Five Mistakes I Made as a Professional Photographer

Five Mistakes I Made as a Professional Photographer

I am sure most of us look back on our lives and think, “You stupid idiot, what on earth possessed you to do/think/try that?” I am certainly no exception to this, especially in the professional arena. During my early years as a photographer, I made a heap of mistakes and I worried about all the wrong things.

1. Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS)

Guilty as charged. When I first started photography, I obsessively read gear reviews, compared DXOmark data, and tried to work out what bit of kit each pro was using. I was always worried that the equipment I was using wouldn’t cut it in the pro world — that by using it I was exposing myself as an amateur. I must have wasted so much time on this — time which would have been better spent researching styles, techniques, and actually getting out there and doing test shoots.

My day-to-day cameras are Canon 5D Mark IIs with a small selection of lenses (17-40mm, 24-70mm, and 70-200mm zooms, and then a 35mm, 85mm and 100mm macro). This setup works for 90 percent of the work I do. Anything that requires a bit more fire power I cover by renting the equipment for the job.

2. Taking Myself Too Seriously

I became that cliché photographer. It was a predictable but daft move. We make images, that is all. It’s not rocket science, and the world will continue without us. Taking yourself too seriously can be a real career stunter. People want to have fun when they are out at a shoot, not listen to you talk about the deep meaning behind your latest personal project. Also, don’t date your models. Yet another cliché.  

3. Focusing Too Much on Social Media

Social media is important. However, if, like me, you are targeting large companies and ad agencies, then it isn’t a great use of your time. I think I have had one big booking from Instagram…and that’s about it. Your clients (for the most part…Google, "Mr. Beckham and his photoshoot") do not care how many followers you have. They do often care what your book looks like and always care if you can get the job done. I get far more work from socializing and meeting new people than I do from any form of social media.

4. Jack of All Trades

When you first start out as a photographer, chances are that you need to get paid. You set about shooting weddings, events, headshots, food, fashion, babies, bands, and basically anything that will pay the bills. This is exactly how I started out. After a while I wanted to start shooting bigger jobs, but no one was interested. After a chat with a peer, I was told that having too much variety in my portfolio was off-putting to clients. They didn’t want a jack of all trades. They wanted someone who specialized in an area. So after racking my brain, I decided to focus on people and food in my preferred style. After six months of doing this, national and international campaigns started coming in.

5. Not Treating It as a Business

This really links to point Number 1 in my instance. Buying new camera gear is exciting for a lot of us. However, it turns out that most clients don’t care what equipment you use. The chances of making more money from upgrading your camera or lens is pretty slim. At the start of my career, I wasn’t as focused on the concept of “return on investment” as I should have been. Nowadays, I don’t purchase anything unless it’s going to make me money. Call me mercenary.

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7 Comments

Zakk Miller's picture

Every photographer that is considering a move into full-time needs to read this.

All of this... Add on to #3: Don't complain about your clients on social media... Ever. Just because they don't book people based on your followers, doesn't mean they will never peruse your social media. And when they do, don't let them find that you hated your last assignment because they wouldn't let you... whatever... they read: "Does not play well with others."

Reginald Walton's picture

I never use DXO as a decision for any of my purchases. I'd much rather use word of mouth from those who have used the product. I am a bit guilty however, of G.A.S. :)

Anonymous's picture

Great article very useful stuff, for real.

However, i can't help but point out the number of times I read about the idea or warning of GAS....and the person describing usually takes the approach of, "Then I realized gear DOESNT MATTER....technique, composition, lighting etc....that matters......which is why I shoot with "ONLY".... $5,000 worth of lenses alone, and a body that at the time of purchase was probably over $1,500 (or more...) so in all almost $7,000 of gear.

Very rarely do you read....Gear doesnt matter, which is why I still shoot on my Canon Rebel T3i with two less then $300 primes. I can count on one hand the amount of actual articles writing that side of things.

so again, NO Gear does not matter if you own a 5DMk2 with the holy trinity of Canon Lenses and three additional primes.....and Im sure no light no modifiers/flashes/bags/cases/tripods/ and anything else a professional that does NOT NEED PRO gear would need.

There is a mis-conception about GAS....GAS is what you get when you already own $7,000 worth of canon gear and then think you need to trade it all in and get Sony gear just to get a job.

Fact is, if you are taking on magazine work, you probably already have (and need) $7,000 worth of equipment because that is just the cost of doing business. Its not GAS.

Scott Choucino's picture

This is very true.It is easy to sit in my studio with thousands of pounds of gear and say "You don't need it" and there is a level of kit that each field of photography needs. I think my point would be more that you do not need the kit to get started. After a while, it works out cheaper to have higher end gear due to wear and tear.

I am sitting behind a phase one and Broncolor lights this week. A Canon 5Dmk2 seems like an iphone in comparison. I know that by the end of the week I will think that a 5Dmk2 doesn't cut it and that I will need to buy a phase one. The logical part of my brain knows that I have made a living for years on my Canon kit. This is where my GAS comes in.

thanks Bah for acknowledging that gear does matter. Not to say that some fabulous images haven't been created with cheap gear, but I had an epiphany in B&H a couple of years ago. I was trying out a Zeiss 85mm 1.4 and snapped a shot of a customer at a counter. It had a magical quality, even though it was an ordinary image. The same image from a cheap kit lens would have looked ordinary and I thought to myself, "yeah, right, gear doesn't matter." Why would anyone buy a $2,200.00 lens if you can just use a cheap kit lens and get the same results? I don't know why there are so many "gear doesn't matter" articles. Your position that getting more gear doesn't matter after one has already acquired an arsenal of good gear is much more accurate IMO.

William Howell's picture

Gear is the most important part of photography. Helmut Newton used over ten strobes in his location work. Dean Collins also used a dozen strobes or more, same with Gary Land.