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Q&A: How Do I Refuse Inquiries For Single Images?

psychology for photographers question and answerWhy do people always ask me to photograph things I don’t “do,” and how can I turn them down without sounding rude?

Q:  Often I’ll get a call from a prospective client who has not been to my website. They find my number via Google and skip the whole browsing experience which would have managed expectations. I know almost immediately that they are looking for “a photographer, any photographer” when they simply ask me: “how much is it for a photo?”

First, I double check with them that they just are looking for one image. When they confirm this I always feel like a snob when I try to explain that I am a custom photographer and that my clients typically invest a lot of money and therefore I tend to supply them with more than single images.

Do you have a way of saying this that doesn’t sound like I am saying that I am “over qualified” for the job they want me to do in any way?

I would rather they understood that what I offer/do is not what they are asking for without me feeling like a snob, or making them feel bad in any way. After all they are making a perfectly normal request.

A:  If I called up an orthodontist who specialized in kids’ braces and said “Hey, how much do you charge to fill a cavity?” –

– would it make the orthodontist a snob if they said “Sorry, we specialize in braces, not cavities”?

Nope.  It’s an honest answer about what they’ve chosen to do. 

For the purposes of this answer, I’ll assume that you’ve explored with them what they’re searching for, opened their eyes to the possibilities of a full shoot, and they really are just looking for a single, final shot – something you don’t want to do.

If that’s the case, telling them that you specialize in a different type of photographic service is just an honest answer that you don’t provide that type of service.  You don’t do single shots.  The end.

(By the way – there are plenty of people and companies who spend oodles of money to get “one good shot,” and getting that one good shot can be darn hard work.  So let’s take a second and mentally high five our colleagues who specialize in getting that one awesome shot.)

Now, before we get to how to reply without sounding snobbish, though, let’s ask another question:

Q&A:  How Do I Refuse Inquiries For Single Images?

Why do people call up a lifestyle photographer asking for a headshot anyway?  (Or a portrait photographer asking for wedding photography, etc?)

One interesting reason:  People fall prey to something called “the halo effect.”  (We’ve talked about it before.)  The halo effect is essentially where people take one piece of information about a person, and apply that trait or observation more broadly.

For example:  Say you went to an acquaintance’s house for dinner, and he served delicious fettuccine with gorgeous gelato for dessert.  So you assume “he’s a good cook” and ask if he can bake brownies to help you with a bake sale next month.

But maybe he’s just good at cooking Italian food, and he’s terrible at baking brownies.  You just created a “halo” of other “good cook” attributes around them based on that one good dinner.  We see someone does one thing, and assume they do everything related to it.

(The halo effect is also why a teacher might unconsciously think a poorly dressed student will be lazy, or why juries tend to give lighter sentences to more attractive defendants….it’s a mental shortcut that has astonishing and often undesirable implications).

So back to photography:  Here, people sometimes fall prey to “the halo effect” and assume that photographers are qualified and eager to “take pictures” in general – regardless of the type of picture.

No matter how well you fine-tune your portfolio and website, you’ll always get the “okay they have a photography business, they must be able to do ______.”

In reply, I would simply say something like:

“Dear ____,

Thank you for your note, I’m happy that you considered me for this task.  My services are here to provide families with a hearty 2-hour session to produce a full wall gallery full of images for their home, so it doesn’t sound like I’m the best fit for this project. 

However, I do have a colleague who does excellent ____ work, and I highly recommend her/him.  In fact, I recently saw a ______ that s/he did, and have been impressed by the quality and service s/he provides.  You can reach her/him at 555-555-5555, or email them at

Thanks again for your inquiry.  I wish you luck with your _____.

Warmest wishes,

Honest Photographer.”

People always appreciate swift and honest replies, as well as a nudge in the right direction.

If they weren’t able to discern the type of photographer you are before they emailed, then all they really need is a quick yes or no.  And they’d probably appreciate a referral, too.

You can also turn these “not a good fit” inquiries into a positive thing:

Keep a mental list of a few local photographers who do different kinds of work.  Consider sending them an email to introduce yourself, and also to say “I find that I often get inquiries for ____, which I do not specialize in.  I admire your ___ work, so is it okay if I give them your contact information when this comes up?”

No photographer will say no to that, and building referral relationships can help you in the future as well.

Of course, be considerate – if a prospective client sounds particularly difficult or throws a fistful of red flags in your face, don’t deposit them neatly on a colleague’s doorstep.  Simply acknowledge to that client that you’re not a good fit, and move on. However, most of the time people are just in a hurry to get a certain task done.  Find someone who’s happy to do that task, and send the client their way.

Own what you do, and do it well!  Send everything else to someone who would love it.

(If you find yourself struggling to turn down jobs on a more emotional level, you might want to check out this post:  Saying No To Clients Who Aren’t A Good Fit.)

P.S.  Giveaway!!

An updated version of Preveal rolled out this week – and we’re giving away a copy!

Preveal is an iPad app that blew my mind when I first heard about it.  You use it to take a picture of a client’s wall, then drag and drop their images in to show them what it would look like in their own house.  (This used to take me forever to do manually in Photoshop.)

Perfect for concretely demonstrating the benefits of larger sizes, and helping clients preview your work on their own walls.  I’m a huge fan of this app, so I’m giving away a copy.  Enter below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Disclosure: I recently signed up as an iTunes affiliate, and this is sold in the iTunes store; however, I’d promote this app regardless. I think it stands apart among business tools.


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  1. Kat on July 11, 2013 at 1:40 am

    Timely advice here as I just received inquiries that need exactly this type of response! Thanks!

  2. Nikki McAthur on August 29, 2013 at 3:49 am

    DUDE, I get a call at least once a month asking if I take passport photos. I seriously have no clue why they think I would OR why they wouldn’t just go to the drugstore any pay 11.99 for the photo to be developed while they wait. Which is EXACTLY what I tell them to do! SERIOUSLY!!!

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