As my business begins it’s fourth year, I have been looking back at how far I’ve come, and trying to figure out how I can avoid future mistakes as stupid as the ones I’ve made in the past.
After each and every single wedding I still find one shining mistake I made that I could have done better/ differently- and I beat myself up over it. That’s just how it goes, but learning to never make the same mistake twice has made me a better and more professional wedding photographer.
Here are my top 10 rookie mistakes and a few examples from my first year in business. I see these specific mistakes over and over and over again and wilt in my chair, because I realize I was there myself, only a short time ago.
Things coming out of heads, backgrounds
It takes a level of comfort behind your camera to be able to operate manual settings, posing all while still keeping the background elements in your periphery. This comes naturally over time. Now it has become second nature to see background distraction and change my angle. One way to get good at this fast is to photograph lots of parties/ events- there are lots of background distractions and even people walking in the background it makes for great practice.
We all do it, get the new presets or actions and think that every photo should be Lord of the Rings in full opacity. A good rule of thumb, comes from Coco Chanel. No- not a photographer but the advise still applies- “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.” so before exporting or saving your images look them over, and consider dropping the opacity of your edits, or even removing that digital glow- as Coco says “simplicity is elegance. “
Too much gear
We’ve all seen the wedding photos shot with a fish-eye lens, Those are truly timeless and classic….not. How about the photographer setting up about fifteen strobes? Buying every available gadget is not going to make you more professional, anymore than a set of good paint brushes will make me Picasso. Practice and dedication to your craft is what makes you talented. Learn your exposure triangle inside and out in pitch black and blazing sun, learn how to read light, then add a few toys to your collection- you’ll be surprised that your equipment wish list will change considerably with skill and knowledge. Enough said.
Stirring too many pots at once
When I first started out I placed “fine art photography, and graphic design” under my logo. What was I thinking??? I wasn’t even a good photographer let alone a graphic designer!! I learned really quick that putting on too many hats just adds stress and confusion to your business. It also does not allow you to grow as quickly as you do when you hone your photography down to a specific niche. Now, as a wedding photographer I feel ( mostly ) confident on any wedding day. I have learned what to expect and how to handle almost any situation. Weddings and portraits are entirely different and I have chosen to focus all of my energy into becoming better at the specific set of skills I need to be an excellent wedding photographer. I may ruffle a few feathers, with this but I truly believe we should all find a specialty and stick to it. Even if you’re good and doing the balancing act, I bet you could be even better at just one thing.
Not taking it seriously
During my first year I was very casual about my business. I also kept my “day job” but soon realized it was keeping me from growing my business to it’s full potential by robbing me of precious time.
Work hard, work long, work tirelessly. If you still want to pick up your camera, congratulations you have found your passion. Too many people get into photography because they think it will be easy money or a good at home career-They will find out the hard way that couldn’t be further from the truth. It is an expensive investment into a competitive market where only those who can adapt to rapid change and embrace daily learning required of photographers will survive. To put a number on it: 15%. Only fifteen percent of photography businesses will make it through the first three years.
Worrying about what other photographers are doing
You’ve done it, I’ve done it. Comparing our work to other photographers is the worst thing we can do for our confidence. I know it’s hard to believe but your biggest asset- NOT being the photographer who you emulate, but being plain old you. Differentiating yourself makes you a unique artist with a distinct style, that some people will love. Those some people are your customers.
Worrying about what other photographers are thinking
Yea. They probably are laughing at your images, and yea. You probably suck- we all did! That’s why “old” photographers sometimes make fun of “new” photographers, they see their own faults and feel embarrased.
Stay out of forums and negative places, and join supportive communities that embrace and guide new photographers like creative live, wppi, or the b school. Not only will you enrich your education and network, but you will not waste countless hours beating yourself up over your mistakes.
Flashing straight ahead
One of the most amateur mistakes is not diffusing or bouncing your flash. No one looks good with a big shining forehead. Practice with a shiny apple. Use natural window light, turn to different angles, turn on your flash fire straight at it, bounce the flash from camera right, bounce off of the ceiling, try a reflector, try backlighting the apple then load up all of the images and spend a few hours viewing them, and learn lighting from what you just shot.
Bad or inconsistent logos and branding
Myself included I have seen countless new photographers logo swapping like crazy. Every batch of photos has a new logo, making the branding inconsistent. If there is one important thing to a new business it is branding. It takes about three years or so to start seeing results and response to your branding so getting it consistent as early on as possible will help you to establish your business sooner rather than later. Have designed for you or research how to design a professional logo. take time to design something that conveys your brand image. Use that one logo for all of your branding and watermarking. I chose a standard logo, and an abbreviated version ( just the actual logo ) which I use anywhere clients/ potential clients can see.
Choosing a business name because it feels more business-y instead of being yourself.
I am so guilty on this one. When I started in 2010 I was Drama Photography. I never truly loved the name but for some reason I was very compelled to create a business name instead of just putting myself out there, hi I’m Shanna and I’m a photographer. There are some instances where a business name is better suited. Maybe your name is Jane doe, and there are 500 other “Jane Doe Photographers” in business. Maybe your business plan is to have multiple employees and associate photographers, or maybe you have an established brand, and photography is simply one branch of a larger business- all situations where a “business name” is going to work better. I continued to hate the name for over a year, and noticed a trend- people separated myself and my business. Most of my business as photographers will know, comes from referrals. I was always being referred as Shanna Duffy and so people could not locate me on the web or social media as “Drama Photography” One day I just decided to make the switch. I didn’t simply pull off the band-aid, I transitioned into Shanna Duffy Photography. Looking back this was a great decision, because 20 years into my business I surely would be kicking myself for not addressing the problem early on. The only issue I suffered was that I lost all of my facebook fan-base and had to create a new page- a small sacrifice to establish a stronger, more consistent brand.
Practice, Practice, Practice above all other tips and tricks is what really makes perfect- they say it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at anything, so get out there and shoot!!
Winston Salem, Greensboro, High Point, Lexington, Thomasville, and Kernersville Wedding Photography, Shanna Duffy
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