I browse lots of photography forums in search of ideas for articles to write. I came across a post from a photographer offering to give up a job because he wouldn’t be in town to shoot it. He writes:

Hey! I was just contacted by a client about shooting a Sweet 16th unfortunately I will not be in the area and had to turn her down. She isn’t looking to spend too much, about $50 to be more precise (I know… It’s quite low); but is there anyone that would possibly be interested in taking on this client?

Another photographer replied: That’s the price I offer!!! Send her my way, I do great work!

Are you crazy? $50 bucks for a shoot!

Should all Professional, Part-time and Hobbyist Photographers boycott these jobs?

Simple answer: Absolutely not. If youre a hobbyist, this may be a way to help support your hobby. If you are a part-time photographer looking to build your portfolio or gain experience, this might be a good segway before you quit your main job. The tough question: what about the professional whose photography is their main source of income? If they accept a $50 job and treat it like a $5,000 job, your higher-end clients may think twice when negotiating with you. What do you do?

My suggestion: accept low-paying jobs if it feels right to you. In our earlier example The Sweet 16 shoot for $50 what if the girl, who happens to be a close friend of your child, is very ill, causing her family to suffer financially. The low price is all they can afford. Based on this information, you may decide to personally take the job or assign it to your assistant or intern. This example was easy to say yes to. But how do you decide if its worthy or not?

Sometimes professional photographers have to say No to a good cause so they can say Yes when a great cause comes along.

My business partner and producer, Nick, learned early on restricting me from helping others was a losing battle. He sat me down and offered this: You can take on up to 26 personal projects throughout the year as long as they don’t interfere with paying jobs. These personal projects include free shoots. The only cost, a non-negotiable equipment fee of $125 per project. This built-in safeguard covers the cost of normal equipment wear and tear, plus its a safety net in case something breaks. The client can pay the fee or it will come out of your personal paycheck.

Ouch! That last clause helps me say no to a good cause so I can say yes to a great one. But how do I know if its a great cause or project? Before I accept one of my 26 projects, I ask myself these five questions:

  1. How worthy is the cause?
  2. Is this shoot worth $125?
  3. Can I use the image for my portfolio?
  4. Can I use the image for articles or record the process for tutorials?
  5. It is worth taking time away from family and friends?

Answering these questions helps me put the project in perspective. If the client isn’t willing (noticed I didn’t say able) to pay $125, or there isn’t a value of at least $125 to me, I suggest they find another photographer or I may ask an intern to help them. If I answer yes to these questions and Im passionate about the project, I take on the assignment.

Helping our industry

We addressed the professional, now let’s talk about the part-time photographer or a talented hobbyist helping our industry. You have already accepted the low-paying or free job. You did exceptional work and produced beautiful images. Now, invoice your client the full amount you feel they should have paid, then subtract the discount to bring the total to the amount you both agreed on. The client will feel good about the discount at the same time realize they may not always get this great deal. This will help set your prices in the future.

I mentioned early on that many professional photographers have strong opinions on the subject of charging too little or not charging at all for a shoot. I respect your views and welcome your comments, provided you don’t bash the part-time photographer or hobbyist. After all, most of us started out the same way.

*Feature image StockRocket / Dollar Photo Club