I received an Instagram DM from someone who was working with a new start up fitness apparel line. They wanted to present their line to a major gym franchise to get their clothing featured in the gym locations – but they felt their images were not professional enough and wanted to bring me in because my work was “more professional looking” than the photographer they had used previously.

We discussed my background in photographing apparel lines from small independent designers to large international retailers and what my approach could be for their project. Then came the red flag. They used the wording “a photographer to willing to work with us.” This was the second time they used it. The first time I noticed it but continued on – the second time made me probe a bit more.

I immediately inquired to see if they had a budget range they were hoping the campaign would stay within.

Their response – they wanted a free photo shoot.

My answer – simply “no thank you.” But perhaps that was 2 words too many. The word “no” itself can be a complete sentence.


Go ahead, say it to yourself, it actually feels quite liberating. No.

I did not need to go onto a half hour tangent about why I would not work for free, what the value of my work is, how they are making a mistake, how they will never find a professional to work for free and how my work looked more professional than their other free photographer because it was just that… professional.

It was simply “No thank you” followed by a quite note to say if they ever got the budget I would be happy to discuss the project again.

Then I moved on to focus on something that I was being paid for.

Saying “No” to something actually means you are saying “Yes” to something else. Maybe you say “No” to a bad or low paid project so you can say “Yes” to a client who pays you the rate you ask. Or you are saying “Yes” to a free evening to spend with your family. Maybe the “Yes” is just so you can focus your energy on marketing that dream client you have wanted for so long.

Saying “Yes” to bad work means saying “No” to all of your good clients. It means saying “No” to your friends, family and even yourself. It means saying “No” to ever have the time to chase your big dream clients.

I’ve developed three meters that gauge if I say “Yes” or “No” to a potential project. All three never need to be equal, but I look into all three for each time I have a project in front of me.

  1. ECONOMICS: How much, if any budget is involved? My scale for this starts at zero (yes there are times I do things for zero – will get to that later) and goes up to infinity. So I ask myself, what is the economic value of taking this project. In the case of the clothing company, their value was zero. Ironically they wanted to use my photos commercially so they could make money. Thus they get the photos, they make money, I make zero. Doesn’t seem fair to me.
  2. FUN FACTOR: Use this meter however you choose. For me fun is about creativity in a project. When a client says that I have full creative control to do whatever the heck I want, I get excited. One example of this is magazine projects. Magazines don’t pay the best, however they give me lots of creative control to test and try things. That is an amazing trade off so I take that balance into account. The flip side of that is commercial projects which pay a lot (unless you are a start up apparel company that asked for free photos – okay sorry, last time I jab at them) but oftentimes will not give a lot of creative control. So I look at that balance to determine if it fits into what I want to do financially or creatively.
  3. OPPORTUNITY: What is the opportunity I would have in my career if I said “yes” to this project? I had a shoot offer a few years ago where I was to shoot a first round NFL draft pick for a magazine cover and spread. The budget was really bad for the project, so bad I would actually lose money after expenses. However they gave me full creative control on the shoot. Then I got to think about the opportunity. I had the opportunity to photograph a first round NFL draft pick for a few hours and I could do basically whatever I wanted. That was a huge opportunity that I said “yes” to. I did the shoot and as predicted I lost money on the project. But then I took those photos, continued to market them, actually licensed one for a nice payment putting me far in the black for my time and was able to use those photos to leverage more shoots with professional athletes. It was a great opportunity.

The catch about opportunity is that no one can tell you it is a good opportunity but yourself. And my bet is that if they are trying to get you to lower your price because it is a good opportunity, then it is far from.

Hopefully these three measuring sticks will help you in your future decisions on which projects to say yes or no to. Let me know what other metrics you use to make similar choices in your career.

James Patrick
IG @jpatrickphoto

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