On the sticky subject of shooting for friends

It’s a Saturday morning and an appropriate time to be thinking about this topic.

You’re sitting with your friends drinking your flat white at a cafe, discussing everything from kids to dogs to work and the universe. Life is good.

Someone mentions a quandary they or a sister in law or their lifelong business partner have of needing something to be shot. It’s a really simple job. Just to help them get off the ground. Just for a magazine doing a story on them. Or maybe it’s their kid. A head shot for an agency, or even just to hang on their wall.

Of course you offer to help them out. You’re getting 3k plus a day to shoot for clients but this will only take an hour and well…it’s what you do for friends right? And the thing is, because they’re mates they would never rip you off. You went to school with them for goodness sake.

Established or complete beginner, I have seen photographers lose the best friendships in the worst possible ways because of a shoot which began like this. And mostly it’s because of 3 things:

1. There is hesitancy to discuss money so the job goes ahead with little or no understanding of what, if anything, is being paid. And what it’s being paid for.

2. Barely anything is put in writing. Everything agreed is verbal. They’re mates, right?

3. After the shoot all the miscommunication and lack of clarity inevitably ends up with someone feeling ripped off. What do you mean I can only use it for a year? What do you mean you can’t pay me for the gear I hired? What do you mean I can’t use the portrait you did of my daughter for an ad campaign? What do you mean your boss won’t pay me?

I’ve known of litigation resulting from these scenarios. It’s completely unnecessary and preventable. You can shoot for friends and still remain friends, but to ensure this happens you must take the following steps:

1. Don’t even contemplate providing a cost without knowing what the usage is. It’s like asking how long a piece of string is.

2. Clarify cost and all details in writing. Up front. It can be a friendly Email but make sure you and they know the usage you will give them for the price you are charging, and that you will remain the copyright holder, for their protection as much as yours. If you want a credit (in lieu of fees) make sure this is covered off. Remember to cover payment terms. If you are hiring items and charging them cost only, make sure you make the payment terms immediate, up front, or perhaps they can pay them direct. Remember you’re doing them a favour.

3. Ensure that you have their agreement to whatever you have discussed in writing. Make sure that the person agreeing to pay you is actually the person or company who will end up with the licence for the use of the shots. Your friend might be a minority shareholder, or a mate of the start up company owner, or simply an employee, but will have no say when the company decides to fire them and use the shots in their global advertising.

4. Do not under any circumstance shoot until the arrangement is all clear and agreed to, even if it means their dates are compromised. It’s  as simple as them sending you a reply Email with agreement to your requirements. (Read this post how to be a ‘yes’ man to find out how to do this nicely.) If they are hesitant to give you written approval you would be wise to wait.

5. Make sure you complete the copyright paperwork. In New Zealand you must provide an AIPA licence stating the usage. (You can download one here.) If it’s a portrait of their wife and child for their wall, licence it accordingly!

The thing is, every time I suggest the above to photographers working with friends, they all say ‘Oh I won’t need to do that- it’s for friends!!’

Trust me, it will save a lot of heartache.