We’ve all seen it before, a close friend or family member asks you for free photos favor: 

“When you come over for Chelsea’s birthday party, can you please take a few shots of her? I’m going to be cooking on the BBQ and won’t have time to take any photos”

Free photos requests are the bane of a photographer’s career. So how do you say no to that?

As photographers we’re practically trained to expect some sort of request for free or discounted photos. While a majority of people will pay for your services because they value your time and skills, there is a small number of people that will ask for discounts. We’re going to talk about a couple ways to respond to these requests without anger and why you should always maintain your professionalism.

Gut Reaction

Free photo request upset

Often photographers will start their career by practicing their skills, for free, on family members and friends. Eventually you get good enough that you start charging people for your services. The problem is that your friends and family might not offer to pay for your services because they previously got it for free. Discount requests come from total strangers too, not just family. What others don’t understand is that when they ask for discounted or free photos there is an implied assumption that 

  1. Your skills aren’t worth paying for
  2. Your time isn’t worth paying for
  3. You don’t have any other uses of your time
  4. This photography thing is “just a hobby”
  5. You don’t have bills, groceries, or a retirement fund to save up for

Having someone ask for discounts can naturally lead to some complex feelings. Surprise, incredulity, annoyance, anger, sadness, worry, insecurity, and resentment to name a few. These feelings are amplified when the request comes from a friend or family member because you feel they are supposed to be your biggest supporters and cheerleaders. Even when friends or family don’t explicitly ask for free photos, it can be crushing to find out they will happily take any free photos you offer them, but they’ll pay a stranger for that same service. 

Regardless of who is asking for a discount, they are either ignorant of the implications of their request or simply don’t care about your feelings. This is where we need to start telling our brains that these requests are not personal attacks against us. These people don’t think this poorly of us, they’re simply trying to save themselves a buck or two. It’s okay to be upset about this, just don’t let your feelings dictate how you respond to these requests.

Processing your emotions (before you respond!)

Free photography

Let’s work through why we might be feeling particularly worked up about these kinds of request. First, lets see if any outside factors are contributing to your frustration. For example, photography businesses have high and low periods of success. If you’re struggling to get bookings when the request comes in, you’ll likely feel more annoyed or dejected than if the request comes in while business is booming. 

Get hustling! 10 ways to increase your bookings

Second, lets try to see things from your client’s perspective. This doesn’t have to change your answer, but it sometimes helps to understand why they’re asking. Most likely, they’re just trying to save some money and don’t really value photography. But, consider that this may be a cultural habit. In many parts of the world, people will haggle for goods and services. This habit can be so ingrained in people that they don’t even consider that they shouldn’t do it with you. 

Finally, ask yourself if you even want to give away free photos. This is important when people you know try to manipulate you into giving something for free by making you feel guilty for saying no. If you want to give a free shoot to a fundraiser at your child’s school to build a new playground than that’s fantastic! Don’t feel guilty if you don’t want to take photos of other kids at your daughter’s soccer tournament because the other parents won’t pay for them! If you need some money to pay a bill and decide not to give this stranger a discount, that’s just fine! The point is YOU get to decide what you’re willing to give away without compensation, don’t let others manipulate you into giving discounts or free items.

Keep things Professional

professional response

Photographers often get frustrated because they already know they don’t want to give discounts or free photos. They just don’t know how to tell their clients “no”. Now that you know what your boundaries are and how much you’re willing to compromise, it is time to craft your response to your client, family member or friend. Before you respond to the request for a discount, remember this cardinal rule: Keep things professional!

You don’t expect your customer service representative from your telephone company to get angry with you when you call in to ask them to decrease the size of your monthly plan. The cashier at the clothing store doesn’t get upset with you when decide not to buy that sweater you feel is out of your budget. They obviously don’t have the same attachment to the product as us photographers do, but notice the interaction is free from negative emotions. Keep this same mentality for your own business. 

Showing your clients these negative emotions looks unprofessional. When clients have an emotional response directed at them it can escalate the situation. One Cole’s Classroom member responded emotionally to her friend’s request to price match her photo session. Her friend got upset and felt like she was being attacked for doing the photographer a favor by asking her to price match instead of jumping to someone else. Unfortunately, some people will be dramatic or even abusive when they don’t get what they want. Any emotion you show will only thrill them and enable them to continue being dramatic. The only way you can de-escalate or prevent this from occurring is to take all emotion out of your response. 

How to deal with potential clients ghosting you.

How to say “no” with kindness

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So now that we’ve sorted through your emotions, and have discussed why to leave the emotion out of your response, let’s get to the part you’ve been waiting for! We know you want to say no, the question is how? There are a few different approaches depending on the situation. 

Full calendar approach

We know that a request for 1 hour of free shooting isn’t only one hour of work, but your client doesn’t. They don’t see that their one hour photo shoot is actually three hours lost of work for you: one hour photographing, one traveling to and from home, and one editing. They don’t see that each photo session depreciates your photography equipment and your vehicle, or that you’ve spent countless unpaid hours training to improve your skills and deserve to be compensated for your improved skills. The problem is we can’t say all of that, even if we really want to. So instead simply explain to someone that unfortunately with your current workload and other clients waiting on photos that you just don’t have the time to take on shooting and editing a photo session without compensation. 

When family or friends are involved

Not all photographers have family or friends that expect free photo sessions from them, but a small portion of you will not be so lucky. This is where you need to prepare yourself to sit your family or friends down for a discussion. Start by telling them that you appreciate all the support they have given you in the past, and thank them for loving your photography. Then tell them now that your portfolio is complete, you will no longer be giving away photo sessions for free as your business is now established. If they push back on your decision, you can tell them that photo sessions are how you make ends meet and pay the bills. 

If family and friends cannot accept that you won’t give them any more freebies, you need to find it in yourself to let the issue go. That’s their problem, and not your responsibility to fix. ’Sometimes you get lucky and family and friends will be mortified that they never thought of your situation this way and will agree to start paying you for your services. So having the talk is worth it, even for your peace of mind. 

Stripped down benefits

When potential clients complaining you are out of their budget but that they truly love your work, consider striping down your services a bit to meet their needs. For example, let’s say they were hoping to have you for your typical hour long photo shoot that comes with 15 digital images. For a reduced rate give them a 30 minute session instead. Or you can offer the reduced rate and receive 5 digital images instead of 15.

Perhaps you take away their location choice. For a reduced rate you should pick the photo spot and have them come to you. Make sure to pick a location as close to your house as possible to recoup some travel costs. However, please know you are not required to strip your benefits for anyone, only if you decide you want to. And make sure to treat these clients with stripped benefits as kindly as you would a full paying client. How you make them feel at their session might lead them to spending extra on package upgrades!

Types of Free Photo Requests

Free photo

Here at Cole’s Classroom, our members have shared some of their request for discounts and free photos. We’ve included a few examples here to show you that free or discount photo requests come in many different forms.

When a client “hates” their photos

Natalie, did a paid senior photo session of a stunning young woman who complained she hated all her images. Unfortunately a re-shoot could not be accommodated, so Natalie offered a partial refund. The woman’s mother needed some senior photos right away for invitations, so they did not take the refund. The two women were not able to narrow down their favourite images to the 30 included with the package. They demanded they receive the remaining favourite images for free to make up for the fact that the daughter was disappointed with her shoot. Natalie stood her ground and referred her client back to the contract she signed before the session stating any additional items would cost extra.

5 reasons you should always send a photography contract.

Favor for a friend

Another member, Katie, previously did newborn photos for her friend for free. Fast forward to now and her friend is asking Katie to do photos of her and daughter again, without offering to pay. Katie struggled with how to respond to her friend, and ultimately decided that she wanted to give her friend a free photo shoot to boost her friend’s morale. In this situation, Katie decided for herself that she wanted to give her friend free photos, not because she felt she had to.

Last minute request change

Amanda’s distant cousin asked her to take photos of their 20 minute vow renewal ceremony. Before Amanda could give her cousin a quote, Amanda’s mother paid for the session as a gift to the cousin unbeknownst to him. A week before the vow renewal ceremony Amanda double checks with her cousin about what photos he wanted. He responds with request for 5-6 hours of shooting, from getting ready to formal photos without offering to pay Amanda. He expected all that work for free in addition to Amanda traveling 5 hours to get there and back home. Our Cole’s Classroom mentor suggested she have an honest conversation with her cousin explaining that the ceremony photos were paid for as a gift. If they wanted photos of the rest of the day, she would be happy to accommodate them, and that she would charge a “family” fee of $XXX.

A discount in exchange for…food?

My most memorable discount request came from an old client. He was looking for photos of their son’s birthday party. He informs me of his budget and how much time he needed me. I gently explained that I was no longer with the old company so my rates had changed. I could stay within his budget if we reduced the time of the shoot, or it would be $XXX extra for me to stay the full time. After some discussion he asks me to discount my rate since he was paying for a bunch of food for the party that I could eat. The request was so absurd that I almost laughed. I thanked him for his generosity. Then I said I will not discount my rate because I don’t eat while I am working. For good measure I told him I won’t bring food near my camera.

Educate yourself, avoid these scams directed at photographers.

Communication is key

communicate

Learn how to master responses to free photo request when you’re upset. Whether or not you choose to do a discounted photo session does not make you a good or bad person. You’re doing everything you can to get your photography business off the ground and thriving. Most of these requests can be resolved by a well worded email with thoughtful communication.

Now it’s your turn to share. What free photo requests have you gotten? How did you respond? Share your thoughts in the comments below.