Let’s get a little controversial and talk about money. Specifically, I want to address the question, “should you charge friends for content?”. In the ideal world, everyone would be appropriately remunerated for their work but when it comes to helping out friends, I have a different take.
For context, I’ll take you back to when I first moved to Singapore. I was enthusiastically looking for people to collaborate with but I didn’t know anyone there. A few friends of friends wanted to get involved because the whole concept of blogging was getting a lot of mainstream attention. But these contacts wanted to charge me around $200 SGD to take a casual pictures. Back then, I didn’t go for the editorial content I focus on today. I just needed someone with basic skills to help me out. Then it occurred to me that if they were asking for that much, surely I could charge the ‘photographer’ for my time too? I’d have to come with my hair and makeup done, follow their direction and be suitably styled, plus give up a few hours of my time. We would share the end result, which essentially would be a set of photos to put on our websites (mine wasn’t monetised or sponsored at all). So then, what was the point of charging each other?
Money can kill creativity
Ever had a brief from a client that was either so restrictive, literal or just plain confusing that you’ve felt the need to play it safe? It’s not surprising then that some of the most dynamic and artistic photographers I know shoot for free, and it’s out of the love to create something beautiful that they can be proud of. If they charge, it’s because someone has asked them to follow a particular vision that may not be entirely their own, for example when they shoot for brands, businesses, people that do make a regular income from social media.
Every industry has a learning curve period where you’ve got to pay your dues. The barrier of entry for creatives is so low that in some ways, we have to fight even harder to prove our talents. Demanding payment for simple tasks, especially from friends, is a calculative and bad attitude.
Here’s another story to illustrate my point about perspective: A while ago, a close friend of mine, E started a food business from her own kitchen. The first time that she sold her produce, she sold out completely. With that money, she donated every bit of it to the effort to help the earthquake victims in Nepal. This girl was friends with a photography student, who we’ll just call G. For that fundraising project they collaborated and took amazing photos together. The second time she wanted to do the same, G was offended, frustrated and responded aggressively about the fact that she was being asked to shoot without being paid. E wasn’t allowed to let the charity publish the pictures because she hadn’t paid G.
Are you really going to be the kind of person that stands in another’s way just so you can make a quick buck off friends? Unfortunately, I’ve come across a few too many people like that out there and at risk of sounding too negative, they’re not even the most talented creatives I know.
If you’re good enough, they’ll offer anyway
I shoot for free for my friends that I know make a living from blogging. I’m happy to shoot a few outfits for them because they’re genuine people, we’re still hanging out and it’s not putting me in a difficult position. But you know what, every single one I’ve helped out has offered to pay me back. Because even though I’m not in the leagues of my photographers Audrey or Anastasija, I’m still good enough to be paid. In fact, helping someone with no expectation of reward gives way to positivity and freedom to think – it’s the kind of environment that creativity thrives in. So even if you don’t care about being a good friend, collaborating with similarly skilled people can actually push you to improve. If you’re interested in hearing what photographers have to say, take a look at the discussion here.
Photos by Mark, @markgohlie
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