A few years ago when I picked up my first DSLR camera, I never imagined that what was just a hobby would later turn into something praised by my followers and magazines alike, and at the same time offer me an avenue to a legitimate career. But more than anything, I never imagined that this journey would lead me down a path towards finally accepting my worth as an artist and a human being.
There's something interesting that happens when you offer your services for free. Inevitably, and perhaps ironically, people devalue whatever it is you are offering on some level, rather than appreciate it more since it was gifted to them. There are many reasons for this, but primarily, in my estimation, it derives from societal conditioning that equates anything with a monetary value attached to it as better than something without. Sadly, it also applies to how we see people. If someone earns a higher salary than someone else, we wrongly value the higher earner more.
When my work, through countless hours of shooting, studying my craft, learning from my mistakes, and so on, started to improve and become good enough that others sought it out, I still offered my services for free. I figured the experience was the most valuable thing to gain, and after all, I wasn't a pro, so who was I to charge a fee? Then I noticed a pattern. People became entitled. Respect, basic decency, and common courtesy was often absent in favor of a taker mentality and a what-can-you-do-for-me attitude.
During the past few years, I have suffered health setbacks, personal issues, and many things that my "clients" were not privy to. However, even though I was not charging in many cases, I treated my craft as my profession, and I would still show up to shoots feeling at my absolute worst, giving my all as if I were being paid. It wasn't until I was too sick to get out of bed one day and had to cancel the next day's shoot that it became clear just how underappreciated I had been. Not only was my model unsympathetic to the news, she failed to acknowledge that I was offering my time and services for free, and she was not entitled to either. Her concern was more for her vanity than my health.
At that point I realized my issue was not about anyone else, it was about me and my own struggles with self-worth. Had I valued my craft, my time and, frankly, myself more, I would not have allowed all of the above to be taken for granted. And while experience is valuable, it does not overshadow being respected by others and oneself. The old adage that you "teach someone how to treat you" applies here. I was not valuing myself by not charging what I was worth (or at all, in many cases), and it gave people license to do the same.
So, now that I have transitioned into my dream career, and it is no longer just a glorified hobby, I charge for my services, not just because my work has value, but because I have value and I know my worth. And coming to that realization has been priceless.