You miss 100% of the shots you never take and why opportunity only calls when you have paint in your hair.

Above: My ducks finally lined up! Bali. Photographed using the canon 5DMK111, ISO 100 F 5.6 @ 1/100th sec using the 24-105mm lens @ 105mm.

When I was starting out as a photographer, I had a night job working as a cook in an Italian restaurant.

One night a regular customer, Jonathan, who was an Art Director at an advertising agency, asked me if I would be interested in shooting some products for him. His regular guy was away, and Jonathan knew I was an emerging photographer and wanted to give me an opportunity.

“It’s a simple pack shot, seven soft drink bottles on a white background. You’ve shot this sort of stuff before right?”

At the time my experience was limited to shooting actors’ headshots and models’ portfolios, and I worked mostly with daylight because I found flash a little bit too stressful.

The answer in my head was “actually, Jonathan, I’ve never photographed a single product shot, and I am completely clueless.”

My reply was:

“Sure thing, I’d love to, when do you need the shots back?”

The next day I picked up the products and headed back to my studio – and by “studio” I mean my lounge room. I then spent the next three days trying to figure out how to photograph soft drink bottles.

That was 25 years ago, before digital, and before you could YouTube “how to shoot soft drink bottles in 5 easy steps.”

My soft drink baptism of fire took three days, dozens of rolls of film, and several jars of Nutella (it helps with stress relief). There were a few occasions where I wanted to give up, call Jonathan and confess that I was a complete and utter fraud, but I didn’t. I pushed through and finally at the 11th hour I got the shot. It ended up costing me more than $150 in film and processing (the same as the fee I was receiving), but I delivered a final product. The shot wasn’t going to win me Soft Drink Photographer of the Year, but it was good enough. Jonathan was happy and from that moment on he started to send me more work.

It would have been much cheaper, easier and less time consuming for me to play safe with Jonathan and tell him I wasn’t ready to shoot soft drink bottles. I took a risk, and it may have gone to caca but if I spent my life worrying about everything that might go wrong or every reason I might fail, I would probably still be cooking pasta in an Italian restaurant.

To be honest, I haven’t been 100% “ready” for any of the opportunities that came my way. I don’t believe you can ever be ready for your first time. You just have to jump in and have faith that you will be able to figure it out as you go.

I photographed my first flash on camera PR event with a cheat sheet in my back pocket in case I messed up my camera settings.

I used a similar technique when I shot my first celebrity portrait. I had tested my lights on a styrofoam dummy (named Wayne).

Was I ready? Heck no! I was nervous; my heart was beating at a million miles an hour, and I thought I was going to pass out, but I said yes.

In an ideal world, opportunity will knock at 11am on a Wednesday when your camera batteries are charged; you’ve had a great night sleep, and there is a full tank of petrol in the car. The reality is opportunity has a wicked sense of humour and will wait until the most inconvenient moment to pay you a visit.

I once got a call from opportunity in the middle of moving and renovating studios. I had been working 16 hour days – shooting by day, painting the walls of my new studio by night.

Opportunity rang and said “I’ve got this fantastic gig for you shooting one of the most glamorous events in the world.” I was standing there with paint in my hair, delirious from lack of sleep. My inner monologue was saying “NO WAY!” but my answer was “Yes, when do you need me to start?”

I’m pretty sure I still had paint in my hair when I turned up to the event, but that little “yes” turned into a lucrative gig that lasted for 12 years.

One of my favourite quotes on this subject is by the writer Napoleon Hill:

“Do not wait: the time will never be ‘just right.’ Start where you stand, and work whatever tools you may have at your command and better tools will be found as you go along.”

So next time opportunity knocks, calls or sends a text, and you have paint in your hair and doubt in your mind, say yes anyway.

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About Gina

Gina Milicia is one of the most widely known and respected photographers in Australia. She is the master of capturing that ‘magical moment’... READ MORE