When I was just starting out, I got an email from a woman who wanted engagement portraits. I had done engagement sessions before and I felt confident that I could handle the job, so I sent a nice response that included a price quote (which, since it was early on in my time as a freelancer, was quite lower than what I have charged since). She responded that she couldn’t afford to pay me anything and asked if I would do the job for free if she gave me a CD and traveled to a location convenient for me. I told her this was not possible for me, but she kept insisting “there is no other expense if I provide you with the CD and you don’t need to travel.” I could not for the life of me explain to this woman that the “expenses” involved were more than tangible, measurable things.
I tried to explain to her that the service she would be paying for would be my time and talent. She then tried to argue that my online portfolio of work was not evidence enough of my talent—that she needed to see the work I could do on her and then decide whether she would want to book me for her wedding. I, very politely, said I was not interested in working with her for her wedding and I wished her luck in finding what she was looking for. She responded by calling me a rude name and I haven’t heard from her since.
I tell this story because I think it’s an extreme example of how some people perceive freelancers. Some people may think that because a person is young or self-employed, their services or work should be inexpensive or even free. I am not sure everyone who hires a photographer realizes what he or she is actually paying for. Freelance photographers have invested often thousands of dollars in equipment, for starters. Cameras, lenses, flash systems, computers, and retouching software are not things that come cheap. Some freelance photographers have also gone to trade schools or colleges to learn the craft, another thing that isn’t cheap.
But a freelance photographer is not simply someone who owns a nice camera. I own a nice camera, but I also know how to use it. I also put all of my time and energy into all of my jobs. During an hour, say, family portrait shoot, I am thinking of nothing else. I am doing everything I can to get the best possible pictures of everyone. After the shoot, I go through the images I’ve shot and select the best ones. Then I give each image personal attention. I fix blemishes, whiten teeth, and get rid of flyaway hairs. I boost the colors and contrast, adjust the crop of the image, and just do some things to make the photograph look its best. The post work on the images takes four or five times longer than the actual shoot did.
A big part of freelancing, for me, is that my customers are paying me because of who I am and what my work is like. There are tons of talented photographers in our area. But clients have specifically hired me not necessarily because I am a convenient choice, but because of who I am and the work I provide. I like to think that my work is unique and that no one else can take a photograph the same way I can. A good photography session should be seen as a luxury you should allow yourself every once in a while. I liken it to paying for a spa treatment or going out to a nice family dinner. It’s an experience that, if done right, should make you feel special and cared for. And the resulting photographs should be ones that you treasure for the rest of your life.
Sorry to bombard you with so many words! Monday’s post will be shorter and full of some tips you can use to take better snapshots this summer!