Does experience count?

As someone who has been in the commercial photography industry for over 20 years, I have been asked many times if experience really counts. It’s a question that I’ve asked myself many times throughout my career.

When I was younger, I was more naive and didn’t fully understand the industry. Back then, I may have taken on jobs that were well within my abilities, but without the practical experience to fully execute them as a business professional.

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The image above was for a construction company entering their design into an award. As an emerging photographer I accepted the job using standard terms and conditions stating the images “can’t be used until payment in full”. Creatively the results were great and the client loved the images. However the awards were six months away so they chose to pay me after they were submitted, half a year later. Lesson learnt!

This was before the internet so there were no resources like YouTube or Google to help me learn. Fortunately, I had access to experienced lecturers and technical officers at university who helped guide me. Decades later I became that person who photography students would come to for advice and equipment.

I realised that my naivety had helped me in some ways, as it allowed me to take more risks creatively and technically. Sometimes, these risks paid off and produced incredible results. However, there was always the risk if it didn’t pay off that the job would have to be reshot. For the image below common sense and OH&S said not to look directly into the laser. Through an electronic viewfinder I was safe. However I didn’t realise the camera sensor was at risk of serious damage.

Before taking any risky shots, I make sure that we have some safe images that the client will be happy with. If there isn’t time for safe shots, then my experience gives me the confidence to know how far I can push the boundaries to get the shot that the client needs.

Now with more experience under my belt, I approach things differently. I’m more risk averse, especially when it comes to business outcomes. The brief for the image below was to create executive portraits for an annual report with some motion in the image. I knew I had to make dozens of images more than usual, with various degrees of blur, to ensure the client had a good selection of portraits.

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Experience does count in the commercial photography industry. It allows you to learn from your mistakes and successes, and helps you navigate the industry with more confidence. However naivety can also be beneficial in some ways, as it allows you to take risks and push boundaries. It’s all about finding the right balance between the two.