Photographers, Don’t Fall for These Client Pick-Up Lines

One of the toughest things for a photographer to do is to say “no” to new business, even if it’s a bad deal. Especially in today’s environment, your prospective clients have an arsenal of pick-up lines — ranging from sweet talk to coy bluffs — to make bad deals sound like good ones.

Here are some examples of client sweet talk:

  • “It will be great exposure for you with the right people;”
  • “If things go well, it will lead to paid opportunities with us down the road;”
  • “It will add another dimension to your portfolio.”

Here are some examples of client bluffs:

  • “If you don’t want to do it for us for free, I know several others who will;”
  • “My uncle has a digital camera and can shoot it if you don’t want to;”
  • All our photographers give us unlimited usage rights;”
  • “If you’re not interested, we can just find something on a stock site.”

If you heard the equivalent of any of these pick-up lines at a bar, you would turn them down flat, wouldn’t you? So why fall for them in your professional life?

Not a Good Trade

Recently, a publication approached me about an assignment. When we got down to talking about compensation, they said they couldn’t pay me in cash, but would give me free ad space in return for my work.

That sounded OK — until I did a little investigating and learned that this was their standard offer to everybody who shot for them. So my ad would be running next to those of several other photographers, clearly diminishing its value.

I turned down the gig.

It occurred to me that this episode is symbolic of what’s happening to the photography market today. We are being pitted against one another in a way that diminishes opportunities for all of us.

Granted, we have all felt the pinch of smaller budgets, microstock photography and a less-than-stellar economy. But you’re not helping anyone — especially yourself — by abandoning common sense when it comes to compensation.

Don’t let clients walk all over you. If the terms and compensation they’re offering sound like a bad deal, they are a bad deal — no matter how much lipstick they try to slap on the pig.

49 Responses to “Photographers, Don’t Fall for These Client Pick-Up Lines”

  1. Thanks for the information. Helpful as well as comforting in a weird kind of way.

  2. These lines need to be in the Library of Congress because they are simply classic.

    I will admit to falling for them when I was wet behind the ears with my nice new entry level DSLR.

    It didn't take long for me to figure out that the [potential] potential client's claim did not pay off.

  3. Yes. I fell for most of these lines when I began selling 10 years ago. The real killer line was that I would get publicity from it. I can't say that ever did pan out. Nowadays, I really won't license, or sell images unless I'm paid.

    I can't say that this is to protect other photographers, though that does cross my mind - but simply that I try not to sell myself short.

  4. WOW! Love the bar analogy. I know just about any pickup line I hear I turn down...I'm not a product or something to be "picked up" so great connection to photography. Love this post. Made me laugh and think. Thanks for sharing.

  5. We should write down a list of bad offers ... it could be an endless variation of the same thing ... over and over.

  6. This is a great article. Thank you for sharing this information.

  7. Great post. Especially the line about ad space. It wasn't even the "normal" compensation that made me turn down a local print, it was the fact that the ad space was sold for far less than what my compensation was. Smh. Thanks once again!

  8. Excellent post!!!!!!!!

  9. When I first started out in photography these pick up lines would flatter me & I would get sucked in. Nothing good ever came out of it, the phone didn't ring off the hook because I got a credit in a magazine.

    Not any more!

    I don't know what it is about photography that people feel that they can fob you off with a promise of future work, or an advert or a credit.

    Be gone pick up lines! 🙂

  10. Thanks for the advice.

  11. Totally agree with you pal, these clients think that many of us ( the professional ones) are just starving and would even sell their mothers for some breadcrumbs, actually the true is that you should avoid those pick-up liners in all the moments of your life, they are just cheap and ignorant guys willing to abuse you. Respect yourself and say no, many of them are just so insignificant that the great opportunity they are painting for you is just a lie.

  12. While I primarily focus on video (we do dabble in still photography), I can say that these pickup lines and bluffs also apply to that world. Someone out there is always trying to get something for nothing, and it's never a win in the end.

    True story: a few months ago I was asked to serve as DP for a documentary being shot north of here. They're promising thousands of dollars, royalties, percentages of the net income, and on and on. Every time I asked about upfront compensation, they skirted around it, talking about how well connected they were and how they have one of the producers from "O Brother Where Art Thou" interested in the film. Long story short, there was no upfront cash involved, or even after the fact cash for that matter. It turns out that all they were offering was about 1% of the net income, and now it looks like they'll never distribute the film. Everyone involved lost out with a big waste of time.

    In the end, you offer a valuable service. If you give it away for free, you're not just hurting yourself; you're hurting your industry.

  13. Excellent post Aaron. Thanks for your contribution. These sound all too familiar. It is sad, but true!

  14. I had a model wanna be who thought he was so important because he was "on the set" when called him back after his 3rd harassing phone call, pull this crap on me. For a second, I considered bartering with him. Then I was like, "Gosh, I am so sorry , it just won't work out at this time"

    And i said to him, "I believe you are in good hands, you mentioned you had several folks ... See, More that could help you out.. so go ahead and accept one of their offers". HE Stuttered.... it was great!

    Thank you for confirming i made the best choice!

    BTW, he was a paid extra in a movie but made it sound like he was the star.

  15. I think this happens in lots of industries. Especially the 'carrot dangling' of future business.

    It just seems to get harder and harder to make a dollar as demanding clients increasingly expect you to work for free.

    Good advice - be firm!

  16. My reply to such lines is, "that sounds wonderful. But exposure and potential unfortunately don't pay my rent or put food on my table now."

  17. As a retoucher, I have often heard these same lines uttered by photographers looking to get work done on the cheap or free. It's business, everyone is looking to cut their costs and your vendor is usually your biggest expense. It happens to all of us. I have heard directly from big name photographers lamenting about big money Ad companies squeezing them on major campaigns. So as annoying as it is, don't take offense it's life. Flexibility and compromise you can live with are key.

  18. Great points Aaron! These also apply for video and design firms as well

  19. Excellent advice for all but especially those just starting down the professional road. My journey from Rookie to Pro can be followed at or on Twitter @rookie_photo

    Thanks again for such good advice.

  20. $1.00 worth of work is worth $1.00.

  21. I would just like to know if any other professionals are insulted like professional photographers are by being asked for their professional work for free. Can you imagine calling up a dentist asking for services for free offering your "unique tooth decay" problem to add to his/her dental portfolio?! Ha.

    Every time I read an article like this it makes me want to RAISE my prices!

  22. If I had offers of paying gigs for every time I have been offered a "lets trade out" gig I would be retired by now! Great article... and BTW it happens even more often on the Graphic Design side of my business.

  23. Years ago I did some free work for the exposure promise for a couple of magazines. I stopped doing that when one of the magazines that was referred to me by a client for whom I did some "work for exposure" called, mentioned they liked the work I did for the other magazine very much, and that "they had spoken with the photo editor of the other magazine, who told them that I am great to work with and that I WILL PROBABLY AGREE TO ACCEPT EXPOSURE IN LIEU OF COMPENSATION". Then it hit me. Your pricing is always part of any referral. I'm not looking for referrals that position me as "good & cheap", or "good and free". I'm looking to be positioned as "good although not inexpensive".

    Pricing, whether in $ amounts or equivalent, has to make sense to both parties. Many of my clients are non-profit, and they get my somewhat lower non-profit rates. To a few charities, whose cause I strongly believe in, I make a donation at the end of the job, a percentage of the fees paid . For me, the feeling of giving back represents a different kind of compensation (although intangible), so it's a win-win. But at the end of the day, I'm running a business, and I can't pay my bills with exposure.


  24. This story makes some excellent points. Bad pickup lines are definitely out there. Here's an especially egregious one from my collection:

    Last summer, I was asked to share some of my photos with a local organization. I told the person making the request that I'd be happy to work out a licensing agreement. Her reply: The organization had no money for such a thing.

    I guess I was supposed to take pity on this organization and share my work, but I didn't. Something just didn't seem right. After all, this group has a well paid staff and a nice downtown office. I later found out that its annual budget is more than $1.5 million.

  25. This morning an email crossed my desk from RTE, the Irish public broadcasting organization supported by a mandatory annual usage tax on every television and radio in the Irish Republic:

    "...asking for a waiver of fees in return for credit for you on the programme and for the book in the online version."

    My response:
    “No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue”
    Franklin D. Roosevelt - 32nd US President 1933-45

    “A fair day's wages for a fair day's work.”
    Thomas Carlyle - 1795-1881

    “Give the laborer his wages before his perspiration be dry.”
    Prophet Muhammad (570-632) quoted in 'The Sayings of Muhammad' by Sir Abdullah Suhrawardy

    "Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation."
    Romans 4:4

    “The laborer is worthy of his hire.”
    Luke 10:7

    “…If the terms and compensation they’re offering sound like a bad deal, they are a bad deal — no matter how much lipstick they try to slap on the pig.”

    You get paid, Don’t You???

  26. You can gauge the value of your client by what they offer you. If they are offering you nothing BUT free advertising is not a payment what you are doing is sponsoring them. DONT EVER SPONSOR CORPORATE WELFARE BUMS

  27. Here's a good one from a well-known, Kansas City publication asking for images from Flickr users:

    "...If your photo is exceptionally bad-ass, we may feature it on our blogs or slide shows (or even in our print version). Please include your name with each photo, so we can give you the credit you deserve! Make sure your photos are least 400 pixels wide at 72 dpi in order for them to be considered for online use. If we need a hi-res version, we'll contact you."

    The credit we deserve? How about the fees we deserve..?

  28. If I got a dollar for every "....we want to establish a long term relationship...." I would be rich.

  29. Well, looks like I just lost an opportunity to give up a good chunk of my Sunday afternoon to do photography for a benefit concert. What was the kicker?

    Well, the event organizer told me that I wasn't going to get paid. So, I asked if I could sell my photos in my online store. Or if I could sell them to local media outlets have been known to buy the work of freelance photographers.

    Well, apparently, my wanting to be compensated for leaving home with my heavy and expensive camera and my expertise was bad, very bad indeed. The event organizer brought our conversation to a very hurried end.

    I might add that this event is being held in a concert hall that most likely isn't providing the space for free. Nor are its employees going to be working for free. So, why shouldn't I have the opportunity to earn *something* for my time, energy, and expertise.

  30. I've lost track of the number of times I've been asked by an organization or web site to use one of my photos for "credit" or a "link to your website" or "exposure." At first, I was flattered (and still said "no"), but I got over that pretty fast. Now, I generally ignore the requests at this point, though I do occasionally respond to the person asking and ask whether or not he or she is being paid for their work for the organization. At that point, the conversation abruptly ends.

    I think we all do ourselves a disservice to sell our work short. And the solution is simple: don't do it.

  31. never ever work for free - it makes your work less valuable. i'd rather work at a hamburger joint than work for free. and that's what they are telling you... pay me and if i want to advertise in your rag i'll pay you. that's how it works.

  32. I just discovered this post (site) by accident, and I have to add my 'thanks' for this excellent advice.
    I'm just starting out (don't have a website or anything yet) and just exhibit my work locally at an art fair on weekends at this point, so I haven't had the kinds of 'offers' you other folks have.

    However, I was approached a few weeks ago by an interior designer who has a client wanting some large prints for her home and this person really liked my work.
    She gave me the specs and I emailed her my pricing. She replied (aghast) that her client's total budget was only X$$, including printing and framing. She then suggested that I (boldface I) contact HER printer/framer and work something out.
    I didn't even bother to reply to her email. What planet are these people on?? I had half a mind to tell her she should check out pricing from Getty.

    I love Michael Beasley's line...'YOU get paid, don't you?' Bravo!

  33. This is.. so accurate.

  34. This is so accurate to all aspects of creative professionals. Photography, graphic design, illustrators, etc. I'm a freelance writer and I see/hear these types of "pick-up lines" all. the. time. Creative professionals and their services are quickly and easily discounted because "anybody" can pick up a camera or open a word program and do it, right? Everybody's got a friend/cousin/old-college-roommate who has a camera/wrote a story once/drew a pretty picture and will be glad to do the work if you don't.

    Clients think they have creative pros over a barrel because of today's economy. It's insulting but a fact of life anymore. "You get what you pay for" isn't just a tired cliche, and people need to recognize that PROFESSIONAL RESULTS DEMAND PROFESSIONAL COMPENSATION. Period. You can't offer a full-time photographer "exposure!!1!!" for his time and expertise and expect any serious response.

  35. This is quite usual here in Brazil. Looks like it's some kind of "industry standard" here to ask for photographs in exchange of credits or ads.
    Recently, a Sao Paulo minor stylist asked me to photograph her new summer collection to their collection lookbooks.
    It was around 400 clicks to be delivered already retouched, colour-managed and in less than a week.
    Since they said that I could not photograph on their space (my studio isn't prepared to receive a 15+ team of hairdressers, models, assiatants etc.) I had to rent one, thus increasing the costs involved.
    When I told them the price (which was slightly below the market price), I got and email from the brand owner saying that she was: "deeply disgusted" with it. According to her, I was trying to use their "widespread prestige in the fashion industry to catapult my name in exchange of NOTHING BUT A FEW PHOTOS".

  36. the less photographers fall for these the less they will get used. hopefully...

  37. Been in photography for more than 45 years. Heard 'em all. Multiple times. I just say "I bet you think I never heard that one before." For some reason the predators that use these lines think they are very clever and "creative."

    They ain't.

  38. unfortunately there are too many people with a dslr who are photographing for kicks that will say yes to these pick up lines. This is also a plus however, as the standard of images that gets printed is so low it makes quality work stand out further!

  39. So true!

    Thanks for sharing, I hope more photographers stop falling for these client pick-up lines!

  40. Ive heard the “It will be great exposure for you with the right people” line before, I said no.

    If a company wants photos from you and they can afford to pay their employees they can afford to pay you. A link on a website isnt going to get you work.

    Its good to see some of the lines used so we can avoid them.

  41. have heard all of them!!! 🙂

  42. As a photographer who moved into the industry from the corporate world, I personally think we need to take a more direct and approach to these clowns.

    Take an incident I had the other week. A PR rang me late in the evening asking me to quote for a job. I quoted the going market rate for the job and she said she would get back to me if the client approved the fee. She never did.

    A couple of days later I saw an advertisement on a photography forum by a company requesting a similar job at £50 per day without any expenses for mileage, equipment etc. I sent a polite e-mail challenging them that this fee was unreasonable. They responded, this is a training position, and that expenses are payable (notable change). I responded, "ok so if its a training position, who will be giving the training, given that training positions in commercial photography, means assisting an existing photographer, who teaches them the ropes".

    The advertisement was gone from the forum within less than an hour.

    We as an industry need to be prepared to press these people, as in my experience when they encounter a challenge, they shoot off with their tails between their legs. Being wripped off by someone who drives up in a Merc and ownes a £1m house is not clever, and its never going to make you a living.

  43. Well said. If you don't value your art, talent and experience, no one else will. Don't undervalue your work.

  44. What gets me are people having events in expensive venues, tons of guests, etc and thinking that they can spend money on everything but the photography.

    I am over the deferred gratification stuff. Pay me what I am worth now.

  45. I learned long ago that a promise should only get a promise back and it's only a commitment that gets a commitment back. Anything else is inequitable. So a promise of "I have lots of friends and I'll tell them about you and you'll get lots of business" should only get your promise "and when I get their business that's when I'll give you that discount you're asking for" and nothing more.

  46. Yes, you should appreciate your arts first before everyone else.

  47. You have to stand firm and call them on it! Its like any deal. A good client which has standards and is asking you because they recognise yours, will be prepared to pay market rate. If nobody will pay you market rate this also says something about your work or your marketing strategy.

  48. I agree, stand firm. There will always be someone willing to do the job for free/cheaper/more inclusions. If it's such a great deal elsewhere - take it!

  49. I completely agree with your post. It's a stupidity to make use of one's profession for free.

Leave a Reply