No Whining, Please


Leslie writes a regular column in Picture magazine and is very active in many creative/creative-business groups and forums, both online and in the real world, including AIGA, Adlist/Adland, APAnet, APA, ASMP, and Editorial Photographers (EP).

Leslie Burns-Dell’Acqua lives in San Diego, California with her architect husband and two very spoiled cats. For more information please visit her website here and her blog here.

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Life is pain Princess, and anyone who says otherwise is trying to sell something.
is a quote from the Dread Pirate Roberts in The Princess Bride. The Dalai Lama would point out that life is suffering and that suffering is universal. A photographer, however, might say, “I just got a $20k project. It should have been $25K but the client beat me down” or “It’s not fair that I have to pay Workers’ Comp on my assistant!”

The difference between the first two quotes and the last are important. Everyone has crap they have to deal with. Everyone. That’s what the first two show–we’re all in this thing called life and there is a lot of crap in it–we all have pain and suffering. Unfortunately, far too often photographers somehow manage to make it about them–like their suffering is special somehow–and forget about the piles of crap their clients have to deal with. And this is not good for the photographers’ businesses.

Pittsburgh-based photographer (and ASMP VP) Richard Kelly recently offered up this:
I have one client who often says, “if you want to hear a photographer complain just give them an assignment.”

Ouch! Clients notice the whining, and they don’t like it. You need to remember that while you are rendering a valuable service to your clients, they usually (rightly or wrongly) see it as “I’m paying you for that service so I should get what I want and what I don’t want is a bunch of bitching about the assignment I’ve given you.”

Now, I’m not saying you should keep it all inside, but rather that you should never let it out in front of clients…any clients. That’s important–it’s not just the client who is driving you crazy that you shouldn’t complain to, you shouldn’t complain about that difficult client to any OTHER client. These days especially, you just never know who knows who, even internationally, so when you talk to Betty from Agency Z about that jerk Bob from Magazine X, they just might know each other somehow. Even if they don’t, it just makes you look bad.

It’s unprofessional to talk smack about clients to other clients. I remember going to a hair stylist once who complained the whole time about his other clients–some of whom he had clearly been working with for years. I couldn’t trust what he was saying to me because I knew he had to have lied to those clients. I never went back.

Richard also wrote in the same email:
Another client, with whom I sometimes speak to photo schools, is fond of saying, “I hire photographers to solve problems, not to hear about them.”

Exactly! Photographers are creative problem solvers. Clients come to you to make their image problems go away. The idea is to reduce their total “work crap” burden by making great work for them that’ll get their boss of their back, etc. When you, instead, spend your time on the shoot talking about how you can’t find a decent assistant or how it’s a pain to pay self-employment tax, all they are thinking is “I spend 10 hours a day, on a good day, in a cubicle farm and you get to work for yourself doing what you love–why the HELL are you complaining?!” By the time clients leave a shoot where the photographer complains, they are so full of resentment it’s no wonder they take out their frustrations by passive-aggressively “losing” your invoice.

Now, I’m not saying that clients are all perfect humans or even that their actions are justified. Nope, I’m just saying that this is the reality in our business. And if you are going to work with these people and get them to hire you more than once, you need to keep these things in mind as you interact with them.

Besides, when you choose to be pleasant, your business will improve. I speak from personal experience. I used to be one of the darkest people you’d ever know–I could find the downside of the best situation. Then one day I decided to stop being that way, and my business improved. And even if it hadn’t, it’s enough that I have been happier in my work every day anyway.


7 Responses to “No Whining, Please”

  1. OG Says:

    I agree. Some would even refer to this concept of appropriate behavior as being, or at the very least acting as, a professional.

  2. Excellent! Thanks for doing this…it’s really nice to know that I’m not alone on a lot of these things.

  3. jedediah Says:


  4. scott Rex ely Says:

    There are no victims in this business, just volunteers.

  5. heathermorton Says:

    One of the biggest complaints I’ve heard from fellow Art Buyer’s is a variation on your “solving problem” quote. We don’t like to hear bitching about your business but we especially don’t like to hear bitching about our job. We need you to bring answers to the table and not just tell us how hard the assignment is.

    Excellent post Leslie.

  6. Mr. Billey Says:

    Complainers never prosper! Great Post!

  7. LaViera Says:

    Without a doubt, photographers with an upbeat personality (as with anything else in your life) will have a lot more staying power.

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