Photographing for free is a great way to learn, but eventually it’s time to say NO to free photos. Learn how to say it – and how to truly believe it! (Photographs by CHRISTINA ELMORE, THE SHUTTER OWL)

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Every photographer I’ve ever known has built their portfolio by photographing friends and family. It’s smart. These “models” come readily available; you’re comfortable enough with them to try new things; and since you’re not being paid, no one can be too upset if the photos aren’t perfect.

But what happens when it’s time to say NO MORE to free photos? How do you draw a line where previously there was none?

Here are seven ways to say no to free photos, while still saying yes to building a healthy, sustainable business.

Photographing for free is a great way to learn, but eventually it's time to say NO to free photos. Learn how to say it – and how to truly believe it!
Christina Elmore, The Shutter Owl (Say NO to free photos!)

#1: “I’m done building my portfolio.”

The first step you should take is to evaluate whether you’re tired of free photos because you feel taken advantage of, or if you’re over the free photo thing because you’re done building your portfolio. If it’s the former, it’s time to evaluate whether you’re shooting for YOU (which you should be doing), or for the people enjoying your talent for free. If it’s the latter, the next step is easier.

When a friend or family member calls to ask for another free photo shoot, simply say, “I’ve actually completed my portfolio, so I’m no longer offering complimentary sessions. But I’ll be glad to share my rates with you!”

If you’re still early in your portfolio-building process, you can pre-empt this problem by saying, “I’m currently working on my portfolio, so I can offer you this session for free!” That helps set expectations so your friends and family don’t start thinking of you as The Free Photographer.

Photographing for free is a great way to learn, but eventually it's time to say NO to free photos. Learn how to say it – and how to truly believe it!
Christina Elmore, The Shutter Owl (Say NO to free photos!)

#2: “I’d love to offer you my friends and family discount!”

If you’ve correctly priced yourself, offering a 10% friends and family discount can help soften the blow. It’s important not to offer too heavy of a discount; you don’t want to lose money. You also don’t want to turn down full-priced shoots because you’ve already booked a discounted session, so it’s wise to limit the number of friends and family sessions you’ll do each month.

Consider saying, “I offer my friends and family discount on the first Tuesday of every month,” or, “The friends and family discount is only available once per season.”

Photographing for free is a great way to learn, but eventually it's time to say NO to free photos. Learn how to say it – and how to truly believe it!
Christina Elmore, The Shutter Owl (Say NO to free photos!)

Offer Zero Session Fee, but Charge for Products

Another way to offer a friends and family deal is to offer the session for free, but charge full-price for any products – physical or digital. Use ShootProof’s watermarking feature to protect your digital photos from theft, and price your photographs so that you’ll still make a reasonable profit off of anything your clients want to keep.

Photographing for free is a great way to learn, but eventually it's time to say NO to free photos. Learn how to say it – and how to truly believe it!
Christina Elmore, The Shutter Owl (Say NO to free photos!)

#3: “My camera is my livelihood, so I don’t bring it to social events.”

There’s nothing wrong with snapping a few photos at the family cookout, or capturing the cake smash at your best friend’s toddler’s birthday. But if you find yourself overwhelmed with requests to “take just a few pictures” at the next social event, don’t hesitate to decline. By reminding your friend or family member that your camera is the key ingredient of your career, you also reassure yourself that there’s no need to treat your DSLR or vintage Hasselblad like a disposable camera, available to the whims of whoever happens to smile in your direction. You have an iPhone for that, right?

Photographing for free is a great way to learn, but eventually it's time to say NO to free photos. Learn how to say it – and how to truly believe it!
Christina Elmore, The Shutter Owl (Say NO to free photos!)

#4: “I donate all my free photography to this charity.”

Maybe it means a lot to you to give back with your photography. We get that! It’s why ShootProof provides FREE galleries to the organization Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep. But giving back doesn’t mean giving up on making money. Choose a charity to contribute to with your camera, and let your friends and family know that the only way you can sustain that volunteer work is if they actually pay for their own sessions.

Animal shelters, children’s hospitals, veterans organizations, recovery shelters, medical aid groups, and other non-profits will be thrilled to make use of your talent to promote their valuable cause. Give back where you can make the most impact, and let your clients be your clients.

Photographing for free is a great way to learn, but eventually it's time to say NO to free photos. Learn how to say it – and how to truly believe it!
Christina Elmore, The Shutter Owl (Say NO to free photos!)

#5: “Please book your session for my yearly friends and family day…”

Similar to #2, this response will help you control how much you’re giving without stopping altogether. Consider offering an annual friends and family day – a day of mini sessions available by invitation only, at a price set just for your loved ones.

We recommend offering this special only once a year, but twice a year could work well, too. What’s important is that you choose a session date and stick to it! If someone can’t make the date you’ve chosen, well, there’s always next time. Or they can book you at full price.


Click HERE to learn more about how to add profitable, fun mini sessions to your repertoire!


Photographing for free is a great way to learn, but eventually it's time to say NO to free photos. Learn how to say it – and how to truly believe it!
Christina Elmore, The Shutter Owl (Say NO to free photos!)

#6: “My time is valuable…”

Don’t underestimate the value of your time. You can demure all you want when talking to friends and family, but the truth is: if you’re trying to earn a profit with your photography, your time behind the camera is incredibly valuable. (That’s why it’s a substantive gift when you choose to volunteer your photography to a non-profit!)

Tell inquiring friends and family, “Now that I’m tracking my time for income and tax purposes, I can’t afford to offer free photos.” After that, it’s the perfect moment to mention any special offers you have upcoming – or simply say, “I’m happy to send you my booking rates!” – no special offers required.

Photographing for free is a great way to learn, but eventually it's time to say NO to free photos. Learn how to say it – and how to truly believe it!
Christina Elmore, The Shutter Owl (Say NO to free photos!)

#7: Focus On What Matters Most

If you’re ready to cut the free photos out of your life, ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you a photographer just to have a fun hobby?
  • Do you simply want to give nice photos to your friends and family?
  • Are you trying to build a business that can support you, sustain you, and last for the long-haul?

If you answered YES to the third question, then you know: it’s time to focus on your long-term plans and prioritize the building of a sustainable business.


How do YOU say no to requests that aren’t right for you?

Comment below!


Written by ANNE SIMONE | Featuring CHRISTINA ELMORE, THE SHUTTER OWL


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