Top 5 Photographic Regrets and How to Avoid Them

Posted on June 15, 2011

I recently read the sobering article by Bonnie Ware, Regrets of the Dying. Bonnie, who spent a lot of time with dying patients, noticed some recurring themes in their regrets. She compiled a list of the top 5 regrets that people had.

After reading Bonnie’s article, I started thinking about how this list applied to my life. Not only on a personal level as a father, husband and son, but also how it might apply to me as a photographer. If this can help me improve elements in my personal life, how can this help me improve elements in my photography?

It brought me to this question: If I was on my deathbed right now, what would be my 5 biggest photographic regrets?

5. I wish I hadn’t focused on gear so much
I’m a huge gearhead. I keep my Amazon and B&H wishlists stocked with items that I hope to one day own. I’m always enthralled hearing and reading about what camera or lens another photographer is using, or what brand of lighting equipment they have. It sometimes gets to the point where I’m spending more time looking at gear than actually out using the gear that I already have.

I can’t say that gear isn’t important. But what is more important is your actual practice. Your vision. Your experience. Your creative mind and your technical mind working together to get the desired result. Cameras are just tools. Lenses are just tools. Don’t get so wrapped up in that hot new flash modifier that it interferes with your ability to create your art.

4. I wish I hadn’t compared myself to others so much
The internet gives us great access to others with similar interests, and the photography community is no exception. There are a lot of incredible photographers out there taking amazing shots. It’s hard not to compare yourself and your work to what others have done.

This type of thinking is rarely productive; it can leave you intimidated and frustrated, and worst of all it can impede you from doing more work. Everyone has a different form of expression and style. Look to others for inspiration and motivation, and then use that to boost your own work.

3. I wish I had seized more opportunities when they happened
I’ve passed by interesting people on the street. I’ve seen amazing sunsets. I’ve seen beautiful scenery. In many cases such as these, I wanted to take the opportunity to make a photo. But I put it off. I was too busy or too distracted with something else at the time so I just let it go and convinced myself I’d get the shot the next time it happens. But there is no next time. I don’t see those exact same people, or the exact same sunsets, and the scenery is never exactly as it was the one time I saw it perfectly.

Seize the opportunities when they happen. They will be gone later. And unless you are extremely lucky you won’t get them back.

2. I wish I had spent more time refining my own style instead of emulating others
When I was first getting started in photography, I spent a lot of time mimicking others; from their subject matter, composition, lighting style, and so on. And while this may be important when learning new techniques and processes, it’s more important to work on developing your own style and expressing your own vision.

I agree with the belief that the people in our lives have a profound effect on us and help make us who we are. I think this is also true with art. The art you see and study helps you define your own style and the art that you create. If you see a style or technique that you like, study it. Figure out how they did it. Master the technique, then try to figure out how, or even if, this fits into your own style. Then move on.

1. I wish I had the guts to try doing photography full time
This is something I’ve struggled with for quite a while. I don’t have a very entrepreneurial spirit. I’m not sure I could grow a photography business to sustain a steady income, especially in a very saturated industry. I count myself very fortunate to have a job that I enjoy that offers security for me and my family. Being a father of 2 adds even more weight to this.

While it would be irrational for me to leave my day job to pursue photography full time, I do think that would be my biggest photographic regret if I was dying right now. It’s a tough step to take, especially when you have mouths to feed other than your own. Of all the regrets on the top 5 list, this one is the hardest to overcome. I can’t offer any advice on this one, but would love to hear from others who have taken this step or are considering taking it.

How about you?
How does this compare to your top 5 regrets?