As a professional photographer, it’s difficult to turn down a job or tell photography clients “no.” It goes against your very nature. Almost every creative professional in the world loves to pursue their passions, be helpful, and, of course, make a little money doing what they love.
But we all know there’s a left side and a right side to the human brain and while creativity lives on one side of that great mental divide, reality and responsibility lives on the other.
So when photography clients call and present a project that they would like me to work on, my brain starts firing like a strobe light in a New York City club. Back and forth, I sway between saying “yes” immediately and asking some very important questions that all creative professionals should ask themselves.
5 Questions to Ask When Choosing Photography Clients
Do the benefits and rewards outweigh the expenses and challenges?
This is the first question I always ask myself and sometimes it is a tough one to answer as the benefits and challenges aren’t always clearly present when you first discuss the project with the client. With that said, this is also the first question I ask because if the answer is no, I usually don’t have to ask the other questions.
There are two types of rewards that usually justify my acceptance of a project. The first, as you can guess, is money. While I am not a greedy person, after years of being a photographer and a musician, I do value the ability to financially sustain my passions and creative vision. It’s hard to keep the train rolling without a little fuel in the engine. The second reward, when money isn’t involved, is professional advancement, which I’ll discuss next.
While these are the most important two considerations I keep in mind when choosing to work with photography clients on projects, they aren’t the only ones. I also weigh in the “feels good to do it” factor, as I, like most people, love to just feel good about what I’m doing. This is what leads me to working with not-for-profit and volunteer organizations and providing my photography services for free.
Will this job further my career or my artistic vision in some way?
This ties in with the benefits and rewards mentioned above, but simply put, if a job you accept won’t help you to work toward or meet a professional business goal or further your artistic vision as a photographer, it’s okay to let the job go.
Is this photography client worth working for? Are they reputable and easy to work with?
When you meet or chat with a client for the first time, they are sizing you up and determining if you are someone they would want to work with. You should take this same opportunity to check the client out and make sure they are someone you are comfortable and willing to work with.
Photography jobs should be a collaboration between you as the one with the camera and the client as the one with the overall vision or strategy for how the images are used in the end. If you are unable to get through the first discussion or contract negotiations before you ever raise the camera to your eye, it’s usually a sign that the client isn’t the right fit for you and you for them. Don’t force a job if you know it may lead to more trouble than it’s worth.
Will this lead to other opportunities? Will this client refer me to others in their industry?
This is another one of those benefit questions to specifically keep in mind. I have accepted jobs from clients before that offered little to no money, but I knew that the connections made with those clients or those they networked with, would lead to more prominent opportunities and, ultimately, better paying gigs as well.
Be careful with this one, though, and make sure that you do your homework; don’t just take the word of the client that you will receive exposure. Do an analysis of their business, their connections, their network to figure it out if it is truly worth your time.
Am I at a level in my career development where I can choose to turn down a job?
This is a tough one to ask and answer; it forces you to really look at your abilities with the camera and the stage of career development you’re at in your industry. It’s okay to say you’re a newbie; it doesn’t mean you don’t know what you’re doing behind the camera, but that you haven’t had all the experiences you feel you need to be properly prepared for the type of project you’ve been asked to do.
This is where having friends in the photography game is a blessing so you can refer the client to someone you know has that particular experience and is comfortable working on those projects. More often than not, when you are ready, you can revisit that client again and, if the referral you gave them panned out, they will still think highly of you as a professional. In fact, most clients appreciate honesty and open communication.
At the same time, it’s okay to turn down a photography client if you feel you are at a level of development that surpasses what the client is asking you to do or it doesn’t fit inside the scope of your business. For me, this would be how I handle weddings. I enjoy doing them from time to time, but I’m a portrait and landscape photographer first.
My passion is in working one-on-one with a model or client for an hour or two to really work a scene or concept, get the lighting just right, and really create an image that captures who that person is at that time. That’s why, for the small amount of weddings that I do, I choose my clients very carefully.
I’ll be honest – it took me a long while to get used to the idea of saying “no” to clients on this basis (every person is their worst critic and artists are even worse than that), but overall, I’m a happier and more driven photographer because I’m able to say it. And my clients respect my honesty and my professionalism as well.
The Key to Saying No to Photography Clients
Once you’ve answered the questions above and you know in your heart that the project the photography client has asked you to pursue is either not in your wheelhouse or not the right fit for your business or vision, then it’s time to pull the trigger and deliver the bad news. This can really be a tough thing to do especially if you’ve never done it before; I equate it to breaking up with a girlfriend.
Here’s the truth, though: it really isn’t that hard to do. The key to turning down a client is to be honest and professional. Make sure to give them the reason you aren’t accepting the job, thank them for the consideration, and offer a referral if you have one to pass along.
If things start to go sour and the client gets upset, just bear down, stay calm and collected, and again, make sure to give them an honest reason. As long as you were logical in your reasoning, when you hang up that phone or walk out of the office, you will know that you did the right thing and that the next great photography client is right around the corner.