7 Mistakes From Professional Photographers That Held Them Back
I am the best photographer there ever was, or will be. I’ve never made a mistake and never will. In fact, when I was born, a camera was draped around my neck. I am a gift to photography, and you should grovel at my feet.
I am of course being characteristically silly. Although, you are more than welcome to grovel at my feet. I won’t stop you. Nobody was born with a camera in their hands, and nobody is infallible. We all make mistakes.
Every photographer you have looked up to has, and probably still does, make mistakes. They ruin shoots because of some silly mistake. They had the same misconceptions that many of you do, and those misconceptions held back their development. They took bad photos. They may be guilty of having used selective color, heavy vignettes, bad HDR, railroad tracks (BAD IDEA), giving your subject plastic-looking skin…the list goes on.
The point is, we all start somewhere. We all make mistakes. We all stubbornly stick to misguided principles which hold us back. In this article, you’ll hear from some of the great photographers who write for SLR Lounge. I’ve asked them to tell me about a mistake or misconception which held back their development as photographers.
The Mistake which Held Me Back
Being a know it all with a degree, I worked on productions with budgets in the millions and next to some very famous names. I thought I knew it all. I wasn’t cocky, nor put anybody down, but I definitely had the “I can do that” mentality. I’d look at a photo and appreciate it for its beauty but in the back of my mind, I would think “that’s not that hard.”
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That may sound trivial, and in some respects it is, but it held me back. Not appreciating that my skills needed improving stopped me from progressing. I thought I didn’t need to. Once I realized there was SO MUCH I did not know, I began to value education. I started soaking up every bit of information I could and applying it to my photography. Undoubtedly, my skills have improved and will continue to do so. I’ve switched out a negative mentality for one which will see me constantly progress. I now know nothing (anybody else always think of Game Of Thrones when they read or hear that?)
Don’t make the same mistake I did. Value education and remember there is always room for improvement. Check out some of the education SLR Lounge offers by clicking here.
One thing that definitely held back the progression of my photography was being afraid to experiment. I didn’t want to ‘waste’ an opportunity photographing an animal that I’d waited so long for by taking a risk. That could be experimenting with a slow shutter speed or lighting conditions to create an out-of-the-ordinary photo. But the risk was that sometimes it wouldn’t work. I’ve since learned that this is a risk worth taking sometimes, and can result in much more impressive photos.
Jamie Davis Smith
When I first started, I made the mistake of saying yes to everything and everyone. I agreed to sessions at times where the light was terrible, gave discounts, and agreed to photograph subjects that I did not enjoy, like birthday parties. By setting limits and focusing on photographing what I enjoyed the most, I was able to improve my skills and photography was a lot more enjoyable!
For a technical mistake, I think it’s pretty common, but I was not consistent with my editing. Although I never used actions, I was eager to figure out how to edit to keep up with all the trends (vintage, film, etc.). Once I settled on a look I liked, my photography improved because I was better able to shoot with the final image in mind. I was able to focus on making tweaks in the editing style I preferred, which resulted in better images rather than always trying to do something new.
Michelle Aenlle Ford
Photography as an art, can be learned, acquired or if you have some natural talent, honed and molded. I was fortunate in that I had an inclination for composition and a way with people that elicited genuine emotions. What I didn’t have were the technical skills. When I started in the wedding industry, I was introduced to a world of energetic, charismatic and famous people. I was fascinated and enamored with their personalities. They had qualities that I didn’t have, oh and they took amazing photographs. It’s human nature isn’t it, to be attracted to fame and fortune? Purely by chance, I got to rub shoulders with some of the top names at the time. My fascination grew, but my skills didn’t.
I’m a logical person so you’d think that I would have realized this sooner. Being around the rockstars didn’t buy me anything. I think I had hoped that I could assist them, but I was too shy to ask. I may have hoped that one of them would take me under their wing and teach me, I didn’t realize until much later that they were all busy, running businesses, maintaining (or chasing) success. None of them had the time or incentive to take someone they barely knew from zero to 60 out of the goodness of their hearts.
Actually back then, there was a workshop explosion going on and everybody was looking to use education as a means to monetize their information. What I wanted for free, they wanted to give me at a premium. I also may even have thought that knowing them would buy me credibility. It did not. In fact, I figured out myself that as I weeded through the fan club and the rockstars, I could pick out the people that actually had the talent and/or the skills. I could also pick out the people who actually shot weddings for a living rather than provide an illusion of it. Some of them weren’t anywhere close to famous.
It took me a little while, but I finally figured out that I needed to create my own fame. More importantly, the fame I needed to seek was with clients not my fellow photographers. I also figured out that socializing with my famous friends didn’t teach me any new skills. I could ask them questions or ask for help, but I needed to learn the basics first and come with good questions to get good answers. Questions about branding should have been the least of my concerns at the time. I finally admitted to myself that my so called art was an accident. The camera was controlling me, and so was my distraction with fame. I flipped all that around and took control of the camera, took control of my art, took control of me. It’s a work in progress, but now I’ve got a reason to market to my clients and let my friends just be my friends.
Tanya Goodall Smith
I got my start on a loaner Canon AE-1 35mm film Camera for the yearbook staff in high school, where I learned to shoot in manual mode right off the bat. I don’t even think “auto” or any other program modes existed on that camera. We learned to use the in-camera light meter and choose the correct exposure ourselves. While I had been shooting in manual mode for years, for some reason, I never understood the correlation between aperture and depth of field, even after taking an analog and digital photography class in college. When I discovered how to control my depth of field, my images changed significantly. Now I’m able to add separation from my subject and the background, produce overall sharp images and make sure everyone is in focus because I know how the aperture affects all of those things.
When I first started, it took me a while to figure out my style, and so my images were all over the place – overprocessed and inconsistent. I had a tendency to use a bunch of different actions, processing each image individually instead of as a whole body of work, so a series of images would have a few that had a vintage wash to them, some that were oversaturated, and all of them were oversharpened.
When I finally found what my style was, I also realized that I really just liked images to be clean and timeless. Now with the Fuji system, my colors have a natural pop to them. The rest are processed quickly and consistently using the Preset System, though I typically don’t do more than the basic retouching on my images. I think they look a lot better.
The biggest mistake I made early in my career was to perceive photography as just another job, with each client being yet another boss. I tried to put clients wholly in charge of their own final product. At every turn, from the time of day to the posing and even the post-production, I gave them options and let them choose whatever fit their own schedule, personal preference, or whim. Unfortunately, in the creative industry, this is, of course, entirely backward.
It was only after a few years of downright discouraging work, that I realized people would pay me to deliver whatever final product my own artistic vision led me to. Much time has passed since that breakthrough however, and each year, the philosophy has held true. Now, I’m thrilled to have overcome a major roadblock that would have eventually chased away my passion.
My advice to aspiring professionals would be: don’t even think of going down the path of professional photography unless you can actually create the images you are truly the most passionate about. Because the simple job of “camera operator” has both extremely heavy competition and very little sense of fulfillment.
How Can You Avoid Making Mistakes?
Firstly, and this one is pretty obvious, don’t repeat any of the mistakes listed here. If you find that one or two of these relate to you, actively try and alter your behaviour. Changing your way of doing things is never easy, but it’s far worse to stubbornly continue doing something which may be damaging you in the long run.
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Secondly, this one is important, so pay attention – Value education. The majority of mistakes we make along the way to becoming skilled photographers are routed in a lack of knowledge. No, it is no longer necessary to get a formal education in Photography (in my opinion). Nonetheless, education, in some form, is vital. Proper education will propel your photography forward faster than anything else. Click on the two rewinds above and below this paragraph for my recommendations of some fantastic courses. Furthermore, check out the outstanding education that SLR Lounge offers in the store, click here. Finally, make sure you look over the new SLR Lounge Premium, it’s pretty incredible, here.
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The final tip I would like to leave you with bares repeating. You know nothing. That mentality will serve you better than anything. Don’t fall into the trap of believing you know it all, or even that you know enough. Continually search for new ways to advance your photography and you will never stop improving.
What were some of your mistakes starting out? Tell me in the comments below. I’d love to hear them.
Great article Max. Thanks for featuring me.
I think another mistake that could be listed is to stop comparing yourself to everyone around you… I know I do this myself especially when it comes to picking up second shooter gigs… I look at every other website on the list and just sit and think that my work isn’t good enough. I think my wife yesterday gave me the best advise after another rejection… “Just shut up and shoot!”
I’ve made the mistake of not changing my ISO when changing films. I shoot for myself, but while I was out boating with friends, I unloaded Kodak TMAX 100 and changed to Kodak BW400CN without changing the ISO from 100 to 400. I discovered that BW400CN has a wide latitude from 100 to 1600 (that was intentional). The BW400CN shot at 100 wasn’t so great, but acceptable.
Another mistake is forgetting to change the exposure compensation. I use -2/3 when shooting sunrises or sunsets. With my film cameras, it’s an easy glance to the top of the camera, but with my DSLR, it involves the Quick menu button.
To Tanya Goodall Smith: I started also with a Canon film camera; my A-1 doesn’t have a match-needle system, but the F-1N that I bought used does. I’ve done manual photos with my A-1 when I was shooting panoramas.
I am definitely making the mistake of processing my files a thousand different ways :( Style trying to figure out my style. Although I think I finally found it a few weeks ago :)
I love these articles, whenever I get discouraged, they make me realize I’m not the only one and almost everyone went through the same process.
Really glad you find the article encouraging! That’s exactly what I was hoping for
In my opinion it’s not a mistake if you are still working on figuring out your own personal style. I know I tried practically everything, before settling down. The only time you should worry is if you’ve been at it for years, and still don’t know what your style is. Then, it might be time for a private critique, or some extensive data collecting based on your own favorite images over the years.
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I think one of my biggest problems is I feel like I need to spend all this money I don’t have on a fancy camera to get nice pics, when I’ve had a nice camera all these years that I really don’t know how to use…Ten years ago, a photographer friend sold me his Sony Cybershot for cheap because his wife didn’t want it anymore and I was looking for something to better my photography skills with..I keep putting off getting another camera because it’s hard to choose one..I regret waiting all this time to broaden my knowledge of photography because it feels like years wasted on something I’m so passionate about..My biggest bucket list wish was to shoot pictures of the Aurora Borealis, but I was no where near prepared for it! However, the opportunity came and I took the chance..My pictures didn’t really turn out, but the memory and experience were worth so much more!
Your article inspires me and leaves me yearning to learn more of what I have put off..That burning urge to get back into what I put the flame out on for too long has returned..Great article!