Freebies, Discounts, and Donations

Lately I’ve been hearing the phrase, Charge for Everything, and I couldn’t agree more.  If your friend owns a sandwich shop, that doesn’t mean every time you are hungry that she should whip you up a sandwich and feed you right?   Therefore, turning the table around, just because you are a photographer, that doesn’t mean you are anyone’s personal photographer or life documenter.  There is a reason why entry level DSLRs are affordable, so every one can do it themselves, also why tripods and camera remotes exist too!

Here’s what I think when it comes to discounting, or donating my talents:

Consider shooting for FREE:

  • Portfolio Builder.  You need to get into a new market – such as high school seniors or babies.  When you’re a new photographer, the experience is worth giving it a go.
  • Pretty.  When I first started, I shot my pretty model friends to build my portfolio. Of course it doesn’t mean I should/need to continually shoot everyone who is pretty for free.
  • Donation.  It’s rewarding to give your God given talents back to your community if you have time.
  • Collaboration.  Like a concept shoot where lots of other business owners and creatives donate their time in hopes that they get publicity.

Where, when and how to draw the line:

  • First, start by NOT bringing your camera every where you go.  I know it’s hard when you first start out, and that’s fine if you want to, but there will come a day when soon your friends will say, “Where’s your camera?” when you arrive and you’ll be sad and angry thinking they invited you to take pics, not to be there. It’s not their fault if you make it a habit.  Instagram is a great way to still capture moments! *wink*
  • I have a handful of best friends, a bunch of really good friends, and in all honesty, they all group into this precious family that’s away from my family if you know what I mean.  I don’t like to draw circles in circles but you have to figure out the few you are willing to shoot occasionally for free (be careful because you do not want them to assume you can or are willing to be on call to document every single life event or monthly baby documentation).  If you’re going to be a professional, time is money and you can’t shoot every one or else you’ll go broke and become frustrated and burnt out real soon.  Your complimentary shoots should really be offered by you, not the other way around.
  • You do not have to continue to shoot someone for free just because you did it once.  Your talent is not an ongoing never ending service so don’t allow yourself to be taken advantage of.

If you’re wondering whether you should give a vendor or magazines an image for free, please refer to this post.

Note:  It is your time.  Your talent. Your love.  You decide when, where and who to share it with.  There are no “rules” and if you make them, you are always free to break them.

Diana Elizabeth says be careful about the freebies because that could be the primary cause of the burn-out symptom.  Try really hard to narrow down your energy and time on projects you really need to further your creativity.  Your true friends will still be your friends even if you don’t photograph them for free.

Diana Elizabeth is an author, photographer, and obsessive antique shopper. You can typically find her in her garden wrist deep in dirt, at a local estate sale or planning her next epic party.


  • Sonya

    Diana, I couldn’t agree with you more! This is a tough topic as many don’t understand the depth to photography and often like to assume its “nothing” just to take a few photos. I saw a webinar once where Bambi Cantrell said “I would love to give you 50% off…. but then I would have to give you 50% of my talent”…. so true :) (I could add, to that quote “as well as costs, time, equipment, etc..”) I could go on and on but to be brief, I have tried to stop being ashamed that I don’t “do” discounts generally, even with friends, because in my view point, photography is a career and service just like other careers and services. For example, just because your friend cuts hair, doesn’t mean you should expect free haircuts…. in fact if you are a true friend you would want to pay her what she charges as well as give her a good tip because you know this is how she makes a living and you want to support her :)
    I do think though that bartering is cool if the other individual can’t afford you and offers a service…
    I hope I am not coming across as insensitive and harsh… I just have seen how photographers sometimes struggle between earning a living and being “nice” and hope that not only can we respect others by doing our “homework” and being the best we can be, but also that others can respect photographers for the investment that it takes as well.
    Thanks again Diana for your awesome points and touching on a “touchy” subject :)

    • Diana Elizabeth

      Sonya, thank you for this! I totally agree – and nodded my head at the wanting to pay your friend and tip her more to support her. It is definitely a touchy subject for sure, but I know that others are getting the burnt out syndrome and I’d love for friends of photographers to be understand of their friends careers and time :) love bambi cantrell! xx!

  • Yucel

    Like where this is going.. gonna read the one on publications…

    What of HEAVY discounts? Like groupon, etc?

    Does that pay off, or does it train folks to feed at the bottom?

    • Diana Elizabeth

      Hi Yucel, if you can take on groupon client and you feel you will get the clients you want, then it may work for you. I do know they take a cut so you will have to see if it is profitable enough for you.

  • Sheila

    At the risk of sounding like a total fan girl, thank you so much for your always amazing posts that always touch on something on my mind.
    On photography forums (which I’ve learned to avoid), the general advice is to do free shoots because they’re good for spreading word of mouth, but this has never worked out in my experience.

    A question for a possible future post – how do I transition from free shoots to paid shoots?

    • Diana Elizabeth

      Hi Sheila! I love that you are my little fan girl :) I am all for shooting for free when you begin, that’s what I did! But when it is time to make money, free just drains. I send am email to my contacts or a cute marketing announcement that the hobby is now a business. You start to set up your business with a name, logo, website with pricing, and you let those who you previously shot for free know. And you ask for their support and tell them that you are so thankful that they supported you and helped you build a great portfolio to showcase.


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