So What’s Your Rate? ...

…. she asked, knowing that whatever response other than, “No worries, you’re my friend, I’ll do it for free,” was going to be too much.  The contempt on her face said it all upon hearing the standard rate I charge to all of my clients. “I’ll tell you what,” I responded as I noted the glaring, yet familiar disbelief in her eyes, “I’ll knock a little off the price since it’s your first photo session with me.” “You know, I think I’ll just go to Walgreens and get them done there. I think they only charge like $20.00.” “Ok” is all I could manage to get out while cracking a reserved smile and nodding, trying to avoid any tone of sarcasm that could give her twisted mind reason to think that I was the one being petty, thus putting a friendship, which had been devoid of awkwardness until this moment, at risk.

Unfortunately, this is too common a scenario among photographers who make their living taking photos, i.e., professionals. Friends do favors for friends in everyday, normal life. Give someone a ride to work because his car is in the shop? Sure. Look after her dog while she’s on vacation? No problem. Give him $500 of professional services because he’s your friend and he asked nicely? Absolutely not, and it’s rude to ask, plain and simple.

There are hundreds of articles online that can justify (with real world numbers!) the prices photographers charge for their work, so I won’t really go into that. I do think that people forget about the overhead costs photographers have. The equipment is very expensive and must be kept in good condition and up to date. And the software, oh the software, that is now mostly subscription based, come with never ending payments. And for those who think…

“…But I don’t need to be Photoshopped.” Chances are, you do. The problem is you don’t know what you’re saying when you regurgitate a term like “Photoshopped.” No, I’m not going to spend a bunch of time making your legs look half as skinny as they really are or removing ALL the wrinkles and blemishes from your face because that’s what the fashion magazines do to celebrities and models. I AM going to import your photos into Photoshop and make some adjustments to the tone, contrast, stray hairs because you didn’t want to spend money on a stylist, and any other details to bring the photo to its full potential.

Don’t forget the intangibles either. Photographers make money for taking photos because they’re good at what they do. There is skill involved, skill that has been improving over time. Time and energy have been spent training and honing this skill. That’s not really something you can easily include as a line item on a receipt, but it is something that, without a doubt, has value. This value usually translates into money paid to the photographer for their services.

“But you took photos of John for free a few years ago, it’s not fair that you’re charging me now.” It is fair, deal with it. It is not uncommon for photographers to offer their services for free at the very beginning of their careers in order to gain experience, but that is normally a very short phase, and once that boat sails, it is gone. Didn’t buy Microsoft stock when shares were $21.00 in 1986? Well you missed your chance there, too.

Most photographers have standard rates, so be honest about your budget. If you can’t afford their services, kindly inform them. Who knows? Maybe they have a heart and try to work out a deal with you. Don’t have money and want them to work for free?  Just don’t ask. If you do manage to guilt some unpaid work from your photographer friend, you’re really putting an unnecessary strain on that relationship.

Still want to go to Walgreens out of spite? Be my guest. It will be a $20.00 lesson on the difference between amateurs and professionals.

Ultimately, you need to understand that your friend makes a living from taking high quality photos, photos better than you can get from your smartphone or DSLR or the teenager behind the counter at the drugstore, and needs to be paid accordingly for providing you professional services. So don’t be like that annoying kid from grade school who would always be like, “Ooooh, let me have one!!!” anytime somebody pulled gum or candy from their backpack in class. Be classy. Be a grownup. Be willing to pay for your goods and services.