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The One Thing to Never Ask a Photographer


nastia-1-4 The One Thing to Never Ask a Photographer

I read a status a few weeks back on Facebook, it was something about a company hosting a conference and wanting a volunteer photographer who was promised to get all kinds of press and new clients if they had worked for free. I cringed for a moment and moved on.  This post has been on my heart and in my head for far too many months, the trouble has always been getting it in writing. It isn’t coming from a place of bitterness, but more of a place of explanation in hopes of helping others understand the pressure to please everyone with the craft we have worked hard to perfect and how to approach creatives for collaboration. Every morning I open my inbox to find these messages, my Instagram has over 50 unread requests, and don’t even get me started about Facebook (I’m scared to look.)

Here’s to the people pleasers…

Let me back up a few steps and tell you about me, something you might not know. I have always been (and will likely always be) a people pleaser. There is something in me at the core of my being that pushes me to want to make everyone happy, to always do the right thing, to help whenever asked, and to see the best in everyone. This has been such a blessing in my work, but it has also been a huge detriment, especially now. I actually get anxious thinking about all of the inquiries and messages I just don’t know how to respond to, this is a giant stressor in my life. Every single day I get asked to do my job for free, wait, what? You didn’t know that? What if I told you that in one week alone I got over 50 (yes, fifty) requests to work without one single penny. Startling? Yes. It should be.

It doesn’t just happens to photographers…

I always imagine walking into the dentist and telling her that I should really get a good deal because I have this awesome cavity that needs filling and I will promise to tell all of my friends how good she is, (Shonna, if you are reading this, I hope you would laugh in my face.) I wonder if I could walk into my friends pub and tell her that I would love to eat a cheeseburger and drink some beer and instead of paying her for her work, I would connect her with more hungry people who probably don’t have money either. I wouldn’t dream of doing either of those things because I love my dentist and my friend and I love the work they do to run their businesses. Harsh, isn’t it? But this is what we sometimes face as photographers.

“This is what I do to put food on my table…”

Here is where it gets hard: I get so many kind requests, so many well intentioned messages, so many sweet questions asking if I can help support their cause or share their company or take images of their products and post them so all of my followers can see. These requests come from dear friends, strangers, acquaintances, even church, I never know how to respond. I never know how to tell them that this wasn’t my hobby, it is my career. I know this isn’t just for photographers, it happens in every industry, we all get asked to donate our time, services, and money! Most of the time I am happy do it (especially if I love the causes involved) but sometimes it’s just too much. This is what I do to pay my mortgage, to put food on the table, to give my dogs a better life. I didn’t get over 50k followers by sharing other peoples work, I did it my making my own and staying true to what felt authentic and candid. No one ever asks or requests to anger us but where I struggle is in always feeling pulled in a million directions of people pleasing that I can’t get to my real work, you know, the work who helped pay off my car and my college debt.

Say “no” to opportunities, say “yes” to a career.

There is some sort of disconnect in knowing a photographer, maybe it is because our work isn’t always tangible, maybe it’s because people think we just push a button and make magic, maybe it’s because we have a gift that should be shared with the world, but with today’s hyper-social tendencies we always want the best images to share but the truth is that you get paid to do what you’re good at and so should we! I understand that every client and company has a budget (I have a budget, too) but the next time you want to ask someone for a “favor” or a “quick photo” or you want to offer them an “opportunity” to work for free, think about your job and what you would say if someone asked the same of you! There is no “quick” when it’s done right, you better believe anything my name is attached to is done well and up to my brand standards! We all started somewhere, we all got to the place we are today because we worked hard, and sometimes, just sometimes I think that we should be valued for the work we produce and the time we put in! Photographers don’t want “opportunities” they want to make a living doing what they love and in order to do that, we are forced to sometimes say no.

And do it for free when it feels right!

Let me tell you: there are so many times where I whole heartedly offer to shoot for free! When I travel, on missions trips, at family events, when I show up at your kiddos birthday, when the sunlight is perfect behind you and I want to take a shot. If I offer, it’s because I find joy in doing something for you, please don’t misinterpret my message! There are people in my life who I will always shoot for free, because it is a blessing to share your gifts with others. As a people pleaser, I know this post might sting. Maybe you have unintentionally done this to someone in the past, surely you didn’t mean to offend, you just never thought of it this way, it happens. Before you feel guilty, know you aren’t alone. Next time you need a “quick favor” or have an opportunity for someone to help you or do work for you, be up front, value their craft, appreciate them and maybe, just maybe, offer to pay them for their work and platform they have spent time building and perfecting.





by Jenna Kutcher 

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  1. Natalie Rebecca Jackson

    October 2nd, 2015 at 2:54 am

    Such a great post! I have such a hard time saying no, especially since I really want to help people out! Because of that, I now have a budget of donated time I can allocate a year, it makes it easier to set the boundary for me since I can see the numbers :)!

  2. Evelyn Cunningham

    October 2nd, 2015 at 3:28 am

    I get this with calligraphy as well!! It’s sooo tough saying no. But, we need to do what is best for us as business owners. On the other end of it… I have been offered free services by photographers before. (I want pictures for my portfolio, can I take some of you work…) and spent time creating work that would benefit both of us, then, they never followed through. In a way, I wish I HAD payed them, even a little, because I would then be able to ask for the services instead of being stuck in this, “is it ever going to happen” phase. Payment helps BOTH parties. It makes accountability and professionalism automatic!

  3. Retesha Anusionwu

    October 2nd, 2015 at 3:55 am

    Great read!

  4. Leanne Hunley

    October 2nd, 2015 at 4:08 am

    Yesssss. This is a great post! So true.

  5. Anne Marie Lowin

    October 2nd, 2015 at 11:35 am

    Such great advice – as a graphic designer I have faced similar requests for my entire career! As if designing someone’s business cards will help me brand corporate identities 10-12 hours a day. The hard thing as a people pleaser is that you don’t want to disappoint – and quite frankly don’t know how to say no. There is a side of this that leaves you feeling a little demeaned that you are not being taken as the serious professional you are.

  6. Allison Bouska Hendrickson

    October 2nd, 2015 at 12:02 pm

    Yes! This is so true and it is so encouraging to hear other’s stories. I just blogged about the same thing this week in my area on

  7. Lacey Chance

    October 2nd, 2015 at 1:25 pm

    So perfectly said! I have some clients who just never paid me, (I know bad business and I was greener at the time) and had the nerve to ask for more edited pictures after I had already cut them a very good deal. People pleasing is so hard to overcome.

  8. Ashley Mahoney

    October 2nd, 2015 at 2:01 pm

    THIS IS GOLD! Absolutely perfect. Throwing my hands in the air and yelling “AMEN!”.

  9. Kristina Louise

    October 2nd, 2015 at 2:39 pm

    As an artist that sells in online shops and websites, I get asked this weekly and sometimes daily. My friends know how very busy I am, yet struggling financially. I don’t talk about it with them, but they know. They are all artists, too. We all know if you’re going to really be successful with a new business that you have to sacrifice and put all of what you make back in to your business. We work hard for what little we get. I get strangers asking. Bloggers are the worst. One time, I was asked to supply gifts for 14 bridesmaids…. but I would get great advertisement. I really want to please, but I think that some people know that, and may try to take advantage of that to some degree or another.

  10. Callie Lindsey

    October 2nd, 2015 at 2:54 pm

    Thank you so much for this and for your bravery in sharing!!!

  11. Kathleen Williams Barnes

    October 2nd, 2015 at 3:45 pm

    Love this post – I think when you work in the creative industry this can happen quite often and I always think the same thing. Would I ask an accountant to do my taxes for free? I understand that most people don’t realize the work behind creative roles like ours, but it’s refreshing to hear that we all go through it! Thanks for sharing –

  12. Michael L Theis

    October 2nd, 2015 at 4:21 pm

    Don’t internalize anything – getting it out destresses you. Understood no insult intended, none taken here. Keep posting dear girl. Sonya and I so enjoy reading about your escapades, trials and tribulations. You walk through life meeting all sorts of people. You have been an unexpected blessing for us. Have a GREAT day!

  13. Dekilah Nazari

    October 2nd, 2015 at 4:50 pm

    This is a frequent issues for models as well. I won’t side track and go into to much, but I know the frustration. Artists, no matter what their skill or medium, should be respected for requesting payment for services/art creation/etc. And trades or “freebies” should not be seen as the norm. We all have jobs and we simply can’t afford to lose the time and money to do our services for free all the time/most of the time/any of the time (dependent on the person).

  14. Ashley Ziegler

    October 2nd, 2015 at 4:50 pm

    This is amazing. Everything I’ve been feeling lately. I’ve done free sessions/trade work in the past before and it always fell through on the other end AFTER I delivered my best. Thank you for putting into words exactly how I’m feeling!! Definitely sharing this post!

  15. Hannah Koehn

    October 2nd, 2015 at 5:00 pm

    Thank you so so much for writing this! I’m a photographer also, and there is so many times I have felt used and run over, because people don’t see my work as valuable. Thank you for speaking up and addressing this issue!

  16. Gabrielle von Heyking

    October 2nd, 2015 at 7:55 pm

    thank you for writing this and doing it in such an eloquent, thorough, yet kind way!

  17. Rachel Barker

    October 2nd, 2015 at 8:28 pm

    This is so good! And very well expressed how much of us photographers feel. Thank you for taking the time to find the right words to express a frustration.

  18. Ot Greer

    October 2nd, 2015 at 9:49 pm

    Well said Young Lagy.

  19. Jake Haugen

    October 3rd, 2015 at 5:52 am

    You need a lesson on the English language and grammar. I’ll do it for free if you only promote my services.

  20. Melissa

    October 3rd, 2015 at 7:17 am

    I’m a nurse and I am often asked about random body functions or what to do about a health problem. I don’t mind telling someone how to manage a cold, but it’s outside my scope of practice to diagnose. And sometimes it’s just TMI. 🙂

  21. Normie A. Azevedo

    October 3rd, 2015 at 3:18 pm

    I feel your pain !! As a hairdresser – make-up artist I have been in your shoes.It’s called “CAN YOU JUST” !!! Can you just give me a trim …can you just do my eyes not a full make up – can you just look at my hair,this is while I am eating dinner at an event…the list goes on & on for anyone that has a craft !!!!! Well written !!!

  22. Mary Hurlbut

    October 3rd, 2015 at 3:42 pm

    Yes, I shoot for free sometimes for the same reasons you expressed in your last paragraph! And I have learned to respectfully delcline all other requests…when you give something away for free, people do not value it. They actual devalue your talent.

  23. Korrine Engelke

    October 6th, 2015 at 3:19 pm

    Jenna Leigh Kutcher you are an inspiration. Thank you for being you! And even more so, sharing with the rest of us.

  24. Mai Lyn

    October 7th, 2015 at 7:58 pm

    Thank you so much for this post. WHile I am not a photographer, I am a writer and I can relate 100%. I have tons of messages from people wanting me to write about their product or share their website and it’s come to a point where I just refer them to a media kit to get the point across that this isn’t a hobby. I dont have unlimited free time. It feels good to know that I’m not alone in how I feel and I commend you for sharing this. Thanks so much.

  25. Becca Patronas Lind

    October 9th, 2015 at 4:07 pm

    I agree with what you are saying and I’m shocked at the number of requests you get weekly! But I also wanted to mention that there are other professions that get asked to do this sort of thing on a regular basis. I’m thinking of local tv news anchors in particular, who I’ve seen donate their time on a regular basis to emcee fundraising events or even work as an auctioneer at live auctions. I think the sheer number of requests that you get are likely due to your great work. You shouldn’t feel bad about turning them down, you need to have a good work/life balance like anyone else!

  26. This Domesticated Diva

    December 10th, 2015 at 4:05 pm

    I think this is an issue specifically for the creative industry and self-owned companies. I mean, I’m sure there are others as well…but having worked in several creative fields and knowing friends in several creative fields, it seems like the norm for people to ask for freebies. And I agree that it is SO HARD to respond in a way that is kind and informative and I always feel like I am disappointing people. Have you found a way to respond that takes the sting out of it? (I guess that’s the people pleaser in me…saying no to free work and worrying how it makes THEM feel. SMH)

  27. Lindsay Ann McCrea

    May 10th, 2016 at 3:26 pm

    YES!! THANK YOU FOR THIS!! Not only should we be paid for what we do, for all the reasons + more that a person should be paid for their work, but the next time I hear someone say (after seeing my images) “OHHHH! You must have a reeeeaally nice camera!”, I’m gonna scream! NO!! I know how to use that *really* nice camera to produce what you see! JEEEEEZ! Thank you for this, Jenna! (I’ll be sharing this message far + wide!)

  28. Lindsay McCrea

    May 10th, 2016 at 3:27 pm

    YES!! THANK YOU FOR THIS!! Not only should we be paid for what we do, for all the reasons + more that a person should be paid for their work, but the next time I hear someone say (after seeing my images) “OHHHH! You must have a reeeeaally nice camera!”, I’m gonna scream! NO!! I know how to use that *really* nice camera to produce what you see! JEEEEEZ! Thank you for this, Jenna! (I’ll be sharing this message far + wide!)

  29. Cloy Mcwilliams

    May 18th, 2016 at 3:17 pm

    I am a baker (Pies) someone always wants a good deal the indgreaties cost the same no matter what kind of deal you give. I do the same I bake for sick people and my family


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