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.