Monday, December 22, 2008

Business: How and When do I Start Charging Money?

If you are like me, you are always taking pictures. Many of us got into photography so that we would have great images of our family. We photograph the kids at sports, dance, school and other events. We share freely because we are part of a larger group, be it sports moms, dance dads or bird watchers, and sharing makes everyone happy. And the recognition makes us feed good!

But at some point, we make the decision to go professional and we want to start charging money. There's a problem that we have to resolve: What we have done for free in the past we want to start charging money to do.

I know this happened to me. For the last 15 years, I have taken photos of my kids in dance, cheerleading, band and other activities. As people saw the quality of work I did, they asked me to share. I did share, putting my work on Club Photo, and then on Winkflash, where people could download the images for free and order prints for ten cents each. Then I found that as I moved into the professional realm, the other parents were unsure whether I'd still be offering these photos for free.

So to clarify things for me and for them, I developed my personal rules of what I'd give away and what I'd charge for. I was determined to be very clear about it, so people would not be uncomfortable asking me. My code was like this:
- If I am taking images of my kids in an event, and the rest of the group is OK with me taking other kids' photos, I'll do that and post them on Winkflash or provide digital images or prints at no cost or obligation. I do that for Band, Dance Competitions, Academic awards and other community events. I often also provide CD's of images to the yearbook or event coordinators.
- If it's a charitable event I'm asked to cover, I'll generally do most of the work at no cost or obligation, but I may offer reprints at some cost, and I to ask for some program recognition or display space. Again a CD usually goes to the nonprofit at no cost.
- If I'm asked to photograph an event, I'll determine if it falls into one of the above categories. If it's not something I'm willing to do for free, I'll be very clear to the requestor. I'll say something like "I'd love to do that for you. Since it's not a charitable activity, I will consider this a commercial shoot and my rate is x. Are you OK with that?" If they want you for your talents, they will tell you right away. If they wanted a free shoot, they'll back off but most of them will understand that you are a business person and that's how you are going to make money.
- If I show up at an event with my camera, and I am doing it for the love or fun of it, I'll mention to some others that I'll be posting the images for free. That way they know where I stand, and to some degree, they can relax and enjoy the event while I shoot. And in areas where I might be put in an akward situation, like at a wedding, If I'm not the paid photographer, I don't bring a camera. Period.

Being up front with your commercial expectations will avoid a lot of hurt feelings and misunderstandings later. As a beginning pro, you may not have the confidence to accept or discuss commercial work, but this is how it starts. Someone likes your stuff and wants it, and they are willing to pay for it.

You may want to think about several situations that you may encounter with friends and family and consider what your response will be once you have decided to go professional. If a cousin asks you to shoot a wedding and you've never done one before, how will you respond? If a friend asks you to take her son or daughter's senior portraits, what will you do? If a charity asks you to photograph their gala, what's your plan?

There will be a turning point when you start thinking and acting like a professional: that moment will be when someone asks you do to a photo job, and you politely and professionally engage them in a discussion about scheduling, scope of work and pricing. Once you are confident enough to look them in the eye and tell them you are worth the money, and they accept, you have entered the next level: You're a Pro!

For you who have already crossed that line, would you care to share that moment when your first "gig" was born? How did you feel? What would you have done differently?

Later, we'll discuss pricing. One of the biggest and most dangerous mistakes new pros make is underpricing themselves because of lack of confidence or experience. We'll talk about benchmarking and calculating your profitable pricing for various events or products.

1 comment:

  1. This really gets me thinking about whether or not I truly want to dive into the paid forum of photography.