Ten Regrets I Have as a Professional Photographer

Ten Regrets I Have as a Professional Photographer

If you had your time again, would you change anything about your photography career? Here are 10 regrets I have accumulated while practicing as a professional photographer for the last decade.

Unlike other professions, there are literally an infinite number of ways into the world of photography. While this is mostly a great thing, some approaches can lead to a dead end or significantly delay the time it takes to get to a desired destination. The following 10 items are things I wish I had done differently during my career so far.

1. Not Using My Student Loan on Gear

While this decision happened before I became a professional photographer, it is one thing which probably shaped my career more than anything else early on. By not maxing out my student loans, I left money on the table, which could have allowed me to buy all the kit I would need as a photographer starting out. Instead, I scrimped and saved for gear slowly. I was also more into video production in those days, so my funds were further split between these two creative endeavors. With hindsight, that extra money from the loans could have helped me hit the ground running when I first started out as a photographer. Instead, it was a good few years before I was fully stocked up with the many items photographers need to operate on location and in a studio. As a result of this, I probably turned down certain opportunities early on due to experience or kit restraints.    

2. Not Assisting More Photographers

I assisted two very good photographers when I first started out. One was super technical and meticulous and the other was a great personality who could get the best out of those in front and behind of the camera. Both these differing approaches to shooting really shaped me into the photographer I am today, and I'm very grateful for the things I learned with them. I do wish I had assisted more photographers, as there is only so much you can learn with specialists who pretty much do the same job day in, day out. To expose yourself to various different fields is a useful way to help inform your own career path. You might be surprised that an area of photography that you had never considered is something you'd rather pursue or that dream job you've been chasing isn't nearly as fun as you thought. To see the industry through the eyes of an assistant is actually a better way to assess if a particular field is where you want to be. You'll also meet considerably more creatives, art directors, models, stylists, and clients if you assist many more photographers, which is a great way of networking without even trying.

3. Not Buying a Decent Tripod Sooner

A good tripod is crucial when out on location

I have lost count of the number of cheap tripods I broke before I finally invested in a good one. Not only do the cheaper ones tend to not last very long, but they are quite often less easy to use day to day. If you're constantly changing the height of the tripod, tilting the head up and down, rotating the camera on the spot, or regularly removing the camera from the tripod to shoot handheld, then a good quality tripod is your best friend and a crucial purchase. A cheaper one will quickly become a chore if used in the same way. I probably spent more on several cheap tripods than it costs to buy one decent, expensive one.   

4. Not Having an Accountant

If you work for yourself, then having an accountant is worth its weight in gold. Not only are they there to help make sure you file your taxes correctly, but quite often, they will be able to inform you of special tax breaks and incentives you had no idea about. For many years, I filed my own taxes, but having an accountant really takes the stress out of one of the less enjoyable aspects of being a freelancer.

5. Not Hiring a Professional Website Designer

I am pleased with how my website looks, but it really was a headache to build and continues to be a chore to look after. Website design is not a strength of mine, and I hate to think about how many weeks of my life I have wasted on it. Early on in my career, I just didn't have the funds to pay someone else to do it, and so, I built one myself. Several incarnations later and these habits have been hard to shake. In part, I think this is because I have to admit that I'm a bit of a control freak. I know with professional help (for the website, not my controlling ways!), I could make my site much more user and owner friendly.   

6. Not Doing More Meetings

As much as I am a people person, I'm not a big fan of talking about my own work or blowing my own trumpet to potential clients. For these reasons, I have never done as many face-to-face meetings as I should have done. Face-to-face meetings really are the best form of marketing, as you can get your personality, energy, and enthusiasm over in a way no other form of marketing can. This year, I have already done more meetings than I did in the whole of last year, and I'm working on improving that even more. This is the one thing I regret not doing more of during the last 10 years.  

7. Not Investing in a Proper Monitor Case

My sorry looking monitor case may work just fine but doesn't really look the part

There are some occasions when I need to take my monitor on location with me. When things need to be right in camera or there are important details that can't be missed, there is no better way than using a big screen I trust. Even though my monitor is probably my most delicate piece of equipment, I still haven't invested in a case for it. I think in part, it is due to the infrequency of needing to move it and struggling to find something that was a perfect size. Instead, I transport the screen in its original packaging, which gets more tired looking by the day.

So far, this arrangement has thankfully kept my screen safe, but I did break a previous monitor in transit, so I really should stop neglecting this point. It also doesn't look the most professional to clients either.

8. Not Increasing My Rates More Often

I recently talked about how and why you should be increasing your rates, and while I try to practice what I preach, I still regret not increasing the amount I charge more regularly. Even after all this time, I find talking about money with clients an awkward thing to do, and so, I quite often put it off. I hate to think about how much I could have missed out on with certain clients by not upping my rates more. 

9. Not Staying in Contact With People

I have never been a huge fan of social media, and in recent times, I have found myself using it less and less. While this frees up a huge amount of time, it has made staying in contact with people in the industry much harder. I'm also really bad at digitally connecting with people while on a shoot. Primarily, it's because I'm usually far too busy to be exchanging social media handles with people and secondly, I find the whole activity a little cringeworthy. The downside of all this is that I have lost contact with some good people who I really should have made an effort to stay in contact with. I know many photographers rave about LinkedIn, but again, this is something I regret never getting into.

10. Not Keeping All My Work

When you make a lot of the same images or you are photographing something for a client that you know will never see your portfolio, it's understandable that you may not keep copies of the work for long. I have kept a lot of the images I have made over the last decade, but nowhere near all of them. I am also guilty of not requesting images once they have been retouched for a campaign. Just because something isn't relevant now doesn't mean it won't be in the future. Out of everything on this list, this is the one thing I regret the most and the hardest one to rectify.

So there you have it: 10 things that I wish I had done differently during my career so far. While some of the points mentioned may not seem so significant, each and every action you make has the potential to shape the route your photographic career will go.

Over to You

Is there anything mentioned in the list that applies to you? Do you have any regrets as a photographer yourself? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below.

Lead image by Kaboompics.com via Pexels used under Creative Commons.

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34 Comments

Paul Adshead's picture

If anyone has any suggestions for a good monitor case I'd love to hear them please...

Lenzy Ruffin's picture

Do you really need a high-resolution monitor, or just a larger display?

When I need a second screen, I use a USB powered display. It cost very little and it's very portable. It's like a 14" or 15" tablet with no computing internals, just the display. The carrying sleeve folds into a kickstand for it.

These displays may even come in high-res versions, if that's what you need. I don't even know what resolution mine is, but whatever it is, it's good enough for my requirements.

Paul Adshead's picture

It's a good question Lenzy, half the time I do need high-resolution and color accuracy, while the other times it's just a large screen so I don't miss important details.

I've never used those USB powered displays but could see them being super useful. What brand do you use? How do you use it when shooting?

Appreciate your thoughts : )

Lenzy Ruffin's picture

The one I have is made by Asus. I don't use it for shooting, I use it for the customer display when doing in-person sales sessions.

If you're using your monitor for shooting, that means you're hauling a computer with it, too?

Paul Adshead's picture

Yes mostly I have a laptop with me although I don't trust the screen on it. Occasionally, I also do video work which means I'm plugging the monitor directly into my camera via hdmi. So I use a screen for quite a few different reasons & circumstances.

My dell screen rotates 90 degrees too which is great when you are shooting portrait.

Gonna investigate these Asus screens further. If I could half the time I'm carrying a monitor around I'd be very happy.

Thanks again for the inspiration :)

Tony Clark's picture

When you’re shooting Advertising or Commercial work and have Clients, Art Directors, Stylists and others onset a MBP plus a large display is essential.

Max Bridge's picture

Nice article. It's tough to find a decent case other than a very expensive metal flight case. This one is meant for a 27" iMac but I found it perfect for my 27" NEC. Lots of pockets too which is handy

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Gator-G-CPR-IM27-Creative-Carry-27-Inch/dp/B073...

Paul Adshead's picture

This just blew my mind Max! I had no idea anything like this existed. There are loads on Amazon.

These tick a lot of boxes for me. Thanks very much for the recommendation.... : )

Paul Adshead's picture

I'm really digging these bags Tony, I had no idea they existed. I'm sure they are well built but how sturdy is yours?

Appreciate your thoughts : )

Tony Clark's picture

I tried the Tenba shipping case but it was overkill for my purpose, the NSP case is a great balance of function and price.

Paul Adshead's picture

That's what I wanted to hear, many thanks Tony. :)

I am going to strongly disagree with the student loans to buy gear. Student loans are extremely difficult to discharge in the event of bankruptcy. There are many other methods of lending to obtain gear that do not pose the same long term risk as student loans.

Paul Adshead's picture

I hear what you're saying Tyler but I do feel like if I had kit sooner I may have been able to accelerate my career quicker. There were a few important opportunities that I missed out on as a result. Borrowing money is risky at the best of times but for students in the UK 10-15 years ago it was a much more favorable option to a credit card or bank loan. I'm not quite sure how student loans work in the states but over here you don't pay a bean till you are earning over a certain amount of money and then it's only a small amount each month.

I do still personally regret not taking advantage of that loan but I would never encourage others to borrow money. Debt can really force a photographers hand...

Thanks for your thoughts : )

There is the difference you are in the UK I am in the USA. Student loans are a very different model here. in the states you have to start paying back you student loans the first month you are no longer a full time student. Round numbers a person with $50,000 in student loan debt will have around a $500-600 dollar a month payment. The US vs UK makes a big difference.

Ian Oliver's picture

Why should being able to discharge a debt be important? If you borrow money, if you promise that you'll pay it back, shouldn't you strive to do that? Is your word really worth so little?

Life happens student loans can take 20-30 years to pay off. One major catastrophe in a persons life. Cancer, Major injury, etc can create a situation were someone is unable to repay their debt. the auto repossession business in the US is a $1.3 billion dollar year business. How many of those people planned to pay their loan but for whatever reason couldn't.

I could not agree more. Never borrow $ to buy gear. You have to grow your business as clients demand it, cash and carry. If you borrow $$ to finance gear...you're taking on overhead your business can't afford, paying more for it...in an article full of good advice, this is terrible advice.

Paul Adshead's picture

Oh nice! I really like this one. Perfect for adding branding to it too. Many thanks Mike!

I'm getting spoiled for choice : )

dale clark's picture

The student loan comment took me back. Chances ar you would be still paying for the old gear when you needed to buy new. So many options, even a few years back, to purchase gear with various "same as cash" deals. Plus, unless you were shooting with a Point and Shoot, what gear would have brought more shoots? IMO, if you turned down shoots over gear, you may not have been qualified (experience wise) to shoot them anyway. Plenty of ways to rent gear for such situations, even years ago. In fact, I've sold off quite a few long range telephoto lenses that I rarely used knowing I can always rent if something comes along that requires such. I am not trying to be insulting with what I said, racking up tons of gear should be the least of a new photographer's worries. Start with basics, like you apparently did, and go from there.

Just my 2 cents

Paul Adshead's picture

I agree with everything you said, Dale. While I have never been one for tonnes of gear I do feel like not having a full studio and on location set up earlier held me back. With the wonderful thing of hindsight, I feel like I could have accelerated my learning and career by having some of that stuff a little sooner. There were a few important opportunities that I did miss out on as a result.

Borrowing money is risky at the best of times but for students in the UK 10-15 years ago it was a much more favorable option to a credit card or bank loan. I'm not quite sure how student loans work in the states but over here you don't pay a bean till you are earning over a certain amount of money and then it's only a small amount each month.

I don't beat myself up over not taking my student loan out but it's one of those few things which I can put my finger on and say it could have directly helped things along. Debt really can force a photographers hand so not having any does make this one regret much easier to swallow.

Thanks for your thoughts : )

Owain Shaw's picture

Not a professional but: essentially having no prints from the past seven years. This is something I intend to rectify (been intending to rectify for a while, though) soon but it's tricky to know where to start, really.

Paul Adshead's picture

Oh you gotta start making prints Owain. It's one of the most rewarding things a photographer can do. The great thing is you are aware that its something you want to do which is great. Many don't realize.

You don't need to spend a fortune either, just get something printed big on regular paper or at a university and see your work in the flesh.

It will change everything...

Happy printing!

Owain Shaw's picture

Cheers Paul. I do need to start tackling the mountain of printing rather than just standing at the bottom, paralysed by the scale of it, watching it only get larger.

I managed to catch up with it a few years ago by printing a tonne of 6x4s but I'd like to print a bit larger because 6x4s don't really give you much to look at and really enjoy.

I suppose I just have to start somewhere. Thanks again.

Roaring Lion's picture

This has to be the worst article I've read in my years in photography. I can't believe it was allowed to publish.

I have no such regrets as I didn't do what you point out as a mistake. Except...

Not Keeping All My Work

I had a studio clean out and threw away all my (YEARS OF NEGATIVES) without looking through them. I just wanted things cleaned out. (threw away even celebrity portrait negs). Digitally, I have most everything. But I don't really feel the need to still own the originals. Once the job is done and I retired I don't feel the need to retain them. Started in the profession at 14. My own studio at 22. Retired a multi-millionaire at 50... I hate taking pictures now except for astrophotography because it's such a different and challenging subject matter.

I didn't do anything you posted? And why would I need a monitor case!? Never needed to move a monitor?

Paul Adshead's picture

Hey Ron, this article was just me sharing a list of my own personal regrets. It wasn't intended as a bible for all photographers.

Sorry to hear you didn't keep all your work but am glad you found a new passion in astrophotography... : )

Jordan McChesney's picture

I’m not a pro, but I still have “regrets”

1) not actually learning how to use my camera to its full extent for the first 8 years. Maybe if I had I would be able to call myself at least a “semi-pro” at this point.

2) not anticipating the worst. I’m on a 1 night photography trip right now. I planned to do star photography and both of my planned shots failed because of things I didn’t anticipate (one of them was out of my control). One of the roads I was planning to drive up was closed (due to snow and fallen trees), so I had to walk, which meant I couldn’t stay as late as I planned, because I was alone in a forest on a mountain that could possibly have bears. The second was underestimating the popularity of a location in spring. I got there at 3:30 on a Tuesday for a 5:15 sunrise and more star photography, and there were already like 40 people there so the spot I got wasn’t anything portfolio worthy. Either I got unlucky with the date or this place is Japan’s Mesa Arch, in spring. When it’s winter and -10C nobody goes, but I guess when the cherry blossoms bloom and it’s only 0C, people get a little braver. — these are things I have to consider if I want to earn money doing this. I’m trying to treat these more as learning experiences, and less as regrets.

Paul Adshead's picture

Thanks for your frank contributions Jordan. I think your experiences are very common for photographers but very few are conscious of them or want to do anything about them. So you're ahead of most already.

I can't honestly say that I know every single control on my cameras even now, but I can get the pictures I want out of them. I think if you can do the same you shouldn't worry too much about the rest.

The location where you were sounded beautiful though!

Thanks for your thoughts :)

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