“When we think about giving our dream away, we often worry about what we’ll lose. Namely, money. If you do something for free, you do not get money…But we sometimes lose sight of what we gain when we give our dream away. Practice. Exposure. Audience. And eventually expertise.” – Jon Acuff, Quitter
In October 2012, as part of my plan to launch my own photography business, I made the decision to give away free photo sessions. I logged into my facebook page and enthusiastically announced a special promotion for free shoots until the end of the year.
Within minutes fellow photographers commented on the announcement, publicly criticizing my promo on my own page. Most of these photographers had never even met me and some of them even sent private emails telling me that I “really should” charge for my work. That wasn’t exactly the reaction I expected and honestly, it threw me off a little.
After that, many other people, including some family and friends, also came forth with their opinions on how I “really should” be charging for my work. Now that I am charging, I frequently get comments from people telling me I’m still not charging enough. I know most of the commentary comes from a genuine place of love and encouragement. And I know these opinions are worth right about what I paid for them but I can still be really sensitive, okay?! And it’s my business so I can do what I want to! I get that that’s kind of an immature attitude to have about it but starting something new, ya know, like your dream job, can be pretty scary.
So right here, right now on my blog I’m going to share my opinion. I’m going to tell everyone how doing free photo shoots helped me grow in all the ways I was hoping it would.
Practice. I got TONS of practice. I had no idea how many people would take me up on free shoots and within a matter of months, I did over 30 photo shoots. Up until that point, I had very little practice taking photos of other people (I had tons of practice photographing my husband and dogs but that’s not really the same). I worked almost every Saturday and Sunday through Christmas doing multiple shoots a day. Talk about practice! It was so awesome. I got invaluable experience photographing people, posing, communicating with clients, editing, etc.
Exposure and Audience. I’m not exactly sure how many likes I had on my Facebook Page before I started my free shoots, but I know it was WAY less than the almost 400 likes I have now. Not to mention the fact that pretty much all the photo sessions I’ve done came in the way of referrals from other people I took photos of. It’s putting my work out there into the universe and that is straight up priceless. I now have an awesome variety of images on my page for prospective clients to see.
Expertise. Doing as many photo shoots as I did in 2012 really helped me improve the quality of my photography work. When I compare my very first shoots to the ones I do now, I can see a difference. I gained a confidence in my work that I didn’t have before and I knew I was ready to start charging. I also learned how long it takes to edit shoots, how to edit more efficiently, and what type of shoots I love best. I’m gradually becoming more of an expert in my field.
As my expertise grows, so will my prices. I’m determined to have that happen at a pace that is comfortable for me and not at all forced. It’s important to me that it feels honest and right. I believe I will someday reach the point when I’m such an amazing photographer I’ll have no problem charging over $300 for a family photo session. It’s in my plan. It’s a goal. But it does not have to happen tomorrow, even if I really wish it would 😉
No matter what anyone else thinks, I know I made the right choice to do free photo shoots. The lessons I learned were beyond worth it.
So here’s my two cents for people like me who are just starting to pursue their dream jobs. Go with your gut. Stay true to yourself. Ask for advice and criticisms from people you know and trust and learn from that. Weed out the negative stuff and keep working hard toward your goals at a price point you’re comfortable with.
For any budding photographers out there, what are some of the major lessons you learned when starting your own photography business? Leave me a comment, would love to know how other folks handled similar challenges.