Yes, it’s true.  Once a month I host an “almost free” sunrise photography meetup tour in Banff National Park.  Offering an almost free tour seems counter intuitive to running a photography business to make a living, doesn’t it?  And, at first glance, it is.  Keep reading to find the link to this amazing sunrise tour towards the end of this article.

The Rundle Diamond in Banff National Park

The reason I do this is to give people new to the area or people who really can’t afford to hire me at my regular rates a chance to get out shooting with a bit professional guidance.  Most of my business is geared towards offering landscape photography tours and events where I do charge enough to make a living from photography.  That makes sense, right?  I have to make a living.  But, if you look deeper into why I started my photography business way back in 1997, you’ll also understand why I choose to practically give away my services for free, once a month, on a predetermined date.

How and why does a pro photographer practically give a photography tour away that he normally charges for?

I started my professional photography business way back in 1997 for two reasons.  Firstly, because I have a need to express myself emotionally through photography,  AND secondly, because I wanted to share my emotions with others through my art.

Whoa!  Reality check Brian!

I also need to make a living.  That is a reality.  Giving my services away doesn’t make sense.  Starting a pro photography business to make a living two decades ago seemed logical, and somewhat romantic at the time.  LOL!  Ah, the innocence of youth!  The landscape photography business has an incredible amount of obstacles in it, including a plethora of excellent photographers giving their services away practically for free, myself included!

The two reasons I started my photography business above are somewhat contradictory.  Let me explain.  To emotionally communicate with the masses almost for free by practically giving a sunrise tour away seems contradictory to my effort to actually charge a sustainable rate for my other tours, workshops and for the annual landscape photography conference that I host, the Banff Landscape Photography Summit.  These two desires obviously create psychological and financial barriers for myself, and many other people too.  Some people simply can’t afford to pay for my tours and workshops, while other people simply don’t want to pay for photography services from a so called “professional” who occasionally gives his services away.

This creates a dilemma for me.  How can I share my love for photography with as many people as possible without their personal finances being a barrier, and how do I still attract enough customers to my ‘for profit’ events to earn a living from photography for me and my family?  Humm.

Part of the answer I came up with was to create the best, and the first, annual landscape photography conference in the North American continent featuring the best presenters, and photography tour excursions available.  That was a tall order to fill.  But the parent organization, the International Landscape Photographers’ Association, or ILPA, is fortunate enough to be based in one of the most desirable landscape photography destinations in North America, Banff National Park.  Because of this, I am able to afford to reach out and offer something to people who can’t afford to come on paid workshops, tours, or even attend the annual Banff Landscape Photography Summit which I priced very reasonably considering what you get when you register.  Collectively, I’m able to reach out and offer photographers who are on a tight budget something too, while I’m still being able to earn a living from my ‘for profit’ events.  

~The Almost Free Tour~

I created a cost effective alternative for photographers living on a tight budget.  I created the Banff Landscape Photography Sunrise/Sunset Meetup group.  This monthly meetup is about an hour to an hour and a half long and I take two lucky photographers out to shoot the sunrise or sunset in Banff National Park practically for free.  I think I’ve found the delicate balance by offering this almost free tour to just two people, only once a month, along with all my regular normally priced tours, workshops and the conference, the Banff Landscape Photography Summit.  I am still able make a living from photography.  

But, why bother to charge 10 bucks If

I’m going to give it bacK after the meetup?

So, this is the question you’re probably asking yourself.  You aren’t alone either.  What is the point of charging $10?  That makes no sense,… right?

When I started this meetup group I did offer it for free to everybody.  What happened was disappointing and a bit humiliating personally.  The meetup always filled up almost as soon as it was announced, Yeah!  Success!  Right?  But, for 3 months straight I only had one person actually show up out of the six people who had signed up.  That was emotionally degrading.  I was donating my time organizing and offering this tour for free, and for the most part it seemed that people didn’t care, want, or respect my efforts.  I thought about simply giving up trying to give a tour away and go back to just concentrating my efforts on my paid events that still continued to sell out regularly.  It just didn’t make any sense at all.  My paid tours were still well recieved, but my free tours were a dismal failure?

However. instead of giving up I decided that I’d charged a modest $10.  Kazue, my wife and business partner, thought I was crazy.  But, I thought that, maybe if people felt that they have more “skin in the game” with a modest $10 on the line, they would take the meetup more seriously.  My “Almost Free” strategy was born, and it has since proven very successful.  Go figure, free just doesn’t seem to work anymore!

In my first three totally free tours, I only had 1 person out of 6 people who had signed up actually show up for the tour.  In contrast, for my first three $10 tours, I had 5 people show up out of the 6 signed up for the “almost Free” tour.  That’s about an 85% success ratio.  Humm, I wonder what happened to the one person that didn’t show up after he paid $10?  I hope that he’s OK!  😉

So, there is the answer to the omnipresent question as to why I charge $10 for a tour once a month when I offer almost same tour for $200 available anytime during the rest of the month.  The paid Sunrise photography tour does include two or three more locations to shoot instead of just the one location in the monthly almost free tour.  I hope my lengthy answer to this simple question makes sense to you.  I also hope to see you out on ANY one of my tours in the future, paid or almost free!  Have a great day!

Click here to learn more about, and to Join ILPA

BTW, the ILPA Landscape and Wildlife Photography Weekly is a free weekly newsletter available to anyone.  This is something I do totally for free for photographers.  You can sign up for it in the top right corner of newsletter and have it emailed each week to your inbox.  If you  have a bit of disposable income then you may consider joining the International Landscape Photographers’ association too.  You can learn more by clicking through on the link with the logo.  Membership is just $95 and you’ll receive a ton of benefits worth more than $100 when you join, including a subscription to Outdoor Photography Canada magazine and other significant discounts on tours and workshops* offered by all the ILPA Professional Photographers* listed on the ILPA website.  When looking for a tour or a workshop, check out the ILPA Pros first and save on their tours when you’re a member!

Sincerely yours,

Brian Merry

Now, get off of the computer and get out shooting!!!!

 *  ILPA Professional Photographers may advertise their workshops and tours on this website and in the newsletter if they offer ILPA members 10% or more off of the event registration fee up to $300.  This is a pretty amazing benefit when you consider that costs only $95 a year to Join ILPA.