A business day derailed by urgent but unimportant tasks


A business day derailed by urgent but unimportant tasks

Lessons from talented wildlife photographer, Mike Dexter


Mike Dexter is a respected wildlife photographer who spends a good chunk of his professional time leading private photographic safaris in some of the planet’s most magnificent natural environments. Mike and I both graduated from Rhodes University in 2008 and walked the corridors of the Rhodes School of Journalism together. It’s been amazing to watch Mike’s photography business flourish in a tough and competitive industry.

all images copyright Mike Dexter Photography

Mistakes are the greatest teachers. Which royal f*%k up has taught you the most valuable business lesson and what did you learn?

I was once driving from Cape Town to Mpumalanga for a shoot for a prestigious new client. It’s a long drive so I’d planned to overnight in Joburg. Half way to Joburg the client contacted me asking what time they could expect me to arrive…that afternoon! In a mad scramble I scoured through emails only to confirm my worst fear, I had my dates wrong and was going to be a full day late. Shooting from the hip I spun a delicate tale, buying myself a little time. By leaving Joburg in the wee hours of the next morning I was able to only miss a morning of shooting and shifted my plans to make up for that on the last day. What did I learn? To check, double check and triple check the logistics of a shoot well before hand and that if I stuff up it’s my responsibility to do whatever it takes, no matter the cost, to set it right.

Which of your weaknesses is your biggest challenge in business and how do you overcome it?

I have to pick ONE? I’d say it’s probably a degree of paralysing performance anxiety born from holding unrealistically high expectations. I’m reluctant to even attempt something if I don’t think I can carry it out to the very highest standard and when pushed into something that I believe is beyond my skillset I get tense and stressed, not a conducive state of mind for creativity. I’m learning to manage and overcome this by allowing myself a bit of slack, acknowledging the inevitability of having to do things beyond my comfort zone and interpreting these situations as opportunities for learning and improvement and that I have brought them upon myself.

What perceptions have you had to work hard at changing in your industry?

The proliferation of royalty free images online has created a culture where photographs have, for some, lost their perceived value and as a result I’ve had a number of potential clients who have simply not appreciated the monetary value of the services of a professional photographer. It’s difficult to convince someone that you offer good value for money when their starting point is that your product should essentially be free. What frustrates me most is companies with generous advertising budgets approaching aspiring photographers with the offer of ‘exposure’ as a form of payment.

Was there a time when you had to turn down an opportunity - even though it seemed amazing - because it didn't fit with your business vision?

Actually quite the opposite. I’ve jumped at an opportunity that I should have turned down. Last year I did a shoot for a client who then went on to ask if I’d consider doing their new brochure. I knew it would be challenging but had a quiet spell coming up so thought, ‘why not?’. What a mistake. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing and 3 months later was still grappling with a project which I had thought would take a couple of weeks. The client was happy with the end result and I had learned a great deal but at the expense of a hell of a lot of stress and time that could have been spent far more productively.

What are the things you avoid that you know can completely derail your business day?

Getting up late. Getting less than 6 hrs sleep. Getting stuck on urgent but unimportant tasks.

Find and follow Mike:

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Claire Keet