Finding Balance: A Photographer's Guide to Saying No

I started in fashion photography, but building a profitable career was difficult most creatives have very low budjets and I couldn't just work for little to no money. I volunteered for a couple of charity events and coming from the creative world I felt it was a lonely experience; everyone else was having fun while I captured beautiful moments on the sidelines. Those experiences, like photographing a charity event for equine therapy, helped build my portfolio in the event industry. A servivce I had no intention of offer but it also showed me the difference between volunteering and offering professional services. Once I put it out there it became a thing, soon after showcasing those event photos, people started asking to hire me as an event photographer. It was how I transitioned into event photography. Now I absolutely love photographing events, who knew by volunteering I would find something I love doing. 

However, as I networked and my name got out there, the invitations became overwhelming. Everyone wanted me to bring my camera to thier event: art gallery openings, casual get-togethers, even barbecues. "Am I invited, or is my camera invited?" I started asking myself. Could I just send my camera and skip the event altogether?  I don't run into this anymore, it was a big challenge when I first started out as a photographer and at times I found it very hurtful people expected me to work for free, some even volunteered me without my comnsent. Just because you volunteer your time for a good cause doesn't mean your work is worthless. My skills are valuable, and I give back because I want to contribute positively to the world.

The turning point came when I realized other professionals wouldn't be expected to work for free. Would a dentist offer free checkups at a party? Would an attorney give free legal advice? Photographers shouldn't be any different. So, I refused all these free invitations. Unfortunately, some people disrespected my my work, thinking I should work for free somehow.

Building a portfolio requires making choices. You can either pay models or collaborate with them for mutual benefit. I used this approach in both fashion and wedding photography. To build a wedding portfolio, I offered time for print to models in exchange for modeling a wedding dress to help build my wedding portfolio. This strategy helped me break into the wedding industry.

The key is to know when to say no. It's okay to decline requests that don't serve you or your talent. Don't feel pressured to photograph everything just because other people find it interesting. If it's not your genre, politely decline. Find your own path, don't let other people dim your light. 

These "time bandits",  "soul snatchers," and "energy thieves" as I call them, can drain your energy and damper your self-worth. They're the people who constantly call you for everything or expect you to work for free. Empaths, like myself, are especially susceptible to the energy drain and people who just waste your time.

I once had a client who wasn't happy with their photos, which was the only negative feedback I'd ever received. I offered a reshoot to address their concerns, but they declined. In hindsight, there were some red flags earlier in the process. For example, the client began the conversation by badmouthing past photographers or criticizing other photographers' portfolios upfront. Six months later, the client contacted me again for another family shoot at the beach. This time, I politely declined, explaining that based on our previous experience, I didn't think I could meet their expectations. I recommended finding another photographer who might be a better fit. It became clear that their unhappiness wasn't about my skills, but rather a reflection of their own disposition. If a potential client already expresses negativity towards past providers, it's a good idea to politely decline and protect yourself from a toxic situation.

It's important to not be afraid to walk away from clients who don't respect your boundaries or value your work. You don't need to be desperate for money and work with people who critize because they are unhappy, toxic people try to make you feel bad about your passion which can lead to burnout.  Just politely decline.