Pep Talk: Are You Giving it Away?

Pep Talk: Are You Giving it Away?This is a pep talk for those of you that need it. If this is not you, go ahead and give yourself a little pat on the back and then skip to something else important like Photography Marketing Tips. But if you are giving away your work for free, then you need to stop and read this. I have your best interest at heart here, and you know, deep down, that you have a problem and you need to stop.

You know who you are. Yes. You. Are you giving away the disc of your engagement session each time? You know you shouldn’t be doing this. You are shooting yourself in the foot. This is a business you are running here, not a charity.

And before we get started, I don’t want to hear any flimsy excuses about how you like doing the sessions and it helps you get comfortable with the couple for the big day. Yes, fine. So therefore, it’s totally ok that you work for free. Without pay. Because, you know, you enjoy it, so what’s the harm?

Let me ask you, does your spouse love it when you work for free, instead of being with them? Do your kids love it when you take time away from them to work for free, doing something that offers zero value to your business or your family?

Is your personal time of so little value to you that you happily give up time that could be spent exercising, reading, or furthering your own goals to in order to further other people’s goals?

Do you see what I’m saying here? I know you do. But there are more reasons that you need to stop offering free products. Are you training your clients that they should expect you to work for free, because it’s such an honor for you to be able to photograph them? Are you training your clients that it’s fine to keep you at their reception until the last drunk guest stumbles out of there, because your time means nothing to you, so why not?

Ok, hopefully at this point we are on the same page. Or at least, you are getting there. Now let’s look at how much time goes into a typical engagement session. This is going to vary for everyone, so you’ll need to add up the time yourself, as your process and procedures are going to vary.

As a point of reference, this is what an engagement session looks like in our studio, start to finish:

Engagement Session Studio Time Breakdown

  • 2 hours-client communications and preparation
  • 1 hour-gear prep
  • .5 hours on site early
  • 1 hour shoot
  • 2 hour drive
  • 2 hours download cards & backup files
  • 1 hour-edit/cull
  • 2 hours-color correct
  • 2 hours-choose artist favorite images and retouch, Photoshop actions etc.
  • 1 hour-process and renumbering
  • 1 hour to create slideshow images
  • 1 hour to create client gallery

TOTAL HOURS SPENT: 16.5

16.5 hours is a lot of time to spend on a free activity. This is time that should be spent working on your business, not in it. If you are still struggling with this concept and making excuses for why its ok for you to offer free engagement sessions with free discs, not charge for overtime, offer prints at cost and other business atrocities, then you need to understand that your business is destined to struggle and scrape by. You will eventually be completely burned out and broke. That’s the truth. It’s not pretty, and I’m sorry to have to have this conversation with you, but the reason I started this blog is to give photographers REAL and HONEST information about the business of photography. If you can’t come to terms with putting a price on your time and selling your work, your business will always be a hobby.

You know what I’m saying is true. Hard to swallow, but do it now. Burned out and broke tastes much worse.


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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Luciano Miceli November 11, 2013 at 10:31 pm

Lara i am just new with PHOTOMINT BY LOOKING AT MY WEB SITE COULD YOU HAVE ANY SUGGESTION on what i need to do ,any changes? i have posted over 12 weddings on my photobyluciano/zenfolio, under wedding albums, like i said i feel confident with my photography, i work long hours and i am extremely nice to my clients, this a new venture for me, i love photography of all kind, wedding photography is were the money is, i do admit i need business skill improved , let me know thank you luciano miceli

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Robyn October 26, 2013 at 12:10 pm

Very Helpful. Thank You

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ed June 21, 2012 at 11:27 pm

OK, I’ve read the comments now. Yes, I agree there is a time for free, and Lisa said before she started her business that they did free work as a second shooter and gave free portraits so that they could build a portfolio. I think that is fine. I believe free can be fine- if its done for a purpose. Retail stores often bundle a free product with a purchase(s). The piont is, make it count. Don’t stay in free land, and don’t give away free with only a hope of something later.
Reminds me of football. Only take one step back if it is going to get you two steps ahead.

And her other important point is doing that one hour photoshoot for free is actually committing you to 16 hours of non paid time commitment.

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Lara White June 22, 2012 at 8:01 am

couldn’t agree with you more! The only caveat to this is that you have to be at a point where you are competent with your camera and can create, good quality work that people are willing to pay for.

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ed June 21, 2012 at 9:37 pm

Ver good pep talk. You painted the entire picture, which sometimes someone might not think of it. And I like the way you break down the hours of editing, because I’m not sure a client would under stand “6 hours of editing for every one hour of shooting.” And Ido post editing, but I haven’t broken it down to the components of each part of it.

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Lara White June 22, 2012 at 7:47 am

glad you enjoyed it. It can be tough to charge for your time, but if you are making it a business, its essential.

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Ryan March 4, 2012 at 5:43 pm

Tricky subject!

You wrote that blog post and gave it to us (your leads or customers) for free, didn’t you?

Free is a part of your blogging business plan, right?

Free isn’t all bad, IMHO.

Free is fine when you get something else (besides money) out of the deal — a testimonial, portfolio, practice, a wedding!

I think Free is fine, as long as it’s done intentional and with purpose.

PS. I just signed up for your newsletter because of your FREE eBook. 🙂

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Bogdan December 8, 2011 at 4:59 pm

Sorry… I meant “print quality has gone up” not down… the prices went down… slip of the mental finger. My apologies.

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Bogd December 8, 2011 at 4:56 pm

I’m one of those people giving free engagements to (GASP !) prospective clients. There’s no way you can bring back value in an over-saturated market where everyone and their third cousin has an entry level dSLR with a kit lens and had been drinking the “shoot like a pro” Kool-Aid sold along with the kit and propagated by every single magazine with a “Popular…something” in its name.

One has to deal with it or die. One way is to provide the value first and then charge the clients appropriately for your time. That’s about the only thing you can charge for nowadays. Print quality has been going constantly down and diversity had gone up. Zookbinders will do albums for couples directly and if that’s too expensive there’s always Blurb or anyone similar (and the quality of those ain’t half bad let me tell you).

The field had been so leveled out as tools of our trade are concerned to the point where anyone can buy or access the same stuff we’re working with.

So, what’s left ?

Holding on your digital files for dear life?

I try to charge for my (lack of) talent. Seems to be working so far…

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Lara White December 9, 2011 at 8:58 am

I agree with you. I’m not saying hold on to the digital files, I’m saying actually charge for them. Sure, I get adding some value to your packages, and that can be a good thing if it leads to a booking. But you dont have to give away the farm…you dont have to do the session for free AND give away the digital files. You could do the session for free and charge for the digital files. Offer products the client will enjoy, but if they would prefer to go to blurb, fine. But you should still make something right?

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Edzel F May 25, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Sounds like the Southern California market, where sometimes the wedding guests are using the same equipment as the professionals. Seems like a lot of the experienced professionals around here are making their money doing workshops for the flood of new photographers (and there is a flood in this area).

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Lara White May 27, 2012 at 2:18 pm

Yes, but I always have to chuckle to myself when I see a guest using a pro camera, but they’ve got it set to F16 or something.

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ed June 21, 2012 at 11:20 pm

I live in SoCal and I’ve seen and experienced the same things you just said.
When I was getting serious about photography, and looking into getting a DSLR, I would ask people that were shooting with them what they were using, and what they thought if it. Often, they didn’t even know the make and model of the camera, and the answer was either “I like it, it takes good pictuures” or “I like it, but its kinda old now. I want the new xxx.” and I was given the impression they wanted the new one only because it was new(er), and they thought it would give them something they didn’t have now.

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Lynn December 7, 2011 at 9:06 am

A friend of mine recently received an email from a “model” who wanted a TF session. This friend is well established, to the point that she is a mentor for other photographers. Paid mentor, by the way. Her response to this inquiry:

I wish I had time to do free work, but I have to feed my family.

perfect and succinct.

I’m new in business–under one year and still part time. However, I charge real rates for my market. I’ve built a decent word of mouth business through a mommy board in an affluent neighborhood. But recently, 2 other photgraphers have been following up my annoucements with their own, and blatantly undercutting me. The people who reply to her are saying: “Oh, she does great work and she’s CHEAP! She gives a disc!” That’s what people expect now. So, I keep telling myself that just as I don’t shop at Walmart, I also don’t have Walmart clients. It sucks, and it makes marketing harder, and doing business much harder. However, I believe that 10 years from now I will still be in business, and this other person will look back wondering where she went wrong.

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Lara White December 7, 2011 at 11:37 am

It’s so true. These two other photographers are just ignorant of what it takes to run a real business. It’s hard to fight that, and I cant think of any other industry where you have to fight off people willing and wanting to do the job for free (ever see an accountant begging to work for free? Not that stupid). You have the right mindset though, you are operating as a business, whereas they are not. When you are giving it away, there’s no responsibility to get it done right, do a good job, take care of the client etc. You have a great site and beautiful work, so just keep on keepin’ on. It takes time to build up a clientele base, build up packages, product options etc.

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Debbie December 6, 2011 at 12:32 am

I am wondering when to start calling myself a professional? I have started to charge a sitting fee for some of my family portraits and have a mark up on my prints. My first two weddings I did for friends for free to build my portfolio and the next two I have booked I am charging for $200 then $500. I am only including digital images at this point but am beginning to design albums which i will sell with a mark up I will definitely increase my prices as I go – and I am shooting anything and everything I can right now. It’s my first year in business and I am only part time at this point.
I am planning to add some studio backgrounds and lighting to a room in my home. I like portrait work and feel that I am becoming a much more comfortable shooter with more experience I get. I ultimately would love to be doing weddings and feel like the more time I spend shooting people and ‘things’ around my house the better photographer I will be.
So I guess I am asking if my timeline is okay or if I should start charging more for my services now. After everything I just said I think I answered my own question. YES 😉 I think a price sheet would help me resist the urge to say its okay I am just shooting for the experience. Is it too soon ???
Debbie

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Lara White December 6, 2011 at 8:08 am

I would say its not too soon as long as you can produce consistent quality work. If you are confident in your knowledge of the basics and your equipment, you are green lit to go. You will find that your style develops as you go, and that is the way with every creative.

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Lorri A December 4, 2011 at 12:47 am

I did my first engagement photo shoot for free, purely because I was just starting out, I wanted the experience. The couple hadn’t even thought of an engagement photo shoot, were so pleased with the end result that they booked me for their wedding too. They loved both experiences and are recommending me to their friends.
But – no more freebies – I’m running a business now.

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Lara White December 4, 2011 at 2:44 pm

Exactly-when you are building a portfolio, you really shouldn’t suggest you are a professional if you are still learning. but once you are running an actual photography business, you need to run a business, which means paying yourself.

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ed June 21, 2012 at 11:09 pm

Great points.

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Oleg Katchinski December 2, 2011 at 6:22 am

well, most of us know it (16.5 hours and more). Clients do not have an idea or do not want to realise it. They see hundreds of dollars/pounds/euro per hour and often think it is a rip-off. Educating clients? Is it worth it? Or just drop it?

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Lara White December 2, 2011 at 8:51 am

I think that educating clients is a completely separate discussion from educating ourselves. Just because a client may not be educated (or interested) in how many hours a shoot takes, that doesn’t mean they should receive it free. I don’t really see the value in a $200,000 sports car, but that doesn’t mean I can demand one for $100 bucks simply because I’m ignorant to the value. But if we, as photographers say “well, my 16.5 hours of time is not worthwhile and I like getting to know the client anyway blah blah blah…”, certainly the client will never value it. How can a client ever value us if don’t value ourselves?

Photographers need to earn a living, and focus their time on the activities that will enable that. Marketing, selling and educating yourself about smart business practices are all activities that help grow a business.

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