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How to Charge Friends and Family for Your Work as a Photographer

When you offer a service, the amount of people who come out of the woodwork to claim their "family and friends" discount is incredible. You can save friendships and avoid family drama simply by setting boundaries that separate friend time from business time. Here are a few helpful pointers on how to prepare yourself and never feel taken advantage of again.

As photographers, a fair amount of business coming through the door is often obtained via referrals. This means a steady stream of clients can be friends and acquaintances. Some people feel they are entitled to a discount or freebie because of their relationship with a photographer. If it hasn’t happened to you yet, it will... and you would be wise to be prepared for when it does. The most important concern is to set terms both immediately and clearly. Will discounts be offered? If so, determine what the discounted rates will be. Decide who will qualify for price breaks, consider whether acquaintances should get the same breaks that you give friends, and be aware that word could spread about whatever discount was offered to other people.

To avoid being caught off guard, this should all be done before it’s brought up in conversation by your friend or family member. Some photographers may feel pressured to agree to discounts when not prepared. If you don’t feel comfortable giving price breaks to friends or family, they should understand your reasons why. However, if you decide to offer certain discounts to friends and/or family, this is what you need to consider.

When working for friends, boundaries need to be set early. Make a point to be clear on which “hat” you're wearing if doing business with friends. For example, if you're meeting up to discuss wedding photography and a contract, let your friend know it will strictly be a business visit. The lines are too easily blurred otherwise and could put your feelings and friendship at risk. Treat them exactly as a client from the get go. It’s important to manage expectations throughout the entire process. Learning how to say no is something empowering, not only in life but business as well. Setting terms may be easier via email than done face-to-face. Contrarily, clients-turned-friends will have these boundaries instilled in them already.

Lastly, everything you agree upon should be added to the contract. A verbal agreement isn't a very strong argument if a dispute were to arise. This should be the standard contract used with additions to the exceptions you've agreed upon including extended payment periods and price cuts. It may seem like overkill to have a contract with a close friend, but it will protect both parties from getting burned.

There are several options when choosing which route to take regarding discounts, but here are a few of my favorites. First, no discount. We've got to eat, man. About a quarter of the photographers I asked agreed with this, although some did donate a few shoots to those in need each year. Second, create a friends-only price guide that you send instead of the standard one. However, keep in mind that creating two price lists every time you modify your rates is double the hassle. Third, and most popular, is to send the usual price sheet with a determined discount. This illustrates the value in your work, as well as the friendship. If you find placing a direct value on your friendship tacky or awkward, gift the session or base the percentage-off on years known (e.g. 1-5 years is 5% off, 5-10 is 10%, and so forth). I may just build a prize wheel and make my friends take their luck determining their rate for my shoots from now on. Ultimately, the choice is yours to decide which method is more valuable in each situation.

Personally, I tend to be overly agreeable and accommodating to a fault with people. I force myself to deal in business terms almost exclusively via email. This way I can formulate a friendly, business-wise response. I like helping my close friends out, and usually just gift them the small sessions. If they insist on payment, I give them the standard 20 percent off as well as offering them my cost of prints with no markup. Albeit, my accountant gives me "the look" every time I do that. It’s crucial in business to remember that revenue cannot be overlooked or minimized. The truth is, a number of us are bending over trying to please people, and often at our own expense. Being prepared for these interactions will reduce the feeling of being taken advantage of and lead to happy friends, happy family, and additional business revenue.

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Brett Martin's picture

Nice article with some good ideas. I am only part time so most of my projects are ones that I choose to take on and have more control over. I keep getting the "Hey want to photography my wedding" type of requests and typically decline with "Oh I'm not very good at those" or something along those lines. For the requests that do make it through, like "Hey can you come over and take a family portrait of us?" etc I will either agree on a fixed rate everyone is comfortable with like I would for any client, as I have no published rates and they vary based on the total work and the clients budget. If I do have to quote a rate I typically quote my highest rate then give a "Half off for friends and family". This would work regardless of the tile and percentage but now I have put a value on my work and in seconds halved that value just for them. They feel like they are getting a steal and I not only get paid but they now know what I am worth in the future and I get more serious requests and less "Hey it would be great if you could bring your camera with you" type ones.

james johnson's picture

One thing I would add, if you discount any of your work, make sure they get an invoice showing how much they got for free. If you do prints at your cost, make sure they get an invoice with your normal prices and then show the discount. They need to know what they are getting in the bargain, and it will keep them from going around telling everyone that you work for next to nothing.

jax's picture

New here, but I've been around. Learn from my mistake, and from the OP, set boundaries.

Earlier this year. we did our first "friend" wedding after 12 years of being wedding photographers. A four hour + drive away destination wedding on top of everything. Because we didn't contract it up, ("We'll shoot your wedding...just buy the album for our cost..."is my recollection of the conversation...) our low patience bride (the "friend") expected everything because she paid for a hotel room for 3 nights for us.

New to that particular city, we scouted the day before, shot the rehearsal, the rehearsal dinner, and put in a good 12 hours the day of the wedding. The problem was, because there was no contract, the couple had their own idea about what we were actually providing and no concept of the actual value of our time and/or services. When we brought up what we normally charge after the fact, and reminded them about paying for their own wedding album, they all of a sudden needed a disk of hi res JPGs and weren't interested in an album or products. The groom, a man I never met before the wedding, took it upon himself to confront me personally since the bride, our "friend", was so upset she could not even speak to us (mostly because we wanted to work on an album design and she wanted a disk of JPGs, like now) ... He actually said on the phone to me "it's been a month and we still don't have our pictures..." and "We paid for 2 dinners for you.", and "What are we supposed to do with these watermarked photos on line." and that "I made it all about business before friendship". It was, and still is, a huge drag.

Just as a side note...the bride gave us one bit of instruction before. She didn't want the pictures to look "flashed". That's cool, because I don't either. However, this reception was a mixed light disaster of epic proportions, the kind of setup that just makes you scratch your head. A set of completely out of gamut Purple LED up lights, add in a completely different color , (but just as uncorrectable) LED blue bathing the entire dance floor, tungsten balanced spots on the tables and cake and florescents all around the room under an over hanging mezzanine. That morphed into the bride saying "I don't like Black and Whites..."

We have since adopted a strict "I don't give a sh*t WHO they are, they pay" policy. We still do at least 2 "charity" weddings per year. (meaning the couple could really use our help, they LOVE our work and approach, and will appreciate every little thing we do for them, so we do it for a deep discount)

Because we didn't put a hard and fast value on what we did for them, this "friend" couple didn't appreciate anything that we did. Everything about this situation, from the get go, was wrong.

J D's picture

Had something similar with a friend, or should I say, ex-friend. Portrait shoot for her child, I agreed to do it for free as I had nothing else and I knew she didn't have a lot of money. Gave her the photos and she "hated" them. Splashed them all over Facebook, etc. Had the nerve to try and say she hated them so much that I should give her something to compensate for her time wasted taking the horrible photos. Her mom even called me demanding I either give her money or redo the photos. Told them both to take a hike. Never heard from either of them again. Some friend.

Ralph Berrett's picture

Friendship is Friendship and Business is Business. If they are close friends or family I will work for cost, which includes that days pizza, cigars and tequila. If it is friend who needs help I will try and find a way to make it work. It is fair weather friend I am not that generous.

I had to laugh when reading this story, because last I got a phone call from a friend wishing me a happy birthday.

I made another call to someone who knows him and asked, "What does so and so want?" "Because he called me out of the blue wishing me a happy birthday".

I was told he has a new store opening and will need some shots.

So I will end up giving a 45% discount for friendship after I raise my rates 200%. ;)

The friend who expects you to do a massive discount is also the one who will not appreciate the favor and will make excessive demands because they want something for nothing and do not value your time and effort.

I had one person invite me to her wedding, then asked if I would bring my cameras and shoot the wedding free. I said, I would go to wedding as friend, but I would not shoot it for free". It was the last I heard from them not a great lose.

I also will send an invoice even for free work.

Bethany Crawford's picture

"The friend who expects you to do a massive discount is also the one who will not appreciate the favor and will make excessive demands because they want something for nothing and do not value your time and effort."-Ralph Berrett
Yup, I completely agree! Although I carry my camera everywhere I no longer take photos of friends unless I actually want to. I generally say the light isn't good or I'm not in the right mood when I'm asked to photograph their dogs, etc. I don't charge for photos period however I only take photos for myself. I'm an amateur and work 60 hrs/wk in an unrelated field. I've been burned by friends before in other financial situations and lost valuable friendships as a result.

BTW, sorry for the horrible profile photo. It's a really old photo attached to my email and I'll be changing it. ;)

Mike Bartoszek's picture

I found that when i worked for free for friends.
their projects would always get shoved to the back burner while i completed paid projects first.

So, to break that cycle and to still hook a friend up. I trade them for a few bottles of rum, and food and beer on the shoot day.
that's solved my problem, i get something so that i feel obligated to finish the project, and they get a pretty large discount.