As a professional photographer, you had to start somewhere. That "somewhere" came with a learning curve and plenty of missteps to get to where you are today!
So we asked members on theLoop to share their top rookie mistakes. Color prints, under-charging, and equipment malfunctions are only the tip of the iceberg. What were your biggest learning moments in your early career?
Our top ten opportunities for improvement are below. Many of these stories are cringe-worthy to seasoned vets, but they provide a great example of how we've all had our struggles in the beginning.
- "The biggest rookie mistake I made was right after I graduated from school. I had a job to photograph the interior of a new house being built for the CEO of TJ Maxx. This was back in the film days, but the mistake I made still applies to today's digital cameras. Check and then double check that you have all of your camera settings right. The mistake was I didn't check to make sure the shutter speed was synced right with the lights. Big mistake on my part, and when I got the film and print back, I nearly dropped to the floor. Then the worst came when I had to call the client and ask for a re-shoot. "Not on your life" was their reply. Needless to say, I have not repeated that mistake." - Paul Robinson, CPP
- "Our biggest mistake was getting into photography without fully understanding the business side of things. We were very "green" and should have taken some classes prior to jumping in with both feet. We quickly realized that only being a photographer in a photography business wasn't going to cut it. Thankfully, things improved dramatically once we started to educate ourselves. I don't think most start-ups realize how many aspects there are to running a business. You need to be proficient in photography, marketing, sales, design, AND business to make it, and I only walked in with two of those skills." - T. Blair Wright
- "Attempting to do my own color prints, (this was back in the day of film only) rolling the color print in a black plastic tube, one at a time, colors came out way too bright and rich, so I then sent them to a lab. I wasted time (and money) doing it that first time." - Peter Farrar
- "One of the growing pains I had to deal with was choosing the proper lens to use for a shoot. Also, taking my time to get the composite and get it right before the shot is taken. Learning the hard way of quality vs. low price on gear. Long story on that, but I learned you get what you pay for." - Michael Ali
- "Thinking I could teach myself. I knew nothing about composition, lighting, posing, and everything else. I lost every model I had and every client. I wish I had a peer back then to show me the ropes. You cannot do it on your own, and education is major in what we do. Knowing what I know now, I wish I could start over and do things the right way from day one." - Jason Grass
- "What mistakes did I make when I began as a photographer? ALL of them! But I learned from every single one, and it has helped me be the image maker that I am today... You should learn from others, but the mistakes that you make are lessons you'll learn the deepest and best (if you pay attention). Don't be afraid to try new things after doing the research. If it doesn't work, go at it again. It pays off." - Bob Coates, EA-ASP, M.Photog.M.Artist.Cr., CPP
- "My big mistake was starting out under-financed. It took me three years to get firmly on my feet. If I had been supporting a family, I would probably not have made it. " - Mark Houde
- "Not charging enough was my biggest rookie mistake. Setting prices too low isn't a sustainable business model." - Elizabeth McConchie
- "The very first wedding I ever shot was 36 years ago. I decided that I was smarter than everyone else, so I shot the wedding on Ektachrome film because I wanted to project the images in the sales room. Images turned out fine (by my standards at the time), but I never checked on the actual cost of printing from slides. It was so expensive back then that I lost a lot of money preparing the order. Of course, I charged a crazy low price, so I could get the job. The more the clients ordered, the more I lost. Long story short, when you first start and know nothing about the [photography] business, everything you learn by mistake is tremendously important - and costly. Result for me: I never used slide film for a wedding ever again." - Paul D'Aigle
- "My biggest mistake so far... aside from starting out so "green" (and not the cool kind of "eco-green" either) was when I did my first paid assignment with studio lights. I hadn't done my homework on print labs yet, so I offered the CD... but offering it for way too low was not the worst of my mistakes... The worst was not following through on my own work. Thankfully, through the conditioning I had received from PPA, theLoop, and other pros, I switched immediately to in-person sales (even though these were portfolio building/learning sessions for me). I'm so thankful to have set up that standard for my business early on... even though it was in our living room on the flat screen TV, it still worked! I've been getting great sales! But there's another part to my story... I had lunch with that same client (who printed her own images from the CD) and finally had the opportunity to see the prints she had made. Oh, horrors!!! They were awful!!! Terrible cropping... color and white balance all off... and one was put into an 8x10 frame with the wrong crop ratio, so there was a white border on each side! The worst part of it all was that she thought they were so great! I bit my tongue (these were photos of her grandchildren) and promised to order an 8x10 that I would edit to help her "see the difference"... and apologized for my lack of knowledge back then." - Ann Brenny
And there you have ‘em! Did you relate to some of these rookie mistakes? Let us know your mistakes by emailing us at theLoop@ppa.com with the subject line "What mistakes did you make when you began as a pro photographer?" And if you’re not already a member of PPA, join today!