Why I won’t photograph you or your kids for free

Why I won’t photograph you or your kids for free

Ottawa Portrait  and Wedding Photographer

Black Lamb Photography | Little Lamb Photography

Before I begin explaining why I won’t photograph you or your kids for free, I will admit that from time to time I do casting calls for free shoots if I need a specific shot for my portfolio or I’m doing a styled shoot.  However, I usually just ask people I know (or their kids) to pose for me.  This is because I don’t want to be known all over town as the ‘free photographer’. Experience has shown that word of mouth for free sessions usually doesn’t pan out into paid referrals.

Photography As a Gift For Close Friends Only

Once in a while I choose to give a photo session as a gift to my closest friends for a special occasion. However, I must mention that when my closest friends and family ask for a photo shoot, they usually offer to pay me for my services. Or they offer a needed service in return.  You see, they want to support me and my business. With that said, imagine getting random e-mails (yes, this has happened more than once) from strangers along the lines of this: “I love your work, but money is tight and I can’t afford to pay for your services. But, if you’re looking for models for your portfolio, I would be happy to let you take pictures of my children. My kids are SO cute!”

Riiiiiiiiight….like I’m just dying to use your kids as models for my portfolio, so I will shoot them for free. Yes, I see how you’ve made it look like you’re doing me the favour and not the other way around. Your angle is that you’re letting me have the privilege of shooting your unbelievably adorable kids. However, you fail to acknowledge that I’m actually doing you the favour of creating beautiful (and might I add professional) photographic heirlooms of your children that you’ll cherish for years to come. I see how that twisted logic works.

why-i-wont-photograph-you-or-your-kids-for-freeMembers in my church take advantage

Sadly, people from my own church are the worst offenders for asking for freebies.  Church members (from when I lived in BC, Ontario and Québec) are the only people who have ever asked for free wedding and engagement photography. When I was living in Vancouver, an acquaintance from my church invited me to her wedding. I had zero intention of attending because, frankly, I didn’t even like her. Before I’d even RSVP’d, she actually e-mailed asking me to shoot her wedding for free as a wedding present!  (Who does that?!?!?)  She got married on a Friday in Seattle, WA.  And then her reception was on Saturday in Canada. Never mind that I would’ve had to take two days off work to shoot her wedding and reception. Since when is an acquaintance expected to give a wedding present worth over several thousand dollars?!?!?!?!?


Or imagine getting a phone call like this from a church ‘friend’ about their wedding photography, “We would love for you to be our photographer to help you build up your wedding portfolio.” Then, when I offer them a highly discounted price (because I was friends with him), his response was, “We’ll get back to you.” After that phone call, it was crickets. It floors me that he tried to present the request like they were helping me out, when what they really wanted was a free wedding photographer.  You can’t even imagine how insulting that is–especially when all was said and done and they didn’t even invite me to the wedding!

Photography is a luxury.  Treat it as such.

I get that like most products and services, professional photography is a luxury not everyone can afford. It’s no different than wanting an Audi, but only wanting to pay the price for a Kia because that’s all you can afford. You don’t contact the Audi dealership and offer to buy a car for the same price as a Kia. Just get the Kia already because that’s what’s in your price point! It’s the same with photography. That’s the beauty of why there’s different photography services and products for every sort of budget.

If you can’t afford a professional portrait session on location, then by all means go to Walmart, SuperStore or Sears. I have a blog post about why I won’t charge the same as big box studios. And since I have to point out the obvious, photographers aren’t in business to be charities.  I already donate quite a bit of money to charity each year. Donating food or money to people in need is one thing. However, no one will die without having a professional portrait taken. They also won’t die ‘lowering’ their photography standards by going to a big box studio. Here’s an idea: just find a cheaper priced photographer, instead of asking me to lower my pricing. Easy peasy.

There are students in college or ones still learning their craft who might need free models to practice on. However, asking a legitimate business to do the same thing to ‘build their portfolio’ is insulting. I truly want you to understand what you’re actually asking of me or any other professional photographer when you ask a photographer out of the blue for a free shoot. If we really need a model, don’t worry, we can make the initiative to get one ourselves.


Money is limited for everyone–not just you

Like you, money is tight for many photographers. Like you, I need to pay my bills, but unlike you, I also need to pay for my cameras, lenses, computer and computer software, photo props, marketing, insurance, car maintenance, second shooters, and other things used for running my business, which run up to thousands (note: plural) of dollars every year. I can’t pay my bills or even purchase equipment by doing free jobs. I’m sure you understand. Imagine if your own employer expected you or your partner to constantly work for free or for very little pay.  Now put yourself in my shoes when that exact situation happens constantly.


Why should I work for free?  Do you?

Sadly, photographers and other artists are constantly getting requests to work for free. What adds salt to the wound is that the ‘takers’ aren’t even trying to offer anything in return. They don’t offer to swap services or offer something of value as compensation. Instead, they’re just straight up asking for a freebie.

I have a family to support

I want to show you something. See that cute little face above?  That’s my daughter.  Since becoming a mother, I value my time a lot more.  You see, when I’m shooting or doing post production on my computer (aka: working), I’m not spending time with her. I deserve to be compensated for taking precious time away from her and my husband. It’s no different than when other workers get compensated for their time. Why should my time be less valuable than yours or anyone else’s?

Too many people don’t seem to understand that this is our livelihoodThis is how we choose to earn money—to actually make a living like everybody else. Shooting free sessions doesn’t pay our bills, put a roof over our heads or put food in our children’s mouths. These are just a few things that we need to do with the money we earn from doing our job.  It also doesn’t compensate us for taking time away from our families in order to do those shoots. It also doesn’t pay for the gas or the wear and tear of our cars to get to the location to shoot.

Thanks so much for taking the time to read this. I hope you understand now why I can’t shoot your kids’ photos or your wedding for free.


For clients who truly value custom photography, I would love to hear from you. Contact me today to book your session or to get more information about my photography services. My photography work has been featured on 25+ photography blogs. You can check out some of my featured photography.

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