Exactly 1 year ago, at Way Up North in Rome, we were enchanted, humored and moved by Citlalli Rico’s speech on Common Mistakes Photographers usually make throughout their career. She shared examples and advice with the 300-400 creatives sitting in a small and magical Italian theatre in the heart of Rome. We laughed, nodded our heads while relating to some of the stories and found ourselves energized, inspired and full of determination after her talk. Having spoked to tens of clients and photographers this year, we soon realized that Citlalli’s speech needs to be heard by a lot more people within the photography community (especially those who are just at the beginning of their creative journey, still trying to figure out how things work inside this industry). So here it goes:
Citlalli, we got so inspired by your speech last April. Tells us a bit about yourself first!
I am so glad you liked that talk, it’s one of my favorites so far. I wanted to bring up the whole concept of failing, not just making mistakes. And say that it is OK to fail!
When we were little, we were taught that we are not supposed to make mistakes. As we grow up, we need to change this mindset, because in order to succeed we need to fail. It’s kind of part of the message I wanted to transmit through that talk.
So, I am Citlalli Rico, I’ve been a photographer for 11 years already. I’m from Mexico City, and have been living in Cancun for over 20 years now. I work with my sister, Tamara, she is my second shooter, and most of the weddings we shoot are destination weddings.
What’s your favorite thing about being a photographer?
Well, it shifts, it’s always changing, at the beginning it was very exciting to look at weddings and see people so in love, but after 300 weddings I kind of got sick of shooting on the beach all the time and having the same locations (hotels, venues). My life changed, and I started seeing weddings in a different way. The wedding wasn’t just a couple getting married anymore, it was more like a tiny place where I could witness all these different situations and family relationships. It was like a little insight into that family’s story, how they speak and interact with each other. I was passed all the technical stuff and composition, and I was more into “hey let’s go for moments and context!”. And that’s what still drives us now. We obviously keep doing everything else – the details, the portraits, everything. But it’s a different level now, and it’s so exciting, because it’s more intimate, more insightful, and more meaningful.
Anything you don’t really like about photography?
One of the things I really don’t enjoy is all the social media. I’m not a big fan of having to post all the time, keeping up a blog – I really suck at that, I am really bad. So whenever I get a chance to do it, I’ll do it, but it’s not like I’m a big expert on it and I don’t have a posting schedule. I should, but I don’t. I think that’s the part I don’t like, the rest is kind of ok.
I am not a business person, I’ve been learning, trying to get better at it, but I know I am on the creative side and I wish I didn’t have to deal with all that stuff. But sometimes we have to. No choice.
Now let’s get to the most common mistakes photographers make. Did the list changed since last year?
I keep collecting stories about mistakes made by photographers. I enjoy doing that because I truly believe we don’t have to experience things in order to learn. We can just learn about them and try to prevent them.
All of the mistakes ended up being in the same 4 categories. I started with:
The first category has to do with equipment – when you forget things, when something breaks (like you camera), when you drop a lens, when you forget to charge batteries, etc. All that stuff is very simple to solve it in 2 ways:
One wat to prevent it is to have a checklist. You can’t trust your memory, and I don’t think it’s a bad thing. You just need to have a list of all the things that you’ll need on that day, so you don’t forget anything. Use that same list before leaving home, to make sure you have everything with you.
The other one is inevitable. Sometimes during a shooting things break, stop working, and you have to rely either on your second shooter’s equipment or have a network of photographers from that area, even when you’re traveling abroad. Just make sure you contact a local photographer before your trip, and in case something happens you can reach out to them for help. That’s basically what the 1st category is about – equipment failing.
The second one is related to customer service. Many mistakes happen when we assume things, when we keep complaining. We have to change our mindset when we’re going into a wedding and have no expectations for it. Stop making assumptions or creating stories in your mind where you think they don’t like you or you already don’t like them. You just have to go in there and shoot and love the hell out of them, it doesn’t matter who they are, what they do. You’re are already there, and in order to create better images for someone you have to love them, no matter what. Even if you don’t like them, you have to find a way to love them. A lot of photographers would make that mistake – we would walk into a scene and think we already have it all figured out, because we are so cocky in a way. We just have to put down all our walls.
The third category is related to safety. Safety is crazy. For example, lots of photographers had issues with rings. There were many cases of stained or ripped wedding wedding gowns because the photographer wanted to get a super creative photo before the ceremony. Some even put the bride and groom at risk because they want to get an epic portrait. Those kind of things are very scary. Aside from your clients, it’s also important to take care of yourself. Lots of times we’re just walking backwards and we are not paying attention to what’s happening behind us. Be careful not to trip, fall and hurt yourself or your equipment.
You hear those stories and sometimes you can laugh, but then you relate to them and it’s not funny anymore. People fall into ponds, rivera or fountains with their cameras. Not only it makes you feel stupid, but you can also ruin the photos and your equipment. Having a second person there to help you is very important, not just because of the equipment, they can warn you if you’re about to trip or fall and prevent these “fails”. Every time we’re doing portraits, Tamara (my sister) is doing a mini scouting in the area to make sure the ground is clear, so there is no danger to our couple or us. So if we ask our clients to climb a rock, make sure it’s safe to do so.
Small routines like that can help you prevent disastrous situations on a wedding day. Accidents happen but it can be your fault when it was your idea. So do a proper check before.
And the last category is about content, and how sometimes the images you create are not up to your clients expectations. This has a lot to do with educating your clients, as well as your focus during a photoshoot. When you’ve been photographing for a few years already, you know that there’s a list of photos that you have to get – the dress, the venue, the decor details, the kiss during the ceremony, etc. it’s easy to miss out on the most important thing – not just how it looks, but how it feels. It’s not only about the pretty decor, it’s about the story and moments from a wedding.
At the end of each year I ask my couples which were their favorite photos, and 70% of the times they choose the little, quiet moments that we didn’t even think they’d like from the whole collection. Sometimes we’re capturing the in-between moments without realizing how important they are. This is why we have to be alert for those subtle situations, and be there instead of worrying how the flowers look on the table. I mean, those are important too, because they’ve probably spent a lot of money or time creating them, but take only a few shots, then get back to discovering the relationship of your couple, how they feel on the day, and how can you project those feelings in your photos. That will make the difference for you and your clients.
These are great tips! I’m wondering, have you always worked with your sister?
My first year I was on my own, and then my sister started working with me around 10 years ago. At the beginning I used to just kind of shoot weddings with a checklist. Like getting certain photos like “bride walking down the aisle” “photos of the guests” “putting rings on”, etc. But then I realized that it wasn’t real photography, I mean it is but it’s not what I wanted to achieve. So my sister started working with me and I realized how important is to have someone there with you. We have each others’ back, a better coverage and different points of view. It’s super important.
When you start working with somebody else, do you usually agree on the style, so all images are similar?
In this case, because we’ve been working so long together, our styles look a lot alike. But she has her own vision, sometimes she comes up with photos that I wish I had taken, like “oh my god I wish I could see that way”. So it is great, really complementing what we are doing. Other times we have guest photographers, that have nothing to do with our own style – and it’s amazing and refreshing to see how they see that same venue you’ve been shooting at for 100 times already. I think it’s inspiring and very helpful, so I always grab the opportunity to shoot with someone new, when it’s possible.
Any last advice for those who are just starting their business or struggling?
Well after all this time, one of the biggest advice that I have and I hope people will start doing without having to wait 9 – 10 years like me is – when you really don’t enjoy doing something or you have a hard time doing it, learn to delegate. It is so important to have someone that helps you. I love post processing, it is one of my favorite parts but I was struggling so much with deadlines, I was many times behind because of all the traveling. That really stressed me out. I got to the point when I felt I couldn’t do it anymore. And it’s actually Tamara, my sister the one who is post processing everything now, and we’ve been doing it for almost 2 years. It literally changed my life. I know that everyone says “oh no, I have to do my own post process, I can’t give that up, it’s my thing, and I know how I want the photos to look like”. I used to say the same for 8 or 9 years. When she started doing this, it took a little bit of time to make sure that the photos look the way we wanted, but it’s totally worth it. Your time is sooo precious. So now I retouch some of the photos, because I really enjoy it. But not all of them. Now I have time, and I have a life. If budget is a problem, you can get an intern. Have someone from college or high school that is willing to learn. That would be my biggest advice, after these happy 2 years. So if your photography business has a couple of years already, its growing and you want it to grow more – delegate!
You will be happier, I promise!
Gear: I’ve always been a Nikon shooter, I still have the D700, I can’t get rid of it even though Nikon is not making it anymore. I just love the sensor, the colors. But I realize it is an old camera. I also have the D750 but this is a backup. We shoot with 35, 50, 28, 105mm lenses. Most of the pictures we take are with 35, very little with 105, just for details and sometimes ceremonies. And the 50 is more for portraits.
Favorite presets: We don’t use any presets. We little adjustments on exposure, contrast and highlights, we don’t do any heavy retouch, just a natural, colorful and timeless look.
Favorite music: It could be anything. I’m a visual person, so I do need to have some noise in the background while I’m editing, but more like a TV show. Even if I am not paying full attention I need to listen to and watch it (smiles).
Favorite quote or life motto: If you cry because the sun has gone out of your life, your tears will prevent you from seeing the stars.
Hope you enjoyed and took some mental or physical notes from this interview with Citlalli Rico. We’re excited to be attending Way Up North in Rome again, next week. If any of you are there, and want to connect – let us know on Facebook or Instagram. We’re excited to meet you!