I’ve been making photographs since I was a teenager. I’ve learned lots about this process in that time. I decided to isolate 20 of the things I learned and share them with you all in the hopes that someone out there could be helped by this list. Before I get to the list I should give credit where credit is due. I learned most of this from an old photojournalist name Jack Russell. He was never famous. He never won any awards or gave talks at national photo conventions or wrote best-selling photo blogs or received any real recognition for his lifetime devotion to photography. He just did his job quietly and with confidence. He didn’t care about awards. He did however have a very cute daughter who he loved and who I dated in high school so he took pity on me and showed me a thing or two about cameras and photography. He’s long gone now, but I want to honor what he shared with me by sharing it with you.
In no particular order…
1. Know your subject better than you know yourself. Your photos will sing if you can do that.
2. Background – background – background. Pay close attention to the background. Keep it simple. Make sure there are no background distractions. Make the subject the star of the photo not the background.
3. Get closer. Then get closer still. You need to be close enough to your subject to feel their heartbeat and close enough so they can feel yours.
4. When you are new at photography, spend significant time looking at the work of master photographers. Looking at good pictures will make you a good photographer.
5. Know your camera inside and out. Know every feature and button so that when the defining moment occurs, you won’t be wondering how to catch it.
6. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Practice is important. Results aren’t – at least until you can talk someone into paying you for your work.
7. Remember that the camera looks both ways. If you’re having a bad day and your subject recognizes that – expect to see that bad day reflected on their faces.
8. Pay more attention to your own smile when you’re photographing than the smile on your subject’s face.
9. Don’t waste one second of your photographic career trying to figure out if you are better or worse at photography than anyone else. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t help and it won’t make you better at photography.
10. Spend more time thinking about composition and light than you spend thinking about getting paid or recognized.
11. Spend time looking at light. Understand it. Look for it. Recognize it. Worship it. Nothing beats good light – ever.
12. Know your audience. If you’re photographing for publication, know who reads the publication. If you’re shooting for fine art, know what the collectors like. The audience is important.
13. Always know what the pictures is about before you press the shutter. Know and articulate for yourself, who or what the subject of the photograph is and then work from there.
14. When in doubt, leave it out. Good photography is as much about what you do not include in the photograph as what you do include in the photograph.
15. Build your portfolio one picture at a time. Try to make one really solid, evocative picture. Then start working on the next one.
16. Make a photograph every single day. No matter what. Handle your camera daily. Become comfortable and familiar with it. Treat it as an extension of your body. Handle it often.
17. If the photograph is worth making as a horizontal shot, it’s also worth making as a vertical shot. Always shoot both. You never know if the editor (even if that’s you) may want choices.
18. Don’t try to please everyone with your photography. You’ll never succeed and at best the images you make will be mediocre.
19. Don’t be seduced into thinking that next piece of glass or that new camera body will turn you into a photographer. It won’t. It’s the photographer who makes the image. It’s the camera that records it.
20. It’s better to think of photography as an opportunity to make photographs not just take photographs.
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