Unrealistic Project Requests & How To Handle Them

As photographers, we all get unrealistic project requests from time to time. Some clients are willing to learn more about the process and work with you to establish a partnership. Others are not. So, how do you handle these requests that make it to your inbox? This post shares how I handle unrealistic project requests and I think my advice may surprise you.

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Unrealistic Project Requests

Unrealistic Project Requests

An Example Email

I recently received an email from a company in the industry who wanted to do a dessert shoot featuring a big name chef and a special product that would be used in the recipe. Read the email below.

Hi Regan!

I hope all is well. I’m reaching out about a potential freelance shoot. We are a restaurant industry-facing media company and we’re doing a quick shoot of a Cheesecake Hand Pie that utilizes a special vanilla extract for one of our partners.

The shoot would take about 30 minutes and would require shots of the dish on its own, a few shots of the dish with the vanilla extract bottle, as well as a headshot of Chef. The rate would be flat $200.

Let us know if you’re interested/available and we can send through next steps, lock down a time and send through a more detailed shot list!

Have a great day!

So…this project was a combination of food photography, product photography and headshots in one shoot. And, they wanted it done in 30 minutes and they’d pay me $200?

My first thought was, “Are they joking?

But, then it inspired this post, so let’s talk about this a little more.

Why We Get Unrealistic Project Requests

We ALL get unrealistic project requests. It doesn’t matter if you’re new to the industry or an old pro. It’s inevitably going to happen from time to time.

I think there are three possible reasons why clients send requests like this:

  1. They don’t know what goes into the photography process. (understandable)
  2. They see photographers as service providers. (red flag)
  3. They have always handled their photography needs this way. (red flag)

How To Respond to Unrealistic Project Requests

When you get unrealistic requests, I can understand not wanting to respond. But, the truth is, these emails will continue to come if you don’t start speaking up. I always encourage my fellow photographers to not go silent on emails like this. Unrealistic requests can be frustrating, but they are also an opportunity to educate.

My advice is to create a templated email response that you can refer to (and edit accordingly) when you get these unrealistic project requests. It allows you to educate without spending too much of your valuable time on it.

Your thoughtful, educational email response has the power to do the following three things:

  1. Share what’s actually involved with photography
  2. Demonstrate your expertise
  3. Weed out a potentially bad client

Share What’s Actually Involved With Photography

I always try to give the person who sent the unrealistic request the benefit of the doubt. I assume they simply don’t know everything that’s involved with photography and that’s ok!

Sharing a little more insight in a friendly and positive tone (rather than sounding like a frustrated primadonna) is incredibly important to maintain your professionalism. A good photographer isn’t just good with cameras – they have to be good with people too.

Simply share a quick statement telling them that their expectations are not inline with the time and cost that would be involved for the project. You don’t have to get too detailed with this either. In fact, this is when you give them an opportunity to get more detailed with you.

Demonstrate Your Expertise

After you tell someone that their project isn’t aligning with the time needed and potential costs, put the ball back in their court. Ask them specific questions about their project and see how they respond. Asking questions and listening demonstrates your expertise – and believe it or not – their response will demonstrate a lot about them.

I always ask these questions in the initial stages of all my photography projects. I also copy and paste them into my templated response to the unrealistic requests. It’s a great way to shift the client’s thinking from “quickly finding a photographer” to helping them think more critically about what they actually need.

Weed Out A Potentially Bad Client

Nothing may come from your templated response, but nothing comes from not responding too. You will weed out a potentially bad client either way.

However, the whole point of having a professional, templated response ready is to speak up, educate and protect your boundaries as a photographer. We work in an industry that sometimes tries to take advantage of our talent. There’s more power in speaking up rather than going silent. Your response will be read by someone and you never know when someone may actually learn from it and change their approach when trying to hire a photographer.


Red Tomato Macro Shot on Black

The Email Exchange

If you’re curious to how the email exchange played out, read more below.

My Response

Hello (name of person),

Thanks for reaching out about your photography needs! 

The shot list you described includes food photography, product photography and headshots. All of which require different lighting and setups. The timeframe and budget you mentioned unfortunately don’t align with the work involved for this project. 

It’s really important to collaborate with photographers about your project so you can work together on developing a reasonable timeline and budget.

Please see some initial questions I have below to help me understand your project a little better. After receiving your responses, I can work up a fair timeline and estimate for us to discuss together. 


Their Response

Thanks for the quick response and appreciate your feedback!

As an industry-facing organization, we do hundreds of these types of shoots per year so our shot list, time allotment, and rates are pretty standardized at this point.

Photography has been an integral part of business for decades and we of course, respect and appreciate the time and effort needed to produce and edit the images.

That being said, our shoots are very minimal (no stylizing), and we’ve never had an issue with the 30-minute allotment in the past but completely understand if the project is not a fit.

Thanks again and hope you have a great weekend!

I decided not to respond after that. If a company is used to doing their photography business this way, I consider it a red flag and move on. But, just know when you respond professionally to these types of requests, it will catch people’s attention… and you never know when it just might spark a change.

How do you handle unrealistic project requests? Share in the comments below.

This post may contain affiliate links which means if you click or make a purchase through my site, I might make a small commission at no extra cost to you. I only promote products that I actually use and support. 

All images ©Regan Baroni 2021.

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