Your Competition Works for Cheap (or Free?!)

Your Competition Works for Cheap (or Free?!)

Copyright:  Jessica Hische

Copyright: Jessica Hische


Your competition offers the same service for a ridiculously cheap price, or even worse they decide to offer the service for free. Nice. Thaaaaaaanks folks, thanks for ruining it for the rest of us. Or did they ruin it for the rest of us? Lets discuss why people who work for free, while not good for the overall movement might actually be good for YOUR business. 


They work for unsustainable numbers, none of which you're interested in or want to be associated with. Why are they doing this? It's my thought that the insta-fame story still lives and the stories of influencers making a killing from brands make their way through the internet. Here's the truth on that and why Insta-fame isn't valid anymore. 

The consumer still understands value and quality. They do! That's why people will walk into Whole Foods Market and pay top-shelf prices because it's "quality" and not blink an eye. Once the photographer conveys QUALITY to the consumer, they perk up and listen. 



Everyone should be paid something and it's not always about money.  There are other ways of getting paid, like promotion or barter. 

Showing up for a portrait photo shoot at a home is great, even if you are new. You've established that you aren't worth anything.

The good news: you can only go up from here. Why though give yourself such a steep climb?  Here are a couple of ideas to help with a brand new photographer.

  1. Hard Cost Contribution: If you're going to give a free photo shoot, because you are new then consider requesting fees. There's a difference between offering free services to start out and offering free services, and investing in their family photographs out of your pocket. Why should you pay for the gas, any rentals, food, etc... because THEY are getting free photographs. Remember, you are the one with the skill. The person who says no, wouldn't respect your rate later on anyhow. It's a great way to filter good clients from the bad clients.
  2. Barter Payments: I want photographers to gain their dollar for dollar value. Everyone has something to offer. People are accountants, estheticians, personal trainers and gardeners. Let them know that you value your time & talent by trading for it. Here is one example of bartering for your services.

    SCENARIO: Photographer gets a request to photograph a restaurant's new menu. She's excited but worried that her lack of experience in food photography does not warrant asking for money. The new restaurant understands this and is willing to give her a chance by creating the photographs but does not want to pay. I would suggest to the photographer to create an invoice for the establishment. Tell them how much everything would cost and should cost.  Here is what her list might look like:

    Photography Fee $800
    Assistant Fee $150
    Lens Rental $72
    Production Materials (Art Dept) $68
    Production costs for lighting Rentals $86
    Production Fee (for the days you will be working that is not on set) $450
    Retouching $800
    Data Storage $90
    Misc Production Costs (Gas, food, and other misc office supplies) $180
    Sample Costs Total: $2,696

    (These fees are samples and vary greatly for different photographers and locations)

    Estimated $2,696 is what the photo shoot would cost the restaurant if a photographer captured their menu items. This is for an advanced-beginner, people who have worked in this industry for longer time would charge higher. Please use the numbers as a reference only.

    The photographer could either submit an invoice for $2,696 and could possibly lose the opportunity. They could also give an option to the restaurant to trade dollar for dollar. The restaurant understands they're getting a certain amount and should offer the same amount in goods to the photographer. The photographer should get $2,696 credit towards the menu. Their real cost is probably about $250 and a small investment for gorgeous photography.

    Consider barter photography instead of free photography. You are worth it and have value. Might as well start now instead of trying to impliment value later on. Again, think about personal trainers, gardeners, nail salon techs, legal services, etc... People can give you something also. Bartering is an honest and old way of doing business.
  3. Here is another easy option. How about promoting your services to their circle of people and you get to dictate the story written about you. Remember when you give someone free photographys, they'll tell everyone you are free. When you can control the narrative - it's a far more powerful tool. Here is an example of how that can work in the form of an email:

    Dear ____________ (client's name)

    I would love to photograph your beautiful family! I already have some incredible ideas and I am honored that you have faith in me to document your family memories!  Since I am starting a new business in capturing family portraits like yours, it would be a big help if you would be able to help me out also. How would you feel about emailing ____ (you can say a number here) friends with families like yours and introducing my services? I am happy to take great care of them and will offer them an exclusive rate! 

    Sincerely, ______________ (Smart photographer's name!)

Do you feel that person who recieved a free photo shoot will not share that information with their friends? They will. They always tell and you'll need to start with a new circle. I want you to have a solid start with the people that help you gain the experience that you seek. Which photographer would do better? The one who gives everything away for free, and then has to fight the reputation of being the free guy/girl so they can charge something later on? Or do you think the one who understands value and their contribution early on? Sure they are new, but they understand there is still value there! Who will have a smoother road? The second one. The secone will win sooner, more, and bigger. 


This is a question that comes up often. First of all, YES please help the non-profits because they do the hard work for so many under priviliged. I would like to mention that non-profits have some money and you have a tool/skill that can help them generate bigger donations. Non-profits rely on donations and you have a skill that can help them. I want you to start seeing yourself as an asset, not a cost.

There are a couple of scenarios to consider:

  1. Charge them your rate. Perhaps a $2500 bill will help them spread the word and raise an extra $10,000 in donations. You are an investment and worth it. Because it's a non-profit maybe promise a certain amount and over deliver. Maybe give them a bonus that will make you feel good. Perhaps you can create a slide show that they can post on FB and generate more leads with it. Consider that! 
  2. As them to introduce you to their friends. Friends of non-profits have money and that's why they are invited to events (because of their deeper pockets!) - one solution is asking the head of the event to start the ceremonies by introducing you! Here is something they could say.

    "Thank you for coming everyone, we are thrilled to start the event! Before that, I want to introduce you to __________________ (your name here cause you're smart enough to ask!) who is a friend of the ORGANIZATION NAME. He's been so kind to step up and help us with the creation of this special event. ____________ (your name) is an accomplished photographer in the community by taking corporate headshots, family photographs and even advises local businesses with their marketing materials. Tonight he will be walking around taking pictures of the event. When you see him, make sure to smile for the camera and say hello!"

    That's it! That's a general script, but you can customize it to fit the words that fit your business and style. Ask. People want to help but they have no idea how to help you, until you ask! 

    The non-profit gets incredible photographs from a grateful photographer. They win! The photographer gets advertising and a solid reference from one peer to another. You won't have the budget to buy this much advertisement on FB or Google. Work your butt off all night and have a smile on your face! You're going to share photographs via email with all the cards you collect. You're going to make so many introductions that will fill up your calendar. YOU WIN! The non-profit wins, AND the new contacts win because they just gained a solid photographer in their circle.


Yes and no. 

Yes free work hurts you or at the very least slows you down. There are times you shoot for free. They are called test shoots, but YOU need to benefit first! I have a book on that, it explains every single thing you would need to start your fashion photography career. It's a bit different in the commercial photography world and that book will explain all. Click here to get that. 

The other part about working for free? You're not just affecting yourself but your fellow photographers. When I work for free, I'm also dropping your rate. I've helped train the client base that our work is free and easy. When you negotiate with the ways I just taught you, you also help me and other photographers. You've told one more person that photographers are valuable and are worthy of payment. We affect each other. 


Well...I'm so glad that you asked! 

Walid (me) on set with Tamar Braxton on the set of her music video for "Love and War"

Walid (me) on set with Tamar Braxton on the set of her music video for "Love and War"

I didn't have a lot when starting out. I did wish though there was a community to help me, encourage me and share ideas with me. That's why I created the following communities to help your photography gain momentum.

INSTAGRAM:  My Instagram is where it all started. Join me and the rest of us there! It's called @HowtoPhotograph and we post daily tips on photography, the business of photography, how to start your photography career and more. I also post IG Stories and now IGTV. 

PRIVATE FACEBOOK GROUP: This is my newest extension and I love it! My PRIVATE Facebook group is exactly that, private and filled with great people. Every day new people join and all of them go through a questioning process. You must promise that you will be respectful and not spam. Hang out with us, ask questions or post your questions. I am very involved in that and contribute also. Also on Thursdays, we do a really cool and free photography portfolio review. The whole community joins and gives notes to those that want to post images. I'm also usually involved in that. Join us! 

NEWSLETTER: Do you want to shadow me on set? I pick from my newsletter sometimes. Do you want to work for me, or one of my friends? I sometimes hire from my newsletter. Do you want freebies for workshops, tutorials or big discounts? It's from the Newsletter first! If you can handle 2-3 emails a month...this is for you and your email is always safe with me. Click here to join for free!

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