we all gotta eat

It’s okay to remind people of that…

I have been so inspired lately by all of you who keep reaching out to me on social media for photo advice. So I decided to get it together and make a page for answering some of the questions I get all the time. Here is an example of a pretty standard question…

How do I avoid the awkward convo with my cousin who is asking for another free shoot (his kid’s bday party) and has no clue how desperate I am to quit my day job. Every second I spend editing his shoot is precious time away from the dream that I can taste almost as clearly as the “free” cupcakes at the party... All in all I spent $65 in expenses 10 hours between shooting and editing and had to bring a gift! What gives!?!

Shooting for free when you are just starting out and beginning to learn, is very different than giving away your work once you have become a photographer.

Tips below are some of my favorite strategies!

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LL’s Tips:

  • Make an appointment

    • When someone wants to talk about a shoot when you are hanging out it might be even harder to set boundaries and get into work mode. The solution is easy… Set up a time to talk either on the phone, in person, or ask them to email you the details and let them know you will be happy to email them back an estimate. This gives you a moment to think of how much time this shoot will really take, what the expenses will be, and how valuable is it for your business? Is this someone who will bring you a lot of referrals? Is it a type of photography you have been dying to try? Is it something that is completely unrelated to your style and you won’t even use on your instagram? These are important questions to ask yourself when setting a discount or deciding to comp a shoot. It should not be solely on how good a friend they are.

  • Ask magical questions ✨

    • So… this is one of my most valuable tips for any type of photography business. When someone asks you if you will or want to shoot something, and you are unsure if they are expecting to pay…Ask this: What kinda of budget do you have in mind for this shoot?

      That’s it! So simple! Put the ball back in their court. It is a polite way of letting them know they are asking for something that costs money and leaves the awkward moment up to them. If they want it for FREE then THEY have to ask. You are setting the tone that you run a business. People forget sometimes that photographers are owners of small businesses and that by expecting you to shoot for free is like walking into a store and expecting to walk out without paying.

  • Act like a business


    • Create a contract for all of your jobs. Make it your standard. If people question you as to why let them know it is for your records. It is a good habit in general and keeps people on the same page. It is also a great way to help manage expectations and make sure there are less miscommunications involved in the whole process, also makes you look like a pro!


    • Even if you do the shoot for free, send them an invoice of what you normally charge with a discount of %100. This will raise your perceived value and let them know what to tell their friends when they refer you.


    • Once you begin to monetize your business, you will still not always want to charge your close friends and family your full rate, sometimes you will negotiate with an actual client to something under your current rate, making sure you put your full rate with the discount on an invoice keeps people from feeling like what they paid is what you are worth. They feel even better about what they paid because you have made it clear you are worth even more! Also helps keep them from thinking that the discount they got is their price forever.


    • Unless you are doing a TRADE for your portfolio (TFP) you shouldn’t eat the cost of location, gear, MUA, or any other expense. Maybe you pay for part of it in certain cases, but if you are doing a favor make sure you are clear from the start that there needs to be a budget for expenses. Put these expenses on your estimate and your invoice!


    • Figure out what it costs for your business to run.

    • Do some math and by some I mean YOUR MATH.

      • What does an hour of your time need to be valued at? What are other photographers charging in your community, at your level, and with similar clients/subjects.


    • If they have something you want, make a trade. Be careful to be clear about expectations and contracts work in this case too.


    • Where are you headed?

    • What do you want to shoot?

    • Are you a retail business shooting for actual people so they can enjoy their photos or are you a commercial photographer shooting for companies that plan to use your photos to help their business make money?

    • What kind of photos help get you to your goals? Those are the ones you should be focusing on the most.

    • Will these photos go in my portfolio?

    • Will they help me get more work?

  • Use magical language ✨


    Ugh… I still do this sometimes… I get excited and before I realize it I have offered and made it seem like I will do a full shoot for free. KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT. Use terms like…

    • This COULD make a great shoot

    • Let me know if you are ever interested in BOOKING a shoot

    • Wow, I would love to WORK with your company

    • You have a great look let me know if you ever need to HIRE a photographer

    • I am so happy I am able to do this FAVOR for you!

      (Use the word FAVOR when your are doing someone a favor)

      These magical words keep it clear that it is business not pleasure… When you really do want to shoot for free or for a test/trade, still BE CLEAR and make the most of what you are creating!



Free doesn’t always equal bad

But… Not being purposeful with your time and work won’t help you get where you want to go.