Even pros make mistakes. Discover how these six successful photographers overcame misadventures and mishaps on the way to establishing their careers.

Henri Cartier-Bresson famously said, “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” He believed in the power of mistakes; in order to succeed, all photographers have to fail a few times first. The experience of messing up and trying again is an emerging photographer’s greatest teacher. In fact, some of the industry’s most extraordinary inventions came about because someone made a mistake, including the inkjet printer, which was developed after a Canon engineer accidentally overheated a pen.

Of course, it’s possible to learn from other people’s mistakes, and in the digital age there’s no reason anyone should have to wait for their 10,001st photograph to hit gold. Experienced stock photographers have a wealth of experience and educational behind-the-scenes anecdotes. We asked six of them to tell us about their biggest mistakes and what they learned from them.

1. “Sometimes you miscalculate something, but other times mistakes can come from external factors that affect you, and you have to deal with them to the best of your ability.”

Ollyy (Andrea Piacquadio)

6 Stock Photographers on How They Learned from Their Mistakes — Miscalculation

Image by Ollyy (Andrea Piacquadio). Gear: Canon 5DS camera, Canon 50mm lens. Settings: Exposure 1/250 sec; f1.8; ISO 100.

In your time as a stock photographer, have you ever made a mistake? If so, what did you learn from it?

I’ve made several mistakes, but let’s admit it: that’s part of this amazing job! When you spend your life shooting pictures, changing subjects, locations, cameras, and models, etc., you are experimenting and testing out new things. Sometimes you miscalculate something, but other times mistakes can come from external factors that affect you, and you have to deal with them to the best of your ability.

In this picture, a boy is climbing painted stairs on a wall in Malta. On the day of the shoot, everything went wrong. It was a very cloudy day, and I couldn’t provide any lights myself. Nevertheless, I decided to do the shoot and to do my best in the situation, even if I wasn’t pleased with my pictures.

As a result, this picture was much-appreciated by the stock audience, and this episode taught me that doing your best is always a good choice. It also taught me that maybe something that I consider to be a mistake—like no light—could be an asset for someone else who thinks differently than I do.

6 Stock Photographers on How They Learned from Their Mistakes — Do Your Best

Image by Ollyy (Andrea Piacquadio).

2. ” …I forgot to upload the photos as planned due to my workload. As a result, I have since implemented an organized work plan…”

tomertu (Tomer Turjeman)

6 Stock Photographers on How They Learned from Their Mistakes — Organization

Image by tomertu (Tomer Turjeman). Gear: Canon EOS 80D camera, Sigma Art 24-105mm lens. Settings: Exposure 1 sec; f5.6; ISO 100.

In your time as a stock photographer, have you ever made a mistake? If so, what did you learn from it?

In my opinion, every photographer makes mistakes from time to time. For example, I am a keen fan of the Games of Thrones series, so I planned a photo session with a medieval concept. I planned to upload the photos to coincide with the season’s broadcast, as I recognized that there would be a demand for pictures with that concept during the season.

Pictured: [1] Image by tomertu. [2] Image by tomertu.

Unfortunately, I was busy with another project at the time, and I forgot to upload the photos as planned due to my workload. As a result, I have since implemented an organized work plan, which includes scheduling photographs by dates and subjects. It helps me manage my time.

3. “Always have a backup plan…We stay flexible so we’re able to change location quickly if something doesn’t work out.”

mimagephotography

6 Stock Photographers on How They Learned from Their Mistakes — Back-Up Plans

Image by mimagephotography. Gear: Nikon D810 camera, Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 lens. Settings: Focal length 24mm; exposure 1/500 sec; f7.1; ISO 400.

In your time as a stock photographer, have you ever made a mistake? If so, what did you learn from it?

Lots of things can go wrong when you work with models and shoot on location. Always have a backup plan. In the beginning, we focused too much on what we planned to shoot instead of figuring out what worked best in the situation. Now, we force ourselves to keep things simple and keep our gear to a minimum. Going to remote locations is great, but it can be very costly and time-consuming. We stay flexible so we’re able to change location quickly if something doesn’t work out.

6 Stock Photographers on How They Learned from Their Mistakes — Flexibility

Image by mimagephotography.

4. “The biggest mistake is becoming too comfortable. Once you find a niche or set of niches, it’s easy to get stuck in them.”

TierneyMJ (Michiko Tierney)

6 Stock Photographers on How They Learned from Their Mistakes — Stuck in a Rut

Image by TierneyMJ (Michiko Tierney). Gear: Canon EOS 5D Mark III camera, Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro Lens. Settings: Exposure 1/160 sec; f16; ISO 250.

In your time as a stock photographer, have you ever made a mistake? If so, what did you learn from it?

The biggest mistake is becoming too comfortable. Once you find a niche or set of niches, it’s easy to get stuck in them. It’s easy to get trapped by the inertia and familiarity and to take the same photos repeatedly because you know they sell and you know how do to them and you’ve built up infrastructure around them. The better path is to keep searching for new things. Styles change. Better photographers with better photos are uploading their images every day. Try new types of photography, new themes, new ways of working. Do not be troubled when only one out of a dozen new ideas sells well. Keep pushing.

Pictured: [1] Image by TierneyMJ (Michiko Tierney). [2] Image by TierneyMJ (Michiko Tierney). [3] Image by TierneyMJ (Michiko Tierney).

5. “I think the biggest mistake I’ve made was being heavily dictated by the current stock trends and not shooting for art’s sake.”

www.rawpixel.com (@rawpixelimages)

6 Stock Photographers on How They Learned from Their Mistakes — Perfectionism

Image by www.rawpixel.com (@rawpixelimages). Gear: NIKON D300 camera, 18.0 mm lens. Settings: Exposure 1/160 sec; f14; ISO 200.

In your time as a stock photographer, have you ever made a mistake? If so, what did you learn from it?

I think the biggest mistake I’ve made was being heavily dictated by the current stock trends and not shooting for art’s sake. I started ten years ago as a travel photographer. Back then, I was obsessed with getting the “perfect” image. All of the conditions needed to be right: a blue sky, an iconic location, the golden hour, etc. During my stay in Fiordland, New Zealand, for example, I’d be gutted if the weather was overcast. So many missed opportunities! This image turned out well, but after spending over a year in New Zealand, it’s the images I didn’t take that stay with me.

 

6. “I shot many images in the same location…Now I try to change locations…New locations are new challenges, and they offer a range of content.”

ImageFlow (Denis Ismagilov)

6 Stock Photographers on How They Learned from Their Mistakes — Seek Challenges

Image by ImageFlow (Denis Ismagilov). Gear: Canon EOS 5D Mark III camera, Canon 24-105 L lens. Focal length 75mm; exposure 1/125 sec; f4; ISO 100.

6 Stock Photographers on How They Learned from Their Mistakes — New Locations

Image by ImageFlow (Denis Ismagilov). Gear: Canon EOS 5D Mark III camera, Canon 24-105mm L lens. Focal length 73mm; exposure 1/125 sec; f4; ISO 50.

In your time as a stock photographer, have you ever made a mistake? If so, what did you learn from it?

In the beginning, I shot many images in the same location, just trying to change the objects and models inside the frame. It was worthless because I got a lot of similar content, which is not good for a stock photographer. Now I try to change locations, and I also try to rent studios with professional equipment on an hourly basis. New locations are new challenges, and they offer a range of content.

Pictured: [1] Image by ImageFlow (Denis Ismagilov). [2] Image by ImageFlow (Denis Ismagilov).

Top Image by TierneyMJ (Michiko Tierney).