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.