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Top 10 Ways to Sabotage your Professional Photography Aspirations

Through the various classes and workshops I teach, I inevitably run into a number of students with professional photography aspirations.  More than a few of them however, seem doggedly determined to do everything they can to make their dream of professional photography impossible.

I’m nothing, if not a helper.  So if you really want to sabotage your pro photography aspirations, here, presented in traditional count-down order, are 10 ways to make sure you’ll never turn your dream into a profession.

© Paul Burwell Photography | www.bsop.ca

Red Fox Kits playing outside their den

In no particular order how to sabotage your professional photography aspirations

1. Don’t show your work to anyone other than family or friends

  • Family and friends are great for moral support, and can really help pick you up when you’re down, but do they really know what makes a great picture and what sort of stuff is going to sell?
  • You need to get professional opinions about your work if you want to know if it is good, or what you might need to work on improving.

2. Design your web site so that it’s impossible for a photo buyer to do business with you

  • Through fear of protecting their images from being “stolen” from their web site, many photographers make it so you can’t right-click to save a picture or use flash web sites that make it almost impossible to easily save images to a local hard drive.
  • While none of these methods truly protect the images from “theft” they are a really great deterrent to the editor or photo buyer looking for images.  They can’t easily save them to run past other people, and they’ll usually just move onto the next web site.
  • While we’re at it, don’t put those huge ugly copyright notices over the center of the photo.  If you need to add a copyright watermark, add it to somewhere where it intrudes on the photograph’s story as little as possible.
© Paul Burwell Photography | www.bsop.ca

Juvenile Merlin perched on an old fence

3. Only post your “second-tier” images on your web site

  • Many folks operate under the mistaken belief that they should save their “good” stuff for when they get that National Geographic offer.  Sorry, but that isn’t going to happen until people can see the sort of great photos you can produce.

4. Bring only your best images to an image critique

  • During my photography workshops I always set aside time for people to bring some images for myself and the rest of the group to comment on.  Many folks only bring their best stuff.  I guess it’s fun to hear for the umpteenth time what a great image that is, but wouldn’t it be more useful to bring some images that you’re not sure are great?  An image you haven’t already been told 10 or 100 times that it’s a great image?  Take a risk and learn a bit.

5. Just do photography

  • I hear from some of the long-time professional nature photographers how they used to be able to make a living out of just selling images.  I wish my life were so simple.
  • The most likely way someone starting out is going to sell an image, is along with some writing.  So, you’ll want to learn how to put some words together that can support the images you’ve got.  While you’re at it, you might want to take some business management and marketing courses along the way.
© Paul Burwell Photography | www.bsop.ca

Hexagonal Plate Snowflake

6. Stop learning

  • Unfortunately, some folks figure that they’ve learned it all, they’ve got it all figured out.
  • Sorry, but in today’s digital world that just isn’t possible.  New techniques, software and equipment are constantly being developed.  You need to devote a significant portion of your time into educating yourself and keeping current.

7. Don’t look at other people’s images

  • I’ve run into a few people who can’t seem to appreciate any photos other than those they’ve created.  Holy narcissism batman!
  • If you don’t look at what your contemporaries are doing, you’re really short-changing yourself and sabotaging your aspirations.  Look around at what sells (because if you’re a pro, you NEED to care about what sells) and hang some of that on your wall.  Learn why it sells and try to use that within your own photography.

8. Don’t treat your photography like a business

  • If you want to remain an amateur, that’s great.  But if you want to be professional photographer, you have to start thinking like a professional.  Covering a subject as a pro is totally different than just going out and shooting a few snap shots.  You need to prepare in advance and have your gear and attitude ready to go.  When you start shooting, you work it until you get what you need.
  • If you’re under the mistaken impression that you need to be a great, or “one of the best” photographers in your area of interest to be a professional, get over it.  At least as important as the photography skills are your business and self-marketing skills.  Make sure you work on those non-photography skills at least as much as you do on your photography skills.

9.  Just take photos, don’t tell stories

  • For me, a great photo is one that tells a story.  If someone were to ask you about a photo and you couldn’t immediately come up with the story being told, I would argue that it isn’t a great photo.
  • Use image compositional techniques to make your photos tell great stories.

10. Treat ethics as an inconvenience to be avoided

  • While ethics are a personal matter and we all have to determine what is, and isn’t ethical for ourselves, the surest path to disaster is to have others view you as unethical.
  • Treat people the way you expect to be treated.  Be above board in all your business dealings.  Your clients should never experience negative surprises.  Follow through on your promises.

So, if you’re an aspiring pro, and bound and determined to stymie your chances of making it, I think I’ve outlined a pretty clear road map for you.

Do you have some comments or additional items to add to the list?  We’d all love to hear from you.


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Paul Burwell
Paul Burwell

is a professional photographer, writer, educator and enthusiastic naturalist with over twenty years experience working with and educating adults. In addition to being the owner of the Burwell School of Photography, he is a contributing editor and regular columnist with Outdoor Photography Canada Magazine. Paul has been a finalist in the Veolia ‘Wildlife Photographer of the Year’ worldwide competition in 2009, 2010 and 2013 and was named a ‘Top Wildlife Shooter’ by Popular Photography Magazine in 2010.

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