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The Etiquette of Photo Collaboration


When starting in photography it isn't uncommon to take some free photo shoots... that is,  in exchange for using the photos in your portfolio. I have been taking photos for a long time and have a nice portfolio. With that said, I always want more for my Instagram, website, etc. 

About a month ago, I posted an ad saying I will give out free photo shoots in exchange for them signing a photo-release form... BIG MISTAKE. 

While I did get sent several replies, most of them stated something as simple as, "I am interested, please contact me." Then when I do contact, them they either never reply or reply something vague like... "Are you interested?" (I'm assuming they mean in doing a photo shoot for free?) 

I know you have to remain professional and give good customer service, so please don't think that I am scaring them away. As proof, here is my generic reply that I basically cut and paste for all of these messages:

 Hello, Thank you so much for contacting me. Yes, this is still available. If you would like you can text me at *** *** **** to talk more.

With that said, I have had some times where I really wanted to break my 'professional' character and call them out on their horrible directions, snippy comments, and their overall 'entitled' behaviour. 

I still have yet to actually have someone sign the forms properly. In fact, it will never happen because I have removed that ad and will now only take free pictures of friends and family. One couple thought it would be fine to sign both their names on the same paper and others have insisted that they will sign it after the photoshoot (the photoshoot never happened).

So here's my question: When taking photo shoots for free in exchange for portfolio content, are you doing them a favour? Or are they doing you a favour?

I ask this question because it has come up several times before. I always assumed I was doing them a favour and I just get portfolio work too, so, bonus! However, even if they approach me, no matter how much they seem to like the photo... they always act as if they are doing me the favour (which is exactly why I just need to stop doing it). 

This rant has come up not just because this has happened more than once, but because recently I had a more specific experience that really pushed my buttons. I mean, is it common sense to be nice to a photographer who is shooting your engagement photos for free? Or... am I the crazy one?

Here's the Story:

I don't know these people personally. They showed interest in my post about a free photo shoot and she was really nice at first. The next thing I know, I agreed to travel too far to take a completely free photo session. I honestly thought I was doing her a favour; there are a lot of photographers who despise the thought of free photo sessions.

 She couldn't decide on a time and place at first, and changed the original agreed upon time. Gave me a deadline to try and find out if we can shoot at a local golf club. Most importantly, she never gave me a real address, just vague directions in an area I have never been before. 

Then the day comes up and I realize it's further than I thought... I ask if we can move the meeting time back an hour. She is unhappy with this and asks if we can move it back only half an hour. I agree. 

It turns out I couldn't make it and show up 15 minutes late. She is angry and accuses me of being unprofessional... 

So, realizing that I am doing this for free, I turn around and just simply and gracefully leave.

 I know that what I did was terrible customer service and that I need to maintain a reputation. I could have taken some grumpy photos... I was already there and whatnot... but here is the question again. Seriously, I need an answer. 

If I am taking FREE photos in exchange for portfolio work, am I doing them the favour... or are they doing me the favour?

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