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Common Mistakes Made By New Photographers

Common Mistakes Made By New Photographers

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Common Mistakes Made By New Photographers

Common Mistakes Made By New Photographers

Every click of the shutter is the photographer’s chance to immortalize a beautiful moment in time. However, for those just stepping into this mesmerizing world, you may find the path is lined with more than you bargained for. There may be stumbling blocks or mistakes you need to navigate as a new photographer, but never fear! Brilliance lies beyond each misstep. 

Becoming a photographer is like stepping into a new world. You’re going to meet many new people, be exposed to different cultures, and visit a number of varied environments. You’re also going to be working with a learning curve—and making mistakes. 

Many new photographers give up their business early because of errors, but it’s important to understand that everyone makes mistakes in any industry. If you take the opportunity to grow and improve, you’ll position yourself to become successful in the future. Here are some common mistakes and what you can do to avoid or correct them.

Mistake 1: Undervaluing Your Work

When I started my photography business, I was also in touch with several people from my college who were doing the same. I did some basic market research and started at a reasonable $100 an hour, deciding to go with hourly rates for portraiture. My colleague went into wedding photography and created their first package…at $250 for the day. 

As you get started, remember that your time, experience, and equipment should play a role in how much you charge. My colleague thought a wedding would be two or three hours, but I was not surprised when it turned out to be 12. On top of that time, they also had to go through all the photos, do retouching, and have two additional meetings with the bride and groom to choose and deliver their photos. Ouch.

To help you avoid this mistake, start by:

  • Researching industry standards. What are photographers charging for the same service locally or nationally?
  • Considering your time, equipment, and skill investment. If you’re new with no educational background and a low-end DSLR, you may charge less than someone with a high-end DSLR, the Adobe Suite, and four years of photography education. Don’t forget to add what your time is worth on top. How much do you want to get paid per hour?
  • Emphasizing the value of your unique perspective and style. Maintain a portfolio, show how you’re different, and be willing to charge accordingly. Cheaper doesn’t equal better—people will pay you what you ask for if they fall in love with your portfolio.

Related: How to price your photography

Mistake 2: Failing to Define a Niche 

When I first started, I didn’t want to niche down. Choosing a niche is still, in my opinion, a tough call. I like to be able to take all kinds of photos and serve a variety of clients, but not specializing in a specific type of photography causes its own issues.

I started doing senior, wedding, athletic, and architectural photos. I quickly learned that architectural photography was not paying what I wanted to earn. Athletic event photography required me to be on my toes to avoid injury. Weddings could go from a four-hour event to eight in a matter of a conversation, making them exhausting. 

In the end, I stuck with senior portraits. They were straightforward, paid well, and I always had an abundance of incoming seniors to market to each year. 

It’s okay to try different types of photography, but once you find what you like and see that you have good demand for your services, start to focus on building a strong portfolio in that niche. If you do, you’ll soar. 

The legal aspects of photography are rarely a problem as long as you have a business license, but you don’t want to get caught out. My first year, I didn’t carry any insurance. I was working with friends and family, as well as close-knit referrals. 

That was all fine until I had to cancel an event. The client was not happy, and even though I used a self-written contract to state I could cancel without liability within a week, they continued to call, complain, and drag me in online reviews. They threatened to sue if I couldn’t get there, arguing that my contract wasn’t binding. 

In this kind of situation, having photography insurance is key. While I slogged through the event with the flu to avoid further complications and the need for an attorney, I could have ended up in a much more difficult position. Insurance and an attorney-approved contract would have let me rest easy.

Contracts and copyright laws protect both the photographer and the client. They go over the scope of the work you’re going to do, set expectations for delivery times and payments, and specify how your photographs can be used. Go to an attorney to have your initial contracts set up, and ensure you have a copyright release if you plan to use any photos you take on your website.

Mistake 4: Ignoring Business Essentials

Ignoring business essentials, such as keeping your books or having a clear business plan, can hurt you in the long run. One of my colleagues started off with nothing more than a business license. She became fairly popular and made around $60,000 in her first year. Well, that was before taxes. Taxes that she hadn’t set aside. 

When the tax man came calling, she was suddenly several thousand dollars in debt…and only a few clients scheduled for the upcoming season. She learned a hard lesson about overspending without thinking about good financial management during times of plenty. 

As you get started, it’s helpful to:

  • Take a class on accounting and taxation to save enough money for tax season.
  • Learn about marketing and branding, organic reach, and paid marketing to grow your brand (even when you’re currently doing well).
  • Network! Ask for emails, addresses, and details about current clients. Send marketing pamphlets or fliers to them digitally or via the mail to keep in touch. They may send you your next referral.

Mistake 5: Not Investing in Education

My first year of photography was spent working with close friends, family, and referrals related to them. It was a good thing, too, because they understood I was still learning.

While I had the basics down, I still made plenty of mistakes. I didn’t have a good handle on how much to charge or what my time would cost. I wasn’t as confident as I should have been, and I didn’t invest any of my money into classes or further education that could have helped.

Don’t make my mistake. You need to be a good business person as well as a solid photographer if you want to succeed in this industry.

Some ideas to help you get started include:

  • Attending workshops and conferences
  • Engaging in online courses and tutorials
  • Joining photography communities for shared learning

Work with models who will exchange their time for photos, take your camera with you everywhere, and watch tutorials on YouTube. Take digital courses or local free classes. Anything you can do to expand your knowledge is going to help you thrive as you keep building your brand. 

Mistake 6: Overlooking Post-Processing Skills

In my experience, I was very lucky to have post-processing skills from graphic design courses I took at my university. Colleagues of mine who moved from film to digital didn’t always have the post-processing skills they needed to take their photos to the next level. As a result, their images didn’t look as professional as they could have. 

One colleague could take amazing portraits, for example, but the photos sometimes looked a little blurry or darker than they should have. With post-processing skills, they easily could have sharpened or brightened the image. 

However, learning Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom does take time, so I’m not surprised that they thought they could handle everything in-camera. Some people will outsource this part of the job to people working as retouchers, but it’s more affordable not to.

Just keep in mind that refining images for a professional finish is a normal part of business. Most brides don’t want to see acne or a tag sticking out of a dress. Most people purchasing portraits don’t want to notice a hair on their shoulder or dandruff on a sleeve. These are the kinds of things you can remove in post-production if you fail to notice them during the photo shoot.

Remember, you can do more with post-processing software, and it’s important to get an education. Even a short class to teach you the basics may be enough, but some people go on to learn macros and batch-processing skills that will save you time and energy. 

I suggest getting the Adobe Suite through Adobe Creative Cloud and watching tutorials for the type of photography you’re doing. Then, come up with a consistent editing style that keeps all your photos looking the same tone or texture when they’re finished. 

Finally, remember that using presets is fine at first, but you’ll want to know how to adjust them to tailor your work to each client’s specific needs. 

Related: Zenfolio vs SmugMug

Mistake 7: Neglecting Client Communication 

Poor communication leads to photographers losing business. You can’t afford not to communicate with your clients. In my experience, it isn’t possible to communicate too much.

In a past scenario, I had taken some family photos of a large group of people. There were around 200 photos to go through, including individual headshots and group photos.

A normal turnaround time for a project this size can be anywhere from two to six weeks, especially considering additional clients and an overall workload. I communicated the time frame, but I did not reach out within that time to confirm that I was still working on processing and ordering the prints. 

Around week five, I received a very disgruntled message from one of the people. I explained that the timeline was normal, but they were dissatisfied and wanted their photos yesterday. They did receive them before the end of the sixth week, but neither they nor their family ever booked with me again. That’s a harsh lesson learned.

You don’t have to make that same mistake. For effective client communication:

  • Set clear expectations from the beginning. If you expect the turnaround time to be six weeks, tell them it will be at least six weeks. If you can do the work in less time, they’ll be thrilled rather than concerned that you’re not going to meet your self-imposed deadline. 
  • Keep clients informed about progress. It’s always smart to follow up with an email the day after the photo shoot. In that email, go over what you discussed at the shoot and be prepared to answer any questions that come back your way. 
  • Be responsive and address concerns promptly. If a client needs a rush on their order? Discuss it. Don’t ignore their request or tell them it’s not possible. Instead, add up the cost of rush shipping and see if you have time to do a rush order. You can upcharge them when people want more from you than you originally offered, allowing you to earn more while giving them the service they want.

Mistakes Happen: Make the Most of Them

The truth about being a photographer is that it comes with a pretty steep learning curve. You can easily make mistakes such as undervaluing your work, trying to do too many kinds of photography, ignoring the legal requirements of running a business, missing deadlines, or failing to learn the basics of post-processing.  

Whether you need more education or you have a few negative reviews from clients who were less than satisfied, it’s okay to take a step back and say you need to improve your business skills.

Learning from your mistakes is how you’ll grow, both as a photographer and a person. I know many people get frustrated and quit new positions when they get negative feedback, but understanding how to handle the ups and downs of running a business can set you apart from the crowd of people hoping to become photographers today.

There are plenty of potential clients, and you can always rebrand if you need to, but gaining experience and education will be the basis for your future success. Don’t be scared of making mistakes that could follow you. No one is perfect, but we can all improve with time and a willingness to change.


  • Cartina Cowart

    Catrina Cowart is a professional photographer and she provides the unique insights she learned as the owner of Catrina Daniels Photography.

Common Mistakes Made By New Photographers

Common Mistakes Made By New Photographers

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