Q & A SERIES: THE WORST MISTAKES PHOTOGRAPHERS MAKE
This month for our Q&A, I’ve asked industry creatives to name the worst mistake a photographer has ever made or could ever make (on a photo shoot? early in their career? in dealing with clients?). I’ve left this purposely open-ended to allow for contributors to take their answers in any way they wish. One thing seems consistent throughout the answers: put your ego aside, listen, and work very very hard. Check out full answers below. If you have any questions or contributions, please feel free to email me (email@example.com) or leave a comment on the post! I’d love to hear some feedback on this series and also your opinion… What do YOU think is the worst mistake a photographer can make?
As always, I am so pleased and grateful to all of you who contributed! You are not only making me very happy, but are also helping to build this forum and open up discussion about our community. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
– Jacqueline Bovaird, Glasshouse Assignment
TARA GUERTIN, PHOTO EDITOR, AFAR MAGAZINE
In general, what comes to mind first and foremost is lack of enthusiasm for the work, and thus not putting 100% into it. Some young photographers can have a sense of entitlement that drives me crazy! The worst mistake a photographer could make on a shoot would be not shooting enough….too many people have too many ideas how things should look, especially on the advertising side!
EVAN KAFKA, PHOTOGRAPHER
The biggest mistake is to make a portfolio of pictures you think they want to see. Show the work that moves you and its power will translate. Direct your career, don’t let your career direct you, if you can help it.
Well there are mistakes, faux pas, and disasters. A disaster is when the strobe falls in the swimming pool just as the client is diving in. A faux pas, is farting when the entire crew is sitting down to lunch. A mistake can be anywhere in between those two. I think the most common mistake I made as a young photographer (and sometimes still do), and that I also see young photographers do all the time is to talk too much, and listen too little.
Photographers are always in the position of selling themselves, of convincing the world that we are the best photographer in the world. We know it’s not true, but our careers require a certain amount of confidence and salesmanship. The average person goes on a series of perhaps 10 job interviews once every five or ten years. Photographers, especially starting out, literally go on a hundred job interviews a year. Sometimes it’s tough to turn off the sales pitch. Young assistants, fresh out of school are the worst, always telling me what they know instead of asking what I need.
One of my best business lessons came a few years ago when I was looking for an architect to build my house. I called the first four architects and within five minutes they were each telling me about what amazing architects they were, and the great house they were going to build for me. This before they asked about my family size, my interests, or my budget.
I realized that I was often guilty of this as well, so I now make a conscious effort to be the quietest person at every meeting. If you are in the meeting, then chances are you either have the job, or you are a front runner so this is the time to shut up and focus on the task at hand, not brag about the shoot you did with (name a celebrity) last week. BTW: Before I looked at his portfolio I had pretty much decided to hire the fifth architect, and I love the house he built for me
SPENCER JONES, PHOTOGRAPHER
It’s hard to know what is professional and what isn’t sometimes. I hear stories about photographers with big egos that work all the time and I hear stories about photographers with big egos that clients use once and say never again. There are many variables that go into a shoot. It’s important to have confidence in what you do and the client needs to sense this. But at what point does the photographer cross a line and the shoot becomes more about them and not a collaboration between the art director’s vision, the clients needs and the photographer’s creative talents?
I’m surprised how many times I hear clients and art directors talk about shoots where the photographer was unprofessional. There was the time when my wife was the client and waited outside a photographer’s studio 45 minutes before he showed up. There she was with all the crew and models standing outside freezing. There was another time when the client and art director showed up at a photographer’s studio, buzzing the door for 20 mins. After they were let in they realized that the photographer lived there and was asleep. To say the least these photographers were never used again. Every time an art director awards a job to a photographer, it’s the art director’s job on the line and photographers need to remember that.
RYAN SCHUDE, PHOTOGRAPHER
In general, the biggest mistake a photographer can make is not constantly making new images and not constantly sharing these images with everyone and their mother. Of course you shouldn’t flood people’s inbox with crap on a daily basis just to fulfill this, but keep producing and distributing solid work consistently.
KELLI GRANT, PIXPALACE
I think the worst thing that a photographer can do is to not immediately caption and credit his/her images in IPTC fields. There are too many photographers who have failed to establish a keyword/captioning workflow. Once an image is digitized, it’s always best to attach the proper and thorough, “who”, “what”, “when”, “where”, “how” and of course “by whom” information in the header of the file. Many photographers have gotten in the bad habit of waiting too long and then the caption information is less rich than if they had captioned the image while the specifics were fresh in their mind. The captions become very general. General captions lead to general keywording thus fewer hits on a search, so less sales. There are many applications out there including Photo Mechanic, Bridge, Aperture and Fotostation that are quite easy to use and fast. Photographers must always stay on top of technology especially when with the Orphan Works Act looming.
MILES LADIN, PHOTOGRAPHER
The worst mistake a photographer can make while working on a commercial assignment
is to try and please the client while ignoring their own creative impulses. The client hired you for a reason, otherwise they would have hired someone else or possibly tried to shoot it themselves. If you try and make an exact illustration of the client’s concept there will be nothing left in the shot to call your own. There might be a financial reward in the short term, but you won’t be evolving your own vision for the future. Selling out is truly a dead end.
The worst mistake an emerging photographer can make early in their career is to pass up potential opportunities due to an inflated sense of ego or a clients tight purse strings. Never turn down an assignment or an opportunity unless it offends your personal morals or you feel completely manipulated. As fabulous as you feel you are, you need to check your ego at the door, especially early on in your career. If a client has no budget but is offering you a really interesting assignment or to photograph something different than you normally shoot, say YES. It could lead to a new creative direction, an image for your portfolio, possibly even connections that will have a bigger budget.
The worst mistake a photographer can make in general is choosing this creative path by happenstance or a desire to be famous. The most inspired images come from photographers who feel the medium is a calling, closer to a religion than a career. The famous dictum by Joseph Campbell, “Follow Your Bliss”, should be taken to heart. Why were you originally drawn to photography and why are you making images today? Never forget the particulars of what inspires you about the photographic process. Your joy will lead you to success; creatively & professionally.
DERRICK GOMEZ, PHOTOGRAPHER
“The worst mistake you can commit as a photographer is to rely on your technique, rather than your taste. Great lighting and camera work are fundamentals, but in relying on them you risk producing repetitive work. You risk being a trend. Good photography requires vision. Read books. Attend concerts. Visit galleries & travel. Develop your taste.”
CRAIG RUTTLE, PHOTOGRAPHER
Although times are challenging now for photographers of all disciplines, one thing in my mind has become ever important, and that’s knowing your strengths and desires. I’m finding this out after being a professional for almost 30 years…. Nothing new here, obviously, but the achievement of this requires some flexibility and ability to keep a tight grip on your finances. Your money. I’m not talking about getting rich, although there certainly are some people in this field who have been incredibly successful. I’m talking about doing the work you know and enjoy the most. I’ve had conversations lately with fellow professionals about what they want out their careers and I’m finding that many are willing to work outside their comfort zone to bolster the work they find personally important.
A good friend of mine is a fine portrait and travel photographer, supported by a rep and good clients. He is doing well, but has built in time to work on some long term, self assigned projects that I believe will eventually pay off for him. What he’s documenting may prove to be an important part of visual history, and to be plain, he’s really good at it. Simple, strong images that will stand the test of time; important work that is paying him with great satisfaction, and I think will eventually be seen as classic documentary work.
Back to the money part: unless you have an endless stream of cash, and I hope you do(!), keep a close eye on your finances, live frugally when you can, and take jobs from time to time you may not want to (within reason, of course). So after you’ve completed the less than perfect assignment, you can hold your head up knowing that at the end of the day, you’ll have worked hard to stay true to yourself, and pay your rent, too. Maybe this is too simple, but I bring up this subject where viewpoints meet at a crossroads; the completion of the assignment. Too far down the road, perhaps… Assignments are not all created equal, and even the same assignment might not be the same in the eyes of different editors, art directors, etc. Sometimes the pointed direction is clear; sometimes it seems like one needs an assignment map!
As a photojournalist (using my example only), there are certain realities that can’t be avoided and must be captured. Outside of this, there are nuances that, for instance, I may feel are important to a specific job. Some editors welcome a broader view, while others might feel being flooded with images is a waste of time; sort of a “get to the point!” attitude. Hopefully, you see what I mean. Whether it photojournalism, editorial, still life or portrait, having a clue of what your (probably new) editor or art director has in mind at his or her publication/newspaper/web site is essential. I’m convinced that once a relationship like this is formed, and one usually knows right away, your point of view can be added as trust is built, which is the reward of a cooperative professional experience.
Thank you everyone who participated!! Keep a look out for next month’s question and email blast!!
If you have any ideas, comments, or if you’d like to participate in our monthly email Q&A, please don’t hesitate to contact me, Jacqueline Bovaird. I am always looking for new voices to add to this evolving discussion.
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