Day 7: When Friends Ask You to Shoot For Free

Oh hi there! It’s day 7 of my 100 posts in 100 days for photographers and today I’m writing about how to handle friends asking you to shoot for free. Money is always an awkward topic and it becomes more uncomfortable when it’s discussed between friends. I had a huge issue with asking friends for money until one day when my best friend got engaged.

She started planning her wedding and right away asked me to be her photographer. I let her know that she didn’t have to hire me… my feelings wouldn’t be hurt and she could shop around a bit if she wanted. She firmly said that she wanted me to be her photographer and that was that. I sent her my prices and offered her a discount… a big one. And she refused. She would hear nothing of it. So it occurred to me, if my absolute best lady in the world was adamant on paying full price, why weren’t any of my casual Facebook acquaintances? And how unethical would it be to charge less to those who don’t see the value in my work and charge those who do see the value in my work more?!  How would I feel if I went into a store, saw a beautiful art piece, bought it, and later found out someone else got it for a cheaper price because they didn’t like it as much as I did?

This experience with my best friend changed my perspective on charging friends. It made me think of when we used to go out to eat in high school. Our friend had just gotten a job as a server at a local burger joint and as we said goodbye, we left an absurdly large tip. Oddly, people only do that to their friends at restaurants. They pay MORE to support their friend.

So how do you actually navigate that conversation?

If you’re like me, your words fail you, your mouth goes a little dry, your voice gets a little squeaky. Luckily, this only happens when you’re unprepared. So practice some scripts so that you’re prepared to turn an awkward “um…okay” into a graceful “you’re so sweet to think of me, but…”  Keep in mind, if you’re saying yes to one thing, you’re saying no to another thing.  A small favor for a friend might result in a Saturday night where your child is at home missing you. If shooting for free doesn’t serve you in another way that has equal value, it’s not right to accept.

There are three different approaches to this type of inquiry. The first is to play dumb, or, just assume they mean they’re going to pay you. Your friend calls and says “Hey girl! I was wondering if you had some time this weekend to take some family pics for our Christmas card this year! It’s been too long and I need to see you too!!”

Now she didn’t say “For free” but she also didn’t ask for your pricing so you have to steer that conversation. You can reply with,

“It has been way too long and I am so honored you’d think of me for your family portraits. I’m out and about right now but when I get home let me email you the details and we can see about setting up a shoot next week! I have so many ideas for styling something gorgeous for the five of you!”

This buys you a little time before you send the information so there isn’t this weird “Wait until I get the email and you stay on while I read it and ask questions” conversation. It also lets her know you will be giving full service of styling a shoot with her, and full service always insinuates full pricing.

The second scenario is to gracefully pass. Your friend emails you and says “Hey, friend! I am in charge of finding a photographer for a school event and of course I thought of you!  We don’t have a big budget but we were wondering if you would be willing to trade for an ad space on the program.”

You can reply with, “Thank you so much for thinking of me!  I’d love to be a part of it but right now I’m trying to spend more of my free time at home. I hope you find someone and I know the event will be fabulous!”

Of course you’re flattered they thought of you at all but you’re being real: your free time is precious and your family takes a higher precedence.  No one can argue with that!

The last scenario is the one that sets our teeth on edge. The kind offer of modeling for your portfolio. Your friend messages you… “Hi! I love the work I’ve been seeing on your page and thought my vow renewal this summer would be great for your portfolio! We would love to have you there with your camera! That way we get some great images (Seriously, you’re the best) and you can use the images in your website or whatever! It’s a win win!”

Because you’re a class act, you start with a thank you.

“Thank you so much for the kind words, girl, I am flattered! I would absolutely love to be there for your big day but right now I can’t take on any unpaid work. You definitely deserve professional photos for your vow renewal though so let me know if you want me to send you some collection info to look over. Either way, I am so excited for you both … it’s going to be the best day!”

You’re happy for her, you’re fine with being asked, you acknowledge her, hear her, respect her. Those things don’t change whether you’re saying yes or no. Keep that in mind and you’ll keep your rep as the classy photographer that you are.

Tomorrow things are heating up when we talk about where to invest your money. Honey, it’s day EIGHT!

Day 98 is currently reserved for any questions you have throughout the next 100 days. To submit a question, please click here!  If you’re interested in supporting this project, please share, PIN and comment! Any other questions, comments or ideas, please feel free to email me at denise(at)denisekaris(dot)com

Denise Karis is an Arizona photographer who enjoys musicals, Doctor Who and breakfast burritos. IG @denisekaris

denise karis photography blog 100 posts in 100 days for photographers