Ethical Dilemma

cherylynne1

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Okay, I've run into a problem recently and I'm hoping to get some advice on how to proceed...

I'm not at a point yet where I can charge, and I'm okay with that. But I still want to study and learn as much as I can and be the best photographer I can be.

Recently, a friend approached me and asked if I could do family pictures for her because she liked the pictures I take of my own kids and hasn't been happy in the past with the professional photographer she hired. She offered to pay, and I declined. I took the pictures, and they loved them.

Then some other friends saw that I took the pictures and asked me to do theirs as well, then another, then another. Pretty soon I have every weekend for two months filled. It's overwhelming, but I'm learning a lot.

Here's the problem:

A few days ago, I ran across a local photographer's Facebook page. When I looked at her albums, I saw the pictures of the first family. Then I saw pictures of the second, and the third. In fact, all but one of the families had previously gone to this other photographer and appear to have paid between $100-250 for family photos, multiple times. Some go back as far as 4 years.

I can see in some cases why they were upset...I don't think the quality of some of the photos, particularly the older ones, are worth that much. However, her current work is not bad and probably better than my own.

The problem is that I feel like I've stolen her clients out from under her. I'm offering a comparable, though slightly inferior product for free, and she can't compete. I feel incredibly guilty about it. I'm not trying to undermine her or anything, but I'm really excited to have this opportunity to learn with so many different families.

I'm not really sure what to do. I could stop taking pictures of other people and just practice on my own family until I'm ready to charge, but I feel it's such good practice to work with people I'm less familiar with. I could keep doing what I'm doing and not worry about her, but I really feel so bad about it. It feels like I'm literally stealing money. Or I could start charging before I'm ready, but then I feel like I'm scamming my friends out of money just so I can practice on them.

I'd really appreciate any advice about this!! Thank you!
 

Dave442

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Don't be ashamed, just start telling people you have a price and that you have a fee for taking pictures.
 

tirediron

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Don't be ashamed, just start telling people you have a price and that you have a fee for taking pictures.
Absolutely, but not until you have all of the other little details such as licenses, insurance, contracts/agreements, etc sorted and in place.

If I lose work to someone shooting for free, there are only two likely scenarios, which are:

1. The photographer is better than I am and I need to improve my skills; or

2. the client wants the most inexpensive possible product, in which case that is not the client I want.

In short: Don't worry about others, do what you want/need to do, just make sure you do it properly.
 

Designer

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I'd really appreciate any advice about this!! Thank you!
Not claiming to be a counselor in this field, but why not take a step back and look at your situation objectively.

1. Are you good? Are you actually good enough to start a business? This forum is a worthwhile resource to help judge your photography. Post up a few examples and get some feedback.

2. Are you capable of running a small business? Do you have what it takes to "be businesslike" in your dealings with people, including friends and family? Can you ask for money without blinking, can you fill out tax forms, can you get your business plan written so that it makes sense and projects a profit? Can you devote the time it will take to run your business in addition to everything else you have to do?

3. You might not be ready this year, but can you do your homework to learn what all has to be done to set up a business? You can start doing some research now by calling your city, state, and federal offices of licensing, taxes, etc. You can make a call to an attorney to find out how much it will cost to write some contracts, model releases, etc. Call an insurance agent to inquire about business insurance.

4. If all this does not change your mind about setting up a business, call your spiritual counselor to talk about your position regarding another business owner. You can be nice about forcing her hand, or you can be ruthless, it's up to you, but the ball is in your court.
 

MayPhoto

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I can share my experience with you in a similar situation. Years and years ago I moved to Scotland with my husband and started a part-time wedding photo business. I had a full time job during the week so only shot 1-2 weddings a month. Because I was still young and starting out I charged quite a percentage below the locals and offered the clients files on a disc (not the done thing here at the time!). As you can imagine I had no trouble drumming up business (everyone likes a deal). It didn't take too long for me to be contacted by one of the local pros suggesting I charge closer to the market. His opinion was it dragged down the market and undermined the profession. I could see his point and it hadn't even crossed my mind at the time. Something to consider...your time and newly acquired skills are worth something.

If you're booked up for months to come you must be at the very least 'good' never mind 'good enough'. I understand people like a good deal but no one will want you to take their pictures if you were awful. With that in mind I think it's time to start charging. Even if it's only enough to cover your time shooting the session (never mind the hours in post-editing!). I agree with 'tired iron' though, be sure you have your ducks in a row before you start accepting money. I started with just charging a flat rate for the session and their digital negatives on disc. I had them sign a VERY simple model waiver and an agreement that for the agreed set fee they would get..X, Y and Z. I'm sure you'll find these families are willing to pay the fee.
 
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cherylynne1

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Thanks for your feedback! I do plan on posting some photos here. I came from another photography forum that was great but got hit with some glitches and spam that pretty much killed it. I'm excited to be here. :)

But I'm pretty sure I know about where I am: I'm not bad, I'm not as bad as many that are charging, but I'm not quite "there" yet. Every photo shoot so far I've had some beginner's mistakes....a tree growing out of a head, oversaturation, white balance slightly off and I couldn't fix it in post, etc. Most of my problems come from struggling in post, actually, and I'd really like to get a better computer with a calibrated monitor before charging.

As far as the business side goes, I'm not afraid of paperwork. Actually, I kinda like it. But I don't even have a watermark yet, because I couldn't imagine anyone wanting to steal my photos and I don't want to be one of those people that looks like they spent more time designing a watermark than actually studying photography. I don't know, I just don't see myself as being anywhere near good enough to justify a real live business license, you know?

On the other hand, I would go so far as to say that there are no great photographers in my little city. There are some in the next big city over, but most of them (including the one I'm referring to here) charge an additional fee to come here. There is one studio that receives almost all the business from the high school for senior portraits and such, but they have so much business that they're pretty much set up like a JCPenny's...you stick the person in the spot, give them one of four standard poses, and click. Some of their work is good, but I know so many people that have had bad experiences there and refuse to go back.

Other than that, there are dozens and dozens of people who own DSLRs (or iPhone 6s) and charge for photos. I see their posts all the time on a community Facebook page I'm on. Generally they charge about $50-75 a session which includes a CD of disgustingly edited photos.

Ugh...this is so tough. Understandably, everyone's opinion on this kind of hinges on whether or not I'm any good. I'll try to get some photos up on the People Photography forum for some CC.

I really appreciate everyone that's taken the time to respond. Thank you all so much!!
 

Gary A.

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I can relate, but in a reverse scenario. Way back in the film only days, I used to be a professional, a photojournalist and I worked for major market newspapers and wire service. Presently, I do a lot of pro bono work for local a school, charities even political campaigns. I love shooting theatre. I thought of volunteering at local theatre(s) to shoot their stuff. Then I realized that I would most likely be taking money from a full-time professional photog I shelved that idea.

If it was I, I'd only shoot close friends for free. If I was planning to go pro, I'd shoot others for a fee which reflects the level of my product. Be honest and up-front with the fees and your level of expertise. I may even tell my first clients to pay me what they think is fair.

Remember, that many people have no shame when it come to money. I somehow feel that some may be taking advantage of you. On the flip side, the other photographer hasn't any shame either, charging for inferior work. But, it is pretty hard to compete against free. There are plenty of opportunities to perfect your craft for free and not compete head to head against the 'pro'. I suggest you seek out those opportunities, schools, church, civic groups can all use a good photographer. In particular, seek out families who are struggling economically and offer them your free services. That would be a win-win situation in my book.

In the long run you have to live with yourself. Have your actions reflect the type of person you desire others to think of you. If you don't want people to describe you as [insert vile adjective here] ... say disgusting ... then don't speak with food in your mouth. Conversely, if you want people to speak of you as fair and honorable ... than you must treat others fairly and you must act with honor.
 
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cherylynne1

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Okay, I posted asking for critique here: Some Family Photos for CC | Photography Forum

Hopefully that helps.

And Gary A., I really like what you said. I think you and I are on the same wavelength. The thing is, I feel like any family with young kids are struggling. I live in a farming community in California, and with the drought no one is doing well. These are all families with young kids, and I know they're all on a strict budget. The family I'm shooting later today has six kids and hasn't had family photos since their fourth was in preschool. Everyone I've taken pictures of has offered to pay, but I don't feel good about it.

The thing is, I really believe in the power of family photography. I don't own my great-grandmother's shoes or hat or jewelry, but I do have her picture. Pictures are the most common heirlooms in my family, and in so many ways they're more valuable than anything else that could have been passed down. I want everyone to have that, and I hate the thought of money getting in the way.
 

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Okay, I've run into a problem recently and I'm hoping to get some advice on how to proceed...

I'm not at a point yet where I can charge, and I'm okay with that. But I still want to study and learn as much as I can and be the best photographer I can be.

Recently, a friend approached me and asked if I could do family pictures for her because she liked the pictures I take of my own kids and hasn't been happy in the past with the professional photographer she hired. She offered to pay, and I declined. I took the pictures, and they loved them.

Then some other friends saw that I took the pictures and asked me to do theirs as well, then another, then another. Pretty soon I have every weekend for two months filled. It's overwhelming, but I'm learning a lot.

Here's the problem:

A few days ago, I ran across a local photographer's Facebook page. When I looked at her albums, I saw the pictures of the first family. Then I saw pictures of the second, and the third. In fact, all but one of the families had previously gone to this other photographer and appear to have paid between $100-250 for family photos, multiple times. Some go back as far as 4 years.

I can see in some cases why they were upset...I don't think the quality of some of the photos, particularly the older ones, are worth that much. However, her current work is not bad and probably better than my own.

The problem is that I feel like I've stolen her clients out from under her. I'm offering a comparable, though slightly inferior product for free, and she can't compete. I feel incredibly guilty about it. I'm not trying to undermine her or anything, but I'm really excited to have this opportunity to learn with so many different families.

I'm not really sure what to do. I could stop taking pictures of other people and just practice on my own family until I'm ready to charge, but I feel it's such good practice to work with people I'm less familiar with. I could keep doing what I'm doing and not worry about her, but I really feel so bad about it. It feels like I'm literally stealing money. Or I could start charging before I'm ready, but then I feel like I'm scamming my friends out of money just so I can practice on them.

I'd really appreciate any advice about this!! Thank you!
Let's say people compliment you on your cooking. Would you not invite them to dinner because you would be taking money away from a restaurant? Would it make any difference if the restaurant's chef were better or worse than you? I can't see a moral issue in you doing a favor for your friends. I can see a problem with them taking advantage of your good nature. When you become a professional, I'd send out advertisements to all your friends announcing it, so they will know how to consider asking for photos or hiring you for photos.
 
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cherylynne1

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Thanks so much, everyone. I think the jury is in on the CC thread, and it's probably best if I go back to basics for awhile. I'm probably not ready to take pictures of other people's families, even for free. I think I let my head get a little swollen from the "Facebook" crowd, you know? :)

Anyway, I appreciate the help and I'll keep posting for critique and trying to get better, then maybe try again in a year or so.

Thank you all!!
 

ruggedshutter

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Personally, I feel that you're being too hard on yourself. Yeah we all make mistakes. Sometimes we get distracted or are nervous and let those emotions amplify things and it overwhelms us. It happens. When that happens, unless I'm at a wedding, I step back and remind myself that I'm not on a time constraint and to calm down, analyze the scene and adjust.

You can read all of the books and articles in the world but you will never get better by not practicing what you are reading. I use my own kids as test subjects and walk around town and work with different lighting situations and scenes. Perhaps you have some close friends that would like some great personal photos and be willing to help model for you.
 
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cherylynne1

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Thanks, ruggedshutter, but it sounds like I haven't been hard enough on myself. I mean, that's what I thought I was doing...taking pictures of close friends. But it definitely seems like I'm messing up those photos so badly that I shouldn't even be doing that. It's really hard to hear, because I've been trying so hard, but it is what it is. Thank you, though.
 

beagle100

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I'm probably not ready to take pictures of other people's families, even for free. I think I let my head get a little swollen from the "Facebook" crowd, you know? :)

Anyway, I appreciate the help and I'll keep posting for critique and trying to get better, then maybe try again in a year or so.

Thank you all!!

yes, looking at your Flickr pics
cherylynne1
I see issues like incorrect exposure, white balance problems, softness, etc.
 

vintagesnaps

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From reading this, I think chances are the other photographer would have lost clients anyway (at least with her skill level at the time). I don't think you need to feel bad about it though, when it wasn't your intent to take work away from someone. Seems like people weren't happy with the photos they'd gotten and were looking for other options; you seem to have been able to take photos people were happy with and met that need.

However, when you work for free that I think can just add to all the people with cameras listing on FB and craigslist etc. which already helps undermine photography as a profession (although that may be unintentional on their part). Photographers have lost jobs, been laid off, etc. so it's challenging for long time photographers to stay in business.

Take a look at American Society of Media Photographers or PPA to find out what's going on in the photography business. ASMP does webinars and often covers how to meet the challenge of staying in business. These pro photographers organizations have resources available including how to price in a competitive range without underpricing. You don't have to be a member to sign up for ASMP's webinars, no cost/charge; they run about an hour and you get emailed the link to access it (I've found them to be pretty good).

It's more than designing a watermark, that's the least of it (although I believe in protecting my work as I feel is appropriate). I know a couple of photographers who maintain social media pages to display select photos, then direct potential clients to their own websites. And using social media, read the Terms & Conditions so you know how the site may be using your photos, and think about what you're posting where and why.

You'll need to get your work up to a professional level if this is something you really want to do. It sounds like you'll be able to do that and are willing to put in the time it takes to learn and develop your skills and expertise. If people were happy with the pictures you took then you must have done something right, so this might be a good time to learn more about what's involved in doing professional photography so you can be successful.
 

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This is a tricky situation, because you have this post, and your "other" post at Some Family Photos for CC | Photography Forum, and you are new here, and we have not seen much of your work overall...so...

The thing is this. You've read the Strobist blog--but it is almost ALL devoted to ONE-person, single, speedlight shooting, and you've read McNally's stuff, but it is basically 1)thinly-disguised Nikon speedlight sales-pitch shilling. You need some advice on how to photograph PEOPLE. The Strobist blog isn't worth a damn in regard to how to pose a family...it's about location lighting using a speedlight, for one person mostly, coming back with newspaper shots and corporate promo-type images of SINGLEs. It's the basics of lighting, without any of the know-how about how to pose, or how to run a family session.

Like with the kids...you gave your "bribes" DURING the shoot...a major mistake...you MUST hold the promise out until they are "all done". You let the kids get the upper hand. You say you need practice performing the basics because you're making mistakes during shoots. I'm not sure if you want honest C&C judging from the highest possible level of professional photography, or if you want to be evaluated as a beginning shooter. There's a spectrum of photography, from utter beginner-level to master-level shooting, but a person's gotta start "somewhere".

Silver Pixel Press published some great books on how to shoot professional portraiture, back in the late 1980's, early 1990's, before digital brought in so many newbs, and before the shills and pitchmen on YouTube started selling "advertisements" disguised as education. If you want to get better, then I'd suggest looking into some OLDER books on how to shoot family photography--stuff that is NOT thinly-disguised shilling to sell speedlights. Get some real professional flash gear and start using it. Go back in time, and have the fundaments of posing, groupings, and how to conduct sessions, explained from some book authors, people who ran successful businesses when how to light and how to photograph were the focus of the instruction--and NOT how to run Lightroom, how to make due with a speedlight, not how to buy five Nikon SB-910 lights at $589 a pop and rely on TTL automatic light output control (Joe McNally anybody?).

Addendum: I JUST looked thru your Flickr thumbnails...you have a major over-exposure hurdle to overcome, but I think you are ahead of many Facebook pro's in some respects, and not as good as some in other respects. You make some mistakes that a trained, old-school shooter would not make, but you also show some real promise. There are some adorable family shots in there--many over-exposed though.
 

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