Fstoppers Answers - "What's The Worst Mistake You've Made In Your Photographic Career?"

Fstoppers Answers - "What's The Worst Mistake You've Made In Your Photographic Career?"

Each week, we invite you to ask a question for our writers to answer in a segment called Fstoppers Answers. Last week, we asked how each of our writers found their niche, this week, we invited each of our writers to tell us about 'The Worst Mistake You Ever Made in Your Photographic Career?'

Joseph GambleStaff Writer | Portrait Photographer One of the worst mistakes that I made in my career was hiring friends to either work as interns or assistants, whether it was during my tenure as a staffer or freelancer. Both times the people involved were/are very talented photographers. The unfortunate side is that professional boundaries are often blurred and it generally can have a negative outcome not only for your business but also for your friendship. That being said, my primary assistant right now is a close friend but that is the exception rather than the rule.


Noam GalaiStaff Writer | Commercial Photographer Is it weird I don't think I made any major mistakes in my photographic career? Yeah, we all make mistakes, but I can't recall any mistakes I made that really changed anything or caused any real trouble. Small things like not having a cancellation policy with problematic clients or not insuring my equipment. All are mistakes, but I don't see them as major mistakes that cause me to lose my job/clients etc. I'm always very calculated with my actions and I try as much as possible to not mess up and I hope it's working.


Mike KelleyAssociate Editor | Architecture Photographer Thinking I can be all things to all people. It's simply impossible - you need to find a niche (perhaps even a niche within a niche) and excel at it if you want to be successful. Trying to be all things to all people and being a total 'yes man' is just going to stress you out so incredibly hard. Learn when to say no and when to say yes, and it could be a huge time and stress saver


Lee Morrishttps://fstoppers.com/author/lee-morrisCo-Founder | Wedding Photographer When I was first starting out I thought it would be a good idea to put a coupon for my wedding photography in a local magazine. Not only did it not help me book a single wedding, it lowered my perceived value and I unintentionally made myself the "discount photographer" in town. Nobody is interested in hiring a "cheap" wedding photographer, they want the best photographer in town at an affordable rate. I found out later it was much better to discount my rates on a client by client basis.


Peter HouseStaff Writer | Commercial Photographer Trying to run my business as a partnership. A few years ago I tried to diversify my companies offerings, and in an attempt to enter a market which was otherwise closed to me, I partnered up with another colleague of mine. Initially it seemed like a wonderful idea but it slowly spiraled into a rather terrible situation. The individual whom I partnered with consistently under delivered to the client and delayed production. Since my job was dependent on his work in this arrangement, I began to look bad because of his poor performance. Luckily for me I was able to isolate this to a single client situation, and I recovered from it by taking swift and decisive action. The entire experience however has turned me off from partnerships and I am far more cautious about them today.


Ben SassoStaff Writer | Wedding Photographer My biggest mistake (and regret) is how I used to view fellow photographers as competition. Sure, we may be in the same field, we may have similar styles, and we may even be targeting the same clients, but in the end wouldn't it be so much more enjoyable if we encouraged each other? Wouldn't our work be pushed forward more if we learned from and shared with each other? I have been so much more in love with what I do since I made that switch in my mind.


Matthew DutileStaff Writer | The New Guy When I first moved to NYC I began assisting for six months before moving into shooting full-time. On one of my first bigger gigs (for a photographer I respected and had been in contact with for awhile) I was assigned to driving the gear truck to location and parking in the city. I hadn't driven in awhile... much less a cargo van through the insanity that is NYC, and while pulling into a parking garage I cut it short and scrapped a good two foot gash in the side of the door. Talk about an oh shit moment. I told the first assist about it right away, and we waited until end of shoot to tell the photographer. I'm pretty sure all panned out ok (another reason why everyone should have insurance), but I never got hired for assisting with them again. Mistakes happen, just try not to carve giant holes in rental vehicles.


Dave GeffinStaff Writer | Professional Photographer I haven't been full time for too long, but knowing how to price is really critical, and often so difficult when you start out. I used to think lower prices helped get my foot in the door. It kind of does, but you quickly realize it's not for the sorts of clients you want to work with and won't lead to a long term sustainable business proposition. We all work at points for cheap, sometimes for free, sometimes we even self fund projects, but we should always be clear how that fits into a longer term plan for our business and where we are headed.


David BickleyStaff Writer | Fitness Photographer Man, there have been so many it's hard to choose. By far the biggest was thinking that there would be no swings in the flow of business. I had never been a freelancer before, nor had I run a business prior to becoming a photographer at 19. I made a lot of money, and I spent basically all of it. Then, when business dried up... reality hit. It took over a year (maybe two) of slogging through a "real job" before I could fix my situation and get back to shooting full-time. Lesson: Save, save, save.


Zach SuttonAssociate Editor | Headshot Photographer Thinking business would be easy. Sure, we've all left CF cards at home, batteries uncharged and looking like a fool on location, but those flighty moments come and go and are unavoidable. When starting out, I thought I could just do commercial style photographs, post them up on Flickr, and then eventually Sony Pictures would hire me for $30K jobs on the regular. It simply doesn't work like that. If you want to do commercial photography, you have to sit on the phone a lot and hustle to find success in the market.

If you have any questions you'd like to have answered, feel free to post them in the comments below. As always, feel free to also chime in with your experiences.

Zach Sutton's picture

Zach Sutton is an award-winning and internationally published commercial and headshot photographer based out of Los Angeles, CA. His work highlights environmental portraiture, blending landscapes and scenes with portrait photography. Zach writes for various publications on the topic of photography and retouching.

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spending too much of my precious times on blogs....

I think it's a mistake to accept EVERYTHING you hear from more experienced photographers. There is a line between words of wisdom and personal opinion.

I have had other photographers (that I look up to) tell me to get out of photgraphy, keep it as a hobby, and do something else instead. They say that photography is dead and the market is rapidly shrinking. I try not to let their jaded thoughts diminish my passion to shoot.

Your success in business is based off of your drive, talent, and positive thinking. Obviously there are real world constraints that prevents every business from flourishing but it's up to you and your passion to see through it and to not quit. I also remind myself that I know who I am so my experience in this industry may be different than theirs. If they are right in the end, at least I tried my best and I will not regret the experience.

All good advice, but Lee Morris' statement about people wanting the best photographer at an affordable price is definitely one many people learn the hard way.

Not having triple backups. I just lost my primary disk and my on site back up at the same time. Costing me all my work over the past 10 years, this morning. Both drives failed at the same time and I can't get either to mount to recover the data.

Spend the money on online backups!

Just so you know, Photojournalist friend had all images backed up to 3 3.5 inch drives. Well, he bought all three drives at the same time. All three were the same manufacture, model etc.... All drives failed at the same exact moment in his hard drive array. He lost years of work like you.

I work in IT with my current employer, as well as their product photographer.

I've worked as a service tech with IBM in their server dept. and in my experience I'm yet to see, even in data centres, more than 2 drives die in the same array at 'once', where the cause isn't firmware or software related (and therefore recoverable). The odds are astronomical for this to occur, especially when you factor in the common platter HDD failure rate

If your array has become corrupted or RAID/HDD controller has died, you can plug those drives into another controller of the same type and spec and read the drive config off the metadata on the drives and recover the data within a few minutes.

Please call a proper IT tech, not a 'Nerd2U' guy in a minivan who has built a computer or two and you should get sorted 99% of the time. Also, Online backups are a bit of a wives tale, I only shoot semi-frequently but I still have 1.4TB of files (I flatten my PSD's too!) Try uploading that through a connection that isn't fibre or the fastest cable/DSL and you'll essentially be uploading for a VERY long time. In the event you had a failure and a deadline looming, you'd have to be confident that you could actually download the files required with time left to re-work (or larger multi-layer PSD's etc..) to meet this.

For backups, IMO, you're better off with a multiple drive system with their replacement planned at/within the warranty period and using them cyclically to keep their work-time to a minimum ergo lifetime up and keep them offsite (fire, theft etc).

P.s. the photographer in me wants to mention that you'll never be able to afford or keep up with the backup styles that keep you the safest, most of the time the simplest are the most effective because complex systems require a lot of movements or actions that can be forgotten and will bring the whole system undone.

I got both the drives at the same time. They were identical units. As far as I've figured out so far is the USB controller on the main drive went because it's not being recognized on any of the four computers I have at hand. If the disk were bad and the controller was still good it'd register as an event when plugged in. The disk still spins up when I apply power, leading me to believe the disk itself might be recoverable if I drop it into a new enclosure. I'll try that today and get a new disk to add into the system.

Dang, the important drive is toast. Dropped it in a new enclosure with not change.

if it's just a dead drive, it's not lost, just send to a recovery service. it's expensive but should recover it.

Being Complacent. Not getting out there shooting, Even thou I have a pretty good work load, not building my portfolio with the type of pictures I love to do. Spending to much time on bh photo's or ebays website looking at stuff I cannot afford anyway. I have a friend who (yes) is a good photographer, but he is a ABSOLUTE work a holic. Day and night, he is shooting editing and working on stores. His photography is good, but so is mine. But because of his HARD WORK, he is getting places. He is a regular photographer for NY times, Wall Street Journal, has been in Time magazine, Again, because he has dedicated his life to the craft. You could even say its his wife. So being lazy about getting further is my HUGE mistake.

Not having my archives organized and having images everywhere is my second hugest mistake.

The worst mistake I made was back in 1989 when an art director at a major record label in NYC called in my portfolio and told me had a female singer and wanted a headshot/photo of her behind a foggy glass window. I discussed the idea with him though I wasn't too thrilled with it as I'd seen that many times before. Like on the cover of every photo magazine in the late 60s. What I should have done was keep my mouth shut, get a model and shoot the shot that night then included the transparencies in my portfolio the next day. Needless to say I didn't get the gig.

Even in a confession Lee throws out some solid wedding photog advice

I've made way too many. Forgetting to charge batteries, letting friends help, accidentally deleting the wrong memory cards etc. It's all a learning process

How come you didn't bother to ask any "women" what their mistakes were? this is not a male only profession!