Photographers, please don’t make these mistakes!

 My birthday is this week, making it a good time to look both backward and forward. I thought I’d share some of the mistakes that I’ve seen photographers make over the years in the hope that my readers won’t make them.

A big mistake that a photographer made that almost cost me my reputation in photography before I had hardly started.

Before I started a photo agency, I decided to become a  rep for assignment work. My first photographer was recommend by several of my photographer friends. He had been in Europe for a while and had experienced a lot of success in advertising jobs according to him and to the tearsheets that he showed in his portfolio. I worked with him for a couple of days, getting ready to take the book out when I happened by the international newsstand on Las Palmas in Hollywood. As I browsed the European magazines, the guy’s work popped up everywhere. But in Europe, in those days anyway, ads carried photo credits AND my guy’s portfolio had been shot by at least five other people.

Instead of investing years of work overseas to build up an international portfolio, he had stopped by the magazine stand at Heathrow on his way back to L.A. and bought the magazines with the ads that he most would have liked to have shot. That was the end of my repping career, thankfully before I had called on any art directors/art buyers.

Here are some mistakes not to make, in no particular order:

  1. 1Spending money as soon as you earn it but before you have it, even if you know you’ll get it soon.
  2.  Waiting until after the shoot to hand out model releases.
  3.  Not putting a value on your own time when figuring ROI (return on investment) per shoot.
  4.  Staying with the same vendors (insurance, bank, credit card, phone, etc) year after year without annually doing comparison shopping
  5.  Buying the most expensive equipment unless you absolutely need it. And buying is cheaper than regular renting.
  6.  Never registering copyright
  7.  Bad mouthing your competition
  8.  Spending more than an hour a day on social media
  9.  Writing a blog that only other photographers read (unless you are Chase Jarvis.)
  10.  Not keeping excellent records in regard to deductible expenses.
  11.  Not having an annual budget
  12.  Not understanding a financial statement coupled with not having one.
  13.  Not reading distributor contracts, purchase orders and other legal docs or not getting help when you don’t understand them.
  14.  Cheating, lying and stealing (just for good measure). And that includes faking model releases, exaggerating expenses on productions, directly copying other’s work and violating the items listed in item 13.

Happy Birthday to me.

Who is the first brave soul to add to the above list based on a mistake they made?

About the author

Ellen Boughn uses her decades of experience to guide photographer clients through the maze of opportunities and pitfalls in today’s marketplace for existing images, from rights managed to microstock. Her consulting approach is personalized, strategic and considers all current options in the rapidly changing stock photography industry. 

Ellen Boughn has directed the production of over 200 stock shoots over the last few years, from concepting to directing on set. A frequent speaker at PhotoExpo, UGCX and a respected industry analyst, she has qualified as an expert witness and appraiser of stock photo collections. Ellen is the author of “Microstock Money Shots—Turning Downloads into Dollars” and is a member of ASMP, ASPP, PACA and a candidate for the Appraiser’s Association of America. Twitter: @ellenboughn | Facebook ellenboughn

Marco | Editor

Editor at large and founder of a bunch of stockphoto businesses

3 thoughts on “Photographers, please don’t make these mistakes!

  • May 26, 2010 at 2:01 pm

    Happy birthday Ellen. And thanks for sharing these great tips

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  • May 27, 2010 at 6:26 am

    Great post Ellen. Here are some suggestions to add to the list, although I did not necessarily make all of these mistakes myself. :-)

    15. Stopping learning because you already know it all.
    16. Not helping other photographers because what you do is so special it needs to be kept secret.
    17. Not giving back to the profession.
    18. Not belonging to a professional association.
    19. Spending less than 10-20% of your time marketing.
    20. Thinking that you don’t have to continually improve your craft.
    21. Believing that there are any shortcuts to the hard work necessary to be successful in photography.
    22. Ignoring or not understanding the business side of photography.


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