How shooting for free can help you charge what you are worth

You are right, this sounds like a crazy idea! However, shooting for free in the right circumstances can lead to more validity and more of the right bookings. They also help you create content and look busier then you might be if you sit around and wait for the perfect client to come. You basically create the perfect client and show them their way to you. I know a lot of photographers who do shoot for free, and are ruining the industry and market for other photographers out there who actually have to pay their bills and rent a business, legally. However, there is a way you can shoot for free to build your business and eventually end up having the ability to charge more. instead of create a business that is based on freebies and attracting clients who are just working with you because you are free or cheap.

If you are just starting out with your photography business then this will help you a lot, But even if you are a seasoned photographer you can get some tips from this for when you have hit a slow spot or want to start bumping up your prices.

When I started my photography business I shot for free a lot. Way too much. I was just happy that someone would want me to take pictures and thought that eventually someday these people would turn into long lasting paying clients. However this was not the case. These experiences let me build my style and know what I did and did not like shooting. But, then there are different ways to do this so you don’t get burnt out and you don’t end up with clients who end up sucking all your time away… because they know you don’t say no.

So you will be able to

  • Build a beautiful portfolio.

  • Have an amazing group of vendors dying to work with you and refer to you.

  • Work with people who you find inspiring and will respect your time.

  • Not be asking your self why you did this, or counting the hours you have spent on this job, and realizing the way your business is headed, you would be making more $$ working at Taco Bell.

  • Make your services be showcased and highly sought after.


So how do you do this? Here are a free simple rules and I know rules can be broken, so I will explain how you can break the rules also.

Don’t Give Away Free Sessions: Don’t just give away free session to people who have kids, are getting married, pregnant… you get it. Don’t just give and give without having Boundaries”. It is really easy to get your name out there by giving away your services to friends or people who you think will refer you to their friends but you have to have a system in place for this to work.

Giving away sessions to friends is sometimes a necessary thing to do. Like the friends who helped you move. Or took care of you when you are sick. But there are a lot of people out there who are the sort of friends who just start contacting you when they need you to take pictures of their birthday parties, etc. Also think about how awkward it will be when these people want a session in June (your busiest time) and you HAVE to charge them full price. Are they going to get it? Or are they going to be insistent because they feel like they helped you start out? You may think ok, their kids are cute, this will look good in my portfolio, and while that maybe true, you are not valuing yourself or services so they are not going to either.

If I do work with friends, and I have a special package where they get a package that is really reasonably priced. In return they have to email 20 friends or family members about their online gallery, and share it on Facebook tagging me and giving me credit. This way 20 people are going to go to your proofing site and you will have 20 email address you can send a thank you letter to if you have your systems set up right. So even though you are not charging them they are still giving you something of value and in the long run making you $$.

Find Vendors who are ones your ideal client loves and you WANT to work with: Once you get a website you will get people out of the woodwork asking to do a shoot with you for their products. Which can sometimes be cool and workout in your best interest. I also strongly believe you should be reaching out to other vendors on a regular basis and scheduling shoots with them especially if they have not worked with you before. However you have to SWOT it. I will let Jared from Silicon Valley explain it Here

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But basically what you need to do is make sure it is in your best interest and it is going to

1.) Create more brand awareness for YOU.

2.) You are getting something out of it. You are not completely doing them a favor.

3.) They have a larger network and or social media following them you. This part sounds shallow but you want your brand to grown so you need to be associated with brands who are at the same level as you or higher. You have a tangible product you are offering to other vendors that I think as photographers we underestimate how important this is.

4.) This will help build your portfolio and you can use the photos for your own marketing as well. (this should go without saying but make sure)

Be in control of the shoot: Yes these next to points make me sound like a control freak, but when it comes to photo shoots and sharing photos you have to be the one in control or things will get crazy. So have a say, or do the styling yourself. You want to have strong marketing pieces for your brand so make sure this shoot is a shoot your dream client would want! Also choose your own models and try to have as much of a say as possible with what other vendors are being used. I now will only do a shoot if I choose or ok a model. Sometimes vendors will be all my friend “Alisha” is really pretty we can use her. While Alisha might be really pretty she may not photograph well or she may not be a perfect look for the shoot. Photographers see things differently so you need to take control of the shoot and run it like a professional so you can get professional results and give the other vendors professional results. 

Be in control of how the pictures get shared and used: I share my photos for a styled shoot in a PASS gallery so the photos are up there for 10 years and I do not watermark them. I also send a well written and explained email on how the other vendors or clients can use the photos and more importantly how they are to share them.

I put vendor photos in a PASS gallery so they do not have worry about storing them and can easily pull them and use them on the go without having to look them up. I have vendors that will share photos from years ago and tag me on Instagram. Most vendors are also running a small business and don’t have a ton of time or get caught up in doing something else and it can be a waste of your time if 6 months to a year down the road they email or call you to see if they can still get the photos from X shoot, that you may or may not have.

I also do not watermark my photos. Which some photographers are probably screaming at right now as they read this! I do this because photos that are watermarked don’t get shared as much. It is kind of like a dog peeing on his Territory making it his own. If you watermark your photos then other people feel either consciously or unconsciously weird about sharing them. Also they get pinned less on pinterest so I don’t know what else I need to say about that. I do share in my email the importance of tagging me and saying the photo was taken by me and the other vendors so that then people can’t legally take your photos off your or their Instagram or website and pretend like they are their own photos.

Have a plan after of how these pictures will get submitted, published, or used for any marketing pieces. In my initial email when I contact someone about doing a shoot I will say what I want to do with these photos but you should make sure everyone is on the same page. I have submitted some pictures to a well known, hard to get picked up by blog, only to have another vendor undermine me and say it was ok for a smaller unknown blog to use the pictures first. This made it so my submission to the exclusive blog then not go through and my hard work was ruined and then the shoot did not get the views it deserved. So just make sure every one is on the same page

Still have a contract: Contracts are important. That seems like an easy concept but I also believe that contracts are important for vendors or subjects to agree upon what they are putting into the shoot and what you are putting into the shoot. That way expectations are clear upfront and you don’t have to worry about misunderstandings or their being a lack of clarity. I am also a firm believer in writing out intents so you get your goals met.

So now how does this all translate into you getting paid more? Well first of all if you have done all these things properly you have established that your time and services have value. Not only to your self but to the other party you are working with. You have also come across like a organized and easy to work with professional. Not some Newbie trying to figure out how their camera works (don’t worry if you are you won’t be for long). This then makes it easy for people to not gasp at your price list no matter what it is because you are a professional and you know what you are doing and have done your best job.

Taking the next step to raise your prices is a completely personal thing and has to be done in a case by case situation. However, I think that 9 out of 10 photographers do not charge enough to stay in business for longer then 2 years, and are underestimating their value. You don’t have to be one of those photographers!  If you need help with this check out some of my options here so I can work with you one-on-one and get you making money, not loosing money.

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