Thursday, August 30, 2007

Leaping from Hobby to Profession

"When Free Is No Longer “Freeing”
written by guest blogger Lynsey Peterson

Most photographers have been there. So excited to have someone—anyone, not only willing to let you photograph them, but maybe even excited about it. Heck, maybe they even asked you to! Little old you with your yet to be determined business venture and your brand spankin’ new camera. You strap on your portfolio-building boots and head out…..again…..and again…..and again. But when is enough, well….enough?
I was talking to a friend of a friend the other day about pricing. Wait, backtrack: I hired a friend of a friend the other day. She is an interior design student who will graduate in the fall, has no “real world” experience, and no portfolio to speak of, and yet she quoted me her hourly fee without batting an eye. I have been a “professional photographer” (whatever that means) for 3 years and I still find myself doing freebies here and there. Why the difference?
In an effort to understand this, and myself, better, I soul-searched and came up with possible reasons. Why was she ready to charge people and I still struggled to know if I should, or even could?


  1. Confidence. Sure, I don’t know if she is any good. I mean, I haven’t seen a speck of her work. I suppose I could judge her based on her outfit choice. I mean how different could picking out clothes be from picking out say, a sofa, but even as I eyed her plain and pretty t-shirt and stylish crop pants, I couldn’t really figure out what makes her totally qualified to take my checkbook and do the shopping for my home that I am apparently not qualified enough to do. What did make me think I should take her seriously? The fact that she was going to charge me. The fact that she showed up with a figure in mind. Honestly, the figure could have been half or double—it was that she walked in saying “this is what my time is worth” that made me believe: hey, she knows what she is doing and she must be good at it.
  2. Which leads me to…..Knowing what your time is worth. I can appreciate that she took time out of her busy life to take on my project, why do I struggle to appreciate and value my own time? She arranged for a sitter, gathered supplies, put time and effort into my ideas before even walking in my door, and probably stressed, worried, and otherwise thought about it about as much as I do every time I leave my house with my camera bag on my shoulder. No one can put an exact dollar figure on their every minute, but I can respect that she had the forethought to think “this is what it will take for me to get enough out of it to be interested in doing it.”
  3. Self-Respect. Skye Hardwick recently said on a bludomain chat that she charges everyone except her parents and grandparents, because that is the only way they will respect her work and her as an artist. A very interesting way to see it. Here I was thinking that I was earning respect by basically donating my time and talent to the few people who were so bold to ask for or expect the donation. When you look at it like that, it’s hard to think that anyone who really valued your work, took interest in your talent, and wanted you to succeed, would ask for the quintessential freebie. And why do I want to work with people who don’t?
  4. To Make A Living. This is pretty basic. My interior designer/student/friend of a friend counts on these kinds of jobs to make her living. Her having an income is what makes her able to do what she needs to do to work: hire a sitter, purchase supplies, afford the time to work on it, and flat-out live. Even though she is just starting out, she understands that a job, no matter where you are at in your training, is still a job. Another photographer once asked how I got by with my pricing so low, and then offered the old you-don’t-really-work-to-earn-a-living-cause-your-husband-does. I have been fortunate to be in a place where I could start my business gradually, or even at all. But as I sit up until midnight editing, only to wake at 5am to care for kids who don’t go to daycare because I “don’t have a real job”, I can’t help but wonder, did this become a real job while I was busy working?


I don’t have the answers. I don’t know when a photographer’s work is “good enough” that their time and talent has monetary value. I don’t know at what point you have enough of a portfolio to hang your shingle and call yourself a full-fledged business. But I can offer this: I have started charging. Everyone. Prices that once seemed totally unreasonable for me to actually charge, and more importantly find people willing to pay, are now what you see on my price list, and I expect to raise my prices again before the end of the year. When my friends have babies or get married, I don’t offer to do it for free—I wait for them to call me. I stopped giving discounts, just because you know a guy I kind-of know. And you know what? My phone rings more than it ever did. Can’t help but wonder if everyone else was waiting for me to take myself seriously.

There are huge advantages for both me and my clients when I change. The biggest? It allows them, be them friends or not, to expect better work from me and me to know that I have to deliver the best I have. Do I work harder when I know it’s “real”? Honestly, yes. Do they make requests they may not feel they could if they were not paying me? Yes. Do I do everything I can to make sure that they are getting their money’s worth? Yes. Three years later I have decided that I’ve paid my dues, had great experience, learned how to produce a great product, and now can absolutely know that when I accept my fee, it is a fair exchange for valuable product.

But as my mom waited in my beautiful newly redecorated living room the other day for me to total up her print order, I found it in my heart to take 20% off her total."

If you aren't sure if what you have is a hobby or a business, please refer to this statement from the United States IRS:http://www.irs.gov/newsroom/article/0,,id=169490,00.html


Special thanks to Lynsey Peterson for contributing her thoughts and experiences!! Visit her blog to see what she's up to next!

12 comments:

  1. Awesome blog. Thanks!

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  2. Great posting. This is something I've been struggling with too. So glad to hear someone else who has been there and what she has changed to make it work. Thanks!

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  3. this is great advice! thanks for posting!

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  4. Thanks for posting all these great blogs. They are a great resources! :-)

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  5. yup, I doubled my prices this year and my calling list tripled! I am still amazed at how people will take me seriously now that *I* am taking myself seriously.

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  6. I am so glad this was helpful! It was helpful for me to write it--cheap therapy ("Hello, my name is Lynsey, and I give away my time and things of value for free......Hi, Lynsey.") This blog is such a great resource and I have enjoyed finding new blogs for inspiration from it. :)

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  7. Interesting post. Much food for thought in it. I do not like charging family (immediate family) and I do have sometimes trouble charging friends for work I do.
    I have been doing "pro-work" only for a few months now. Portraiture is not my strong point. So if someone is willing to give me their time to let me practice, I then it is wonderful. I guess whether or not I charge money for it is whether or not I am in control of the kind of images we take. Meaning: if someone models for me and I can experiment with poses and it is mainly work for my benefit, then I do not charge, if they ask me to take a family picture so they can make presents to their mom and dad - I charge. But I think i still don't charge enough if I charge. ;)

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  8. this is my first visit to your blog.

    oh- it sounds so familiar as I had to pay a very generous "creative" fee to a neighbor florist...
    who knew putting flowers in a barrel would cost$$$$.

    I so understand number 4. You have no idea how much I understand #4.

    :)

    Great blog- can't wait to read some more!

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  9. Great advice! I struggle with this all the time. I am always bending over backwards at a reduced rate for friends or friends of friends or some guy who knows someone I went to school with etc.

    No more! I will charge what I'm worth and those who agree will pay me my worth!

    Thanks for this entry!

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  10. Thanks a lot. I'm in the position that you describe, and I've been wondering what needs to happen for me to move from the you-pay-for-equipment-and-prints, I'll-do-it-for-nothing business model into the profit model.

    Turns out, it's my mindset that needs changing.

    Eye-opener.

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  11. Awesome article. As many others who've read this article, I find myself in the same boat. Heck my friend appointed me to do her wedding and expected it for free and I just let her walk over me.

    Not anymore. Thank you.

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