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


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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