100 Things I've Learned about Photography in 10 Years

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Note: Part II is posted here. It's taken me 10 years to write this post. Well, not exactly. More like a few weeks. But it comes from a decade of experience.

10 years ago this month, my son Brandon was born. That was the month that I started learning photography. I didn't go to photography school or anything like that. I just had a voracious appetite for all things related to photography. I read books, watched videos, and took tons of images.

Just getting to that starting point was a big deal. My wife had given me a film camera somewhere around 2001, and I gave up on it because I couldn't understand what was happening and how I could improve. The birth of my son and the purchase of a Canon 20d changed all of that. Now I could see every improvement (and mistake) I was making. A path forward became much more clear. Every shoot brought about the tiniest of improvements.

baby

Not that I didn't suck as all get-out initially ---> :)

Since those first bad images I've gone on to shoot weddings, families, seniors, newborns, magazine covers, headshots, advertising images, and more. I've had to weave through all of those styles and subjects to define my style and approach. As with all creative pursuits, you have to put in the time to figure out what you like - what is fulfilling.

And what you define as 'fulfilling' one year can be less-interesting the next. It's always-evolving. It's a process I've gone through for 10 years, and one that I anticipate will continue for the next 10.

So here, over 3 parts, are the 100 most-important things I've learned about photography. I tried to include technical, creative, and client-relationship tips. And I'm sure I've left some out that I would include had I written this post a year ago or a year from now.

Here we go with the first batch of 30!

1. Often the simpler ideas are better.

2. Don’t just shoot what you’ve set up - walk all the way around it, shooting above and below it.

3. Have backups for your backups.

4. Shoot for the end product - not everything needs to be photographed in the highest RAW setting.

5. Clients like regular updates while you are doing the post work on their images.

6. Learn to sketch, even if just a little. It can really help sell a photo idea.

7. Don’t be afraid of lens flare - just be sure to photograph the same angles without flare.

8. Tethering can show you what’s in or out of focus much better than the back of your camera.

9. Don’t keep shooting the exact same angle over and over until you think of the next angle to shoot. Clients don’t need 20 shots of the same pose.

10. If possible, scout locations ahead of time and write/sketch out your ideas. This applies to commercial work as well as weddings.

Will staney

11. Knock the safe stuff out of the way first before the fun/exciting stuff. This way you can get the trust of your subject/client first.

12. Remember that it gets tiring for a subject to hold a pose/position for too long. Give them rest breaks while you check images/discuss plans.

13. Always capture as much as possible in-camera. Trying to create lighting in Photoshop is hard and often fake-looking.

14. When shooting for magazines, remember to back up and give space for text around your image.

15. Let the shoot requirements (number of images needed, available time, etc) inform your lighting/gear decisions.

16. Employ 3-2-1 backups (3 copies, 2 locations, 1 of which is offsite).

17. A phone call to follow up after you sent a potential client some info can be a good thing. Just hearing your voice means you are a real person and not just an email reply. And the same is true for hearing their voice.

18. If you want to get into celebrity photography, check out this post by my friend Doug Sonders. And then practice nailing a shoot within 1-5 minutes.

19. Don’t be afraid to ask others at your shoot for their thoughts/input. I’ve lucked out with a ton of great ideas this way.

20. Try to bring an assistant to every shoot if possible (definitely for commercial/editorial work). It gets you into a team mindset much more quickly.

rob thomas

21. You will get hungry and thirsty after an hour or two. Plan for it. Never be embarrassed to need to eat.

22. At the shoot, always remember who is your client and who’s not your client. Try to help the latter when they have questions/suggestions, but remember you are always responsible to the former.

23. If you have any interest at all in compositing, collect your own images, starting with clouds. Those are what you usually always replace first in an outdoor scene.

24. Tag your image collection, but don’t go overboard with it. For example, “clouds” is fine. “clouds, puffy, white, midday, wispy” is overboard.

25. Only tag what you might need later. It makes no sense to tag 500 wedding dance images as “dancing” if you wouldn’t use them later on for some other client or project. Otherwise tag only your favorites from that event.

26. Experiment with the slightest amount of fill, both on and off axis. Just enough light to help define the subject.

27.  Keep yourself educated with the ‘top 3’ photography education resources I can think of: Chase Jarvis’ CreativeLive, Scott Kelby’s KelbyOne, and Jeremy Cowart’s SeeUniversity.

28. Someone once said that photography is 10% shooting and 90% moving furniture. This is true.

29. Show your subject how to sit/stand/etc. - don’t just tell them.

30. If you love an image, ‘compliment’ it to your subject. Let them know why you like it, even comparing it against images you’ve already shot of them. If they know what makes them look good, they will repeat it.

Note: Part II is posted here. If you'd like the whole list as a downloadable PDF (along with my other PDF titled "How To Shoot For A Magazine" and my Art Wall Photoshop templates), just sign up for the mailing list and you'll get it right away!