Eight More Things About Being a Photographer I Wish I'd Known Earlier

Eight More Things About Being a Photographer I Wish I'd Known Earlier

When I wrote "Seven Things About Being a Photographer I Wish I'd Known Earlier," I wasn't expecting such a strong response. I had far more than seven things I wish I'd known, but I tried to trim the fat and keep the article lean. Well, I liked the fat. So, now I'm compiling the trimmings into their own article, although I don't mean to infer that these eight are less important than my first seven; they aren't. I also can't guarantee there won't be a further set in the future. Make of that what you will.

1. Learn about Light

I mean this in a number of ways. The first way I wish I’d known earlier is that light behaves the same no matter whence it emerges. There are so many light sources that aren’t designed for photography that are absolutely brilliant for it. For example, I recently did a 100-image macro stack of the innards of a watch for a product I was working on. The problem was my studio lights and reflectors couldn't get into every crevice to light all the cogs and wheels. I ended up using two small bendy-necked LED reading lights.

The second way is a result of the same problem, as Dani Diamond voiced to me recently:

I got into [natural light portraiture] because I was too scared to use flashes or strobes — that’s reason number one — I just couldn’t grasp the concept of balancing it out with ambient light. I didn’t understand why your shutter had to be a certain shutter speed; it was too complicated. I just shot natural light because what you see is what you get.

I was in near enough the same naturally lit boat. Artificial light seemed complicated with all the terms, sync speeds, and settings. I wish I could slap my former self and tell me to stop avoiding it and just read up on what each term meant and then practice. This brings me smoothly on to my next point.

2. Practice

When I first started photography, I did nothing but practice; I wanted to photograph everything and its Mum, and I took my camera everywhere. But, somewhere along the road, I got waylaid, and I began spending more time reading about photography, watching tutorials, and looking at other 'togs' work. I was well-intentioned in that I was gathering knowledge, but only in theory. As with all things, theory gets you so far, just not the practical knowledge you need alongside it. You could read everything there is to know about firing a rifle, but when you first fire a rifle yourself, you gain a type of knowledge through experience that’s unattainable through mere theory.

3. Have Your Work Critiqued

I’ll be honest, I struggled with having my work critiqued for a while. I was overly defensive: if I agreed with the criticism, I began to doubt my ability, and if I didn’t agree, I’d start to doubt my eye for photography. If I could lecture my former self now, it’d go something like this:

Find someone to critique your work that you respect and admire as a photographer, and make sure that person knows how to give feedback. Comments like “it doesn’t work for me” are useless, as are inane insults. Also, keep in mind that you don’t get better at anything by having your belly rubbed and being told you’re a good boy. Those people, while nice, are as useless as the ones who throw empty criticisms.

4. Force Yourself Out of Your Comfort Zone

Do this early, and do this often. The more you put yourself in positions you don’t feel fully prepared to tackle, the better equipped you are to deal with challenges you didn’t expect.

5. Immerse Yourself in a Genre

This advice might be rather singular to me, but I’ll share it nonetheless. I wish I had thrown myself into a genre and carefully explored its every corner much earlier. By which I mean, examine the best images in that genre and turn them on every side: what lighting they use, what composition, what subject, how they are edited, and so on. Pull everything apart so you can understand how it is built.

6. Integrate Yourself With Top Photographers

For me, this is entirely based off of Jim Rohn’s advice. For those who don’t know who that is, he was an entrepreneur with an incredible rags to riches story. One of his most memorable observations was:

You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.

I couldn’t agree more – I really couldn’t. Then again, I'm reinterpreting it: if you spend all of your photography life talking with and growing with local and average photographers, the chance of you becoming a top photographer is far less likely. This might seem harsh, but I’m willing to take the fire that comes with such a bold statement. I gravitate toward photographers who have achieved things I would like to achieve and who create images I would be proud of. If you set the bar at impressing your local photography club, then you may do well, but I’d argue it’s far more likely if you set the bar to the standard of the top photographers in a given industry.

7. Shoot to a Brief

I touched on this in my previous "seven things" article. The first time I was given a brief to shoot to, I realized I’d only ever shot to please myself. That is fine and natural to do, but it isn’t very business savvy. By all means, create what you love, and people who love it too will come to you, but I strongly believe you have to be more flexible than that to succeed in a professional capacity, and it was harder than I expected. Trying to get at the image in someone else’s mind is much like trying to rebuild a smashed bottle and scoop the milk up to put it back in. You may well be circling the same concepts, but your mental images will almost certainly be disparate visions. This returns me to my previous article once more: create a Pinterest board with your client. Let the client pin images they like to the board, then go and pin ones you think they may like judging from the images they selected. You’ll narrow down the brief in no time.

8. Ask Happy Clients Three Things Upon Completion

The first question was suggested to me by my Dad, and it is incredibly strong advice: ask your client upon completing work with them whether they know of any other companies that might benefit from your work. It’s so simple, but so effective. Everybody has their own network, and you’re asking for a peek into the company’s network and to combine that with a word-of-mouth recommendation from someone who makes decisions has untold weight.

Secondly, ask whether the client would mind leaving you a Google review for your business. What Google wants Google gets, and the importance of their reviews is now very large and still growing. Not only will a positive review do well for your SEO, but it will also exhibit social proof to anyone who searches for you.

The third question comes from a background completely separate from photography, but it’s just as applicable. Ask if there’s anything else you might be able to help with. This may go against the cardinal rule of mastering a niche and being known for it, but, well, sod off. Some of us take money any place we can get it! You may have gone to a company to shoot headshots, and they have presumed you’re not able to shoot the interiors for their upcoming brochure. Maybe you can’t. Then again, maybe you can and when they ask and you say yes, you land another job with them. This has happened to me and has happened to people I know. Worst comes to worst, they inform you they have nothing, or they offer you something you can’t do, and you gracefully bow out.

What is something about being a photographer you wish you had known earlier? I may feature the best in another follow-up (and credit your wisdom, of course).

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8 Comments

Edward Porter's picture

Quantifying friendships by prestige...Might need to reconsider that Mr. Bateman.

Robert K Baggs's picture

That's why I re-interpreted it!

Robert K Baggs's picture

It did but I just wanted to put some distance between me and the idea that one ought to choose their friends in a utilitarian way. I think that makes perfect sense in terms of professional relationships, but it takes some interpreting for me to be at peace with it with regards to your friendships.

On point.
These are true things. I am still working on all of them every day even after 30+ years in the field.

David J. Fulde's picture

The only thing I have trouble following here, is the "Have your work critiqued"

I find people are over-congragulatory "Nice shot!"

Or don't give good critique "Shit shot"

or "Feels weird"

Robert K Baggs's picture

Absolutely. That's why I suggest finding someone (or a small community) that can give you meaningful feedback. Perhaps Flickr etc. were once that way (I don't think they were) but they certainly aren't now. It's a pretty tricky area.

Naeem Congo's picture

I'm a complete newbie, and I find it boggling that so many people are afraid to learn flash/strobe photography. I would think more people would want to learn it, because you're able to be more creative. That's why I want to learn everything about it. Great article.

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