Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes. —Oscar Wilde
I don’t have much time to read while we’re in the middle of covering fashion shows, so I was excited to dive back into the pile of articles and books that have been waiting for me. Okay, so some of my choices might have been mistakes. I really shouldn’t even open an article with a title like: 3 Mistakes Professional Photographers Make That Could Ruin Their Career. I found the article on Modern Lens Magazine, which had copied it from Lightstalking.
The article very briefly addresses three basic mistakes:
- Inability to say no
- Not improving
- Giving clients too much control
So, address those issues and everything is rosy, right? If those are the biggest problems a professional photographer has then it should be easy to correct and start making money. Hundreds of my would-be colleagues are already thinking how the article might apply to them while simultaneously refusing to admit that they make any mistakes at all. We are a rather silly lot when one gets right down to it.
I don’t have a problem with the actual content of the article. What bothers me is the inference that there are only three mistakes that are ruining our business. Fact is, we’re so error-prone (as a group, not you individually, you’re cool because you’re reading this article), that it is a miracle any of us make a profit at all. Those who do make a decent living aren’t error-free, either. They’ve simply learned how to either work around their mistakes or turn their mistakes into customer benefits; enhanced services if you want to think of it that way. We’re all fallible.
Mistakes We Could Make
I’m not sure there is any real benefit to calling out specific mistakes photographers make and saying, “Hey, you, the guy with the viewfinder imprint permanently etched on his face, stop doing that thing you’re doing.” If we are really that oblivious to our problems then we have significantly larger issues we need to address. Professional counseling is highly recommended. Goofs and foul-ups that we’ve already committed are in the past. What we need to avoid are the things that can really ruin our business in the future. A few things that come to mind are:
- Calling the client a jackass, even if they are
- Setting a call time for 6:00 AM but sending an assistant and not showing up yourself until 10
- Screaming at the President’s security team
- Drop kicking the client’s yappy Pomeranian
- Completely destroying the paint job on client’s $250,000 sports car by insisting that the only way to get the perfect shot is to stand on top of the automobile
- Attempting to take photos on the tarmac of an international airport without permission
- Bringing your preschool-aged children and letting them eat chocolate as they wander through the racks of designer clothes
- Telling everyone on set just exactly how you would bang the model if given the opportunity
- Dragging power cords for you lights through a large puddle in which multiple people are standing
- Tripping a model because you didn’t like the way she walked
- Throwing things onto the runway while a fashion show is in progress
- Eating the lunch that was delivered specifically for your client
Yes, every last one of those this has happened. Yes, in each case the photographer’s career was ruined. You’ve been warned. Don’t do these things.
Mistakes We Should Make
Another reason we probably should be careful about calling out photographers’ mistakes is that there are a few “mistakes” that we actually should make. Sure, they don’t put any money in our wallets, but they put good vibes out into the universe, make people smile, and keep us all from becoming the surly old grouch that I already am. Some of the things that come to mind are:
- Taking excessive pictures of kittens
- Taking excessive pictures of kittens with small children
- Moving a shoot to protect an endangered environment even if there’s no reasonable substitute
- Giving away pictures to non-profits, without credit, because it helps what they’re doing
- Getting involved and caring about the lives of the people on your team, especially if you consistently use the same team
- Going over budget because you paused the shoot to help victims of a nearby traffic accident
- Taking as many pictures of puppies as you do kittens
- Going on vacation and not taking your professional camera
- Feeding the models
- Trying something new when you already know it probably won’t work
- Let a rookie use your best camera for a few frames
There are probably other things I could add to this list but I don’t want you thinking I’m getting soft or anything. The point is, any of the things on that list could end in disaster, especially if you ‘re surrounded by people who don’t like kittens and puppies. Of course, I might ask why in the world you tolerate people who don’t like kittens and puppies; that could be a mistake as well.
Perfection Doesn’t Happen
Look, if you’re trying to be the perfect photographer who does everything exactly right, stop. You’re not going to make it. In fact, you’re more likely to kill yourself trying. We all make plenty of mistakes. Do the best that you can and deal with the mistakes as they happen. Learn as you go and share when it makes sense.
However, don’t make the mistake of thinking that just addressing the three or four things on a list inherently makes you a better photographer. Relax. Be yourself. The person who wrote that article isn’t perfect either.