After I shared yesterday's article to close friends, I received several comments, mostly surrounding the issue that when they did wedding shoot for free, they took offence that they are considered as inexperienced and the shoot is a "training ground" for them to gain experience. He felt that the words "to gain experience" is the most abused words to get free service in the photography community here. Many of them expect the couples to give a token reward to cover their transport expenses, though they didn't specify the amount. So in some occasions they ended by forking out money to do the free shoot.
After doing so many weddings and realising the amount of effort required, it's natural of them to feel that way. But I have the following questions.
Firstly, why do you offer your wedding shoot services FOR FREE to all these people?
If your answer is: to do friends a favour, then my question is: why are you so bothered with the expenses? You cannot and should not expect to 'recover' your costs if you agree to offer to do the shoot without payment. We cannot be too calculative in life. Where we spend on transport and time and effort, we gain from other aspects - like friendship, exposure (distribute namecards), and photos.
If your answer is: to gain experience, then aren't the people who said that correct? You shouldn't have this misconception that they be-little you when they mention that. Remember that learning is a life-long process.
No one is stopping you to charge for your services. The question is: if you are inexperienced, who would want to employ you? On the other hand, if you are good, people will come after you.
When I started shooting for weddings, my objective is clear: I want to build up my portfolio so that I can sell my services. So my first few weddings are all free. I spent time, money, I bought a second DSLR body, backup flash. Eventually, people like what they see and I started charging. Even so, I still do for free to good friends (I just did 2 free ones last month).
Face it: photography to many of us is a hobby. Do we even expect to earn profits? No! Therefore, being able to earn from photography is already a privilege.
I'm not going to fight for the AD wedding market share or charge like the pros at the thousands. I will charge the amount that I feel will justify my time and effort. If wedding couples think it's too expensive, that's ok, coz if I don't get the deal, I get my free time. If they agree to pay me at the price, then I get compensated for the hours I slog to shoot and process the photos. It's fair.
So in short: if you feel that you don't get any satisfaction in rewards (whether emotionally or financially) by shooting for free, then don't do it.