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Smiles better (or how to stay on the gravy train)

Memories are everything

Every now and again an old friend of mine comes for dinner or a party. Since we had children, and sure as nuts is nuts, a couple of days would pass and he'd send me the most beautiful images of my family and guests, photographs to die for - carefully observed and perfectly executed portraits of my young family going about their self- important and busy play that enchanted and beguiled me. I have never forgotten the joy that those pictures brought and, as they flick up on my screensaver, continue to do so every day.

Fast forward a few years and I find myself rather unexpectedly in the position to share that joy too, maybe not to the same standard but well enough. So when my kids are riding, sailing, playing rugby or performing in the school play I’ll take the extra time to publish an album for the other parents. But it’s not a trivial amount of time to take. Instead of rattling off a couple of snaps of my children it will be 2-500 that then need culling, editing and publishing.

The hidden cost of free

If I take my gear to an event it’s going to be a late night - round or about a four hour stint, for me around 100 hours each year. The important bit here is that that is four hours I’m not with my kids, or my wife, working on my business, or even doing a bit of sailing. That’s the point though. In a community you all do what you can. Better together and all that. And it’s quite rare that you find yourself in a position where you can actually make a real difference so it brings me so much pleasure to find a way to accomplish that.

Apologies to the photography community

This sits against a background where photography as a skill is being devalued, and some would argue rightly so, but that’s for another time. Images are captured by the camera on your phone in their billions every day (est 2017 1.2 trillion). When I was a kid it would take a month’s pocket money just to have a roll of 35 mm developed. Now the digital rule book says take more images to the extent you can burn a month’s worth of 1980s paper round in around two seconds and see the results instantly. Everyone’s at it. Good, they should be because memories fade and children leave home. But the overall effect is to trivialise the value of good pro images because nine times out of ten an iPhone is sort of OK and we are overloaded with maybe passable images. Doing anything for free can only exacerbate this.

Pictures don't take themselves

If you have the out and out luck of having someone in your community who can grab an image of your child at 20m on a gloomy stage, or capture their expression in a ruck when you can see every bead of sweat, then unless there is a pressing need otherwise – let them do it. They will enjoy doing it, and get a massive kick out of the pleasure it gives you. And they will do it for free. But it’s not free. It will take time. Hours. It takes an investment in gear, insurance, and probably years of experience and training. Not only that but they will be absolutely aware that by doing this for free they will be helping to further undermine the value of pro photography.

It all comes good in the end

In terms of marketing, my own free services work as a loss leader. It won’t be the best investment I ever make and not the worst either, but it makes my friends happy, and even folks I barely know happy, and that makes me happy. So I get to inflate the returns by the value of smiles.


Should you be lucky enough to have a pet snapper, and I’m making the basic assumption that you like their work, then here are a few guidelines to keep things on the rails.

Please do …

  • Give feedback, it can be a strangely silent world.

  • Thank them occasionally. Little online likes are fine but face to face is so much nicer.

  • Give credit on social media – just a passing mention once in a while, no need to go overboard.

  • Pass their name around or give them a shot if you need work or family images, chances are they will have a range of skills you don’t know about.

  • Feel free to talk about how to share images – everyone needs to feel secure and be secure in what is shared, where and how.

  • Be happy with what you get. A photographer taking 200 images of 50 kids will get each child as the central element four times on average. Sometimes more, sometimes you'll get nothing.

And the maybe not’s ….

  • Please don’t add post processing if you’re sharing online, especially if you are crediting.

  • Likewise, cropping an image down to 5% to highlight one face will probably result in a loss of quality that no-one would want to be associated with.

  • Don’t take them for granted – no-one has to do this sort of thing, it’s not a right, it’s personal. So if you want something for free don’t bite the hand.


A few hints for the photographer

  • Agree permissions and the how and where of sharing beforehand.

  • Don't sweat GDPR - it's not there to stop you managing a permissions list, but equally don't add names to your marketing activity without explicit consent.

  • Keep online albums password protected or in a shared private space.

  • Ask for take downs regularly.

  • Avoid online conversations that are anything but positive. Silence is golden and the trolls are hiding under stones.

  • Be confident in your ability. If you think it's good it probably is.

  • Only post images that you are happy with. No-one knows the missed shots.

  • Unless it's your signature look, take it easy on the post processing.

  • Leave the camera at home from time to time and enjoy the event. You'll probably receive some encouraging remarks and folks will realise you aren't a service.

  • Avoid shots that will embarrass either your subject or the parents.

  • Experiment. Your event photography will improve and you don't want to stagnate. You'll hone your timing and the 500 will become 200. Maybe take time to thank God you don't have to fund it with a paper round.

  • Don't beat yourself up by trying to be too rigorous about how many shots of each subject you take - aim for a balance but follow your instinct. My style in rugby is to follow the ball in hand, so those who don't carry don't get so many features.

  • You can't please everyone. Sure the village loon (sadly there's always one and if you don't know who it is, as the old joke goes, chances are it's you)… the village loon will start demanding something but you're not obliged. Use your judgement but the fall back is to be polite and say no.

  • Prepare to make friends.

  • Enjoy it - you're providing pleasure and joy for parents, grandparents and far flung friends and family.


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