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Sunday, March 7, 2010

"Mr. In-Between" (Part II) ~ Jay Stafford

Alright then! Where were we? Oh yeah..."Frugal" people asking an amateur photographer for his or her services. Do you, the good amateur, charge for those services or not? Please bear in mind that this is a opinion. This has mostly worked for me, but as the commercials say, your results may vary! Let's consider your time and costs. How much is your time worth? $20/hour? $50/hour? $100/hour? Your call on that. How about your costs and expenses? Gas ain't cheap and you'll have to travel. You'll need enough film or memory cards for several hundred photos. Plus you'll need new batteries for your cameras, flash or lights. Notice I said cameras, plural. ALWAYS carry a spare camera -even a point-and-shoot is better than nothing if your primary camera breaks down. You can't re-shoot a wedding! Do you do your own post-processing? Got chemicals and paper for your darkroom or paper and ink for your printer? Don't skimp on ink or paper - use only high quality. Believe me, it shows! Or, do you send your film or digital stuff to an outside lab for developing/processing/printing? If you do, you know that costs a bundle!
After you determine the value of your time, how much time will you spend shooting the gig (travel time not included)?
First: Weddings. I'm talkin' the full shebang here. Pre-wedding photos, days or weeks in advance of the ceremony. The bride and groom at a lovely site: beach, park, grassy field, mountain stream, etc. Estimate two hours for that. Before ceremony photos with the bride, groom and wedding party dressing (guys, you'll need a female assistant for this and gals, you'll need a guy), getting out of the limo, etc. Figure at least two hours for that. The ceremony itself. Some are long and some are short. Give yourself two hours. Post-ceremony where the bride, groom, wedding party and families pose for group shots. One hour for that. Then the reception: Four to six hours normally. That's a total of up to twelve hours (weddings are a LOT of work if they're done right!) Figure an equal amount of time, minimum, if you do your own post-processing.
Next: Parties, Birthdays, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, etc. Like a wedding reception, figure six hours. This is actually conservative. Some parties last all day and night...check with your "client" on how long the event is expected to last. Oh, and cool it on the booze - you're workin' here, not one of the partiers! Post-processing should take about the same amount of time.
Finally: Portraits-groups, individuals and/or pets. Here I'm going to assume you don't have your own studio and will shoot outdoors, in one location. Two hours minimum. You and your subjects will have to be flexible and patient. I've had to delay outdoor portrait sessions for up to two weeks. Mother Nature isn't always cooperative. In cases like that, and if time is pushing you, you might consider the portraits be done in the clients home among comfortable, familiar surroundings (no sunlight, so think about your lighting). Again, give post-production and equal amount of time, or maybe more if Grandma wants her wrinkles smoothed out or Junior has a big zit which needs touchup. Remember, these are portraits which may hang over the mantle in a beautiful frame. It's YOUR job to make the subject look as good as possible!
Lots of other events requiring photographers come to mind such as speeches, store openings, ribbon-cutting ceremonies, book signings (hear that, Tina?), etc. I think you get the idea of time and cost estimating and don't forget post-processing.
Now, the BIGGIE: Who do I charge and who gets a "gift"? Let's begin with total strangers, people you've never met who may have been referred to you by someone you know. CHARGE 'EM! The full boat - your time, expenses and per-print. Draw up a contract showing who, when, where and what you're going to provide. Get signatures and at least half the estimated money up-front! Since you don't have the total overhead of a pro, it'll be less than the price a pro would charge, but don't forget the customer will expect the same professional results!
How about mere acquaintances? Not a stranger, but not your best buddy either. Co-workers and neighbors-down-the-block types. CHARGE 'EM!! You may want to reduce your hourly value a tad, but maybe not. A total stranger may see your work and question why Fred got the same thing cheaper. Again, do the contract and up-front money thing.
Next, good friends and tight-knit neighbors. This is where it begins to get tricky. Contracts, up-front money and full charges may strain the relationship. Remember, these close friends and neighbors are NOW customers, and where money is involved you may find yourself losing a friend and getting the cold shoulder in the neighborhood (neighbors talk!). I suggest not charging full boat, but get your costs reimbursed and give 'em a break on the per-print prices. You may want to try BARTERING. You provide your skills, time and services and they provide something of equal value back to you build a deck, fix the plumbing, paint the that. It works and may even tighten the relationship!
Finally, there's the dreaded F-A-M-I-L-Y!!! We can choose our friends, but we can't choose our family! DON'T CHARGE!!! Not a penny! Believe me, you don't want the money-induced, strained family relationships. Not worth it! Besides, good luck getting money out of your brother-in-law! Know what I mean? Instead, wedding photos make a great and generous wedding gift! They'll love you for it! Portraits make a super Christmas, birthday and anniversary gifts. Bartering also works well with family members. Just as long as there's no money involved!
All that being said, you still have one more choice which will allow you to avoid all that work, hassle, strained relationships, non-payments and such..."Awww, gee Charlie, my camera's in the shop for repairs and won't be back 'til (whenever the event is)!" Your call...they approached you!
To wrap up, I want to thank Cy and Patty, Jessica, Dylan and Tony whose photos I took and which grace these two posts. And, I especially want to thank Tina for asking and allowing me to sit in for these past three blogs. I hope I haven't driven away any followers from ya! Now, get out there and make "Letters From Alcatraz" a best seller! Love ya girl!
Respectfully submitted,
Jay Stafford
Photos copyright 2010


  1. Excellent article Jay and I love the photos you have included! Thank you so much for "filling in" for me!
    I love ya!