In the beginning of my transition to becoming a full-time photographer, I took every job I could get my hands on in order to pay the bills. Over time, I started to find my own direction, which led to me being slightly more picky with the jobs I took. Even now, while I'm primarily focused on family and engagement photography in my paid work, I still take a lot of other odd jobs to help with my career and my ability to put food on the table. When choosing whether or not to take any job, I tend to focus on three factors when making my decision.
The first of the three factors for me is money. If the money is good, and I can pull off the job, it's a fair way towards me taking it. After all, the reason we work is to earn our keep. If we didn't need to do that, it would all be play. For me, what this means is working out my costs and hours worked, then calculating an hourly wage. If that works out better than me having to slave in an office, then the money is enough for me to begin considering a job.
If I have a personal interest in the project being discussed, I can often all but ignore the other two factors in this triangle. After all, my heart is what got me into photography, and I don't really need to eat as much as I do, right? The reality for me is that I love photography. Making images and the experiences I get through doing that is the primary reason I am a photographer. Without a doubt, my personal interest in a project plays a major role in the decision to take on a job.
This could also be an interest in building your portfolio. Maybe the project fills a gap in it or will allow you to experiment and take your work in a new direction. That's a great reason to take on a job.
Generally speaking, as photographers, people are going to be involved in the transactions we make. How well you get along with those people is a big determiner in how happy you'll be with a project you choose to take on. People are for sure our number one cause of stress as photographers. They can make or break our days. Competent, professional people with good communication skills can make a difficult job feel like a walk in the park, whereas a difficult-to-work-with person can turn a fun and fascinating job into a complete nightmare.
You may also choose to work with a person because of the connections it will build. Perhaps the client is not someone you ultimately want to work with, but has links to others whom you would love to add to your client list. This is a great reason to work jobs like corporate functions if you wouldn't normally. The chance to give your business card to potential clients and build trust by doing good work at the event may be worth doing the job even if you aren't interested in it.
Putting It All Together
As you can see from my handy Venn diagram above, combining the above factors is better than having any one of them. One is not necessarily good enough for me to take a job, but two makes for a higher chance, and three means I'll cancel just about anything else I have going on. Having at least two of them involved in any job means that it will be a good day. If I'm working with great people and earning some great money, it's not always important that the job is that personally interesting to me. Likewise, I can be interested in the concept, paid well, and working for the most difficult people on earth; I'll still be happy in the end. Finally, a personal interest and great people may even make me overlook the money to some degree. The Holy Grail, of course, is getting great people, great work, and great money.
There are many other reasons to take or refuse work, but these three basics will get me most of the way in making my decision. If I can smile while paying my rent, that's a success in my book, and looking at potential work in this way helps to ensure every job is a fit for me.