Everybody makes mistakes. It is part of being human. They say that if you are not making mistakes, than you are not growing. Which is true. I made a lot of mistakes in the beginning of my photography career. But I learned and grew from them. When I am talking about mistakes as a photographer, I am thinking more about those that are operating as a business. Not the hobby shooter.
I still make mistakes, but many times I have set up ways to check myself so that I do not.
I sourced thoughts on this from a couple of Facebook photographer groups and just like myself, the mistakes range from stupidly simple things like forgetting to remove a lens cap before trying to shoot a photo to not backing up images properly and loosing something from a shoot.
As I mentioned above there are several mistakes that we all make, in the beginning. Sometimes we still make them as we grow, but practice and repetition can over come these.
1. Lens Cap - When I start a shoot they come off and never go back on. Especially weddings. I have my lens hood on so the likelihood of my glass getting damaged is small. But that is just how I work.
2. Not shooting RAW - in the beginning I had no idea what this meant. I shot my first few weddings in jpeg. Big mistake. Literally once you shoot RAW and figure out the benefits. You will never go back. Yes, RAW takes up a lot of space, but with how cheap back up is, it is worth it. With RAW you can control/fix so many things on an image.
3. Shooting a large aperture all the time (f 1.2/1.4/1.8) - Yes it looks cool. Sometimes. But shooting a 16 person group photo at 1.4 may not work. Shooting a landscape at 1.2... why? Many times when we start our lenses are not capable of a shallow depth of field, so when we get a 1.4 lens we get all giddy and shoot everything at 1.4 because we can. Use the aperture that is needed for the job.
4. Natural Light (or Auto, or any one specific lighting) - Starting out I think we tend to go with the flow. We shoot auto and if the pop-up flash happens then we roll with it. Once we move on, a speed-light is scary so we think natural light is the best. But, being a photographer is to understand how to control light. I use natural light for 90% of my work. But I also utilize a speed-light when needed. My signature shot at weddings is the backlit portrait. You can only accomplish this with off camera flash. (See the post here.)
5. Learning Gear - This one, I am putting this under the easy category because...it is easy in the sense that you just need to dedicate yourself and your time to learn your gear. Sometimes this feels hard, but do not learn gear on a clients time. Do not try to learn how to use a flash at a wedding. Do not take a new camera body out for the first time when you are shooting a paid session. When you get something new, or when you want to learn a new technique, ask a friend, give a free session to "experiment." Knowing what your gear can do and how to use it is invaluable.
This is my bridge mistake
6. Being Self-conscience - This one is hard, I struggled with it for a long time. being a photographer means that at times you are taking photos during intimate or life changing moments. Robert Capa is quoted as saying "If your photographs are not good enough, then you are not close enough." Getting close can be intimidating. I was scared for so long, but then once I found my voice and my style, I was not scared any longer. As a photographer we have a job to do. Sometimes we just have to get over our fear and make epic images.
Middle Of The Road Mistakes
As we grow and learn as photographers there are still mistakes that we make. I would venture to say that once we move from the "amateur" to the next step we start approaching the business side. We start taking photos, and then either are asked to take someones photo or we start charging. Then we encounter a whole new series of mistakes.
First thoughts on free sessions.
7. Free Sessions - I am not going to say don't do them. Free sessions, when done right are some of the most lucrative sessions I have done. Recently, I did a styled session (slightly different) but as a result, I have booked over $10,000 of sessions and gigs. When all you do is shoot for free, you are not only hurting yourself both present and future, but you are hurting others.
When you want to shoot free sessions for experience or to try a new technique, or a new piece of equipment, state the reason when you ask people. There is nothing wrong with saying "Hey! I want to try something new. Free____ session to the first person that responds."
But what will lead to issues is a post that just says "Free engagement/wedding/family photos." By saying this you are telling others that you do not respect your craft. They will come to expect this and even demand it.
8. Undercharging Sessions - Let me start this by saying You do you. But When you charge $50 for 2 hours for a family session. You may get people that respond, but you will not last at those rates. If you think of that in the bare minimum of hours, that may be
- 2 hours for shooting
- 2 hours for editing
- Driving time
After this you are already at ~$12/hr, that is not including the cost of your camera, supplies, and other time. If you include taxes you might be walking away with $7/hr. You can make more at McD's, and possibly get benefits. Charge what you are worth.
Build a lasting business so that you do not burn out.
9. Being unprepared - This can encompass many things. First there are simple things like, forgetting to charge batteries or not buying/bringing enough Sd/CF cards. This is just a simple mistake, go buy more and bring them.
There are other mistakes like Overall Preparing and training. When I started out I had no file management system in place. I had files everywhere. My first external hard drive is such a disaster that I hate looking at it. My computer used to have images saved all over. There were .tif and copy files on my desktop. I had multiple files and folders all containing the same images. I think a tornado has more order than my file management did.
So I buckled down. I made a system , and I learned it. I now know that my 2015 engagement sessions are in a certain external drive under 2015 engagements> Client name> raw & final folders. It may not be the best way, but it is how I organize and how it works for me.
10. Contracts - Most of the time when we start out, contracts or not something that we think about. Someone asks us to shoot photos for some and money is exchanged and there is no contract. But, no matter what the shoot is, there needs to be a contract in place. If you are just starting out there are a ton of resources to help you get started. But the best option is to check with a lawyer in your area about what you need in a contract, or visit The LawTog
11. Sustainable business - As I mentioned above, to not burn out, you need think long term. Sure when you start out, you think that charging $1000 for a wedding is a ton of money. In my mind when I began I thought
"Damn, 8 hours and $1000, I have made it."
But it is more than 8 hours. You need to include so much more. If you shoot a wedding every weekend at $1000. You will burn out faster than watching Frozen 3 times a day. After taxes and cost of doing business, your profit may even be in the negatives.
This is the bridge mistake
12. Deadlines and Expectations - When I first started, I never really told people when their images were going to be finished. I just thought to myself
"They will be done when they are done."
Clients would then message repeatedly about when the images would be finished. It would stress me out and I would get upset. Then I changed, I started telling people that their images would be done within a week. If I was a day late I would get messages. Then I read somewhere that you should surprise people. As in, tell your clients 3 weeks and deliver in two, or 6-8 weeks and deliver in 5. Make your deadlines reasonable. Don't tell them that you will get them the images in 12-18 months.
This leads to setting expectations. I believe there is no such thing as over communication. I use nearly every client touch point as a way to communicate expectations. That way there are no surprises. I have a whole blog post about this, read it HERE.
So I say heavy mistakes, because these take time. You learn things as you grow, but some of them are more about a bigger issue.
13. Standing Your Ground - This one is hard, because we want to make people happy. But when a session is supposed to end. It needs to end (this is a personal brand choice as well, if you want to be relaxed about session times then go for it).
Stand by your contract. This is in place to protect you, not to give your client a way around something.
Be bold. This is your business, make it work for you.
14. Photographer/Business Owner - Many of us start out because we enjoy taking photos. Then we fall into a business and learn things the hard way. When I started, I did not have all these Facebook groups to learn from, it was asking friends, and trial and error and more error. I have learned many business aspects due to mistakes. But I have also researched and read and educated myself on the business aspect of this career.
If you want to do photography professionally, take time to learn the business aspect as well as deepening your knowledge about the world of photography.
15. Focusing on others
This one is the last one and it is in bold because it may be one of the hardest mistakes. I am guilty of it, and I am sure that many of you are as well. But with social media it seems that every other photographer is rolling in cash, shooting epic weddings in epic locations, getting featured, and all around not struggling at all.
I read this blog the other day and it said "Do not compare your life to someone's highlight reel."
Social media can portray anything. People can be sitting in their underwear posting an epic image and stating how awesome it is.
I can do anything through social media. I can be anyone I want. I can "achieve" self-actualization. But this will support me about as much as a birthday balloon supports an elephant.
When you compare yourself, you experience doubt, you experience failure that has not even happened yet, and you can let jealousy overrun your mind.
I had one photographer friend state "I do not have any competitors because my clients hire me for me".
Jealousy and self-doubt can kill your creativity. Don't worry about what other are doing, but rather look at what you can achieve.
Feel free to comment with other mistakes so that others may learn.
If you are interested in advertising and marketing tips and Q&A sessions follow me on Instagram where I do AMA's (Ask me anythings) and live broadcasts about marketing and advertising. @newhopephotography