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Top 5 things I wish I knew at the start…

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I would like to think we all live our lives without a regret but there are always things we wish we knew earlier. I’ve been photographing for quite a few years now and recently the wife convinced me it was time to start clearing out the junk drawers in the studio. As I dug through the brick-a-brack it got me thinking what advice do I wish was instilled in me 5 years ago that I live by now? So here it is, the 5 things I wish someone told me 5 years ago about being a photographer.

1. The best camera is the one with you

Photographers are notorious for pushing the Nikon vs Canon saga and being brand loyal to the point of blindness but the reality is that the best camera is the one with you at the time. My first ‘serious’ camera was a Nikon D90 and at the time if I didn’t have that camera with me photos simply didn’t happen. These days though, I cherish my mirrorless camera for the times I’m not lugging a DSLR around and to be honest, I’ve even embraced the iPhone for the times when I’m totally unprepared. A good photo is a good photo regardless of what tool was used to capture it.

2. Gadgets & Gizmos distraction

I used to be a classic tech-gadget-gear-hoarder, always buying the gizmos and accessories that gave me some other form of rather useless novelty. I once bought a trigger that reacts to lightning because it seemed cool… I don’t even take lightning photos. At the time these bits and pieces seemed like the best inventions since cameras went digital but in recent times I’ve come to appreciate that most of the novelty gizmos I’ve bought end up being the basis for the ‘junk drawer’. Most gadgets will not improve your photos, they are there to solve specific problems, wait until you have that problem before trying to solve it.

3. Invest in quality

We’ve all been in the situation before when buying a tripod, filter or speed light modifier and have had to wrestle with our conscience to buy the better quality product. After burning through countless cheap tripods, modifiers, small memory cards and low grade filters I’ve changed my tune to only buy top quality gear (but now less of it after breaking my knick-knack habit). Whilst we are all constrained by a budget buying the best quality we can afford will reward you with years of reliability and a much longer upgrade cycle.

4. Spend on experiences

I’m as guilty as the next person of getting photo envy; friends shooting amazing sunsets from the top of a mountain or aerial photos of the reef over the pacific from an open door helicopter or sometimes more simple scenes like stormy days. Whilst they were out there travelling and exploring new and exciting things I was exploring camera catalogues and wondering why my shots weren’t the same as theirs… The realisation? I wasn’t even there to take the photo in the first place! Investing your time, energy and resources in experience will improve your photos one-million-fold over a new camera. Never underestimate the simple act of getting outside and being there when the moments happen, rain, hail or shine.

5. Learning to use the tools you own

I am a self taught photographer and was lucky enough to have been mentored and surrounded by amazingly creative and generous people who helped and inspired me at every cross-road but for most people the reality is that the self-taught path is a long and frustrating road. If I had my time again, I would shift my focus to deliberate practice and deliberate learning. Imagine if 5 years ago you had started to practice all of your weak points. Get stuck into learning how to use your gear and persist with the parts that trouble you the most. Perseverance and guided practice pays off.

Over the years I’ve been exposed to many professional and hobbyist photographers and the above points are pretty common themes. It almost seems like a right-of-passage to make these mistakes but here you are, possibly at the start of the journey with the opportunity to bypass the pitfalls and focus on what is actually important, the art you are creating.

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