To Trade or Not To Trade? Photography Barter Situations Broken Down

Mar 17, 2015

Topic: Business
Time Investment: 7 Minutes
Suggested Product:  Photography Barter Contract


Bartering – the exchange of goods or services without money – is a long-standing tradition in many cultures and not uncommon in the modern business world.  

However, it can be a hot-topic and potentially messy situation if not handled correctly.  

Let’s take a look at the good and the bad, and then cover a few tips on how to make a barter transaction successful for your photography business.


There are positive stories…

“I work with my salon and also a local custom fabric shop for trade work and it has been well worth my time!
I am only willing to trade when it is something I need or will use. Not just for the heck of it!”

“I traded for laser hair removal. I never have to shave my legs again. Best. Trade. Ever.”

“Free haircuts for an engagement session!”

 “I’ve traded vacation rental homes for real estate photography of those homes for years. Best one was a 2 week trip to Montana in some beautiful cabins, and a truck. Turned around 6 large canvas landscapes and some stills of the properties. Best trip ever. Also traded event photography for my wedding band set. I have no horror stories. I love bartering!”

“I love bartering!!! Got my daughter free swim lessons for a year.”


… and negative stories …

“You mean the time they promise to promote you through all their social media, not work with other photographers, cut out your watermark on images that are posted or don’t post them at all? Then have the nerve to require you to join their organization if you want to work with them going forward because of all the “great education” you are getting for attending and working at their meetings? Stuff like that?”

“A groom offered to renovate my kitchen in exchange of their wedding images, never started the renovation, so I never delivered the images.”

“I have no problem with trading in general, and I’ve gotten some amazing trades, but I do have a few crazy examples. The one that comes to mind first was the woman that asked me if I would take food stamps…. like, you know that’s illegal right???”

I traded a boudoir session for custom-made jewelry and a release to use the images (I was new to photography) and the girl loved the images, had seen them all. She loved them until she received the disk and then I became the worst photographer in the world and I never received any of the jewelry. I see her jewelry page pop up on my news feed as sponsored sometimes and it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.” 

“I had a mom blogger who swore up and down she was amazing at marketing offer to exchange her services with me. I was fairly new and stupid and the economy had just collapsed so I took her up on it, shot a family session for her, took her to lunch where she promptly ate, received an emergency call and left. I had given her the prints at the beginning of the lunch, paid for the lunch, and then could never get her to find time to help assemble a marketing plan for the year. We set up three appointments which she canceled due to sick kids and then finally she got me to agree to a “phone conference” for the start of the planning. At the phone consultation she came up with photography and “indulgence” (similar to what was on Mad Men the night before) but before we could go any further you guessed it, one of the kids fell and hurt himself. She was supposed to call back “in a few” and never did. At that point I quit wasting my time and chalked it up as a lesson learned. She continued to con many other businesses into trade deals over the next couple years. Lesson learned – no trades!”


… and the no-way-am-I-doing-that stories …

“Once had a client offer granite countertops in trade for a boudoir session…thankfully, my no-trade policy saves me from any of those situations turning into horror stories!”

“A woman who worked for one of those Slumber Party/Pure Romance companies offered me a single discounted adult toy in exchange to videotape and make a promotional video (I am a photographer) of one of her live adult women parties. I politely declined…”


So should I barter or not?

Only you can make this decision of course, but if you do choose to barter, be sure you choose trades with purpose.  Don’t barter just to barter; be purposeful in identifying what you barter for and who you barter with.  Maybe you have services or goods that you need for your photography business.  Or perhaps your home could use some upgrades or fixes.   If you are completely overwhelmed with the idea of trading/bartering, then step back and talk to some other business owners who have done these transactions to help your decision.  If you feel confident, then rock on and read on!


What if I want to barter?

Bartering can be successful, but make sure you follow these steps to a successful outcome for both parties:

#1 Research

Check out the other party’s reputation, quality of goods/services, value of the goods/services and probability for a healthy, successful transaction.


#2 Discuss

Outline all expectations, responsibilities, deadlines, specific goods/services and a description of these goods/services to ensure both parties are on the same page.


#3 Get in writing

Use a written agreement to get all discussions on paper and demonstrate an agreement between parties should a situation arise.

Include provisions such as:

  • coverage
  • items being bartered
  • completion schedule
  • rescheduling/cancellation
  • issue resolution
  • proofing
  • artistic rights
  • indemnification
  • copyrights
  • and others as you see fit!

See: TheLawTog’s Photography Barter Contract


Bartering can result in success, it can result in failure, or you can avoid it completely.  Whatever option you choose, use these tips to feel prepared and confident to follow through on the commitment. 


Check out this follow-up post with the tax implications you may face with bartering! 


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