There's almost an infinite amount of decisions that a photographer has to make on their journey to becoming a professional. While many of these choices may be somewhat trivial, other decisions will place you on the wrong path, cost you money, or slow your progress down dramatically.
Nikon or Canon? Octabank or softbox? Education or apprenticeship? For many of us starting out, it is hard to know what the right answer is to many of these questions. You can ask people in the industry for suggestions, but there is often not a one size fits all answer. The big problem is that any wrong decision will cost you either time, energy, or money. Most of us are short on these precious commodities, so it's best if we choose wisely if we want to get to our goal in the most direct way possible.
The good news is you can have your cake and eat it too. By knowing a few shortcuts, it's possible to redistribute some of that time, energy, and money so you can focus on the areas that really matter.
Use a Ready-Made Website
As someone who has always cobbled together their photography websites with various found snippets of code, I am telling you now, it is not worth the headache. I must have collectively spent months of my life over the last decade messing with HTML to keep my portfolio online. It is not worth the effort when there are perfectly good website templates and platforms where you can show off your work to prospective clients. For those resistant to the idea that their ready-made site will look too much like everyone else's, I would say you are probably focusing on the wrong thing. Fancy plugins or gratuitous layouts are mostly used to compensate or distract from a weak portfolio. The images should be doing the talking, and the rest should blend into the background. If you don't believe me, check out some of the top artists and photographer's portfolios online, and you'll notice that most have very minimal sites. Website upkeep can be such a time suck and a brain drain. Put that time and energy to better use elsewhere.
Rethink Your Source of Education
Photography is one of those professions where learning away from the classroom is often better than traditional methods like college and university. You don't have to look hard to find some amazing resources that take less of your time and money and quite often prepare you better for the real world of being a photographer. Intensive workshops, online tutorials, and assisting photographers out in the field are just a few great ways to build a foundation for your career. Education is always going to be something that I will encourage people to pursue, but if you're looking for shortcuts, then I would seriously consider the alternatives. Committing four years of your life to study as well as amassing tens of thousands of dollars in student debt is something to take into account when you weigh up the benefits that come from studying. If you can get a better education by assisting a photographer, then the shortcut is a worthy one. I studied a degree, but I didn't feel like I learned anything until I started assisting in the real world.
In the same way, many 4x4 vehicles never see an off-road track. Many photographers do not need to spend hundreds of dollars on the most expensive waterproof and indestructible camera cases out there. If money is tight, then the funds could be spent much better elsewhere. If you know very well that your camera is not going to be traveling through airport baggage systems alone or the closest your gear will get to the great outdoors is being in your back garden, then why do you need to store your camera in something so excessive? The good news is there are much cheaper alternatives on the market. Search for terms like "rolling toolbox" or "camera hard case" to find their cheaper cousins. I own a few of these cheaper ones, and they have never let me down and cost a fraction of the price. Save yourself a few hundred dollars and put that money towards a better lens instead.
If we forget about aesthetics or allegiances to an operating system for a moment, we all know that the best computer for a busy photographer is one that is most powerful and reliable. I know many photographers love Apple, but there are cheaper, better, and faster options out there in the form of Windows and Linux machines. If you can divert funds to other areas of your photographic practice, and also save time editing and processing your work on a more powerful machine, then a non-Apple based computer may be a better option.
For many, the monthly outgoing of a subscription to Adobe is money that could be spent better elsewhere. If you are on a tight budget, then there are cheaper and free options on the market. For years, I would never have entertained any other editing program than Photoshop, but there are now some great alternatives on the market that can finally hold their own. Programs like GIMP and Affinity Photo are just two that I often hear good things about. A lot boils down to how much editing you do to your pictures. If you only do basic adjustments and edits to your work, then you probably don't use 99 percent of what Photoshop is. Even if your needs are a little more advanced, I think you'll be surprised by how many features these alternatives have.
Who wouldn't love their own studio space where they can shoot to their heart's content whenever the creative urge arises. The problem is, a studio is a huge responsibility in terms of finances and mental resources required to keep on top of everything. If you are forced to work for clients you don't want to as you need to pay the studio bills, then you will quickly find yourself a slave to your studio and on a career path you don't want to be on. A better alternative is to rent spaces when you need them. Renting studios by the day or hour is a great way to get the best of both worlds. I know many photographers aspire to have their own studio space, but having one could harm you. I have known plenty of photographers that have given up their studios and have been much happier and creative without them. A friend once told me they felt more like a studio manager rather than a photographer when they had their own space. A good shortcut is to rent instead or maybe build something at home when you need to scratch that itch. You can then concentrate on more important things, like making meaningful images and finding the clients you actually want to work for.
So there you have it, six shortcuts that photographers can do that will help make better use of their resources. Both time, energy, and money are precious commodities that need to be used in the most effective way possible. By thinking outside the box and not following the crowd, you can find options that work better for you. This is not about doing without or seriously compromising yourself. It's about questioning everything and finding good alternatives that allow you to redistribute your resources much more effectively. Every single decision you make in your practice collectively adds up and shapes you into the photographer you are. Try to always ask yourself if your choices are helping you to achieve or impede your goals.
Over to You
Any shortcuts you think are missing from the list? How many of these suggestions do you already do? We'd love to hear from you in the comments section below.