So you’re a new photographer, you’ve gotten your small business loan, bought some great gear and have already booked a few clients!  Yep, life is looking pretty great.  And then you get the call…

“Hi!  It’s your cousin Angie!  I saw some of your pictures on Facebook and you’re really talented!  I just got engaged and we were hoping you would do our photos for us – you know, as your gift to us!  What do you think?”

*This is the point in the story where the rain clouds would gather, the storm would begin and all the cute little animals who were once running around care-free go and hide in their burrows*

What do you do?  Do you do it for free?  I mean, they are family.  But then again, you’re booking clients of your own – REAL clients – clients who are paying you for your services.  Are you really in a financial positition to donate such a large amount of services to family?

I’m not going to pretend that I’ve never been burned before.  In fact, I’ve been burned hard… twice.  I was just starting out and I got two seperate calls from two different friends/family members.  Both times I agreed to photograph weddings for close friends/family at no charge.  Both times I received requests from paying-clients for that day which I turned down because I was ‘already booked’ for the free gig.  Both times neither couple even made it to the altar.  Both times resulted in anger, frustration and a whole hell of a lot of resentment.  I learned my lesson.  Oh boy did I ever learn my lesson.  (For those of you curious, no, I wasn’t stupid enough to make the same mistake on two separate occasions, these calls came within days of each other that were for weddings that were 1-week apart.)

So I got burned, I learned my lesson, and I’m writing this article to the world wide web in hopes that it will help at least one other person from making the mistakes I did.  Here are some things you can consider when faced with a similar situation:

Offer your services with a discount in the amount of a gift you would have given.

For example, if you typically spend $250 on gifts for a couple every time you attend a wedding then take $250 off whatever package your friends/family members choose.

Supplement a package with extra ‘add-ons’ while charging the regular price for the package.

If your packages containing images on DVD, include a print credit or a small album as your ‘gift’ to them.  But make sure they pay full price for the package they chose and give you an appropriate deposite.

Stand up for yourself!

Friends may be shocked when you reply to them with your price list.  You may get the old “But don’t you love me?  Can’t you do this as a gift for me?” line or you might even get the “What, you want me to pay?  You’d be coming to my wedding anyways even if you weren’t the photographer so why should I pay you?” line.  Either way, you have a business and you cannot be giving handouts.  Yes, you love your friends/family which is why you’re giving them free prints with the purchase of a regular package.  No, you may not be going to the wedding even if you weren’t the photographer.  The very nature of being a wedding photographer means that you’re taken away from friends and family on Saturdays and if you needed to book a wedding in order to make your rent payment that month, you would have booked the wedding.  Friends and family should not use guilt to try to get you to do something for free – it’s a low, low move on their party.

Don’t mix business with pleasure

This is a tough one.  If you refuse to work with friends and family, you need to consistently stick to that!  You cannot make an exception here-and-there – people will find out and then except you to make an exception for them and then you end up in this whole sticky situation again.  Many photographers simply refuse to work with friends and family and open state that they will not, under any circumstance, mix business with pleasure.

How you choose to negotiate your business is ultimately up to you.  Maybe, like myself, you need to be burned once to learn your lesson – but I wouldn’t wish that upon anyone.  If you do choose to work with friends and family, I strongly encourage to never do anything for free.  Always get an outline of your services in writing and make sure a proper contract is put in place.  Get a deposit!  Do everything you would do with a normal client; afterall, if they are receiving your services, they are… a client.