When I was a teenager, I picked up a camera and started clicking the shutter at everything my eyes could see. I would capture everything from dirt on the sidewalk to candids of my family and friends. And I’ll be honest: I had no idea what I was doing. But over time, after hours of practice and repetition, I slowly got better. And just like a lot of self-taught photographers, I made virtually all of the technical and logistical mistakes along the way to finding my voice with photography. But throughout the years, I have managed to figure a few things out, and I thought I would share some of the mistakes I made, in hopes that it helps out other emerging photographers.
1. Shooting in JPEG. When I first started out, I thought it was crazy that anyone would want to shoot in RAW. It took up so much more room than JPEG and used up vital space on my computer. But the good thing is that it also captures a lot more information in the files, so you have more options when doing things like color correction or brightening shadows, for instance. You can also print the images much larger in the RAW file format. Not to mention that every time you open a JPEG file, it loses data, which is, obviously, really bad. You don’t want your files to be deteriorating every time you need to open them in Photoshop. So if you don’t have enough space on your computer, simply buy an external hard drive to put the files on.
2. Not Backing Up Your Stuff. Speaking of external drives, another huge mistake is not having backups of your work. It’s way too risky to rely on one piece of technology when they break or fail so easily. Especially as a wedding photographer, I just can’t risk losing those precious, once-in-a-lifetime images. I highly recommend two different places minimum to store your (hopefully RAW) files, whether that’s external drives, CDs, or using something from the Cloud like Dropbox. With 2 and 5 Terabyte drives becoming more accessible and inexpensive, you will be able to rest easy knowing your files are backed up, and not at the expense of your wallet.
3. Using the Wrong Lenses. A beginner might be temped to just use the kit lenses that usually accompany the first DSLR body they get. Please, I am begging you, don’t. Get some higher quality, more durable lenses. Lenses that have higher apertures (3.5-2.0 range) will allow you to shoot with lower light conditions and create a shallow depth of field to help the subject pop from the background. If you can’t afford to go all out and purchase a new lens, you might even consider renting them (I used to do this all the time when shooting weddings-works like a charm!). Yes, these options are more expensive, but you can immediately see the results. If you don’t believe me, do a quick test. Take a kit lens and shoot something and then try a higher quality lens. Compare the two and I can guarantee you will see stunning improvements between the images. It’s another key element to taking your work from being good to being professional.
4. Not Charging Enough. As a student, I used to feel guilty for charging my clients. Someone would say, “Hey, what would you charge to do my daughter’s senior pictures?” and I would stutter around the question before throwing out a number that would barely cover my gas money. In my head I was thinking, how can I charge very much when I am barely older than the girl getting her senior pictures taken?! Well, here’s how. You have to factor in the cost of all the gear you are using and your time as a professional. If you have quality work, it doesn’t matter if you are 18 or 48. You have knowledge and a specific skill set, which is very valuable and worth the cost. I have found that more often than not, people are willing to pay more to know that they are getting professional quality work. Lastly, don’t forget to have confidence in yourself. Just keep practicing, and you are on your way to conquering the photog world!