I was going through one of my portfolios yesterday and came across many of the mistakes that I repeatedly made just starting off. When I first decided I was going to make it in the business of professional photography, the best way for me to learn was by assisting established shooters, committing my equipment manuals to memory and shooting as much as possible. Now with the wealth of hints, cues and tips available online, I thought I would throw in my 2 cents and save a few beginners from making the same mistakes I did!
1. Shooting in JPG
I totally understand that professional photojournalists, with the need for quick turnaround, probably shoot primarily in JPG. But for a commercial photographer who has a little more time to play with, RAW is a must. When shooting in JPG, the camera applies it’s own sharpening, white balance, saturation and contrast which you have little to no control over. Shooting RAW on the other hand, allows the photographer to control all of these options in post-production on top of the fact that there is no image compression.
In addition to the basic principles you can play around with in Photoshop RAW, there are several other dialogue boxes behind this one that allow for adjustments like vignetting and spot-dusting for those of us who have a less than pristinely clean sensor.
-My confidant and assistant pal Whitney. Lugger of gear, comedian and fine human being.
2. Freaked Out by Flash
First, I completely tried to avoid it as I was using a camera with a built-in pop-up flash. The results were frightening: flat, harsh and typically over or under-exposed. But then I picked up a Canon off-camera flash and the heavens opened. There are so many cool things you can do with an external flash and the controls are very simple to use. Also, there are several modifiers and gels that you can pick-up that can create different affects like adding warmth to the photo. Even more fun if you want to get real serious is to use several speedlights simultaneously, say for your main light and then as a hair-light.
-Not a photo of mine as I no longer do this. Thanks you, World Wide Web.
3. Never Backing Up
Yes, one would think I would know better but it really was when I just started. I was upgrading to a new operating system and who knows what happened but I wiped out my external hard-drive with all of my work on it. Yep, gone. I ended up taking the drive in for a recovery and after a huge-investment and not even 50% of my work recovered, I vowed that would never happen again.
So, here is my recommendation. Back-up and back-up again. Whether it is photographs, documents or e-mails, if you are on a Mac, get yourself a 1TB external hard-drive and use Time Machine. I would bet that PC’s have a similar option as well. Second thing, back-up all of your files off-cite. Many of the online back-up servers have different options so you will have to look around to see what works best for you and your budget. Backblaze has worked great for me. I have it backing up my files whenever I import anything new to my desktop, it has an unlimited storage option and will also back-up external hard-drives which for me is a must.
4. Choosing the Wrong Gear
First, I was Nikkon. Then I went to Canon as they seemed to be running ahead of the curve as digital was just starting to take off.
Then, for a little while I had a studio so I was using these enormous power-packs that weigh 30 pounds a piece and the lights themselves are about 8 or 9 lbs. Now, with the studio days over and being on the move as a corporate and editorial photographer, i.e. location shooter, the weight of those packs (30 lbs x 3 packs plus light heads) was going to be the death of both myself and my assistants.
I have since moved to more mobile units called the Speedotron Force series which I absolutely love. They are compact, lighter, have fast recycle times and are as sturdy as my other system. Needless to say, I wish I had more foresight to consider what I might be doing down the line when I initially purchased the bulky power-packs and heads so if you know anyone looking for some studio lighting, have them jingle me.
But maybe even more important are the choices of lenses. Starting out, I was under the delusion that a 24-200 would do the trick for everything and I would not have to worry about changing lenses. But once you start getting into apertures, image-stabilization modes and optics, it soon becomes apparent that each lens serves a very different purpose. I use my wide angle for group shots and to bring funky angles and composition to an editorial photograph. The 70-200 L series is awesome for a shallow depth of field on corporate portraits and lifestyle photos. So, if you are really serious about creating awesome images, hold off on buying until you can buy the best glass that you need now as well as down the line.
-This is from way back in the day when I actually could lift my air cases.
5. Speeding Through It
I used to get super-nervous before every assignment, like can’t sleep, check to make sure I set the alarm 12 times kind of nervous. Surprisingly though, I could always keep my cool (and yes, I still do) on the job. Now, the anxiety has been replaced with planning and excitement thanks to experience. But way back when, I would rush myself through the process of shooting especially when I had an audience.
There are so many things to pay attention to in addition to F-stops and ISO’s. Even with my assistants who act as my “lookout”, I am still checking that the tie is straight for the corporate head shot, the lighting is dead-on for the editorial portrait and now when I am asked “can we just add something real quick?” I ask for the details before I just nod and submissively answer yes, just to make sure that not only can we do it but we can do it right.
When it comes down to it, the final product, whether it is a flower or a financial officer, reflects back on me. I always ask myself if there is anything else that I can do to make the images better in-camera. And if I know I have nailed the details, only then it is time to shoot away.
That’s my 2 cents, a humbling admission of guilt that I offer in hopes that the emerging photographers of tomorrow will avoid those same mistakes I made years ago.