Top Photographers Reveal Their Most Valuable Mistakes

by Robert K Baggs

As a British person, I have an innate talent for moaning, queuing, and observing humour about our ever-changing weather. One spring morning last month, while wiping the snow off my sunglasses and mopping the sweat off my brow with my thermal gloves, I began to ponder the first of this talent trifecta. One rich vein of moan material is mistakes, and being conscious of my miserable inner monologue, I attempted to shift the focus to something more useful.

Of my mistakes, particularly pertaining to photography, which has been the most valuable? Which mistake has yielded the greatest crop of information and made me all the better for it? I came to a conclusion and then an idea occurred so suddenly I nearly choked on my crumpet (fear not, I had an emergency flask of tea on hand). I gathered my thoughts and straightened my tweed suit.

“How would top photographers answer that same question?,” I wondered aloud to the Queen, Hugh Grant, and the cast of Downton Abbey. We all agreed that it would be enlightening, and so, I embarked on chatting with top photographers and extracting their answers for your reading pleasure.

Joel Grimes

When it comes to the business side of surviving a 30-year career as a photographer, I often say there are 3 things that you must possess. Treat people fairly, be honest, and never make a promise you can’t keep. The first two seem to come relatively easy for me, but the latter is something that I catch myself and see others making all the time. Since I am often an overly optimistic person and want to please my clients at all cost, I will agree to conditions that are unrealistic. For example, in delivering the final retouched images to a client, I often catch myself agreeing to a delivery date that in the end forces me to work all-nighters to fulfill my commitment, which generally takes the joy out of the process. The alternative would be to fail on meeting the deadline and thus risk damaging my client relations. 


I have learned it is better to set realistic expectations, even at the risk of not getting the job, than it is making a promise I can’t keep. Because the odds of a client coming back after a failed promise is a hundred times less than if you simply said: “I’m sorry, but I just can’t fit your in at this time.” Part of the problem is simply the fact that being self-employed, you are afraid to risk turning down a job. But remember, it is easier to keep an existing client than it is finding a new one. So, cultivate a mindset that factors in a business model for the long haul, not simply to make a quick buck. 

Read More on what the other photographers had to say and Roberts conclusion at