At some point in your career as a professional photographer, you will no doubt be approached by friends or family interested in a photo shoot. It could be a wedding, family photos, high school senior portraits, or even pet photography. But whatever the subject, your sister-in-law or best-friend-since-college is going to want to enlist your skills. And while you’ll be honored that they respect your work, you’ll also start to panic at the thought of photographing people you see every day, providing them with a product they’ll adore, and giving them a price list, all while hoping that after it’s all said and done, you’ll all still be friends.
Many a relationship has been tested and tried by wedding photos that didn’t meet expectations, a lack of special treatment, or a price point that they don’t deem fair. Towards the beginning of my career, I made the mistake of not outlining a plan for dealing with these sorts of situations and paid for it dearly.
One fall I shot a family session for my brother-in-law and his wife. I should have known right off the bat that the business end of our relationship wouldn’t fare well when they phoned and said they’d be 30 minutes late. Twice. It’s a bad omen when clients don’t respect you enough as a professional to be on time. But sometimes family think they have more wiggle room because they’re, well, family. These two insisted on paying my full fee and a 30×40 inch canvas for their living room. Needless to say, that 30×40 never happened, but they did insist on me selling them the print rights to their shoot, something I didn’t offer my clients, so they could print it themselves at a lower quality printer for less. Unfortunately, it’s often better to give family what they want instead of creating a strain on your relationship, even if it leaves you on the low end of the profit margin.
Weddings are even more stressful. It hasn’t happened to me, but I have several professional acquaintances that shot weddings for friends who probably didn’t bother to check and see if they liked the photographer’s work or style and ended up with a strained relationship post-event when the bride or groom didn’t get what they wanted.
I’ve shot for cousins to whom I offered an installment plan for an already very reduced wedding rate and what should have taken nine months to pay off took two and a half years and more hounding than I would have liked.
I’ve had family insinuate glumly that I charge too much. (“How much have we paid already? Well, we’ll just have to get a few small prints, then.”) I’ve had a family tell me straight up I charge too much.
I’ve tightrope walked the pricing conversation with acquaintances, trying my hardest to buffer the blow before I drop the bomb. And then I’ve calmly discussed with them why I don’t sell a certain product or why editing costs this much. I’ve provided products and services that I never would to regular clients just because people often think because they know you, they deserve something special.
But I finally set up a system to deal with working for friends and family and the prescription goes something like this:
Good friends and family only pay for what they buy. That means the session is often free and they pay ticket prices for prints and albums. If I know they can’t even swing those prices I often offer a trade agreement. If they’re a mechanic, they can recharge my car’s AC. If it’s another photographer we might trade sessions.
Acquaintances get a discount. That doesn’t include every individual I’ve met at a party, of course, but people I’ve worked with, gone to school with, neighbors, etc. It’s not usually a large discount, maybe 15%, but it’s enough to make them feel like they’re getting special treatment. And I no longer give away anything I’m uncomfortable with. Sometimes you just have to put your foot down.
Weddings, however, are different. For most family weddings I no longer charge anything close to my usual fee. What I do instead if they express interest in my photographing the day, is say I don’t charge a set price, but if they could offer enough to cover me and my husband/assistant’s travel and accommodation, it would be much appreciated. So I don’t often make much, but at least I went for free to a wedding I probably would have paid for otherwise. Then if they want to order an album instead of just photos on a disc, I might make a little extra.
It’s tough treading the rough waters of familial benefits, but if you decide in advance what your approach will be, the wading will be that much easier.