|My daughter and son-in-law|
No doubt this is a controversial subject with many opinions for and against. To each his own. I don't know that there's a hard, fast right or wrong but wanted to share my thoughts on the matter after experiencing a recent dilemma. I'm sure some of you have found yourselves in similar situations and struggle with what to do so I hope this will be of some help.
Background - Recently a neighbor called my wife to ask if I'd shoot her daughters' Senior pictures and mentioned "money is a little tight so maybe" her and her husband could make a "really nice meal" for my wife and I at their house - quick to say they would buy all the ingredients and then added "maybe" my wife could help with the meal (huh?). This came to us via voicemail late one evening after my wife retrieved her phone upon realizing she had left it upstairs all day. It was a rather long-winded message that seemed to devolve the longer it went. Like with each attempt to get out of a hole the hole just got deeper and deeper. Yeah, the red flags were popping up like crazy in my head. I want to be a good neighbor but I couldn't just pop off a, "Sure I'll do it." I wanted to but I didn't want to. "Let me think about it." After a couple days of mulling it over I told my wife I wasn't interested in doing it for free. Not any more.
I had already done wedding photos at no cost for this neighbor. (I was not hired to do so (in fact, nobody was hired) but knew photos were expected of me none-the-less). Then, later in the year she asked if I'd shoot a family photo for them around Christmas time and told me several times she'd pay for it. Just a shot in front of the fireplace with the Christmas decorations around it. At first I thought, no big deal. It's one shot. Or so she had led me to believe. Well that one shot turned into a couple different day and time changes and 73 shutter clicks and almost 1 hour at their house while I waited for them to get ready (even though I showed up at the time requested) and then ended up shooting different groupings, poses, and locations around the house. Then the post-processing took several hours. But believing she was going to pay appropriately, I even presented them with a nice 5 x 7 family photo along with about 20 photos on disc. And I had it all ready for them after just a couple days. However, despite my letting them know the pictures were ready and would they like to see them on my computer first (27" iMac) to which she affirmed that would be great (but can't come over right now. Maybe sometime later this week) seven weeks went by before I eventually just loaded the images to a CD and walked across the street to present them. Payment never came.
That was hard on me. Did they not like the photos after all? That didn't make sense because I thought they turned out quite nice and she said so as well. Also, why would she keep asking me to take photos if she didn't like the results? Simply because I'm free? I don't know about you but I don't want photos I don't like even if they're free (this is not an empty statement. I have put my money where my mouth is on that score). And then there are the parties they'd have and if I didn't show up she'd later say something about thinking I'd have come over and brought my camera. Unsaid but implied, of course, was she was hoping for pictures from said party.
It was a difficult several months for me as this really played on my mind. I obviously had made several mistakes, not the least of which was leaving payment up to her discretion. But also, we didn't discuss what she really wanted from the photo session. Or, what my expectations were. In fact, I didn't realize it was to be a "session". When she said she just wanted a family photo before her oldest went off to school I took it at face value and thought she just wanted a family photo.
I was, after all, just trying to be a good neighbor. And while I want to remain a good neighbor, I won't be taking pictures for free anymore. I'm not bitter about it - any longer. I beat myself up plenty for awhile. It is a lesson learned. You see, it wasn't so much about the money (I have a good full-time job that pays well and I wasn't expecting much from this shoot anyway - something, yes) but that I had been taken for granted and taken advantage of. Used. Lied to. Ripped off. Not a good feeling at all. It hurt. I experienced several sleepless nights because I was so conflicted. The thoughts that went through my head from feeling ripped off to being worthless (photography-wise). That experience just isn't worth repeating. And I'm mostly to blame because I didn't put a value on my work and the time involved so my neighbor didn't either. Shame on me. The fault is mine.
My wife has experienced the same thing with her cakes and cake decorating so I have no doubt this scenario is played out many times concerning a lot of different interests - not just photography. Bottom line - if you don't put value on your time and talent, no one else will either. And the psychological impact of that is tough to deal with as I found out.
At this time my thoughts on the matter are that my immediate family members can expect free photo shoots and photos from me. That's a given. No one else, unless I'm purposely doing a charity event. My time and talent have value and is not to be taken for granted. So whether compensation is in the form of money or something of equal value and benefit to me ...
Please, feel free to share your thoughts on this matter. I'd love to hear from you.