A Beginner’s Mistake in Photography That Can Last a Career

I probably made a lot of mistakes during my photography career, but one of them may still have an impact on me today. The question is, are you doing it, and if so, should you do anything to change it?

There are photographers who choose one genre and do nothing else for the rest of their lives. I admire these people and suspect they have the greatest likelihood of becoming truly excellent in whatever genre they’ve become a devoted follower of, but I’m not one of them. I started my journey with a camera on my back out of a burning curiosity for macro photography, but it wasn’t long before I wanted to try every genre of photography I could find. In fact, in the first two years that I owned a camera, I tried macro, wildlife, landscape, astro, portrait, fashion, pets, products, sport, and I suspect several others that I don’t remember.

In the very early stages of a photographer’s career (by which I mean taking photos as opposed to photography as a job), experimenting as much as possible is crucial. As is the case with so many things, the view from the outside of a craft or hobby is usually quite different from the experience inside. In other words, you might think you love portraiture and that’s the type of photography you want to create, but when you’re face to face with a subject and directing it, maybe part of the magic is dispelled. For this reason, to people who have just purchased their first camera and message me for advice, I will always recommend trying anything and everything; from different genres to techniques.

However, once a beginner has a feel for the terrain and an idea of ​​what they like and dislike, what’s next? For maximum capacity and pleasure as a photographer, how to proceed? This is where I believe I made a mistake. I continued to experiment with all genres as often as possible and, in all honesty, I still hit a wide range of shots; I love photography and I don’t want to be limited. Nonetheless, as someone who wanted to become a great photographer (a pursuit I haven’t completed and probably never will), I needed more direction. To improve the fastest, I needed to practice one or two genres of photography persistently, instead of photographing anything and everything.

There were a few times in my career where I really focused on one genre and the results were significant. The first case concerned the portrait, the second was the macro and the third (which is closely related to the other two) concerned the watch photography niche. Shortly into my photography career, I discovered that the images I wanted to look at – and that I spent hours looking at every day – were portraits. It wasn’t my original intention in photography, but it quickly became an obsession, and I don’t use that word lightly. For years, I’ve chosen a “portrait of the day” and posted it – every day. There are about 1,000 on the Pinterest board which you can find here. I really couldn’t get enough of looking at portraits and I also took as many portraits as I could.

The second was less of an obsession and more of a constant craving. I loved to walk in nature taking photos of insects and would do it almost every day for at least the first few years as a photographer, despite the fact that I lived in a country where interesting subjects are rare! I have a hard drive full of photos of bees, hoverflies, wasps, ladybugs and the occasional commonplace British spider. I did however purchase a giant Asian praying mantis as you can see above and it had been with me for almost 2 years!

The third was horological photography which combined macro and a portrait mark. It was born out of a lifelong love for watches and wanting to capture them in a way that showed what I loved about watchmaking; the know-how, the materials, the subtleties, etc. But, why is it important? Well, I never improved more, reached a higher level of shooting, and achieved more consistency than when I was in those tunnel vision states. Direction and focus increased the gains exponentially and I should have identified and tapped into that knowledge.

To master a genre, a photographer must constantly pursue it, striving to improve at every step. While I wanted to improve, the variety of shots I wanted to take got in the way of the ultimate goal of becoming excellent in a genre. Thinking back to my goals when I started, that was a mistake. I could have tried again, but I needed more discipline and spent the vast majority of my time on one genre (or two). But, looking back on the last decade of photography, would I change anything?

I’ve thought about this a lot – probably too much – and I’m not sure I would. I have no doubt that more direction and discipline in a particular genre would have made me a better photographer regardless of genre, but at what cost? My love for photography is linked to the diversity of the profession and in this, I rarely get bored. There is also no guarantee that I would have been much closer to greatness, or that the areas in which I improved would have yielded worthwhile results; more money, more success, etc. Nonetheless, it’s a path that hasn’t been walked and it’s a path that I can’t help but wonder about.

Have you narrowed down your art to one genre? Has it paid off for you? Or, do you regret not being more disciplined in your direction? Share your experiences in the comments section below.

Main image by Luis Quintero via Pexels

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