Creating fantastic photos is just the first step in becoming a successful professional photographer. There is a lot of emphasis on what to do as a professional photographer to stay motivated and achieve success. Just as importantly, it's critical to avoid the most common pitfalls photographers face to stay engaged creatively and maintain a successful, fulfilling career.
Steal the work of or take credit for the work of other photographers
I put this at the top of the list because I can't stress this enough; stealing or taking credit for another artist's work isn't appropriate or acceptable under any circumstance. When you're brand new to the industry, be up-front about your lack of experience. Clients would rather see images from the handful of weddings you've shot than find out you're sharing a wedding portfolio of images you didn't take. When you share work that isn't yours, such as on social media or a blog, give credit to the original photographer. The use of stock photos in blog posts is common practice, and acceptable when properly licensed (we even use the occasional stock photo for a blog post). However, as a photographer, if you post stock photos on a site where you are advertising your work, it's automatically implied that you took the photo. So even properly licensed stock photos are a no-no on a photographer's website, social media or blog.
Badmouth other photographers, particularly local photographers
In any profession, creative or otherwise, talking negatively about individuals in your field isn't going to get you anywhere. You may think you'll raise your own status by putting down someone's work or sharing gossip about another photographer. However, these tactics will only lower people's opinion of you and your work. You'll look insecure and may make people distrust you.
Spend a lot of time obsessing over the gear
Every photographer suffers from a form of gear acquisition syndrome (GAS) at some point in his/her career. Daydreaming about and purchasing new gear is fun. Experimenting with new photography gear can help you mix up your routine and create more interesting photos. However, a great photographer can produce fantastic images with any type of camera gear. Avoid the temptation to spend countless hours pouring over online photography listings or agonizing over which gear to bring on every photo shoot. As you become comfortable with different types of shoots (i.e., family, engagement, wedding), you'll know which gear to bring. Deviating from this routine significantly wastes time and energy that can be better spent elsewhere.
Say yes to every single job they're offered
It's hard to turn down paying work, especially when you're just starting as a professional photographer and need the money and experience. Not every job you're offered will be a good fit for your skillset and personal interests as a photographer. It's also important to be realistic about how much work you can take on during any given week. At some point, you'll have to stop booking holiday family sessions so that you can deliver the finished images in a timely fashion. Finally, stick to your guns about your pricing. If people want something for nothing or will only pay significantly below your asking price, the job most likely isn't worth it.
Shoot and edit the exact same compositions over and over again
Taking and editing very similar images month after month guarantees you'll burn out creatively. Mixing up your routine, even in subtle ways, helps you create more interesting images. You'll keep your creative juices flowing while producing a more varied portfolio, which is appealing to clients. For example, if you're tired of visiting the same two beaches for summer family sessions, start offering more choices when you book clients. Or, if your shots are all beginning to look the same because you always book couples at sunset, try for a morning or blue hour session.
Display every image they've ever taken online
An online portfolio should highlight your best work. If you don't love an image, don't post it online. Your portfolio should also highlight your current professional offerings. If you don't offer newborn shoots, don't post the photos you did for a friend because it's confusing for potential clients. Take care not to overwhelm followers on social media as well. People want to see a sample of recent images you've taken, not every single image from every single session.
Expect widespread success overnight
Building a creative career takes time. Even when your photography is outstanding, it takes months, if not years, to build up a client base and generate steady referrals. Photography is a competitive, demanding business. It takes a lot of effort to get noticed. Once you do get noticed, you must stick with it. Continue to offer an outstanding product and stellar customer service, and you'll keep getting great referrals.
Make their clients wait months for their images
There is a turnaround period for delivering finished images. Be upfront about your anticipated turnaround time so clients know when to expect their product. While you will have busier seasons in the year, it's important to keep your turnaround time reasonable. Be conscious of clients' deadlines as well. Families don't want to wait three months for their newborn pictures when they're planning to send birth announcements or two months for their November holiday mini-session when they're going to use those pictures for their Christmas cards.
Ignore the importance of networking and self-promotion
Digital photography significantly lowered the entry threshold for professional photography. As such, it's a very competitive industry. Additionally, in the age of social media, you must make yourself stand out from other photographers in your area. Use your professional Facebook or Instagram account to share and tag client images (don't spam your personal followers). Clients will share these images, giving you free exposure to their friends and family. Promote your business, as it makes sense to do so, in your personal and professional life. You never know where you'll get your next job referral.
Create drama with event planners
A photographer is one key element in an event (i.e., wedding, competition, festival). Getting along with the event planner and other people working the event goes a long way toward helping the event go smoothly and getting invited to future events. Event planners and coordinators have their pick of photographers. Even when a client has hired you directly (i.e., most likely a couple hired you for a wedding, not an event planner), an event planner will make sure you don't work again at a specific venue if you cause trouble for everyone.
Try to steal attention during events
Your job at an event is to produce great images. While there's nothing wrong with chatting to a few people or taking time out to dance to a song or two, you're there to do a job. Spending a lot of time networking or entertaining guests pulls focus from your primary goal: capturing memorable moments and telling the story of the event. People aren't paying you to flirt with their cousins or be the life of the party during karaoke hour.
Not give back to the community
As a photographer, you're part of your local community. Giving back to the people around you is a simple way to contribute positively to the place you live while doing what you love: taking pictures. Giving back to the community doesn't mean giving away your professional services for free all the time. It does mean choosing projects and initiatives that are meaningful to you and offering your services pro bono. For example, suppose you're an animal lover. When the local animal shelter is trying to get more pets adopted around the holidays, offer to take pictures of pets for their website and social media at no charge.
Get overconfident about their ability to walk into a job without proper preparationA good photographer makes his/her work look easy. In reality, a ton of preparation goes into making every session, from a 20-minute family mini-session to an all-day wedding engagement, go smoothly. If you get lazy or overconfident and fail to prepare for the session properly, you're doing your clients a disservice by not giving them the best you have to offer. To make it easier to prepare, you may consider setting a preparation routine. For example, for every event you shoot, you could make a session plan, including a checklist for your gear and props. And for longer events, it's a good idea to write out a timeline and plan of action and stick to it.
It's easy to pick up bad habits in any creative field or fall into a rut where you aren't happy with your work or just aren't motivated to produce anything new. Staying conscious of these negative tendencies will help you avoid them, keeping your work fresh and your career healthy.