In the past I would look at my images and compare them to the likes of others, and although I liked some my shots the majority of them didn't stack up to say Lara Jade's portfolio. I felt by looking at her images she never made a mistake, she was perfect, and I wasn't. It especially hurt me in portrait sessions, I'd ask a client to pose and then look at the image only to see that their eyes were closed, instead of asking them to hold the pose for a second I'd lie and say I got the shot. Stupid I know.
As time went on I got better, I understood controls, studied lighting and composition, yet it still took me several fires to get the shot I had actually envisioned. I even recall some moments where I left my lens cap on, or even worse I forgot my SD card. I just didn't have what it took to be a professional... That was my mentality.
Late last year I was invited to help a previous co-worker out with some of his commercial assignments, my job was essentially to hold the light, so I did... After 15 minutes or so of him firing off he simply said, "Keenan, can you hold the light up a little higher? You're in all the frames". I thought, well this guy is an idiot, how didn't he catch that 10 minutes ago, we've taken like 100 shots since then. A feeling of anger started to develop, my arms were tired as shit, I wasn't being paid and this guy had me in the top of his frame?
It wasn't until a few minutes later that I realized he too had made a mistake, someone that I consistently went to for advice or to seek an opinion fucked up. He had me in his frame? That's just as bad as leaving your lens cap on or your SD card at home. That initial sense of anger shifted to a warm happy feeling... People fuck up, and they move on, it's okay, it happens, his clients didn't lose any confidence in him, they weren't upset, they adjusted and he created magic. That was really eye opening for me.
I guess from the outside in all we see is the final image from these projects, of course they all look amazing, anyone who is posting 20 images on a blog probably took close to a 1000. It's just the way things are. I was ignorant to think that everytime I hit the shutter I would create gold. It took me 24 years, but I've finally learned to embrace my mistakes. I no longer look at them as failures, but as lessons, it's the hardest, yet most effective way to learn. So here are my top 10 mistakes of my photography profession thus far.
- I tried to maintain a perfect image.
- Not being myself was one of my early mistakes, if you viewed my blog sometime in April you would see that I was acting as if I was a business, a business of creative professionals, when actually I myself wasn't even a professional. It took me a little longer than it should have but I revamped my website and now it's built around me, who I am and what I can honestly offer. I think initially I acted as if I was a team of people, solely because I was scared to venture out on my own.
- Not asking questions.
- I've always wanted to appear as knowledgeable as possible, I remember shooting my first wedding gig as a second shooter and I had no idea what I was doing. I pretty much used the "pray & spray method" and my images came out terrible. I was in a room with someone who owned a successful photography business and I didn't take advantage of it all because of my ego. I also lost an opportunity to use those images in my portfolio so this prolonged any dreams I had at being a wedding photographer.
- Taking to long to learn the business.
- My initial take on photography was all about the equipment, I studied it like no other, I knew how many elements certain lenses had, I knew about everything, except the business. It took me 9 months or so to realize that though I'm a photographer I'm also a business and I needed to treat it as so. This meant learning marketing, customer service, and accounting. Shooting is just a small component in this big world of photography.
- Not factoring in the winter slump.
- I was let go for my job in the Fall of 2014, I was afraid because I lost consistent income, but I was also excited because I was able to dedicate my time towards my dream. Everything went well, but once the winter hit things dried up, QUICK. I was living session to session at the time, so the winter slump was something I was not prepared for, this hit me at an all time low considering I had just started a family of my own, fortunately I was able to persevere, but it's something I should have been prepared for had I done my research.
- Comparing myself to others.
- I think looking at other photographers work is inspiring, it may give you new perspectives or even ideas you would have personally never thought of. One thing I constantly did though was feel inadequate when I saw a styled I enjoyed. It was frustrating because I was constantly changing what I wanted to capture, and how I wanted to capture it, based on what photo I saw that day. I forgot about me and what I had to offer as a photographer, and spent far too much trying to replicate other people I idolized or looked up too.
- Spending money before earning it.
- I went through my fair share of kits, and man I spent some money. I'm an advocate of future proofing and spending more money in order to reassure your equipment will have some longevity, but only do so if you are bringing in a decent income. In the past I looked down on renting gear, I felt that I needed to own every lens or accessory, regardless of how many times I planned to use it. I'm a prime shooter, and I don't see myself owning a zoom lens, so if I have a wedding that requires a long lens, I'll rent my XF 50-140. My strategy now is not to purchase something unless I have x amount of paid shoots booked for that device.
- Creating for others.
- I often would go out and try to find an image "other" people would like. Not one that tells a story but one that tells someone elses story. When I first started people always said why don't you shoot this or shoot that, they didn't understand that photography is personal, it's more than a beautiful image, at least to some people. They didn't understand that there were different genres or styles of photography, they just knew what a nice image looked like. I'm not saying don't take advice or suggestions from other people, you never know who you can learn from, but you don't always have to utilize their suggestion.
- Shooting in JPEG
- This was one of the worst mistakes, I remember taking my images into Lightroom 5 and completely just giving up. They just didn't look good, and for the life of me I couldn't figure out why. I now shoot in RAW only and I can take full advantage of all the tools in post.
- Purchasing what others wanted vs what I needed.
- When I first purchased my Canon Rebel I made sure that I bought just the body only, because I didn't want to be affiliated with the kit lens. My first lens was the Sigma 17-50, which was highly recommended from members of the forum I participated in... I absolutely hated this lens, I don't know what it was about it but I hated it. Later down the road the Sigma 18-35 came out, people were going crazy over the fact that this zoom lens had a 1.8 aperture, so I purchased that. I felt like because most photographers had their grounds covered from 24-200 that I had to as well, so I bought the 24-105 than 70-200 to compensate for any gaps. I was still unhappy, I felt like I didn't have a macro lens, so I went and bought that too. After all that I felt like my 60D wasn't professional enough. It wasn't until I sold all my equipment that I decided to only purchase what I needed moving forward. If I really need a focal length or macro lens for a certain shoot then I'd rent it, and if I ever feel the need to just purchase something then I likely went with vintage glass because of its quality/price point.
- Being afraid to call myself a photographer/artist.
- This was scary for me, especially to people who've known me for years. Whenever someone would ask if I was a photographer I'd respond by saying, well I just started off, or I'm not that good yet. I didn't want people to think "Is this guy serious" or be bunched in with the rest of the photographers. I hated when people asked me to take a picture and when it wasn't amazing they'd say, "This is terrible, I thought you were a photographer". It was stressful, and I was afraid to put myself out there. What if they wanted to see my work, or even worse hire me? I could have lost so many opportunities by being coy. How did I expect this people to take me seriously, if I myself didn't. If anybody ask now I'm a photographer, I embrace it, it's what I do rather you think it's a job or hobby.
I could probably go on and on if I allowed myself, I guess the point is, is to embrace your mistakes, learn from them. They are apart of the learning curve, and moving forward I know I'll probably make a ton more. It's okay to fuck up, be unsure at times, or experiment and fail. If you're not making mistakes, you probably aren't taking good pictures.