Working for Free! A Bone of Contention Between Wifey and I!

Giving Away Photography Services For Free

Back in the day, I used to be a soft touch, helping out people, even if it cost me financially, helping out with IT/computer-related things. But, I stopped and changed my attitude, as said people who I had done favors for, started expecting me to be at their beck and call, and when I said I would be charging them in the future, they threw a fit and broke off contact with me. This is fine, good riddance, I don’t need people like this in my life. I only ever help out immediate family now, for cost, which could be nothing, or if tools or components are required, I expect them to pay for it, I’m not going to be out of pocket myself.

A few weeks ago, I did a real estate shoot for a friend of a family member, for which I charged $75. There was an issue with payment, the person who I did the shoot for, mistakenly wrote “James Lewis” on the check. which I obviously cannot cash. I contacted the person and explained what had happened and she said she would send out another check with the correct name on it. I went out to the mailbox today to see if the check had been received, and it had not, I mentioned to my wife, Erin, what had happened, and she said “if the roles were reversed, you’d be on my ass about it”, her exact words, and I pointed out that she continued to give away her photography services for free, so it’s not the same situation. And it’s not like I have just said, oh well, I lost that money, I have been working to resolve the payment issue.

This caused an argument, and the crux of Erin’s argument is that she is helping out people who cannot afford professional photos. My take is if these people cannot afford professional photos, they will have to take photos on their smartphone, and be happy with that. The over $7,000 worth of camera gear is not free, nor is the computer I built for Erin to do photo editing, nor is the fuel used to get to the location. This was supposed to be a business, which has failed; and if Erin had set up an LLC, and gotten a business loan for the camera gear, she would not have had a camera to use, as it would have been liquidated as part of the company being wound up, but I bankrolled it with my inheritance from my father.

I said that Erin would have to pay me back for the camera gear, or sell it and give all the funds from the sale to me. Of course, I’m not going to do that, I said that to make a point. It’s supposed to be a business, where the object is to make a profit, not a charity for poor people to get professional photos. In four years, Erin has made less than $600, 17% of the cost of her Canon EOS 5D MkIV camera body.

We have invested a further $2,500 in lenses and another $1,000 in lighting over the years. And I’m sick of it, using our personal finances, which are not in the greatest shape, to bankroll her business ideas. Erin now has another business idea of running a website selling alternative/pagan products, for which we have sunk another $400 into from our personal finances, setting up an LLC and paying for hosting fees. I keep on telling her to get a business plan together, get a bank loan, and set up a business bank account, which she has not done, expecting personal finances to bankroll her idea until it’s profitable.

Erin is convinced that there won’t be a problem with intermingling personal and business finances until a business is profitable. My understanding is that if you use personal finances to fund a business, that leaves you open to creditors coming after you personally if the business fails. I can understand paying for the setup of the LLC from your personal finances, as you cannot get a business bank account without LLC formation documentation, but beyond that, I fear we are leaving ourselves open to losing everything should the business fail, with personal assets like our cars, computers, etc being subject to liquidation.

Anyway, back to the photography ‘business’, Erin is in poor health, often when she gets back from a free photoshoot, she is in serious pain and needs to lay down for hours to recover. Due to her health issues, Erin has asked me to come along to help as she cannot get into the positions necessary to get the shots she wants. So in addition to the financial costs, there are physical costs associated, which confuses me, and I worry about Erin’s health. Doing these free shoots often leave her incapacitated. If it was a paid gig, I could understand it, but not free shoots when it has a negative effect on her physically and us financially.

I, personally refuse to work for free, my time is valuable, and my logic is simple, if I pass on a shoot because they want a ‘free sample’, I have made nothing, but doing the shoot also makes me zero dollars, so I have not lost anything. Realtors would not waive their commission, so why should I waive my fee?

Am I being a douchbag for not supporting Erin doing all this ‘charity’ work? If it was at no cost to us, I wouldn’t be so annoyed, but, like I said before, the camera gear is not free, electricity is not free, fuel is not free, the costs per shoot may be minimal, but when you do dozens of shoots, those costs mount up.

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