Offering free photography services sounds terrible, but we have to keep a long term perspective on this endeavour. When I started my wedding videography company I was terrified. I truly didn’t know if I could do it. I had purchased a professional video camera at the cost of 2000 dollars while working as an architect in Chicago, IL. It was a lot of money, but it was money I had. I purchased the camera as a toy as much as anything – I thought I would tinker in short films with friends. I soon realized that I did love shooting video, but the camera was collecting dust. I decided to try to allow the camera to pay for itself. Eventually I started to see photo gear as an investment and not as a cost.
I had a friend getting married – Abbe – and she had already hired a photographer and a videographer for her wedding in Indianapolis. I simply asked her if I could bring my DVX-100b along with me and give her a video as a gift. She loved the idea of course – as she trusted my artistic abilities. At her wedding I shot two tapes worth of footage – almost two hours worth. I edited that video down to a mere 10 minutes and she loved it. Everyone seemed to love it. It wasn’t the boring wedding video your parents had on VHS. It was artistic, emotion filled, and cinematic. I thought it was beautiful. That’s when I found just enough confidence – not a lot of confidence – just enough to look on Craigslist to see if anyone was in need of a wedding videographer. Sure enough, I got my first paid gig for 750 dollars. The adage you get what you pay for is generally true and I felt like that Craigslist bride got AT LEAST what she paid for. I gained a little more confidence. Only years later did I realize that someone who is skimping on their budget to hire you in your cheapest hour SHOULD and probably WILL have lower expectations for your product. Hopefully that gives you a little more confidence in your ability to provide a product that at least meets expectations. That said, filming that Craigslist bride – I was terrified. I didn’t have all the equipment I should have had, but that was okay. She didn’t sing my praises, but she didn’t want her money back either!
Years later, I could fill books with what I had learned. Even though I was only filming a half/dozen weddings a year, my knowledge was growing like a sponge and that knowledge moved me into the world of DSLR video and ultimately into the world of professional photography. Unfortunately, it was a little like starting over. I was again at the bottom of the totem pole. I had moved my video business from free to 750 dollars to 3000 dollars. I knew I now faced the same uphill climb with Pabst Photo.
My learning curve for photography was much lower because I already knew how to work a DSLR with my eyes closed. Photography is somethign I had been doing as an amaetuer for years. Again, a lucky family member was getting married. Again, free services were rendered – and then the jump to full price was immediate and work soon followed. So granted, if you are photographer starting out, I think my videography experience is much more relatable, but the point is – free work happens. Sometimes it is necessary simply to gain the confidence. You might already have the skill as I did, but be lacking the confidence and that’s okay. Just get out there and do it. I know first-hand that it’s easier said than done, but being free means nobody in their right mind will complain. If you get a free sample of pretzels on the street and they aren’t good – you might say, “these are no good,” but you aren’t going to do anything about it because it was FREE! Shoot one wedding for free. If you have to – shoot two, shoot three. When you are ready, charge a little. When you are ready, charge more. Don’t let other photographers discourage you and sure as hell don’t let other photographers tell you can’t charge so little because it screws up things for the ‘rest of us’. Heck with them. Do it your way. Why photographers get angry with other photographers for charging too little I will never understand. If a bride is hiring a photographer for 500 dollars and you are photographer who charges 4000 dollars, that bride was never going to hire you – it will never be in her budget. We all have to GET OVER IT and do our own thing. Good luck.