3 Times it’s Okay to Consider Offering Free Sessions

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If you’ve made the transition from a hobbyist photographer to a part-time or full-time professional photographer, chances are that you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about your pricing. You’ve likely looked over your cost of doing business and the cost of goods sold. You’ve probably had to have some difficult conversations with friends and family members establishing that you can’t work for free.

These are all really important parts of starting (and maintaining) a photography business. However, it’s also just as important to sit down and identify some instances in which you would consider donating your services. In this article, we’ll talk about three times you might consider offering free sessions or options at a reduced rate.

3 Times it's Okay to Consider Offering Free Sessions

1. New Technique or Gear

If you’ve always wanted to try newborn photography, it might make sense to offer reduced rate or free sessions. This will help you build your portfolio while perfecting your technique at the same time. Let’s be clear–offering free sessions shouldn’t replace classes and workshops designed to teach you proper technique and safety. Instead, you should consider offering free or discounted sessions after taking a class or workshop in order to implement the new techniques you’ve learned.

Learning Newborn Photography - 3 Times it's Okay to Consider Offering Free Sessions

Similarly, if you want to break into wedding photography, it might make sense to offer to assist a local wedding photographer for free. You’ll learn a lot by watching the primary photographer manage the flow of the day and seeing how they interact with the bride, groom, and guests. Additionally, depending on your contract, you may even end up with images that you can use as part of your own portfolio.

3 Times it's Okay to Consider Offering Free Sessions

Likewise, if you’ve just upgraded from a crop sensor to a full frame camera, you’ll probably want to take that equipment for a test drive before using it with a paying client. It may very well be that you can get your bearings photographing your kids in your own backyard. However, depending on the genre of photography you specialize in, it might make more sense to put out a model call on social media and offer a mini session that will allow you to put your new gear to the test in a low stakes environment.

Learning Newborn Photography - 3 Times it's Okay to Consider Offering Free Sessions

2. For a Creative Photography Project

I spend most of my time photographing newborns, children, and families. As a young mom myself, I really love that genre of photography and feel passionate about helping families preserve their memories.

That said, because I spend so much time photographing people, I make a concerted effort to take on a creative photography project that doesn’t involve people at least once a year. Sometimes, that may mean begging a winery to let me come photograph their grapes after hours in exchange for allowing them to use the images on social media.

3 Times it's Okay to Consider Offering Free Sessions

Other times, it has meant asking a local photographer for half an hour to pick his brain about astrophotography in exchange for snapping a photo of his family for their annual Christmas card. For me, the point isn’t to actually become an astrophotographer. Lord knows this image isn’t winning any astrophotography awards anytime soon, and it feels really uncomfortable to share something publicly that isn’t perfect.

But the point isn’t to be perfect with a creative project. The point is to stretch yourself in ways that you normally don’t, realizing that sometimes the journey is more important than the final destination.

3 Times it's Okay to Consider Offering Free Sessions

Ideas for your project

Perhaps you are already an award-winning astrophotographer, and you’d really like to stretch yourself by doing some child or family photography. Consider asking a friend if they’ll meet you at a park to try photographing them and their children. Try snapping a few images at your nephew’s next soccer game. Ask a friend that loves to bake if you could photograph the next cheesecake he or she makes. The point is that you’ll never grow as a photographer if you don’t take risks. Similarly, it can feel easier to take risks and do something new if you’re not being paid–there’s really nothing to lose.

The point is that you’ll never grow as a photographer if you don’t take risks. Similarly, it can feel easier to take risks and do something new if you’re not being paid–there’s really nothing to lose.

3 Times it's Okay to Consider Offering Free Sessions

3. Partner With a Non-profit You Care About

You’ve probably already been asked to donate a photo session to a non-profit’s fundraiser or auction. This is a great way to give back to the community, and it’s not my intention to discourage you from doing so. However, more and more frequently I’m finding that donating my services directly to the non-profits that I care about is an even more rewarding way to stretch my creative ability and become involved in my community at the same time.

Perhaps, instead of donating a session gift certificate, offer to come photograph the office staff, an event the non-profit is holding, or the population that the organization serves.

3 Times it's Okay to Consider Offering Free Sessions

In doing so, you will likely learn more about the organization itself, their mission, and the community as a whole. Your local humane society would probably love images of the animals in their care. A nearby NICU may be completely blown away by the offer to come photograph the families and babies they serve. Your child’s school may love abstract photography of kids that they could hang on their walls or use as reminder postcards. If you’re religious, your church would probably love photos of their upcoming baptisms or other special religious ceremonies.

Serve your community

This sort of partnership isn’t about parlaying the non-profit organizations into future clients. Rather, it is about using your time and talent to bless others in your community. There are opportunities to use your gifts and talents to make the world better–use them.

Sometimes the things that a non-profit may ask for may be completely outside of your normal wheelhouse. You may have to tell them that you don’t think you’d be the best person for the job they have in mind. Other times, you may feel comfortable telling them that though their idea is outside your normal wheelhouse, you’d be happy to give it a try. Both responses are absolutely okay, but I’ve never regretted trying an unusual request that a non-profit has given me!

3 Times it's Okay to Consider Offering Free Sessions

Conclusion

Have you identified instances in which you will consider offering reduced rate or free sessions? Do you partner with any local non-profits in order to give back? Chime in below and tell us about your experiences.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Meredith Clark is a wife, mother, native Oregonian, complete bookworm, Top Chef lover, and new quilting addict. She can also be found blogging at La Buena Vida and Meredith Clark Photography.

  • Anonymous

    Expanding your portfolio to include more diverse families

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  • brucehughw

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  • Louis Joseph Photography

    I agree completely with your take on accepting free work as a budding photographer. And like you said, the non-profits and others are so happy to get high quality photos for free or a reduced cost, it increases the photographer’s exposure, and it makes you feel good to give. All good stuff! Thanks for this post! You can check out some of the work I’ve done for non-profits and creatives at my website http://www.LouisJosephPhotography.com

  • Gene Jenkins

    Great ideas for getting both experience and exposure. The next question to ask is when to increase your rates. Simple answer: When you’re working your butt off, raise your prices, still working your butt off, do it again. Each time you raise your prices your work load should drop but your income should remain the same. Hopefully your talent continues to drive your prices up.

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