the world of paid photography? I say no. There are plenty of good photographers out there making top dollar for their work. They successfully weed out the “expect everything for nothing” clients. How do they do it? Easy, they don’t do anything for free. They give away nothing. Everything they do has one purpose, make money! If more photographers used their business brain instead of feeling bad about making someone pay them what they are worth, the market might start to re-educate itself.
While it’s a hoot to make fun of all the horrible photography out there, I have never discouraged anyone from learning photography. If you feel it’s your (and I’m going to puke a bit when I say it) “passion”, then by all means, join the masses. But do it the right way! Learn how your equipment works; learn about light, composition, color, etc… Have your work critiqued by people you admire as photographers. If you want to just do it as a hobby then do that. If someone wants you to shoot their wedding, baby, senior photos, etc… then charge them accordingly. Don’t know what to charge? Do some research; find a pro that might, might give you their time (they are out there). If you think you have what it takes to make a living at it, then REALLY do some research. Find out what the market looks like in your area, take some business classes, network, network, network, continue to have your work critiqued, get legal and by all means, charge what you’re worth. Never feel sorry for asking to be compensated for what you do. Like the Joker said, “if you’re good at something, never do it for free”.
To all of those “potential” clients: Photography is a business. We have bills, pay taxes, business expenses just like any other place you might frequent. Do you walk into your hairdresser or barber and ask them to work for less than what they are asking for? Do you go to the gas station and haggle over the price? Would you go to work and expect your boss to say, “I really like the work you’re doing, but I’m not going to pay you. However, I am going to tell everyone how good a job you do”? I don’t think you would. You wouldn’t work for free, so why do you expect your photographer to. You are not doing us a favor by stealing our time and “telling your friends how good we are.” You will never bring us any business that is worth our time if we give you our time for free. If you value the work we do, there is only one way to compensate us, pay us.