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Should Influencers Ask A Boudoir Photographer To Work For "Exposure?"

Updated: Jun 6

Ah, the Golden Age of the "Influencer." What a glorious time... The big question, of course is to ask... or not ask a boudoir photographer to work for "exposure" --THAT is the question!

The short answer here is don't do it-- but you're welcome read on if you'd like...

If you are a photographer, it is simply just a matter of time before you will receive one of these inquiries in your inbox. I think I received my first one perhaps three or four years ago. After a quick curiosity read and head scratch, it pretty much immediately went into the trash bin with no reply. Since then, like weeds, they keep popping up every so often.

If you are a potential boudoir client, I understand the allure is sooo tempting. It seems everyone is doing it. Essentially, everyone is an "Influencer" these days... so why not!? Got a few followers online? That ought to be really enough to garner $1000 - $2000 worth of services, right?

The truth is depending on which side of the coin you are on, your perspective may be very different than the other.

These requests don't anger or annoy me-- It's just one more piece of "junk" in my inbox to be removed. As someone who operates a business, you are a constant target of attack from people trying to get money out of you in one way or another. From advertising people, sales people, marketing companies, etc... they're all out there trying to get their piece of flesh and explain how you can't exist without them, or how your business is missing something without them. Like mosquitoes on a summer evening while you are sitting on your porch-- these inquiries are the constant buzzing around you while you slap at your thigh trying to keep them away-- "Got it!" Like the mosquitoes, too, it never stops-- via calls...via emails, and if you have a storefront-- via people walking in.

Influencers, or perhaps better stated, self-proclaimed Influencers, are just one more group looking for a piece of your pie. One more insect looking for a bite of flesh. As a group they are currently feeling empowered, but as we all know Instagram certainly isn't reality, and I suspect a few years from now this will run it's course and become a memory.

I guess from the Influencer point of view... what's the worst thing that can happen? Just a no response, or a "no thanks." The upside is getting all, or part of what you request, for free. I would imagine wedding photographers are probably the main targets of attack by Influencers. If you can wrangle $2.5K - $5K worth of services for nothing... that can amount to a big savings on a wedding day. Sadly, there have been some examples of entitled Influencers not taking "no" very well and going after photographers who refuse to donate services. This is where it starts to get messy. -And this type of behavior is all to common, unfortunately.

boudoir photo of woman in bed

Followers Do Not Equal "Influence."

The thing is, on a basal level I get it. There can be an equitable trade in a rare situation where there actually may be a person of real "influence"-- the real disconnect here is that followers do not equal "influence." I'd guess 99% of those who claim the title of "Influencer," well... just aren't what they think they are. The truth is, in large, the Influencer industry is mostly a smoke and mirrors situation founded on a broken core. Someone...somewhere decided traditional advertising was dead, and companies now needed to chase shady Instagrammers with imaginary followers, paid comments and fake likes to sell their goods for them.

This hype train is on auto pilot and doomed for a derailment.

What has happened is the "Influencer" title has been over-adapted and watered down where people with essentially no influence adapt the title and try to milk it for all its worth. Now there are "Micro Influencers," and even "Nano Influencers," if you can believe it.

The first issue here, as I mentioned earlier is having followers is not what influence is about. Getting a certain number of likes on a post is not influence-- it just means there are people who follow your activities, for whatever reason. They could be complete dummies. It doesn't mean they trust you, or they are willing to do what they are told. I think the big misconception is that this is exactly what many so called Influencers believe-- and if that's the case they don't understand the game.

There are indeed people who seem to have tremendous influence and have the Midas touch, but there is a lot more here going on than simply having followers, namely establishing trust, credibility and likability... for a start. Oprah Winfrey may be one such example. When she recommended a book that she liked and enjoyed people flocked to purchase it. She wasn't paid by an author...or only promoted one publishing company.

This type of influence works when there is a degree of credibility. When this is not in place, its corrupted, or based on lies ( Instagram skinny tea, anyone?) and you are clearly taking someone for a fool... it doesn't work. When this "Influence" is done by legal contract for a pre-determined number of photos or posts of a particular product in exchange for money-- you are no longer an Influencer-- you are just an unglamorous paid advertiser. That's it. Influencers recommend what they enjoy, what they like based on personal experience. No experience? No Influence. It doesn't matter if you are a famous TV personality, an Instagrammer with tens of thousands of followers, or a micro influencer-- your power is based on trust and the moment you start shilling Skinny Tea your influence is done.

In the "old days" when a celebrity advertised a product-- just because Sofia Vergara was bouncing all over the screen lauding Head & Shoulders dandruff shampoo-- no one was thinking she was lathering up twice a day at home with the product because it was so damn good she couldn't keep her hands off it. There was no belief that on holidays she was gifting Head & Shoulders to friends and family because it was such an impactful part of her life. She had simply been paid to promote the product, and that was that. We all understood this relationship. NOW, with Influencers, the idea is to deceive and pretend that a promotion of a product is genuine and to hide the fact that you were paid, or begged for an item for free, when in reality this is where it falls apart. If you believe this is "Influence," you've been fooling yourself.

There are certainly people out there aware of this false truth, but many Influencers seem to not live in a world of reality. It appears to me it has just been taken too far. Lately, you can find stories of hotels refusing Influencer requests, bars refusing Influencers-- and I'm sure the list goes on. Aside from it being a bit much, it reminds me of something... back when I owned a retail store, you were subject to the endless parade of local fundraisers and sales people that just walked from store to store to store. In and of itself, their request for "support" for a local team or cause is not a terrible act, but what they never realized was that the day before-- someone else was in also looking for support. The day after another cause will be walking in looking for support. --And so on...and so on. It's draining.

Likewise, today, getting regular emails for "collabs" (Influencer speak for wanting something for free) is pretty much the same thing. I'm happy you and your partner are willing to offer up your 3000 Instagram followers, but at this point I think you're a bit too late to the party, and as I outlined above, these 3000 people do not define "influence," they're just... followers.

So, a situation like this is a hard pass... and does not even warrant a response.

It was always a curiosity to me the lack of understanding, on the part of the requester, what they are actually asking a photographer to give up. I believe this stems from the belief that a photographer isn't really giving "anything" up in this transaction... because there is no "physical" costs, all these morons are doing is donating a bit of there time... and what's the real value to that? It's seen a bit differently than maybe a caterer or a restaurant where there is, at least, this perception of a physical good, e.g. food, exchanging hands. Because this item is physical tangible there portends to be more of an inherent value. I get's aberrant thinking-- but I think that's kind of the level that the Influencer mind is churning.

This isn't a post to extol the value of a photographers time and talents, but just like other service based businesses, like attorneys, doctors, etc., not everyone's work "value" is necessary tied for a physical good. Sometimes time itself may be extremely valuable---

an Influencer posing for a photo

The Rise of the Influencer: Don't You Want "Exposure?"

I think the first time I heard from someone who wanted me to work for free was several years ago, and I don't remember all the details but it went along the lines of "Hey Mike... so-and-so here (I don't recall the name.) You may remember me from Season 4 of (insert reality TV show name here) and I have a great opportunity for you..." Essentially, this form letter went on to say how lucky I was to be offered this opportunity to take photos of this reality TV show guest. The note was filled with social media statistics and how this chance was so beneficial for me to have these several followers see my work....

Well, certainly this is not the case. First, whoever follows a reality TV show person is not really my ideal client, but who in the world is going to start "mass" following a photographer of a Instagram shot-- nobody. Based on total followers there may be an odd person or two who will follow me, probably hoping to see if there was any more behind-the-scenes content that the reality show star didn't post, but nobody cares who "took" the shot. Also, these people wouldn't really be interested in me, they are solely there to catch a glimpse of their reality star.

These emails went on for a while, from at least two reality TV people. --Straight to delete. Then the bridal requests started popping up, each one dangling that worthless carrot out in there messages... "Exposure." There must be a bridal site that makes form emails for this! 😂😂 All these requests are worded the same and always request a "collab" or a "sponsor"-- euphemisms for "I want something for free."

--Here's the interesting part of these bridal requests...and if you are an "Influencer" or a photographer-- what happens next is may be familiar to you, and you've probably engaged/received in this behavior yourself. You see, back before I gave up on these Influencer requests I used to send a note to them along the lines of "I appreciate the interest in my business...but I don't work for free" in the kindest and most professional manner possible. --This was, as I learned, a mistake to even engage-- because it all goes downhill from there. It only took another email or so before the Influencer meltdown occurred.

You see, there is no getting out of this request gracefully. It seems to go down one of two paths. The first is some kind of story on behalf of the requester of misfortune, illness, or life setback-- following by begging where you (meaning the photographer) are mean, cruel, and uncaring because if you do not accommodate, you simply the embodiment of evil and the root of all the world's wrong...

The second way these go is my personal favorite-- the Influencer rage-fest. After a polite dismissal, or request they can certainly book at standard rates-- there may be one response letting the photographer know they are making a big mistake... remember "Exposure!..." Or "You're missing on a tremendous opportunity..." Or "This is a lucrative opportunity...if you don't act quick I'll be picking someone else" What happens next? Well, after another polite dismissal the rage starts. You'll receive messages along the lines of, "Well, fuck you-- your photography sucks anyway." "...You and your photography are pieces of shit..and you blew it!" Or the ever popular, "Oh, wait and see what I'm going to do to you online. I'm going to destroy you online and let everyone know you are basically abusive and a SCAM artist..."

So, there you are. True stories.

I recall one particular time when I guess I was feeling a bit saucy, and this particular Influencer essentially gave me a list of requested items she desired, like "your best photo album," which needed to be included as part of her request. This woman was so certain I was going to get so much business from all the bridesmaids, that were apparently all soon-to-be-brides, and her "exposure" that this opportunity was a certain windfall for me. Imagine that! I don't recall my exact words, but I essentially replied that if she was so certain of all this business I'd be getting I could do something even better for her... and more profitable for her... she wanted to know what. I suggested in her case because of all this potential money at stake, and she was so certain about it, that she should simply pay for her own session, and I'd give her a $200 referral payment for each and every one of these people who would be flocking to me after her wedding...this would certainly cover the costs of her session, and according to her estimates, net her possibly hundreds in addition! --Yeah, that didn't go over well... What a shame. So much for certainty.

an Influencer taking a selfie

In Conclusion: What Should You Do?

I think the important thing to understand here for the Influencer is that you are not alone in these requests. They do become tiring, and the difficult pill to swallow is they are really of little to no value for a boudoir photographer. Uncle Larry having my business card on his place setting probably isn't going get me a Bahamas vacation. Posting a portrait on your Instagram isn't going to bring me a new cadre of followers, or business.

There is this impression that this is what you do as an "Influencer," and this type of begging "works," but I think this is a broken construct-- Remember--- Where did you learn this? Instagram? ...Where were all know reality is a bit twisted. Enough said. People are so smitten with this idea of being a human advertisement, which really boggles my mind, personally. I'm not going further with this, but it gets worse. Additionally, there are plenty of documented cases of Influencers faking followers, using questionable metrics, and even going so far to pretend to have brand deals. which further compounds the issue and trustworthiness of a request.

So, in this one person's case-- me-- all these requests simply go into my trash bin now. I have no interest in it. Is it possible there is a boudoir photographer out there who will give away free sessions... I'm sure! Perhaps, though, this will give you a bit of insight into the other side of the story, however.

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