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When and How to Turn Down a Gig

by Caroline Moore on November 19, 2010 · 38 comments

In this economy, it’s hard to turn down any paid work. But sometimes saying no can be the best thing for your creative vision and your business. So why should you say no to a job?

It’s not your subject.
Shooting every job that comes up may seem like a great way to get experience, and when you’re first starting out that may be the way to go. If you are trying to establish a business, though, it’s beneficial to narrow your focus. Know what you do, and what you don’t do, and spend time gaining experience in that specific area. This way you can be great at portraiture, instead of just good at portraiture, and landscapes, and product photography, etc. Also, know your career goals and only take jobs that help those goals. Spending time, money, and resources shooting something that doesn’t help your business doesn’t make sense.

It’s not your style.

In addition to shooting certain subjects, you probably also shoot in a certain style. If your bread and butter is shooting heavy metal bands, your style may not lend itself to shooting children’s portraits. This doesn’t mean you couldn’t shoot children’s portraits, but is it worth the additional planning and effort to shoot something outside of your expertise? If the answer is no, then you should consider turning down the job. If you shoot in a candid, “photojournalist” style, and a bride hires you looking for traditional portraits, neither of you will be happy with the result. Turning down work that doesn’t suit your style frees you up to explore work that does.

It’s not your price.
If it’s a bad deal, you don’t have to take it. If you have an issue with the contract – whether it’s your fee, compensation for expenses, or rights and usages – negotiate. Know your rates, and know what it costs you to do business – including the time you spend commuting, planning, editing, and post-processing. I’m not going to get into pricing here, but there are a lot of non-monetary reasons to consider as well. You may be getting access, experience, or some other benefit to doing a shoot aside from payment. If it’s a good opportunity for you, and fits with your business goals, book the job. However, keep in mind that people viewing a photo in your portfolio don’t know the details – if you shot it for the experience, or as a favor – they only see the final result. You don’t have to show everything that you shoot.

It’s not your client.
Sometimes the client just isn’t a good fit for you. Maybe you’re unable to work within their timeframe. Maybe they require more frequent updates or reports than you’re willing to offer. Maybe you just don’t get along with them. Everyone has their personal set of red flags when it comes to new clients. If you can tell early on that the client is going to be difficult, you may be better off turning down the job. If you book with them anyway, it may lead to more work down the road, and only be harder to say no.

How to say no.
The best way to turn down a job is with a referral. Keep track of other photographers in your area, especially those that shoot a different subject matter or style than you. That way, when someone approaches you about shooting a subject that you’re not into, you can direct them to someone who does. This is a great way to build up a referral network, and when other photographers are approached about shooting something you’re great at, they’ll return the favor.

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