Show me the money - in shutter priority mode
May 11, 2011 7:21 AM   Subscribe

Help me convince people (esp. friends) that my photography is worth money! Or - how does one compete with free?

Over the past year or so, I've covered a number of events and performances around town - mostly concerts and dances. Sometimes it's for a friend, sometimes it's for a local magazine (which doesn't offer compensation), or for my own blog. It's gotten me into some shows for free and a few free drinks, but there's gotta be something more... right? DSLR's and Nikon lenses ain't cheap, you know.

I've been working on starting a website for event photography - taken at the event then selling it afterwards, or selling a package beforehand - and a portfolio for the world to see. The technical details aren't a problem - but how do you change your reputation from the 'nice guy with nice camera' to the 'I'm worth money' guy?

In terms of delivering value, what is event photography worth these days? How do you tell your friends that you're charging for what they used to get for free? Anybody else make the leap from 'having fun' to 'making money' with your art?
posted by chrisinseoul to Work & Money (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Make sure that any new contact you make is on a professional basis; you may not be able to break the mold with current friends or long-time contacts with whom you have already done work for, though, so you may have to let those go in terms of not expecting them to make the jump with you from "nice guy with camera to professional."

I have had the same issue with my professional piano playing: my friends and past contacts all think they can have me for free while people who see me as a professional will pay huge money for my services. Occasionally, I will do a friend a favor and do something musical for free, but then I am sort of a passive-aggressive ass about it (I don't mean to be, really!) and make sure that in conversation, somewhere, that my friend hears "someone else would have paid $350 for that, ya know!"

(I know this is a wordy way to answer your question, but I think the answers are in there, except for how much is event photography worth, specifically.)
posted by TinWhistle at 7:32 AM on May 11, 2011

How do you tell your friends that you're charging for what they used to get for free?

Well, I think what you do is overstate the amount of paid work you're actually getting. "You have an event coming up you say? I'm afraid I'm pretty busy these days with freelance jobs, but tell you what -- if you give me $___ to cover my time and expenses, I'll squeeze it in." If they protest at all, or point out that you used to do this for free (hopefully no one would be that gauche) you can just say, "Yeah, and you know, I'm really grateful for the leg up that you and my other friends gave me into the professional arena, so why don't we just say $___ (slightly lower price) and call it a deal?"

Or if you're less comfortable fibbing about how much paid work you're getting, change it to "I'm trying to remain fully available for freelance jobs -- they often wind up coming in at the last-minute."

Or you could just smile and say that you just can't afford to work for free anymore.
posted by hermitosis at 7:34 AM on May 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

It's a funny dance. I do photography on the side from my day job, and I've been starting to charge for events. As a rule of thumb, I think $100/hr is pretty reasonable for events (though the real rub is how many hours you're invoicing for--set up, breakdown, processing, etc? Establish a clear understanding about what you're charging for.).

I have one project I shoot for free, because it's important to me and I like the people involved. I've gotten some paid gigs out of it, but mostly, I just shoot it gratis. I don't shoot anything else for free.

Hermitosis' lines about remaining available and not being able to work for free are what I use, too--good phrases to keep handy.

Also, when you love shooting, you will often show up with your camera, especially at your friends' events. If you want to take a hard line about what you shoot for money and what you don't, don't show up at your friend's gallery opening with your camera if you're not getting paid.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:41 AM on May 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Don't show up at your friend's gallery opening with your camera if you're not getting paid.


What you can also do is to proactively call up your friends and tell them that you have turned professional and ask them if they could keep your name in mind for any paid gigs (think company events at places they work). Send some business cards out to them with links to your online portfolio.

Also, ask them if some photos that you took for them can be used in your portfolio (you may want to start with the ones that are not too personal like portraits).
posted by theobserver at 7:47 AM on May 11, 2011

Are your photos worth money? You need to determine that first. Sometimes people will take free things that they would never pay for. Have you gotten critique from somebody who has no interest or need for your services? It is always prudent to be realistic.
posted by 200burritos at 8:11 AM on May 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think BMWs are lovely automobiles, but the only way I'm driving one is if someone gives it to me. Which is to say that even if you establish in your freinds' minds that your work is worth money, your friends may not be your customers because your friends aren't ANYBODY'S customers. So I think this is a 2-step process. Step one is getting a given friend to believe that it's worth it to them to pay somebody for photography. Make the case that paying for the photography (whoever they pay) puts them in a whole different league, gets them better service and better results for X, Y and Z pragmatic reasons. If you can get them to buy into that idea, then you can try and establish yourself as the best photographer for them. An attempt at doing both steps simultaneously seems almost sure to fail.
posted by jon1270 at 8:32 AM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Recruit your friends as your PR staff.
"Dear Pals, Buddies, and Acquaintances,
I'm ready to launch my photography business, and I'd like your help. If you have friends, family and/or co-workers who have an event that needs great photos, please let me know. My website, with gallery and pricing, is _____ Thanks so much for your help."
Most people like pictures, but don't need them, so are unlikely to buy your pictures. Once they know it's your business, they know to not expect free work, at least in theory. You're more likely to get jobs from people outside your direct circle, so get referrals from your friends. You really have to have a website with sample work, pricing and contact info.
posted by theora55 at 10:49 AM on May 11, 2011

You don't convince your friends to pay you, you convince complete strangers to pay you. You do that by recognizing their photgraphic needs (even if they don't), by putting together a portofolio and using that and whatever sales(wo)men skills you might have to convince them of this need and your ability to meet it at a price that is fair to both of you.

You should have a website with a regularly updated portfolio (don't forget to get model releases) and business cards. I disagree that there should be pricing on there. Pricing is going to vary based on the type of photography, the turn around time, the travel time, the post- time and the use of the image itself.

You should not give away your services because if you want to charge money, you're now competing with free. You should not be a bargain basement photographer, because you're still competing on just price. Price yourself for the clients you would like to have. Be the cheapest photographer in town and you will get the clients who only want cheap and care about nothing else.

One last note, you mention that a DSLR and some lenses aren't free. No, they aren't. But neither is a second backup body (you cannot do event photography and 30 minutes in tell everyone come back next week because your camera broke ... I did see a Canon 5D lose the mirror in the middle of a wedding). Likewise, insurance, which many venues will require you to have isn't free. Neither is a lighting setup, nor the assitant to carry it all around and hold things while you shoot and stand off camera with huge reflectors.

As you can see, there's a big difference between "being a guy with a nice camera who can take some nice photos" and "a professional photographer who can consistently deliver a quality product 100% of the time regardless of lighting conditions, gear issues or whatever else could go wrong." If you want a few bucks on the side, there's nothing wrong with that. But don't say you're going pro (a professional is one who is paid for his/her services) if you're really not.
posted by Brian Puccio at 10:59 AM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

how do you change your reputation from the 'nice guy with nice camera' to the 'I'm worth money' guy?

With photography that people want to pay for. One competes with free by being better than what one gets for free.

I have a nice-ish camera, as I have an eBay side racket and take a lot of pictures for that, and I just finished doing some photos for a community thing for free; I got a boatload of compliments and was very touched by that, and I got a tiny bit of "I will pay you if you can do a photograph of X for me," and did not collect on that, as I am just a schmo with a camera and in no rush to join the army of terrible "photographers" who, on finishing a slapdash web site with some over-saturated baby photographs and guys with dogs, decide they are "professional" and thus worth $100/hr or worse. You really want to scrutinize all these amateur (but don't know it) photography sites, and make quite sure you are not kidding yourself about what level you are at.

I would not consider styling myself as a "photographer" and collecting more than swag until I had some classes under my belt, several years' experience, and a substantial, admirable portfolio.

I am not trying to be harsh, but -- if even your friends do not think your photos are worth money, they are probably not worth money. You are not taking shots that make people go "I would love to have a shot of me just like that." Having nice lenses is different from having talent, education, experience. Your mention of 'over the past year' is a tip-off, to me, that you are maybe not being realistic about this.

(But you are on the right path -- magazine publishing, great, and don't scoff at free beer)
posted by kmennie at 10:59 AM on May 11, 2011

I’m a retired engineer, working in my spare time as a free-lance photojournalist for a weekly newspaper…(no real money there). I cover a variety of events for the paper for which I get paid per story or shoot (typically less than $100 per event). I also have a website on which I post a lot of photos most of which are not used by or sent to the paper. Events include youth, high school, college sports, pro sports, adult sports, social events for kids and adults…a real mixed bag.

Most of my friends know what I do and aren’t looking to get me to shoot for free but they do go to my website and buy pics.

I had a T-shirt made which identifies me as an event photographer along with my web address. That has paid good dividends. But you are not going to get rich with this so please keep your day job.
posted by coachjerry at 11:25 AM on May 11, 2011

I've been working on starting a website for event photography - taken at the event then selling it afterwards

Do not do this. If you book an event, you agree on a price beforehand. A lot of photographers think that in the age of digital shooting is free, since they would have their nice DSLR and computer anyway. Your shutter will only have so many clicks before it wears out, your lens gets dropped and needs to be repaired, your harddrives will fill up, your shoes will wear out, your batteries will die. All of these things will happen much more quickly than for you than the average person, because a professional's equipment gets used and abused. Don't forget travel costs, webhosting, insurance, the electric bill, an assistant, time spent editing, sales get the picture.

You need to be honest with yourself about the true cost of doing business. Then you need to be able to convince a client that you are worth that price before you show up at an event and take a single photograph. Your friends are not the people you want to turn into clients--they are the people you shoot for free/cheap to get portfolio material and who can tell people they know about how great you are.
posted by inertia at 11:34 AM on May 11, 2011

Anybody else make the leap from 'having fun' to 'making money' with your art?

I don't make art, but I do build websites and do photography (I don't consider either one artistic, as long as I'm the one doing them!)

I had the same problem as you, but now just take a firm stance: If someone wants a website or pictures, I just say, "Well, I normally make about $35 per hour to do that kind of thing, but I'd do it for you for $25. Let me know if you're interested."

9 times out of 10, they're not THAT interested. The other times, I make money on something I deserve to make money on.

The only times I break that rule is:
1) My SO needs something.
2) Someone is willing to barter for something I find valuable (I get free tattoos this way.)

Just remember that your time, your knowledge, and your abilities are worth money.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:43 PM on May 11, 2011

You don't charge your friends for something you do for them. Either do it or don't but don't charge them money. If your mate who's good at mending cars came round and fixed your spark plugs and then charged you $50 for labour how would you feel about that?

If your work is any good then you can certainly charge people for it - weddings, events, whatever. But you have to be good, really good. You can use your friends to spread the word, and they'll be happy to do it too, but not if you've just started asking money from them for stuff you used to do for free.
posted by joannemullen at 3:22 PM on May 11, 2011

Hi from the OP - a couple of quick notes...

I'm not about to quit my day job, and expectations are kept intentionally low - I'm no Ansel Adams, admittedly. At the same time, I recently invested in a new lens, have a backup body, and know what I'm doing with the dials and settings (and it's not just kept on auto). Most of the time it's on shutter priority to stop the action, unless I'm working with my 35mm f/1.8, in which case I use manual mode or aperture priority.

What's 'free' in my scene is basically 'good enough for Facebook' - friends of the performers with their point-and-shoots and a few capable people with fancy cameras. As for Brian Puccio's definition of professional - "a professional photographer who can consistently deliver a quality product 100% of the time regardless of lighting conditions, gear issues or whatever else could go wrong." - I wholeheartedly agree - and I dare say I'm 98% of the way there. Not 100%, not yet... I know the commonly played venues, a few of the powers-that-be, and when things are ready on the website, I feel comfortable in approaching them.

There's still plenty of research and learning, admittedly, but one wonderful thing about MeFi is the creative community online. As for an online portfolio, I've started down that road (about a week ago), and am in the process of getting that up to speed. While I'd hate to advertise myself as completely professional, able to take all comers no matter what, I also hate selling myself short.
posted by chrisinseoul at 1:05 AM on May 12, 2011

OK, then it sounds like you do take this seriously and you're not going to be what is commonly called in New York, a momtographer. Portfolio, website, possibly incorporating/insurance depending on where you live and what you'll shoot and then marketing yourself. Give to friends when you want to give, otherwise don't shoot, but no harm in asking them to help market you.
posted by Brian Puccio at 11:01 AM on May 12, 2011

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