Photography Inspiration » What 18 Top Photographers Wished They Knew When They Started in Photography

What 18 Top Photographers Wished They Knew When They Started in Photography

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As a beginner photographer, you want to shoot like a pro in a short time. All the beautiful professional images of other photographers that you see online can make you think that there is a shortcut to create something similar. 

This could be the reason to buy an expensive piece of equipment or work with a certain model. However, it’s easy to forget that it takes time to master something new. We want to help newbie photographers start their path and encourage them to keep going.

We decided to interview experienced professional photographers and ask them one single question:

“What is the one thing you wish you knew when you started in photography?”

Learn further to get to know what top photographers from all over the world would say to their younger selves. 

Francesco Tonelli

Francesco Tonelli is an Italian-born food photographer from New York. He worked with many popular brands, including Coca-Cola, Breyers, Godiva, Chipotle, Kraft Foods, The New York Times, Guinness, Playboy, and more. Francesco is passionate about food and a master of mouth-watering yet elegant images.

Photography is my second career. I have been a chef for over twenty years and when I turned forty I decided to become a photographer specialized in food.

The one thing I wish I knew when I started was having had the opportunity to assist another photographer to learn and observe how they work both from a technical point of view and from a business point of view. I am sure it would have been an amazing eye-opening experience.

Instead, I had to start pretty much on a blank slate: camera, lights and set building, client management, marketing, estimating and pricing I had figure out everything on my own, through photography books, tutorials, forums and mostly trial and error. 

It has been quite a journey and I feel very lucky to have made it this far.

But to anyone starting, I would highly recommend experiencing the ins and outs of commercial studio work as extensively as possible by assisting established photographers and observing how they run their business.

A bowl of Organic Kamut Wheat Puffs with Strawberries.

Howard Treeby

Howard Treeby is a wedding photographer from Great Ashby, Stevenage. He helps people to capture fleeting and unique moments of their lives. 

I wish knew that you don’t have to copy someone’s style or look, and to be braver to make your own brand and look with your images. I wasted a lot of time and money trying to be like some others but really I should just have more confidence to just do what I wanted! 

Mike Cooper

Mike Cooper is a food and drinks photographed from Bristol. He enjoys telling a story through his photographs year by year.

good question . . .

difficult answer

Without getting too Donald Rumsfeld – look him up kids – I suppose it might have been a realization that that was so much I didn’t realize I didn’t know. The unknown unknowns as it were.

I thought the easy part – pressing the shutter/mouse/app, etc –  would be the hard part.

Lyndsey Goddard

Lyndsey is a London-based wedding photographer who loves documentary approach. Her images are eye-catching, rich in colors, and emotional.

Perhaps a boring answer, but I wish that I’d had a rigorous backup system from day 1 with multiple hard drives and a good filing/naming system for images. I wasted so much time in the early days looking for images and wondering where they were, as I hadn’t named folders with something useful, maybe just the date. Spending a bit of time on your back up procedure will mean you never have to wonder if you’ve lost an image or spend hours going through hard drives wondering what you named an image.

Kristina Makeeva

Kristina’s photography is a rich blend of travel and fashion. She is a photographer from Russia with over 800k followers on Instagram. You can find her magical images by Hobopeeba nickname.

I’ve been doing photography for so long that I don’t remember what it was important for me to know. I remember that I thought that there was some kind of table of settings that gives a specific frame. Then I realized that there are no rules. But all this came with experience.

 Fanette Rickert

Fanette is a food photographer from France that captures fantastic, colorful images. Her photos envoke clients to spend a long dinner with friends or family and enjoy the food and wine.

Spend less time worrying that you don’t have the “right” equipment and focus on technique and practice. Being able to see (and modify) the light, mastering framing and composition, and fully understanding the manual mode will allow you to take much better picture than buying an expensive dslr. Build your skills first, then upgrade your gear.

Ryan Michael Kelly

He has worked with prominent brands such as Cole Haan, Emanuel Ungaro, Lord & Taylor, Nexxus, Nike, Nordstrom, Pantene, Target, Theory, and Tommy Bahama.

The one thing I wish I knew when I started in photography is how specific you have to be in what you choose to shoot and how you choose to shoot it. If you go to school for photography you learn about lighting and are required to shoot a documentary, portrait, commercial, still life, etc. None of these should be put on a website or a portfolio, they are merely to get you shooting and exploring and finding your path. Be extremely specific! If you like cats and don’t like the elements then you should only shoot cats inside and your entire portfolio, social, and website should be just that, cats inside. The clients and art buyers will find you and hire you to shoot something totally different. Don’t ask me why this is but it just is. Don’t put up a still life section on your website just because you did it once in college.

Christian Zielecki

Chris is a talented portrait and adventure photographer from Hamburg, Germany. His photo was featured in National Geographic’s Daily Dozen.

There is no need to change to your passion and style to earn money with photography. And as the second tip: you are always good enough, just keep going to improve even more. When I started with photography, it was a pure hobby for me. And I never wanted to earn money with it. Why? Because I thought I had to change myself and my passion to fit the requirements of my clients. But that’s not true! When you do something you love, you will attract the right people who appreciate your work for what it is: yours. So always value your work and others will do this as well.

Skyler Burt

Skyler is a food photographer and owner of the blog We Eat Together. He traveled North America, Asia, and the Middle East for over 15 years.

One thing I wish I knew starting out and something I’m still struggling with, is success comes out of how someone can use your photography, rather than how pretty it is. At least commercially, and I would venture to say it’s similar in the art world, except trade usefulness for emotion or story.  Other than for my memories, there are a lot of pretty, useless photos in my archive.

Rachel Korinek

Rachel is a food photographer from Vancouver, Canada. She loves clean and bright visual stories with a focus on details.

The biggest thing that I wish I knew when I started photography is that we all start from the same place. No person is born knowing everything about photography and I believe that creativity can be learned. Everyone has their own journey, and to succeed, we need to keep our focus on our own journey and development. It’s easy to compare ourselves to others, especially those further along than us. Everyone has their own pace. If you trust yourself, keep practicing, and stary dedicated, your wildest creative dreams can become a reality.

Tatiana Tarasovskaya

Tatiana is a portrait and wedding photographer from Kharkiv, Ukraine, but she is available for work worldwide. She helps people to bring precious memories to life and capture emotional happy moments.

If I had a second chance, then I would go this way to professional photography step by step again! After all, painstaking knowledge and even failures on my path are a valuable experience that helps me to beat the competition today, and also helps me to do what I love.

Julie de Waroquier

Julie is a portrait photographer from France with 12 years of experience. She won numerous awards, including the Emerging Artist Award. Her works were published and showcased all over the world.

I wish I knew how choosing the right lighting is fundamental. Some of my first photographic attempts failed because I was working with a light that didn’t fit the concept or the subject. Often, the lighting was too hard for my ideas. Even if the setting, the theme, the model, the props, and the editing are well-thought-out, a picture just cannot work if the light does not express the right feeling.

Berit Alits

Berit is an award-winning wedding and children portrait photographer from Ireland. Some of her photos were featured on Photo Vogue.

If I could give my younger self advice, then I would suggest not get carried away by looking too many other photographers. Especially the ones in my own genre. It’s great to look at the photography of course, but not too much. Your brain needs time and space to process things your way, and not do things you think it is supposed to be done. There are no rules in art.  You are what you consume. Never stop playing. 

Alecsandra Dragoi

Alecsandra is a documentary, portrait, travel, event photographer and teacher based in London. These days she works as a freelance for the Guardian, National Geographic Traveller UK, BAFTA, Reuters and teaches at the British Academy of Photography.

People are more open to being photographed than someone would think. I would have liked to do more portrait photography slightly earlier in my career, especially while at school as those times can be very unique and interesting to be captured from that age’s perspective. At that time I was more interested in street photography, which also had a great impact on my work, but I was more distant from my subject.

Zena Holloway

Zena is an underwater photographer from England who creates magical imaginary. She lived in Egypt, where Zena got qualifying as a PADI instructor and Commercial Diver.

That’s a really tough question …. the world of photography is a constantly moving target. In the last 10 years, both the business and tech side has changed beyond recognition. If I could pass on some advice to a younger me I think I would tell myself to be prepared to adapt, stay curious, and don’t get discouraged.  

To young photographers starting out today, I would tell you to find a niche – find a subject that they’re passionate about – and if you love what you do, in the end, it will shine through. Fortune favors the bold.

A young woman balances on the edge of the light. There is nother around her but water and sunbeams and she dances through the surreal underwater space. Photographed in the cenotes of Mexico this image is from the photographic art series titled “Earthless” by Zena Holloway

Albert Palmer

Albert is a wedding photographer from Bristol. As a young boy, he dreamed of becoming a rock musician, but Albert became a great photographer.

When I first started my journey as a photographer I had zero experience of running a business. But, I really enjoyed learning on the job. Whilst pricing is always a contentious and personal issue I wish I had known to put my prices up quicker than I did. When I first started I priced myself low, in line with my experience and skill. But I didn’t raise my prices quickly enough and booked a lot of work 12-24 months ahead at low prices. This meant I was turning away jobs at higher prices, as I was booked up with weddings I had committed to at a cheaper price.

Joseph N. Tran

Joseph is a  Los Angeles and New York-based fashion photographer who shows the beauty of the human body.

Bend but don’t break. Many times throughout my own personal journey I’ve had to deal with so many different opportunities presented to me. Along the road to the successes, there were so many failures. You’re not always going to get things to go your way and you’ll have to accept that communication is key to making things work out. Like all things in life, you don’t want to be a pushover but you don’t want to be too stubborn to the point where nobody will want to work with you. Learn to balance your needs and make the necessary compromises with what your client’s needs. Don’t let them step all over you, but at the same time don’t do the same to them. Listen first. Process what’s needed. Provide your input and ideas to see where it takes you from there. Your work and time are valuable, but so are the clients you’ll establish relationships with to further your career.

Mareen Fischinger

Mareen is a photographer from Cologne, Germany. She specializes on portrait photography, casting, art direction, as well as booking of makeup and hair artists for a photoshoot. Her answer is short yet considerable.

I just made my way

Same-sex parents cuddling their baby in cafe, Cologne, NRW, Germany


I hope these answers of professional photographers will encourage you to keep going. As a beginner, there will be a lot of things to learn over time. Photography will shape your life in many ways, and it could be a positive force to become a better self.

1 thought on “What 18 Top Photographers Wished They Knew When They Started in Photography”

  1. Many new photographers can learn through your blog. Nancy, I hope I get many more good blogs from you in the future.


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