First off, I am glad to know that you didn’t come here for that, but I hope you can understand why it came across that way.
Your question about charging is a good one, let me try to explain. You are dealing with two different issues, both of which have a lot in common.
Photographers complain about newbies who don’t charge for their work and market themselves as a viable alternative to a professional. This is an issue of presentation. People who do this basically undercut experienced photographers and dilute the market. This is a problem because they usually forget to tell people that they are just learning. You shouldn’t ask anyone to use you instead of a professional photographer free or otherwise, until you are good enough to be a professional photographer.When you are learning, you need to TELL people you are learning. It’s truth in packaging, and that is what people are complaining about. For example, ask your family member to trust you to shoot their wedding just because you’re learning and you won’t charge them = bad, mostly for the client, and a little for the photographer — ask if you can shoot at the wedding in addition to the photographer they actually hire = good, because they will still get good pictures even if you completely bomb the shoot, this also takes the pressure and stress off of you (but check with the photographer first, and defer to them, some photographers do not allow this because they have a job to do and it’s difficult to do it if there is someone getting in the way).
The second complaint is similar, but slightly different. This is what I was discussing before, so I won’t go into it length. But there is a big difference between undercutting to get the work when you offer a comparable product, it is something completely difficult to undercut to get the work when you’re not offering them nearly as much in return but tell them they are getting the same thing. When someone hires me, I am offering them something that you just plain can’t, I’m offering them 20 years of professional experience (32 if you include my training and apprenticeship). I sum that up in the word “professional” and if another photographer comes in and use the term “professional” to represent your whole 1 year of training. A client who doesn’t understand photography sees “professional who charges $50” and “professional who charges $250.” This one is tricky, because as a businessman, it does not bother me that you are siphoning off all the cheep clients. I set my prices a little on the high side anyway because I find that it attracts a higher quality clientele and that clients are a lot easier to deal with when they have a little more invested in the process. But it does bother me as a photographer because I believe that any client who pays good money for a ticket deserves to get a seat for the game, not a practice.
Now, as to your time being worth something… I understand why you feel this way, but let me try to explain this. Due you to you being international, I don’t know about your familiarity with middle American literature, but this is what I like to call Tom Sawyer Syndrome. There is a scene in the book, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” where Tom Sawyer tricks all of the kids in the town into thinking that whitewashing a fence is the most exciting privilege in the world, and proceeds to charge them for doing his chores. If you are still learning, sorry to be frank, but your time isn’t worth a damn thing. There is one simple truth you need to keep in mind. They are doing more for you than you are doing for them. They need pictures, but they can go to anyone they want to get them done. If you are honest with them, they know that you are not a professional, and as such, they are taking a risk by letting you do their pictures. Will you reward them for taking that chance on you by charging them for it? Of course not. They are getting pictures, you are getting experience, this is a fair exchange. To ask them to pay you money for the privileged of doing you a favor is using them. If the pictures turn out and they are happy with them, everybody wins, and if the pictures don’t turn out, no one has lost anything, the option of hiring a professional is still open to them.
I worked for five years after my training before I went pro and in that time I never once charged a client. I was willing to accept a tip if they offered it, but never until after they had seen their photos, I made sure they knew full well that they didn’t owe me a thing, and if they insisted on paying me, I never allowed them to tip more than the cost of film and processing. There is nothing wrong with that, if they are thrilled, since you don’t have film and processing costs let them reimburse your petrol. But let it be their decision. This is actually my best advice for knowing when you’re ready to start charging. Do the work for them for free (just the cost of time) and when 90% of your clients are happy enough with the work that they insist on paying you once they have seen the finished results, even though they don’t have to, you are giving your clients enough value to go pro.
Your time isn’t worth anything until you’ve invested in it. On the road to being a professional, you have to go through the stage where you aren’t giving them any value for their time and should probably be paying them for their time, to providing them with a small compensation for their time (where you are now), to being worth the time they are investing in you, to the point where they are getting enough more than their time is worth.
The most important thing to remember in all of this is that when you shoot for someone, it isn’t about you in the slightest, it is about them. To be a good photographer, you have to remember to always to right by your clients.
I hope this has helped you to understand where we are coming from?