Bad photography clients tend to emerge on our client roster in sneaky ways.

At first, your relationship with them starts harmlessly enough. Maybe they’re a friend of a friend, so you offer a discount. But before you know it, you’re reading your fourth email from them, in which they’re asking for more favors, unrealistic edits, and free downloads — even though you never do that.

This type of client is like an energy vampire — they suck you dry and offer nothing in return. They tend to have little money and all the time in the world, which often means they don’t appreciate or value you and your time.

While it’s tempting to get excited about a new booking and bringing someone on, nothing can ruin your day, zap your motivation, and mess with your business flow quite like having to deal with clients like that.

Fortunately, client nightmares usually have a few tell-tale signs. If you look out for these red flags, you can prevent yourself from wasting your time and focus on how to find photography clients you’ll actually want to work with.

Red Flag #1: They write lengthy emails and talk your ear off.

If a prospective client comes in with a whole lot to say, writing long and demanding emails or droning on and on while you’re on the phone with them, watch out. Those clients are dangerous because they’re happy to waste their own time, which means they probably don’t value yours either. The more time you spend going back and forth with clients, the lower your hourly rate becomes.

Red Flag #2: They ask for your cheapest option right off the bat.

We’ve all had clients come to us with varying sob stories and elaborate reasons as to why they should have a discounted rate, asking if you can find it in your heart to provide it. They’ll barter with you; maybe they’ll ask for a family/friend discount. While you might be inclined to give it to them, remember that if you don’t have the confidence to charge what you’re worth and to value your own time, other people won’t either.

Red Flag #3: They keep sending you samples of other photographers’ work.

A lot of people will hunt for photographers online, find one they like but can’t afford, and bring you samples of their work, asking you to replicate it at a lower cost. That is a big ol’ warning sign. This person is essentially telling you they don’t value photography as an art and they aren’t particularly interested in your style. More often than not, they’ll give you a hard time every step of the way.

Red Flag #4: They have unrealistic Photoshop expectations.

We all know Photoshop can work some amazing magic, but it’s not limitless in its power. If a client calls you with unrealistic Photoshop expectations — maybe they want you to Photoshop in a car that doesn’t exist or make dead trees look alive — it’s probably in your best interest to walk away. Unrealistic expectations equal major time sucks and headaches for you down the line.

Red Flag #5: They’re excited to hire you without a consultation.

For short sessions like a family shoot, you don’t need an in-person consult. But if someone is asking you to shoot something like their wedding, they should want to talk to you in person before they hire you. From a business standpoint, in-person meetings are when you’re able to start building a real relationship with a client. Because of that, those meetings are where your sales really happen. If you’re not meeting with them, chances are, you’ll be selling a lot less.

Red Flag #6: You’re the last vendor they’re hiring.

If you’re a wedding photographer and your prospective client has already hired a florist, bought the cake, found the dress, and ordered the decorations, there likely won’t be much of a budget left for you. Your greatest chances of a profitable partnership come from clients who come to you first because they place more value on your skills and the services you provide.

Red Flag #7: They don’t return calls or emails on time.

We all know who these clients are: They don’t return your calls, they make excuse after excuse — I missed your text, I didn’t see your email, I was busy —, and maybe they don’t even show up to scheduled meetings. Be wary of those people. If they’re flaky with their responses, there’s a high probability they’ll be flaky with their payment and commitment to making this a lasting working relationship.

How To Say No To the Wrong Clients

Being mindful of these red flags will help you know who to say no to, but how to say no can be a little tough and uncomfortable.

Typically, it’s best to be straightforward. If you know you don’t want to work with someone, tell them you don’t think you’re a great fit and refer them to other photographers who are competing on your price (not service).

If someone is pushing you for a discount, stand your ground. Let them know you’re sorry but you’re 100% committed to making sure all customers receive high-quality service, excellent images, and access to heirloom-quality products so they can pass these memories on for generations. Make it clear that you simply can’t deliver on that commitment at a lower price.

It’s always a little uncomfortable to tell someone what they don’t want to hear, but that discomfort is a small price to pay for the time, money, and energy nightmare clients will take from your business and its success.