6 scenarios where you may want to say no (and how to do it)

Q. “I read one of your blogs and you said that you may tell someone that you are not the right photographer for them.  Is that exactly what you say?  I get people who I just get “feelings” about and I’m usually right.  I lose money, give away things, etc, etc and wish I could’ve just said no when I knew it was going to be bad. Any advice?”

A. Yes that’s exactly what I say! Well…you know…when I’m practicing what I’m going to say. In front of the mirror. This type of interaction with a potential client is easier said than done. There have been a couple times that I did point-blank say, “I don’t think I’m what you’re looking for” and this takes the pressure off, actually. It’s not that you’re rejecting them, you’re just kindly letting them know that not every photographer is exactly the same and they need to actually look for someone who fits their needs. Not just their wallet.

These are a couple scenarios you may come across and what I would say (or do) to let them know they need to keep looking:

You have a friend with really naughty kids. You don’t even like your kids playing with them. And she wants you to take their photos (probably for free!). Paid or unpaid, there’s nothing in the world that would make you want to do this. What do you do?

  • Option A: Let her know your price and tell her there’s no space in your diary for any unpaid work at this time. She’ll probably drop the idea.
  • Option B: Tell her that her children aren’t suited for your style of photography. I’m pretty sure that parents of monsters know they’re monsters. And at some point, it’s going to become an inconvenience for her.
  • Option C: Do the session, but insist that you do it on your own. I’ve taken children of friends down to my studio for an outing and it went so amazingly well. Children whose parents say are ‘high maintenance’ or ‘finicky’ or ‘probably wouldn’t do it’ are some of the best sessions I’ve ever done. You can lay down the rules and tell the kids that they need to behave and you know what? They probably will. Most kids act that way only with their parents around anyway.

A family member wants you to shoot their wedding and be a working guest. What do you say?

I’ve done a family wedding and there are more drawbacks than perks. When asked to do another, I just said, “I’m not doing family weddings anymore.” You can be more blunt with family than with strangers. And you know, your family member may be asking you out of kindness because -think about it- if they hired another photographer without asking you first, wouldn’t you think they must hate your work? I take it as a compliment, but I don’t do it in the end.

You get an email inquiry from a client, like the question-asker above, just gives you a feeling. A red flag goes up and you think “I really don’t want to do this”. It may be that there are multiple requests, many sample images they wish for you to copy, requests to take 150 lbs off her hips. And to do it all for $1.

  • Option A: You can ignore the email
  • Option B: You can tell them that you’re booked up for the year (or the decade)
  • Option C: You can take the time to write and describe how you work and why you wouldn’t be able to take on so many requests and then just say, “I don’t think I’m the photographer you’re looking for.”

You get an inquiry from someone who wants you to shoot and just hand over your raw files, unedited.

NO! WAY! (Jose). Not only would they ask you to then do it half priced, it’s just not a good idea. But some photographers do think it’s a good idea, actually, and so here are a few scenarios:

  • Option A: You can explain to them that capturing the data in the camera sensor is only half of the process. The other half happens in the computer and you’re not willing to forego the control over your end results.
  • Option B: You can agree to do it, but actually charge more. The right to have these files is a premium service. Make it so outrageous that they will either say no and save you the trouble, or they will say yes and you’ll make enough money to put your mind at rest. For me, it would have to be a heck of a lot.

You get a business owner asking you to work for free in exchange for ‘exposure’.

I had this situation. I did photos for a business that included setting up a studio in their location, extensive touch-ups, dealing with moody employees who didn’t want to have their photo taken. This was meant to be in exchange for promotion for my business. It came to absolute and utter nothingness. Except that a few months later, she wanted to do it again. Also ‘in view of more work’. I wasted no words. I said “this is the more work. I did the last one for free.” And then I quoted her an extremely reasonable price. She came back with “don’t insult me…I could find another photographer…blah blah blah.” I wrote back: “I think that looking for another photographer is a very good idea.” Good luck, lady!

A friend asks you to make some of the photos look a way that doesn’t fit your style. Like selective colouring or changing the composition.

It’s easier with a client, but not so easy with a friend. Personally, I despise selective colour. There are very few scenarios where it even makes sense and it’s soooo 1990. I would hate for someone to see my work and think I’m that type of photographer. And then ask me to do it for them as well. For a client or a friend, I would just say “I’m sorry, I don’t do selective colour. I know that many people like it, but it’s actually a very dated practice that doesn’t fit my style.” There’s a post here from last week all about how to handle a clients who wants to chance your artistic vision and how to handle that situation.

So as you can see, in any given situation, you basically always have three options…

  • Ignore the inquiry
  • Explain why you can’t meet their needs (or just tell them that you’re “not the photographer for them”)
  • Do it and charge enough to feel that you came out on top.

This is all much easier in cyber space, but it gets easier the more you do it and some day, you may even be able to say it in real life.

  • This article contains so much practical wisdom. Thank you for sharing it.

    I love your blog and despite not being a pro in the camera sense I find your approach to work and life refreshing.

    I learn more than business and photography from you.


  • Thank you, thank you, thank you!! Your wisdom on the business of being a photographer is amazing! I seriously have had a few of those scenarios just this week pop up – it helps to see that these things happen to all of us.

  • Shannon

    Again, you come in with just the info I’ve been pondering! Thanks so much for sharing words of wisdom. I’ve been learning so much from you.

  • kate si

    No… parents of monsters don’t usually seem to know their kids are monsters.

  • Great article!!!!! Very helpful! Sometimes it’s hard to just say no even when you know you should! I will have to use your advice in the future should any of these scenarios come up! Thanks!

  • Super info. I really try hard not to be a pushover, so the reinforcement is definitely welcome.

  • Wow, if I had known then what I now know! Thank you for talking about these all too difficult sitiuations. I’ve been in the “business” for 4 years now and is just barely charging what I think I’m worth (and even then I still more than I’d like to admit, do free sessions all the time!). So when I get a cranky customer that’s a friend of a friend,s it’s hard to know how to deal. Thanks for your honest insight! I just found your blog and am LOVING it! I’m now a stalker!

  • Alena Belleque

    I hate selective coloring, and agree that it is really dated. Sadly, the chain studio I’ve been working for (only 5 more weeks, yeeha!) thinks it’s awesome. I always cringe when my clients gush over it and ask me to do it for them. Thankfully, it’s done in our lab and the in-studio preview is just awful, so they rarely buy it. UNfortunately, every single sale I’ve made after being forced to show that preview has been just pitiful! They think because the preview stinks I’m not as good as they thought I was three seconds ago when they were looking at the original color image. Ie, people are kinda dumb :P

  • Finvara

    Thank you my dear this helped.

  • GAH! I hate selective coloring also!!! I know so many that do it and even though they like it. I refuse. It looks tacky to me. 

  • Stephanie Kozick

    For a new photographer already facing these difficult issues… this post is GOLD! Thank you so much!

  • As a young photographer – when I asked for an engaged couple or two to shoot for free for my portfolio, I got several high school girls looking for free pictures of them and their boyfriends. I had to respectfully decline because that’s not who I want to be. Being 16, I have to work hard to represent myself as a professional – pictures of other 16-year-old couples will not be good for that.

  • Thanks so much for this article.  It reaffirms me when last week I turned away a potential client who wanted newborn photos.  I just don’t have the equipment/expertise yet to do newborns.  So I refered her to some else who does.  And told her to give me a call if she wanted a family session or 1 year photos when the baby is older.  My husband thought I was nuts for turning away a potential client.  But I figured it was better to have no client than someone who would be dissappointed with my images, and possible spread negative feedback.

  • Denise Karis

    Im a year late but OMG i just found you and ….INCREDIBLE! The one where I refused to work for free for exposure is really the only HARD thing ive done in my business but the only thing I can remember feeling AMAZING about. I said no and said that “I hope that you would refer people to me because you and they like my work and not because of discounts.” and they agreed, paid me, and sent one person my way …if I had said yes, they would have not paid me and sent 1 person my way….. recently I accepted a job i DIDN’T feel good about, she ended up giving me a million email inquiries and then blowing me off entirely. if i would have just said no I would have had two great business moves to feel good about. I definitely took a TON away from this!

  • Seriously, your blog is so necessary for the photography world. I’ve learned so much of this the hard way. It’s great to know that someone is sharing their experiences on a broader level of communication. Having the self confidence to stand up for your work and not accept less than you deserve is half the battle.

  • Normanh11

    Just “found” your blog and site. Excellent. Much to delve into. One exception I’ve made to the not turning over RAW files rule is for another photographer who wanted to save the money and do his own editing. I’ve done the same thing for when I hired my pro friend to shoot my kids’ bat mitzvah. Getting paid to shoot and not have to sit for hours editing isn’t all that bad.