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
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
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.