10 Things Photographers Need to Stop Doing in 2020

10 Things Photographers Need to Stop Doing in 2020

It’s time to drop these bad habits and clean up your photography act in 2020. Head into the next decade like a warrior.

Stop Expecting Work to Show up on Your Doorstep

You shoot a few photographs, stick them on your website and social media platforms, add the requisite hashtags, chat with other photographers in online communities, leave a few nasty comments on articles, and then wonder why you aren’t getting enough clients to pay your bills.

My dear fellow photographers: you need to learn what marketing is and figure out how to make it work for you. You need to figure out who your client is and create advertisements in the places they spend time. And you need to do it all the time. You can’t throw out a sporadic Facebook ad and then expect clients to turn up at your door. You may get a few random jobs, but unless you’re actively advertising yourself to potential clients (and targeting and tracking them), you aren’t going to earn enough to make a living. You need word of mouth, you need business relationships, you need to cultivate client relationships, you need to be tracking down the kind of people who buy work like yours and drag them through your metaphorical doors. And you have to do it consistently. As soon as you stop advertising, it’s only a matter of time before the flow of clients drops to a trickle or dries up altogether. 

So, stop sitting around expecting clients to just show up. Go out there and find them.

Stop Spending Money in the Wrong Places

Do you really need another lens, another set of actions, or another cool photography gadget? You might. Those things can be awesome and help immensely when they’re actually required. But it’s worth looking at where you spend your revenue to find out if the expenses are actually benefiting your business. Could that $1,200 have been spent on an advertising plan? On a portfolio review? On a mentorship? Take some time to look at your budget and make sure your money is actually being spent in places that will take you and your business to the next level, and stop spending on things that feel good for a while but make no lasting impact on your work.

Model and actor Jack Jackson as Thor

Stop Worrying About What Settings Other Photographers Used

Look, I understand the impulse. You see a great image, and you want to know how it was made. But the problem is that each image is taken under a unique set of circumstances, and there are too many variables to rely on a single set of numbers to understand how and why a photo was made. The settings just don’t reveal as much about an image as you might hope. You’d learn a lot more about the creation of a photograph if you asked the photographer why they chose the settings they used. After all, it’s those creative decisions that are the why behind the final result and will give you a much more comprehensive picture of how an image was made than numbers that could be combined in several different ways for a well-exposed photo. 

Stop Worrying so Much About Gear

That new lens isn't going to make you a better photographer. Only practice and experience can do that. Don’t get me wrong, there are absolutely reasons to buy new gear or upgrade what you’ve got.

Sometimes, you really do need a faster lens, more consistent color temperature, better low-light capabilities, or a lighter body. But the most important part of being a photographer is what’s between your ears, not what’s in your hands. You don’t need the best body on the market to be the best photographer you can be. You don’t need the most expensive lens to get the best shots. You do need to understand light, know the capabilities of your gear, and be able to think creatively. You are no less a photographer for having older gear, or off-brand lights, or cheap modifiers. If you use what you have to its and your full capability, you’ll make amazing photographs.

Model Jason Klein

Stop Trying to Avoid Failure

This may sound crazy, but mistakes are how we learn. Failure is a sign we are trying new things, pushing our comfort zones, and growing. It’s tempting to set everything up so that we never fail, but lack of failure means lack of trying. I’m not saying you should try crazy, untested things with your clients, but you should set aside time to try things that allow you to fail. You never know what you’ll learn or how those failed experiments may change and improve the way you work. Highly successful people cannot be risk averse, not in their creative pursuits and not in their business. This year, try that thing you’ve avoided because you were afraid of failing. It might teach you something invaluable. More importantly, it might teach you to be brave.

Stop Measuring Worth by Likes

Social media validation feels good, but it is by no means the end-all, be-all of photographic life. What’s more important than Instagram likes is what your clients think and say about your work.  Some of the most successful photographers have almost no social media presence, because they spend all their time working, advertising, and catering to their clients. They’re networking in real life, not just following pages on Facebook. How random people mindlessly react to your shared photographs isn’t a guarantee for how your clients will react. Instead of measuring success by likes, try measuring it by happy clients.

Stop Chasing Trends

If you spend all your time chasing trends, you’ll never invest the time you need to create work that represents who you are as an artist or craftsman. Your work will never be anything more than an endless repetition on a tired theme. It will remain derivative. Instead, spend time figuring out who you are as a photographer, what you love and what motivates you to pick up a camera, and focus on making work that represents your voice. Then, instead of clients hiring you to replicate something they saw on Pinterest, they’ll hire you for the work only you can produce.

Model and prop master Gryndel Ghoulderson

Stop Picking on New Photographers

Please, please stop this. We all started somewhere. Most of our work was utter crap for the first couple of years, but we persisted (more often than not with the help of kind photographers who knew a lot more than we did), and our work became something we didn’t need to be ashamed of. But if you spend your time on social media cutting other photographers down, particularly new photographers, well, you’re a jerk. There’s really no nicer way to say it. Not only are you wasting your time doing something unproductive, you’re crapping on someone who is just doing the best they can with what they know. We can’t complain about a toxic community and then treat new members like junk. So, stop it. For real.

Stop Doubting Yourself

This was on last year's list, but it bears repeating. There are so many reasons to doubt yourself: you haven’t been a photographer for very long, you don’t have expensive lighting equipment, other people are “better” than you, you can’t make what is in your head show up in your photos, or you have difficulties it seems like other photographers don’t have. I can promise you, every photographer has these doubts or has struggled with the same things you’ve struggled with. You are not alone. There is no such thing as a photographer who has it all together, who never struggles, or is always confident. If the photographers you admire can make work they’re proud of, you can, too. If they made it, so can you. You have something to share with the world, and there is someone out there who needs to see it. So, keep creating and stop doubting.

Stop Expecting Success to Happen Overnight

When we look at photographers who seem successful, it’s easy to make the mistake of thinking they’ve always been at the top. We look at our own careers, five whole years long and full of struggles, and ask ourselves why we haven’t “made it” yet. Then, we sink into a creative depression, because despite all our hard work, we’re still having trouble paying our bills.

But success, in whatever form it takes, is complex and doesn’t happen overnight. It’s the result of hard work over time, plus a dose of luck, and it rarely happens to any two people the same way. The road your idol took isn't going to be the one that works for you, and the struggles they faced aren’t going to be the ones you’ll encounter. But whether it takes you five years, ten years, or twenty years, I can guarantee that beneath every successful photographer are mountains of failures, setbacks, and self-doubt. They didn’t become successful overnight, they fought every battle, got knocked down, and climbed back to their feet, swinging. And you can’t just get up once, you have to crawl to your feet over, and over, and over again. 

So, stop expecting yourself to meet the unrealistic expectation of immediate success; it’s a myth. Several factors must come into play, but the one thing you can be certain of is hard work over time. Don’t give up. It will be a struggle, but it will be worth it.

I know this article says 2020, but the truth is that every day, every hour is a new chance for you to be a better photographer and a better version of yourself. Work hard. Don’t give up. Run your own race. We’re going to make it.

If you could give any advice to photographers in 2020, what would it be?  

Lead image featuring model Jenae Rex.

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87 Comments

T Van's picture

Maybe the best place to stop is with the unsolicited advice.
After all what works for you isn't relevant to anybody but you.

Deleted Account's picture

This post right after another one about what photographers need to stop doing?

I think what I’m going to stop doing is reading forums like this. Life it too short to see drivel posts.

Francisco Hernandez's picture

If you stopped visiting Fstoppers, that'd be awesome.

Deleted Account's picture

"I think what I’m going to stop doing is reading forums like this. Life it too short to see drivel posts."

I double dog dare you.

Jeremy Center's picture

Let's all stop reading substandard missives.

g coll's picture

Stop starting wars... ;)

Blake Davenport's picture

Gonna double down on the picking on new photographers. This is something I really don't get. What is the point, to make yourself feel better? I love teaching style/technique to someone new, and helping them out. That is what makes me feel better at least.

Alex Herbert's picture

It irks me more when I see the work of someone who claims to have been doing it for 10+ years, and it looks like the stuff I was doing in my first 10 months. But in reality it doesn't affect my life and I shouldn't really care about what someone else is doing. But then again in reality I'm an asshole.

Saba Hatzimarkos's picture

This article was inspirational to me. Sometimes it's nice to be reminded of these things :)

Nicole York's picture

I'm so glad it was helpful! I agree, I need a good kick in the booty every now and then ;)

Diana Lundin's picture

I thought it was a really good article, too, Nicole. It's just good information. Can't believe the negativity in the comments.

Bodkin's Best Photography's picture

What a wonderful feel good site this is. With motivational article titles like:

Your Photography Is Worthless: This Is Why!

and

10 Things Photographers Need to Stop Doing in 2020!

Ever heard the expression "you catch more flies with honey than vinegar"?

Nicole York's picture

The internet would be a much friendlier place if that were true. And if you have read any of my articles, I would imagine you'd see that most of them are very encouraging. But everyone needs a reminder that they may have habits that aren't productive, and they should at least consider whether to cut them out. I know I do.

timgallo's picture

ok. so what are my advices....
I wish that photographers stop doing that stupid titles of their posts... where they say other people what they should do or they dont know, or what else.

You are saying "stop chasing trends" and your writing as generic as can be. How about something honest and personal? A personal story maybe? Like whats up with all this Thor imagery? What does it means to you? What do you do with this pictures and how they are connect with anything that you write?

"If they made it, so can you."
Nope. Most of the time. Check the statistics of rich people vs poor. That basically describes the reality of it all. So what you need to consider - is - if it worth it or not. Most of the "made" people say that they would do probably the same thing even if they were poor and unsuccessful.

"You have something to share with the world, and there is someone out there who needs to see it."
Nope. Usually all the time. Sharing with the world - is great thing. Your real growth start as soon as you realize that "someone who needs it" is actually you... and everything else is just a bonus of being alive and living in society.

"So, keep creating and stop doubting."
Tolstoy used to say (and pardon my rough translation) if you can live without writing a letter - do us all a favor and dont write a thing. And write only if you cant live without it and you're live depends on it.

So yeah. Please please start doubting... start doubting this stupid advices first, than the whole industry, the whole genre. Only ignorant people dont doubt what they do. Doubting does not mean stop doing it. It means trying to see beyond what "you think you are seeing" right now and understand reasoning behind it.

Doubt disappears on itself with time. Until then doubt some more.
--

Its a great philosophical topic of discussion... but wise men of old say that there is a misconception the more there art the better it is. I also think less is better. You are free to do whatever you can, of-course, but if you can - consider it one more time. Maybe there are more better things to do ;)

" It’s the result of hard work over time, plus a dose of luck, and it rarely happens to any two people the same way. "
What work are you talking about? Can you elaborate? If its an advice for a person who already struggled for 5-10 years and still had no success... what "over time" work you talking about? This person over-time worked himself for 5 years.

"Several factors must come into play, but the one thing you can be certain of is hard work over time"
What factors? What hard work? I am pretty sure that the only thing you can be certain after 5-10 chasing success is that you asking wrong questions and following wrong values . And probably reading wrong articles lol.

"It will be a struggle, but it will be worth it."
Not always. Not always. So be prepared.

Nicole York's picture

You clicked on it, read it, and made a very lengthy reply, my friend. The title must have worked ;)

timgallo's picture

this all you have to say? great conversation:)

Nicole York's picture

Can you really blame me? You respond to an article I spent time writing, one intended to help people, and tell me than not only is the title stupid, but that my writing is generic. I don't generally respond to people who do things like that by spending MORE time with them.

timgallo's picture

well, it means you cant accept critic and learn.
here is great Anthony Hopkins on doubt... happen to stumble upon just now
https://youtu.be/IZNMtCXmgBI?t=42

timgallo's picture

also "help" is a broad word... again, maybe you should start to doubt yourself.

Nicole York's picture

No, it means I don't blindly accept critique from strangers with questionable intentions.

And I think you have misunderstood my point about doubt. The paragraph reminds people that no one is confident or certain all the time, even our idols, that we all have doubts and fears, but we should not let them stop us. We should persevere despite them. Doubt certainly didn't stop Sir Anthony from pursuing his career. I don't suggest arrogance or for people to stagnate believing they know all there is to know. I am a lifelong learner. But I don't want creatives to be crippled be doubt.

timgallo's picture

You write for strangers yet don't accept critique from them? Convenient.

Also what "questionable intentions"? You asked what was "your advice" and I bounced mine of yours... that is all. Well, not exactly, but later on it...

"Doubt certainly didn't stop Sir Anthony from pursuing his career."
And those who are stopped by doubt are not fit in the first place and should try something else. And people are not crippled by doubt... people are crippled by ignorance and generic advices that make them see a "dream" of undefined success, by voices with donts and do`s like your title... when in reality they should put effort to be awake and see things as they are, clearly, free from egoism and stupid hopes and think for themselves.

You avoided my questions in first comment. And I still stand by them...

I dont think "clicking, reading, commenting" on any writing - is any sign of success in writing. (Though it generated a good amount of interesting discussion so maybe you re on to something. )It shows only that you yourself dont care about means... while preaching about their quality. I wrote a lengthy comment because I think its a big problem in photography or any creative community... average photographers giving average advice produces more average photographers and, in a moment, we are drown in mass-consumed mediocrity where people say hey 1million followers, I must be successful and I must be producing great work without actually thinking, contemplating on the craft and doubting the values it sings about; responsibility of work we produce and culture we are promoting... so yeah. This is my intentions.

Dave Dundas's picture

Get off your horse Tim, no one is preaching (except you), she's offering some advice based on her experiences. If you don't think it's right, ok, move along...

If you think you can do better, I look forward to reading your next Fstoppers article, I'm sure it will be fascinating.

Jacques Cornell's picture

Depends on what you mean by "worked".

Reginald Graddy's picture

So, based on everything you just said about his points, I should ignore...everything you just said?

Ok, got it.

This was actually a refreshing read, and I probably need to do at least a third of them (ok, probably half).

If we had all the answers, we'd never need to read what others have to say. :-P

BlackWhiteAndJello BWJ's picture

stop editing your portraits so much to the point the model looks like plastic dummy :p

Kenneth Aston's picture

Not all do that, mostly new photographers that are learning...........did you see "Stop Picking on New Photographers" lol

Reginald Graddy's picture

Lol. I think that a lot of photographers need to learn how to critique the work of others. Saying an image is blurry isn't the same as saying it's out of focus, for example.

That said, I also think many photographers need to develop a thicker skin. When I see photos that the creator does not want CC for, I just move on (usually without liking...not that anyone cares about likes, right?).

Mr Hogwallop's picture

Every "creator" will doubt themselves to some extent. I have a DVD of Avedon about putting up a show in Paris, at midnight the night before it opens, he wants to take all down because he thinks it's awful. When you stop doubting yourself you aren't trying hard enough or you are really arrogant.

Nicole York's picture

The point isn't that you never experience doubt, it's that you recognize it and don't let it stop you.

Patrick Rosenbalm's picture

"Every "creator" will doubt themselves to some extent."

I will agree with this sentence. Especially if they are a beginner or are in unfamiliar territory or trying something new.

" When you stop doubting yourself you aren't trying hard enough or you are really arrogant."

I have to disagree with this sentence for the most part. If you are a pro or semi pro then you must be making money either full or part time and you obviously possess the knowledge and confidence to deliver what your customers want.
If you constantly have doubts about whether you can deliver then you probably aren't getting anywhere. Most people, unless they are really naive, can pick up on self doubt and lack of confidence / experience. Same for over confidence.

Experience gives you wisdom and confidence to win the trust of your customer and correctly do the job without doubting that you can. That is Not Arrogance.

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