Turning down jobs is one of the smartest things you can do for your photography career.
A reader writes:
“For me it’s been really instrumental in the last couple of years to take shoots that I really think I can knock out of the park, and shoots that feel like I am a good match for to get something great. Also, I make it a point to never go backwards or stay stagnant at a magazine for too long. If I do a small front-of-the-book portrait as a first job or two, and do a great job and they call for more, I usually try not to take it. I try to let them know that I would be good for their bigger shoots, and it’s worked out well that way, working my way up to covers in some cases.
In other cases, I was definitely stuck in a quarter pager mode, and was looking for the bigger front of the book portraits. Turned down the little jobs and never got offered the bigger. Which is a risk I was willing to take to try to get the better stuff. I figure sometimes it’s good to leave a magazine and come back to them with a stronger body of work later.”
He’s not talking about turning down bad money or contracts either just jobs that don’t jive with your career goals.
When you’ve established a relationship with someone shooting small front of book or crappy subjects that no one else wants it’s impossible to graduate them to the big features, fashion or the cover. Try convincing an editor that the photographer who shoots 1/4 pages in the front of the book should shoot this months cover. It ain’t happening.
Also, when I see someone’s work in another magazine that I don’t like, it can take them down a notch on my list. They may have done the job as a favor but I never know the details or difficulties behind the shoot.
So, what’s the best way to turn down jobs? Don’t be the photographer who says “I only shoot fashion or covers” because that’s not going to get you a call back to shoot fashion or covers. The usual method is to be busy during the shoot days and that’s why good agents will never tell you their photographer’s schedule before they hear the job details.
As a Photo Editor it’s important to have a couple photographers who will “shoot anything, anywhere and anytime” because you can always rely on them to get the job done but for most people this is not the way to advance your career.
I’ve had almost all my favorite photographers turn me down cold at one time or another and even though it stings for a couple days in the end I respect them more for not compromising their vision. Some shoots are just never worth taking no matter how much you need the job because if the the results are bad we may not be working together anymore anyways.