3 important lessons learned by practicing photographers

Written By Sara Cronin, Co-Copy Desk Chief

A few weeks ago, I almost gave up completely on photography and myself. I was outside and ready at 8 a.m. to set out to take photographs for a project I had to fit in when just the night before, an entire roll of film I developed came out useless and ruined after hours of work in the darkroom. It was so cold that morning that I struggled to even press the shutter, my fingers were bright red and without feeling. As I went to take a picture of a beautiful blue house, my camera’s mirror got jammed, and I realized that I had woken up and started my day all for nothing.

I ended the day with $100 out of my pocket to have my camera fixed, an entire afternoon  wasted, two unusable rolls of very expensive film and an uncompleted project. I later decided to try color printing in the darkroom from old negatives, since that was the only thing I had to work with, but I had no luck there either. I was so frustrated, and couldn’t figure out why I kept having bad luck with everything in my life that was photography related. Was this a sign? Is photography something I’m not supposed to do?

When people think of their future and their career, they usually have a mental picture that they’ve created in their mind from an early age. They pictured themselves as a teacher in front of the class, or maybe as a dancer on a big Broadway stage. Me? I never really had a picture. I always knew that I’ve been good at writing, and that English was my favorite subject. I’ve always knew that I was a free spirit, and that being locked up in an office job was a picture I never even wanted to consider. But becoming a photographer was something that I never pictured.

After high school, I went to university for nursing. A rushed and hurried decision, it was made out of panic and fear over not being able to find a job in an English-related field. Needless to say, it didn’t necessarily fit me. One night after a failed nutrition exam, I made a spontaneous purchase in the basement of my old university with the little money I had to get my first camera, and once it came in through the mail, I wasn’t able to put it down. I took photos of everything: my friends, my neighborhood, my family, other neighborhoods, places unknown. It gave me something to do, something to explore, and I found it became something I loved.

Looking back, it’s almost been three years since I got my first camera, and there are several lessons that I learned in that small window of time. But since it’s been three years, I’ve decided to write about three very important lessons that I’ve learned since becoming a photographer.


Lesson 1. Careful with Comparison


I used to run a lot, even competitively, and it’s still something I like to do when I have the time. When you’re training for a race, I’ve always been told that if you look to the others who are racing on the track in the other lanes beside you instead of looking ahead, you’ll slow yourself down, lose your momentum and ultimately lose the race.

I’ve come to learn the hard way that the same thing is true in photography, and even in life. Photography is not necessarily a “race,” but you can’t look at what everyone else is doing beside you if you want to end up getting anywhere. Finding your own style and voice in photography is crucial. If you end up looking at what everyone else is doing and begin to slow down to their “pace,” and create the kind of work they’re creating, you’ll never stand out or be unique to yourself. I deleted all of my social media apps for an entire year, because I realized that I was letting other people’s work interfere with my own vision and style. I was going losing the goal at the end of the race because I was too busy worrying about everyone else’s opinion, looking at everyone else’s content instead of realizing that in doing so, I was losing myself and what I wanted to become.


Lesson 2. Fun with Failure


Yes, failure will happen. It happens to me so often that I’ve created an album on my phone titled “L’s” where I include all of the screenshots of photography internships, jobs, and opportunities that I’ve applied to and have received an email of denial in response. It’s become its own little collection. When I was a newbie in photography, I felt like I needed everyone else’s approval to be validated and to be considered as a “good” photographer. I’ve learned that that’s not important.

There’s really no such thing as success. Success can be an endless trap. It’s like that old saying that “too much of a good thing is really a bad thing.” That’s kind of how I view success. Once you achieve the great internship, for example, you’ll want something more, and once you get that, you’ll want something even better. You’ll chase something that doesn’t really exist, instead of being content in where you are now in the present moment, with or without what you think will ultimately make you “successful.” I’ve learned that just because something might look good on your resume doesn’t mean that it will actually improve who you are as a person or will make you successful. Sometimes your biggest attraction can be your greatest distraction.

Lesson 3. Back to Basics

When I wanted to give up after my very unlucky week where I broke my camera, ruined two rolls of film, and failed at printing anything for the project I had to complete, I knew I had to retract, and remember why I even decided to do this in the first place. You can’t let failure be an option if you know that you’ve found something you love to do. We’ve put an incredible amount of pressure on ourselves to feel like we need to be “good” in order to get anywhere in life and to make an income. But what happened to doing things just because you like to do them?

Photography became a passion of mine, and I can’t just give up on a passion because of failure and frustration. I’ve learned to have patience. Besides, I had to go back to the basics and remember why I chose to drop out of nursing school and change my major to photojournalism. I made the cowardly decision of choosing paycheck over passion by going to nursing school. Luckily, I changed my major, and now I’m pursuing my passion over the paycheck. Money doesn’t matter, success doesn’t matter, but doing what I love and what makes me happy matters to me. It doesn’t matter if I fail a million times, doubt myself, or want to give up. If I remember who I am and am satisfied with my own work in photography, that is all that should be important.


When it comes to being a photographer, the lessons I’ve learned can go beyond just being behind a camera. I can apply what I’ve learned from being a photographer even in my day to day life. I know that I am going to continue to fail, but I have to remember to never lose myself and my dreams, and to never give up on a passion that I’ve come to love.