The real cost of free photography
I have been on both sides of this topic in the past, but I recently changed my position and am now staunchly opposed to providing free services and even significantly discounted services. What changed my mind to be so staunchly opposed?
I have become seriously interested in starting to get paid for my photography by starting up a business. While my photography business is still in the early stages but getting closer with discussions such as creating a limited liability corporation (LLC), renting office space, paying for marketing and more. At that time I realized that to provide something for free or highly reduced not only didn't pay or pay well but took time away from other tasks or paying jobs. In other words, cost me money out of my pocket.
Another thing which happened recently is that I was recommended to a group to do business portraits for a website. The previous photographer who, as I understand it, maintained a local studio. The previous photographer also provided the session and web ready digital files for free and "made her money off of print sales IF the person wanted them". This previous photographer moved away so now the group was looking for a replacement photographer, so I was recommended and contacted by the group. After speaking to the representative I provided a bid for the job, even offering a discounted price. After not receiving a response I spent more time following up. After two additional emails I finally got a reply, "We found another photographer we are going to try. If that doesn't work out I have your number." What I read into this was they wanted me to provide the same "cost" the previous photographer had given them. The previous "pro" devalued not only her work but the work of others who would come behind her because now free was the expected price. Many will say, "I'm only an amateur doing this for fun". Again, providing products and services for free may not devalue your work because you don't want to get paid, but it does devalue the work of those of us who do get paid.
I don't have anything against doing a "trade for" such as a model shoot where you both get the use of the photographs for your portfolio. These are valuable for business, practice, fine tuning your technique and keeping new material in your portfolio.
I've had many amateur photographers say, "I only do this for fun, and don't want to make it a business". My reply now to that is "Then don't take the job. If you only do this for fun and you love photography, by doing a job for free devalues the work of professional photographers. If you want to take a job photographing something/someone then you should get paid."
The cost even extends to your "free" client. In many cases, it is at the expense of a lost moment that can never really be re-created. They lose in that they then become reluctant to pay for professional quality photos of lifetime events and portraits, leaving them without these memories of children growing up, monumental once in a lifetime accomplishments being unrecorded on captured in blurry, under or over exposed snapshots.
Free photography of these moments reduce the value of the professional photographer who has spent thousands of dollars not only on their gear but also on their training.
At a bare minimum I use over $6,000 worth of gear to take a "simple portrait". This doesn't count the thousands of dollars spent on education, training, seminars, insurance, taxes. Oh, and my gear isn't the top of the line gear. Despite what the commercials say, a Canon T3i isn't a professional camera. While it isn't just about the gear, quality professional gear is required. If not, professionals would be using $400 cameras and a $200 lens.
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