Eight Tips I Wish Someone Told Me Early in My Career

Regret is the worst feeling in the world but as humans, we feel it. There are times we all look back at, kicking ourselves thinking "if only I had known… I would've done it differently." I remember telling myself if I was ever given the opportunity to be heard, I'd collect a list of tips to share with others so they don't have to feel the frustration that often comes along with regret.

1. GEAR 

This tip is cliché but an article of this nature would be incomplete without it, so let's just get it out of the way. I can not stress enough that gear should not be the one thing holding photographers back from producing great results. Of my four years as a photographer, two of those years were wasted on worries about lacking equipment. My good friend and extremely talented photographer, Ett Venter says "You don't need 15 million lenses. Just one body, one 50mm lens, one flash/reflector, and you can do 90% of the stuff you see on 500px." To prove this thought, I wrote an article about it last month. 

2. SOCIAL MEDIA

Facebook and all other social media outlets are a controversial topic. Personally, I believe that while these platforms are a great source of inspiration, they do more harm than good for photographers who are starting out. Before I discuss the dangers of social media, I will say this: social media is the key for marketing and a necessary evil in our trade. However, Facebook is like cancer, it's the rust accumulating underneath a car. It eats away at life and kills creativity slowly. Countless hours are lost by surfing through other photographers work. Personally, I followed a group of photographers and I found their insane skill level to be depressing and disheartening. I decided that the best way to change that was to quit social media. For six months, I was "Facebook free" and I was out shooting and editing every single day. Those six months changed my mentality and my skill level immensely. 

3. FAKE IT TILL YOU MAKE IT

Two months ago, I was hired to shoot for English Laundry & Nichole Miller (Images used in this article). As a photographer, I am partial to natural light. The majority of my work is all about natural light. When I was hired, it became clear that it was going to be a pretty large production and I knew I'd get laughed at if I showed up with my D800 & 85mm 1.4g. So I brought along 2 assistants and a van full of gear. They setup strobes and modifiers and they triggered the strobes every few minutes between each of my shots. All this, just to impress. The clients were excited to see the overwhelming amount of gear and loved the photos even before they saw them. 

There's no need to let your audience and fans know that you are working out of your parents' basement. Additionally, never offer free photo shoots publicly on social media. It's like screaming that you're not busy with paid gigs which hurts the reputation of the business. Your work and business will not be appreciated the way it should be. 

4. RATES

Patrick Hall said this better than I ever could but I'll paraphrase. As counterintuitive as it may seem, clients are generally more relaxed when rates are higher. As an event photographer, Patrick Hall found that when he raised his rates, although it was scary, his clients were more excited to work with him and his photos came out better. He attributed this to the fact that the overall budget was much higher for the wedding/event/promo. He said that "with cheap clients does cheap looking final images." Further, the respect you garner as a higher rate photographer is not comparable. 

The lesson to be learned is that once you are confident in your skill level and you can compete with other photographers in your area, raising prices is the best thing you can do to for your business and photography.  

5. ASSISTING

In general, hands on experience does not compare to what is learned in, say a classroom setting. Most photographers will agree that you will learn more in four months of assisting a photographer than four years at college. Although workshops and schooling are definitely important, only motivated people get far in this field. Lee Morris is a big believer in the idea that being out in the real world fosters an environment for actual experience as opposed to theoretical conversations about camera settings. 

6. BUSINESS

Photography is more about business and marketing than actual photography. As someone who graduated with a bachelors degree in business, I applied everything I had learned to make my photography career a success. Interestingly enough, when I first started out doing photography I was surprised to see photographers who were mediocre who were doing a lot better business-wise than photographers with insane skill level. What I learned is that top photographers must be excellent businessmen as well.

7. FINANCES

Lee Morris is known to say "no matter how much money a person makes, they can still be broke." Making more money will not make a person richer, making wise decisions will make a person wealthier. As photographers, we are constantly with faced financial decisions. Whether that means investing in a new camera, better lenses and flashes or a more powerful computer, a person can get lost in the flash and pizzaz of gear. There will always be a better camera body out there, a new lens or a better computer. However, throwing away hard earned money for "better" gear is contradictory. A rule I have is that I don't upgrade my gear until I sell the older item first. When I sold my D90, I was "camera-less" for three days because I knew that If I had gotten the D800 two years back without selling my D90, the D90 it would still be sitting on my shelf. 

8. PATIENCE

Whether its learning how to retouch a photo or an actual photoshoot, staying calm and patience are two qualities that are incomparable. Becoming a master retoucher, branding and marketing or even becoming a skilled photographer are not things that happen over night, a week or even a year. When referring to the importance of patience, Rey Vo Lution says that it is of utmost importance to "be patient with your subject. Most of your great shots happen towards the end of a shoot." For more on this subject check out "Expressions: A vital detail often ignored".

Although the photographers mentioned in the article and I came to these conclusions through trial and error and through an abundance of frustration, it's important to mention that the trials and tribulations are what molded us into the people and photographers we are today. I speak for all of my colleagues when I say that the blood, sweat and tears shed were worth it. It has helped us appreciate our skill set and our success. If given the opportunity, I would not change the course of my journey. I hope that each of your journeys are as beautifully disastrous as mine was. Make sure to share the different things you learned with me on my Facebook page

Dani Diamond | Facebook Facebook Page | 500px | Instagram Twitter

Log in or register to post comments
92 Comments
Previous comments
Didrik Linnerud's picture

Great!

Mike Macdonald's picture

I enjoyed this :) I definitely struggle with lots of them!

Deleted Account's picture

Well said and very true!

Samten Norbù's picture

I definitively have to work on my "impress the client" part ! As I usually show up only with my camera, a small team and I work apparently quite fast ( as I usually use only natural light ... )
I should give a try renting a van, filling in it with lights and friends to play the assistants ;) nice trick !

And super nice article !

Christopher McRae's picture

You know I find myself stuck in the "I want everything and I want it now" gear phase but articles like this calm me right down because you're absolutely right. I moved into a new city last month and for the first time I realized I need to refocus my business away from facebook and do things a little different. Landed my first commercial gig yesterday, after raising my prices to a comfortable level.

Thanks for this article Dani. I always look forward to your wisdom.

Rob LaRosa's picture

Good article but some advice is at odds with each other.

1. Gear - "You don't need 15 million lenses. Just one body, one 50mm lens, one flash/reflector, and you can do 90% of the stuff you see on 500px."

3. Fake it to you make it - So I brought along 2 assistants and a van full of gear. They setup strobes and modifiers and they triggered the strobes every few minutes between each of my shots.

Rob LaRosa's picture

I'm over thinking? I've never been accused of that! :-) Thanks for the clarification. I re-read tips one and three and see what you're getting at.

Matthew Taggart's picture

Very great tips! Applies to video guys the same! Thanks!

Charles Gaudreault's picture

wow the fake it till you make it made my day hahaha awsome!

Jeff Lohne's picture

Great tips and article. I couldn't agree more.. Been looking to assist some photographers for a while now because everyone I know in the industry says its the best experience you will ever get that you cannot learn in a book or online...

Yasar Arafath's picture

Great real post Dani..!! Seems like you know what I do and what I am going through. Specially all the stupid things I do. I think the best to quit Facebook and start shooting. Great tip for life Dani :)

Julien Kauffmann's picture

I am not really sure about how I feel about all of this.
I mean, if you see photography as a business only, yes i totally agree with your article. But on the other side i woudl like to believe than one day people will just know me and trust me just by having seen my pictures no matter what I've done marketing wise. For example, I don't think a Steve McCurry needs this. But yes not everyone of us will be a Mc Curry but I'm very afraid about the fact of losing some of photography "spirit".

Archag Tchorbadjian's picture

Great tips. I just have one question, if the client is on set and actually knows something about photography - would having assistants firing off random flashes and including a van full of unnecessary gear - which the client is paying for - make me look smart or a like bullshitter?

Corinne Standish's picture

Photography is not the esoteric mystery it used to be. Many laypersons own dSLRs and understand how to use them. Banking on no one on set understanding that the assistants and van full of gear was nothing but smoke and mirrors would be a risk. Especially if you had an art director on set - but really, I think anyone who was attentive would notice before long - [camera click]...[flash]...[click].........[flash]..[click]' Common sense tells you the flash and click ought to happen together or there's no benefit. Explaining to the client what you're doing and showing them your book; leaving the useless assistants and van at home, makes more sense to me. Now, having some backup gear with you DOES make sense. Or an assistant to hold a reflector for you. But a dog and pony show, no.

Micah Gerber's picture

This was a really great article! One thing I was asking myself each time I saw a photo was "where can I find out how this was shot??" Is this all natural light? If so, were there some modifiers? How much retouching was done? Can we see the SOOC vs. final product? The clarity, DOF, & smooth lighting - especially in the second shot with the man sitting at the table - were absolutely amazing to me!

Shannon Chad's picture

Personally, if you didn't even use the strobes and miscellaneous gear for that shoot, I think it would have been more impressive to your client once they saw the shots you captured.

Julie Stephens's picture

Good advice. This is why I like fstoppers- genuinely helpful articles, not vague fluff like "get your name out there."

Alfredo Rodriguez's picture

Great post Dani. I've offered to assist other photographers before, so far no one has called back.

Archag Tchorbadjian's picture

Dani, I'm a huge fan, seriously.... I can't imagine being this good but

Great tips. I just have one question, if the client is on set and actually knows something about photography - would having assistants firing off random flashes and including a van full of unnecessary gear - which the client is paying for - make me look smart or a like bullshitter?

Bo Bickley's picture

Great timely article Dani. Your points 4, 6, 7, & 8 had a significant and positive impact on my day today. It was freeing to walk away from some business that was not going to be in my best interest financially, or time wise.

Your article helped '2X4' it into my head that I am better served by slowing down and having patience while shooting and a life when I'm not. I am a business, to stay that way I have to be profitable and watch my expenses. Raising prices gets rid of time vampires and price sensitive whiners. Social media is not a must have and really not a must do. I fake it almost every day.

The only thing I will add is continiued Mentoring. I've learned a lot here, from you and many others. I'm challenged here to strive to do better, learn something new. More importantly to realize when I'm wrong and off track and how to get back on track.

Thanks again!!

Chelsea Higgins's picture

Great tips, enjoyed the article very much! And these photos are phenom!

Francesco Vitobello's picture

I don't agree with your first statement. It's true that you can make nice images with a canon 400D but if you are a professional, most of the time you need quality.
It happens to me lot of time using a Canon 60D with a Tamron 28-75 f2.8.
When I need to have a nice depht of field I can't. Borders are with no details at all. Also when you need to post-produce changing some parts, it's a more difficult operation if you have few pixels.
So when I can I rent a Canon 5D MKII.

Roy Rivas's picture

#3 "Fake it till you make it" is really such a big deal when first starting off! Confidence is key. Great article and great photos as always Dani!

Debbie Packer's picture

There are some great tips here. I kept shaking my head yes as I read. I'm wondering..do you use social media at all? In branching out into my own business, I find that's how I'm picking up jobs easily. At the same time, I see it as bad, too. I'm wondering if you've stayed away completely or if you've found a nice balance. My biggest pet peeve is people taking my logo'ed images and using Instagram on them...makes me not want to share a single photo.

Corinne Standish's picture

"Assisting" and "Business" I agree with. "Rates" high rates can be true but depends on the client. Some simply do not have the money to pay corporate rates. Many individuals will simply do without the portrait and be satisfied with what Uncle Bob can do. Many fledgling performing arts companies will make do with poor quality images than pay commercial rates - you see it everywhere.

#1 Gear - It depends on what you are shooting. Not for a minute can the work of a person shooting in low light with a Rebel and an f/5.6 lens compare with a person shooting with a D800 f/2.8. And it depends on what you're shooting as to whether 90% of your shots will come out A-OK using one 50mm lens. You want to shoot a theatre performance or a hockey game using a 50mm and see how that goes? You'll be jumping over seats all over the place zooming with your feet. AND missing important moments left and right as you run because you don't have a zoom lens on. So don't over-simplify it. Know the limitations of your equipment and work within your range. Set goals.

#3 Social Media. Before social media we used to buy books, magazines, go to the library and look at the work of masters. Sure we didn't measure up. Sure it was disheartening to compare and contrast. But you know what - that's how you learn and sometimes it's humbling. Social media ought to be encouraging! Look at all the substandard work of some professionals - that ought to encourage a person! "If they can do it, I can do it!" Don't look to social media for validation tho - that shot you love and swear is top drawer may get only 5 Likes. And the cellphone badly-exposed, white balance off, shot of you mowing your lawn with your hair in curlers might get 100 Likes.....

Ralph Berrett's picture

I agree with most of it but not completely with the assisting. The biggest issue I have run into is hiring a second shooter, that they don't no their fundamentals. They have been assistants but the simple truth is they learn a photographer's systems for taking a shot without understanding the principles.

I am a little biased here because of my photojournalism background in which education was a requirement and the norm.

At more than one publication I have worked for we had a joke about untraining a new intern, but they had the fundamentals to start with. When hiring second shooters these days I almost always require some formal training or schooling, If they do not have that they a lot of practical experience with good references.

BTW I love the Facebook is a cancer. I have seen more damage done to careers than benefits. Their a lot of stupid post and high school none sense with Facebook.

Claudia Ochsner's picture

A good friend just told me last week that he is only hiring Assistant who want to do just that - assist. Not aspiring photographers. I assist as well, but then I am just there for that. I am not there to learn taking pictures. This is what I have learned in school and on the job. When I shoot, I often "use" the make up and hair staff for assisting. They love it, are good, the models feel comfy and I can do my work. I don't need somebody in my back who is just looking for settings. I need assistance and that's not always a pretty cool job.

A second shooter is something different, I know. I never work with one, depends on what you are doing, I think.

Sergio Garcia's picture

Thank you. I mean it.

Claudia Ochsner's picture

That's good stuff ! Especially the Social Media part. If one wants to travel this nasty road, OK, but the question has to be allowed if he or she ever sold anything through this channels. It is that much time consuming that a Social Media free business is worth considering. I agree with the gear part, but to be honest, from time to time you have to invest. But you have to have a plan. Less is more, and especially for studio work. DIY is way to go in the beginning. But be careful with buying cheap lights. They won't last long. Probably starting out with one light sources shots. And from there you are building up and renting is always an opportunity. Be wise, make wise decisions, try things out, don't waste your time with Social media, reach out for other pro's - and for that are schools a good way to go, for networking.

mike charlton's picture

Love this post!

Lee G's picture

Great post really informative.

Usman Dawood's picture

Fantastic tips thank you very much.

Erick Rodriguez's picture

Hands down this is my favorite article. Thank you