Unrealistic Project Requests & How To Handle Them

As photographers, we all get unrealistic project requests. 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 in Photography

Unrealistic Project Requests: An Example

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.

The shot list included beauty shots of the dessert, shots of the dessert with the special product and some headshots of the chef. So, this project was a combination of food photography, product photography and headshots in one shoot.

The company said the shoot should only take 30 minutes and they pay a flat rate of $200.

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 Requests

When you get unrealistic requests, I can understand thinking, “I’m not going to waste my time responding to this.” I’ve thought this many times in the past and didn’t respond.

But, the truth is, these emails will continue to come if you don’t start speaking up. I always encourage my fellow photographers (myself included) 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 template 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 involved with photography
  2. Demonstrate yourself as an expert (not a service provider)
  3. Weed out a potentially bad client

You will either get a response or you won’t. If you do, you can determine if it’s worth your time and energy to continue the conversation.

Read More About: How To Find The Right Photography Clients

Share What Is 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! Non-photographers don’t know a lot (if any) of the details involved with a photo shoot.

Communicating in a friendly and positive tone rather than coming off as a frustrated primadonna is incredibly important to maintain your professionalism. It doesn’t matter how good you are at what you do or how frustrating the initial request may seem. It’s important to be kind and professional.

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. 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 timing needed and potential costs, don’t leave them hanging. Continue to ask more important questions about their project. This is when you start to demonstrate your expertise. Asking questions and listening goes a long way in comparison to rambling off everything you know about the photography process.

I always ask these questions in the initial stages of learning about a photography project and I include them in 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

More often than not, nothing may come from your templated, professional response to unrealistic requests. But, nothing comes from not responding to them either. You will weed out a potentially bad client either way.

However, the point of having a professional response at the ready is to speak up, educate and protect your boundaries as a photographer. We work in an industry that often tries to take advantage of our talent. There’s more power in speaking up rather than pressing delete. Your response will be read by someone and you never know when someone may actually learn and grow from it.

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 professional photography work needed for this project. 

It’s really important to collaborate with photographers about your project so they can walk you through the photography process and work with you on 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. 


The company did end up responding and said that they’ve always done their photo shoots this way with no issues.

I didn’t respond after that.

You May Also Like: Estimating Food Photography: Ask These Questions First

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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