Over the years I figured something out: photography is a commodity. In today’s visual world, everyone needs a good photograph for something. Small businesses are hit the hardest when it comes to taxes. Trading is a great way for money not to exchange hands, which means just a little less is going to Uncle Sam. We trade photography for things all the time. But there are definitely some rules that need to be followed. I will be the first to admit that I have assumed too much and in the end had to re-shoot a “trade job”. Having to re-shoot something after a trade has already been made is not fun. I am now paying double my time for what I traded. If I had asked a few simple questions I could have avoided a lot of hassle. Hopefully these questions will help you too. For now I will call the person you are trading with the “client”.
1. Does the client like your work? Have they actually looked at your website? This is very important. There are just as many ways to photograph a subject as there are people in the world. Scenario: you are at an event or party and you strike up a conversation with someone. They find out you are a photographer. Next thing you know you are getting that x-box+games you have been wanting in trade for a family portrait. They go home envisioning their portraits already and yet they have no idea what your photography style is. Make sure you are clear with them on your style and that that won’t change when you photograph them.
2. Are you supposed to improve on what they already have or are you supposed to make this set of images look like the old ones? This applies to anything. You are on a website, see that the photography is ok, but could use some help. You see they use the same backdrop in all the photos and think” if only they spiced it up a little!” You like the product they are selling and email them saying “Let’s trade. Your product for mine.” You go out, find some cool props that fit with their product and grab a new backdrop. You are thrilled with the outcome of the new photos. To you, they look so much better than what is on their website. They email back saying “Can’t you make them look like what is already on my site?”. The question here is, did you take the time to ask them specifically what they were expecting the pictures to look like? Or did you think you saw something that needed improving, but in reality the business owner was happy with what they had, but just needed new product photographed.
3.Have you specified when the trade is completed? The client wants to trade you a gourmet meal at their fine dinning restaurant for pictures of the food. But then, the next week they ask for head-shots of the staff, oh and pictures of the landscaping, oh and we just remodeled the bathroom, oh and and here’s another food dish…but that one you can’t eat cause by the time you are done photographing it the waiters think it’s fair game, oh and… the list goes on. Next thing you know you have worked 25 hours for one meal! Be specific! When they call again (which is awesome because it means the first experience was great) make sure you say, “Our old trade is complete. Do you want a new trade?” This leads into number 4.
4. Have you properly educated the client on how valuable your time and talent is? Photographers are a dime a dozen these days. Everyone has a family member who is a “professional” photographer. Although, for those of us who work at it full time know there is a difference between someone who bought a kit camera at Costco and those who have seriously invested their time and money to honing their craft. If they start saying “oh, well this will only take a half an hour…can’t you just do that for me for [insert something that isn’t even remotely close to a fair trade here]? It isn’t like it’s that much work…”. You need to educate them. Explain just how much goes into it and then turn the tables on them. Ask them how much their time away from their family and friends is to them. Ask them how much money they have invested into their craft. It’s a matter of mutual respect for the respective crafts.
This should go without saying, but have you educated yourself on the trade you are making if it is a service? Do you understand and respect the client’s time and abilities?
5. Have you signed a contract with them? I fail at this one big time. But it is the most important. It shows that you are taking this seriously, even if no money is exchanged. Plus it opens the door for better communication, specifics on deadlines and expectations on both sides.
And there you have my top 5 questions you need to ask when thinking about trading your photography for something. There’s a lot more to it, but this is a great place to start. What have you learned from trading with people? Any tips I missed?
This has nothing to do with the blog post but, here’s a picture of one of my favorite memories of 2011. An Alaskan day cruise from last July! Ah, I wish I was laying out in the sun with them right now!