There are many challenges in photography and becoming a professional means mastering the technical aspects, then clawing your way through layers of better established competition in order to make a living.
When you’re new to photography and gain some skill, your first paying jobs will likely come from family and friends. Those will be the jobs that set your feet on the path of being a professional.
As you gain in experience and reputation, more and more of your business will come from outside your circle of friends and family. That doesn’t mean your family and friends will recognize that your relationship has changed.
It’s common among professional photographers to still get requests from family and friends for photography work, handling those requests can be both difficult and delicate. After all, these are the people who helped you along early in your career and that’s still the view they hold of your relationship.
There are various strategies for dealing with requests for non-paying work that come from friends and relatives. Perhaps the easiest is pointing to a full schedule and apologetically explaining that you’re already booked. If family or friends already know you’re not booked at that time, you still have the option just to say no. Sometimes that works, but for some it’s a step too far.
Be Clear That You’re in Business
One way to head off requests is to make it clear that you’re running a photography business. If you were running a service station your relatives wouldn’t expect free gas, so try to be clear that your hobby is now a business before the requests ever come in.
For those times you can’t say no, it can be a good idea to let them know how much you would have charged someone else for the same service by giving them an invoice that lists your regular rates and then N/C over the total.
Get Promotional Material
If you’re going to do comp work for friends or relatives, at a minimum get them to sign a commercial release so you can sell the photos to stock photo agencies or use the shots as promotional material. The introduction of paperwork puts your relationship on a more professional footing without coming right out and saying no.
Another delicate subject centers around pictures you shot but didn’t include in the photos you delivered because you didn’t like them. With paying customers that’s an issue that can be managed contractually; with friends and family it can be a little more difficult. But this is one instance when you’re better off standing your ground rather than letting the shots you’re not proud of see daylight.
By adding a little process to your relationship with friends and relatives, you can get the point across that you’re not working for free anymore without being too forceful about it. If all else fails and they don’t get the hint, you can still be kindly honest, letting them know you can’t do comp work anymore. That way you tried to give them a hint first before letting them know you can’t bring your camera gear to the next family reunion.
About the Author:
Peter Timko writes on behalf of Proud Photography, which offers online photography courses on a variety of subjects.
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