12 Lies About Professional Photography You Probably Believe

It's probably not your fault, the tsunami of bad information is wildly powerful.

Don Giannatti
Full Frame
7 min readMay 30, 2024

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Briana on the edge of Marble Canyon, Arizona. Photo by the author.

I wanted to hit the wall with my head to make it stop. A photographer who I once passably admired was going off on how they were all into AI now and no one should even consider being a photographer because there is no work, no one wants to pay, and, well, AI was going to be doing all the work now.

Bullshit.

Not even close, dude.

On other channels, I see “photographers” hawing their lighting or posing courses where they show you one way to shoot a beer, and there ya have it. You just need their $40,000 worth of Broncolor gear and then it's off to the big show, man.

More BS.

This is just an extension of the same ol’ stuff I have heard for my entire 50+ career in photography.

Doom, meet gloom. You guys should hang out and be a bastion of negativity to bring every aspiring creative to their knees in tears.

Stop it.

Look, being a professional photographer is hard. There is fun hard, like building your portfolio, and there’s sucky hard, like building your list. Anyone who tells you different is either lying to you or trying to sell you something.

But hard is good. The competition lessens the harder you work.

My mantra of “3 contacts per day” puts you at the 90+ percentile of photographers who are reaching out. So few do, that you are already winning if you simply do that. It takes concerted effort.

Some of it delightful and fun.

Some of it drudgery and boring AF.

But that is the part they don’t tell you when they are wanting to take your money for those presets that will make you a million dollars.

Sorry. A million dollars is probably out of your reach as a working commercial photographer. But you can make a decent and good living at it if you stop believing the lies and just face forward.

Here are a dozen lies I hear all the time. Some are more pernicious than others, but all of them are terrible and can lead you astray if you believe them.

1. “It’s the Camera, Baby”

Lie: The more expensive your camera, the better your photos.

Truth: There are a great many photographers doing very well with older model cameras. From D750s to 1DSMkIIIs, there is no need for the newest and best for most commercial gigs. Of course there are times when 130 fps can save your bacon, but not if you’re actually shooting, well, bacon. It is necessary in some specialty arenas of the profession, but 9 times out of 10, a solid 5–10 year old camera can do very well.

2. “Anyone Can Do It”

Lie: Anyone with a camera can be a commercial photographer.

Truth: Commercial photography requires a deep understanding of lighting, composition, client needs, and marketing. It’s an art and a science that takes years to master, not something you can pick up overnight. I would say about a year of preparation, and starting as a generalist is the best way to go the first year or so. Getting as many jobs as you can in your first year will prepare you for creating a portfolio that will be more specialized. You should mature into the business after 3–5 years.

3. “Photoshop Fixes Everything”

Lie: Any mistake can be fixed in post-production.

Truth: Photoshop is powerful, of course, but it can’t save a poorly executed shoot. Good lighting and proper setup are crucial. Relying too much on post-production can lead to unnatural and unprofessional results. Your clients will see the difference when you do most of the work in camera. That is super important while building a business based on authentic talent.

4. “It’s a Glamorous Job”

Lie: Commercial photography is all about traveling to exotic locations and shooting glamorous models.

Truth: Most commercial photographers spend their days in studios or at various mundane locations, often working long hours to get the perfect shot of something many people would find uninteresting. It’s more hard work than glamour. Ever have to shoot garage door openers, and make them look exciting?

5. “Every Assignment Is Creative and Exciting”

Lie: Each assignment is a new and exciting creative adventure.

Truth: Many commercial shoots involve repetitive tasks, like photographing hundreds of similar products. Creativity is important, but consistency and precision are often the keys to success. One of my buds had a very lucrative job photographing 5000+ record album covers front and back. Another friend photographed the installation of windows into an office park. Creative? Not necessarily, but it was a challenge, and it paid exceptionally well.

6. “It’s Easy Money”

Lie: Commercial photography is a quick way to make a lot of money.

Truth: Building a successful commercial photography business takes time, persistence, and substantial investment. Competition is fierce, and clients often have high expectations and tight budgets. Starting smart, building inertia into your marketing and promo materials can ease it a long, but it is NOT easy, and it is NOT fast. It’s work.

7. “Social Media Followers Equal Success”

Lie: Having a large social media following guarantees commercial success.

Truth: While social media can help build your brand, it doesn’t necessarily translate to paying clients. A strong portfolio, excellent client relationships, and a good reputation are far more critical. Three of the biggest photographers in my town are rarely, if ever, on social media. While it may be of some value to some clients, for the most part, it is an ancillary part of marketing, not the end all be all.

8. “One Great Shot Is Enough”

Lie: You only need one great photo to impress clients.

Truth: Clients need a series of consistent, high-quality images for their campaigns. In order to build trust and credibility, you must show a couple of dozen great shots (32–42). One great shot might get you noticed, but consistency and reliability keep you in business. This is true in every genre of photography I know. Building your ook is building your trust

9. “Pros Can Just ‘Wing It’”

Lie: You can show up to a shoot without preparation and still nail it, because ‘pro’ or something.

Truth: Successful commercial shoots require meticulous planning, from understanding the client’s brief to setting up the right equipment and props. Winging it often leads to missed opportunities and dissatisfied clients. More disasters have been wrought by being unprepared in this business than I can recount. KNOWING what the client needs, and knowing how to deliver it is paramount to ongoing success.

10. “All You Need is a Rep”

Lie: Don’t worry about getting a gig, just get a good representative and they will do all the heavy lifting for you.

Truth: When you are just starting, reps don’t need you. You are untested, wild, unprepared for all the shit about to come your way on a big gig. When you have all that work and experience beneath your wings, you may not need them. It is a challenging situation, to get a rep. Most photographers think reps are waiting with bated breath to bring the next hot shooter to market. No, they are trying to pay their mortgage and car payments.

11. “I Can Do This On My Own”

Lie: Photography is a simple business that I can learn from YouTube and Facebook.

Truth: No it isn’t. The amount of BS that is online would amaze you if you knew the business well. It is vital to have a mentor, a peer group, and a community of like-minded artists to learn from and bounce ideas off of. This business changes fast, and making mistakes can be costly, Find a professional or two and make them your friends. But beware of jealousy, envy, and snarkiness… you do not have time in your world for that nonsense.

12. “AI Is Destroying Photography”

Lie: There is no reason to become a photographer now with AI making all the images.

Truth: AI is a long way from replacing anyone in the creative work of photography. Will it have some penetration? Yes, it already has, but not to the extent that the fear-mongering techbros want you to think. They are telling you to give up because they have, and this is no lie, a financial motive for you doing so. But the world isn’t going to simply accept that mechanical, soulless crap as easily as they expect. If you make authentic, heartfelt, technically outstanding, and engaging photographs, your work will be needed and it will be acknowledged.

So there you have it. My dozen pernicious lies that can lead you down the wrong path in this business.

No matter how well you make coffee on YouTube.

This photo of me is by Carol Rioux: light-painted in Calgary, BC.

Hi, I’m Don Giannatti, a photographer and mentor for up-and-coming photographers. You can find me on my website, Don Giannatti, and at my Substack site, where I also publish for creative people. All subscribers to my Substack have access to a free, long-form workshop on the business of commercial and professional photography.

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Don Giannatti
Full Frame

Designer. Photographer. Author. Entrepreneur: Loving life at 100MPH. I love designing, making photographs and writing.