100 Things I've Learned about Photography in 10 Years, Part III


Note: this is the final post in my 3-part series titled "100 Things I've Learned about Photography in 10 Years". You can catch part 1 here and part 2 here.

I hope you've enjoyed this series. Today it's time for the epic conclusion :)

Here we go with the the final group of 40:

61. Keep a folder/journal of the times when work you’ve created for someone has truly made a difference. Maybe you created an image of a family member of theirs that has recently died. Or a special newborn shot. When that heartfelt appreciation comes in (and it’s noticeably different than regular appreciation), take note of it.

62. Remove the ‘sent from my iPhone’ or similar email signature from your mobile device. Leaving it shows people that you are available to read/reply every moment of the day.

63. Your word is everything among clients and colleagues. Treat it as such.

64. Creating your style may take a while. It took me from 2005-2009 to narrow my focus to what I liked. And I’m still refining parts of it with every shoot.

65. Play with a ring flash, and then try using it only for slight fill.

66. If you get into off camera lighting, you will find yourself preferring either speed lights or strobes. Try to use them both for different shoots. You’ll quickly learn the pros and cons of each. Eventually you’ll use both on the same shoot for some particular reason.

67. Research your commercial clients as much as possible. Knowing what they’ve got going on is a great conversation starter.

68. Keep an idea file of shoots you want to do. I use Evernote for this.

69. When you come across cool shots/poses, take a photo and then store it in Evernote. There you can use tags (for example “female, standing”), and always reference it later if you need quick ideas.

70. Experiment with all sorts of lights - strobes, flashlights, pen lights, fluorescent, etc.

71. Anytime a client suggests having drinks or a meal after a shoot, take them up on it. More relationship-building happens here than during the shoot, usually.

72. If you put a light on a stand, use a sandbag. Always. Trust me on this. If you travel for a shoot, consider purchasing 'water/sand bags' that you can fill up with water on location. That way you can fly with just the empty plastic bags.

73. If you have children, you still need to take the time to photograph them doing their thing, even though after a long shoot the last thing you want to see is a camera.

74. Wired tethered shooting has always worked better for me than wireless.

75. Pack snacks/bars/etc in your bag for every shoot.

50's diner

76. If your client has images from a prior shoot that they don't like, seek to understand why. This will give clues on how to approach your shoot with them and what to avoid.

77. Don't be a picture taker, but rather a problem solver. The former just pushes a button until the client is happy. The latter wants to understand the needs of their client before they even get to the photography part.

78. Every image can be critiqued on some level, so don't think that a critique is always correct. Over time, you will be able to judge your own photos. And you will worry less about what the professional 'critiquers' have to say.

79. Shoot for free if you are so inclined. I've done it before and have learned a lot from each of those shoots. Not every gain is monetary.

80. The value that you bring isn't just equal to the time you put in, so don't price yourself that way. My pricing is based on 10 years of experience, not the fact that I can do a shoot and be done in 2 hours.

81. Spend some of your time working with a charitable organization. For a few years I photographed for Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep (infant bereavement). Those sessions showed me the true power of photography.

82. If you must watermark, make it small and out of the way.

83. Selective/spot color went out a long time ago.

84. Avoid the cliched shooting locations (railroad tracks, I'm looking at you).

85. Music can be great to set the mode during a shoot. Streaming services like Spotify are great for this, as you can have all sorts of styles and genres at your fingertips (vs. purchasing a bunch of music).

86. Learn about Facebook dark posts.

87. Study up on Pinterest's promoted pins.

88. Consider using Periscope/IG Live/FB Live for BTS/Q&A streaming.

89. Respond to comments/questions on your blog and other social media channels, *especially* if you started the post with a question. It doesn't make you 'look cool' to not respond.

90. Keep a log of the time you spend on various projects. It will help you determine what to keep doing yourself, and what you can outsource. It will also help you provide better estimates for shoots.

91. If you have completely different 'lines' (for example, commercial photography and pet photography), consider splitting them into completely different websites. You will also end up marketing and promoting them both differently. I do this for (commercial work) and (holiday work).


92. Long-term relationships pay off. As I write this, I'm currently on a flight for a shoot that came about because I worked with a guy several years ago on a band shoot. That guy is now a Creative Director at an agency. Because of that long-ago shoot and my continual work, he suggested me for the shoot.

93. Don't listen to the naysayers scream about the death of photography. Families and businesses will always need images. It won't matter that iPhone 12 takes pictures as good as your Canon 5D Mark 3; what will matter is that you have years of experience and know what to photograph and what not to.

94. Figure out where your best 'idea spot' is. For me, it's the shower, hands-down. Lots of great ideas came from there (although so did high water bills).

95. Print your images. They do nothing if they just sit on a hard drive. I am still working on this.

96. If you are nervous about an upcoming shoot, it doesn't show that your weak - it actually shows that you care.

97. If you don't feel nervous about any of your projects, you probably aren't being pushed outside of your comfort zone. Find a project that will push you there. That's where all the growth is.

98. Be helpful to those coming up behind you. Never spoil their excitement for reaching a photography milestone that you completed several years ago. Share in their joy and excitement.

99. If you have a question about these tips (or anything else), email me at and I'll do my best to answer it.

100. Always remember that God has given you this special gift and it's up to you to use it to create wonderful works of art - enjoy the process!

What do you think?. Were there things that have worked for you that should be included? If so, leave a comment below. I'd love to hear about things you've learned!

Also, 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!


100 Things I've Learned about Photography in 10 Years, Part II


Note: this is the second in my 3-part series titled "100 Things I've Learned about Photography in 10 Years". You can catch part 1 here.

I hope you enjoyed part one of this multi-part post! Today I was having a conversation with a wedding-photographer friend about backups, which reminded me a lot about #16 from the last post. You can never have too many backups. Heck even this post has a couple backups. :)

Here we go with the the next group of 30:

31. Send a new client a gift after your first big shoot. I send cookies.

32. When you like one image over another, really study it to figure out why you like it. Then check out other people’s work to see if they made an image similar to yours that you don’t like. Did they make that pose work? Why? How?

33. Be professional and confident, but don’t be bossy or arrogant.

34. Find out when you can share the images online, and make sure your client is ok with you doing that.

35. Assistants ‘assist’ you, not ‘do all labor’ for you. Get in there and help them with setting up stands/etc. Good ideas can come about during that time.

36. Know when your idea isn’t working and move on. Don’t be afraid to say that it’s not working.

37. For your website, don’t have more than a few images from a particular shoot unless the images are incredibly different. You don’t want prospective clients looking at your site and thinking “there’s that girl again”.

38. Try to record as much behind the scenes footage on a shoot as possible. Even little snippets with an iPhone are great.

39. Come up with a personal series (or 2 or 3) to shoot. Creative Directors love to see that you are passionate about different subjects and will make a shoot happen just for yourself.


40. Editorial and music photos won’t pay a lot, but they are a great place to experiment and nail down your style.

41. Discover your favorite photographers and learn their style. Once you’ve figured it out and practiced it, combine it with another photographer’s style and see what you like of the results.

42. Nobody ever buys chicken dance photos from a wedding.

43. Figure out what you can outsource. For weddings, you can have someone else edit your whole shoot and produce the album. For commercial/compositing work, you can use a service like to cut a subject out from a background. I’ve used them for years and they do great work.

44. Build a ‘resource’ list in your address book or email client. Have a list of assistants, retouchers, stylists, etc ready to go.

45. Take photos of potential photo spots and build a location image library inside of Lightroom/etc. When someone says they want to shoot in front of a purple wall downtown, you’ll know right where to go to find it.

46. Build an email list. This should be your first priority over Facebook, Instagram, etc.

47.A lot of colored gel can scream ‘1980s’. A little bit of colored gel can add character/dimension.

48. If you want to use a smoke machine in a building on a shoot, make sure to turn off the smoke alarms first.

49. Experiment with all sorts of gear by renting it first at places like and

50. Look for ways to collaborate with other creatives on personal shoots. For example, you do the shoot and they do the retouching, or vice versa. This gives you both great images for your portfolios.

51. Take the time to create a great bio page. A video here is a plus.

52. Get BTS videos on YouTube. Or interview videos. Or any type of videos.

53. Experience the difference of having a makeup artist on a shoot with you.

54. If you are traveling with your gear as a carry-on, be sure to pack a small bag just in case your rolling bag is too big for the overhead or they are out of overhead space. That way you can put the most important pieces of gear into a small bag which you hold in your lap or under the seat in front of you while they check the roller.

55. Become part of a local photography group in your town, or start your own (as I did with It can be a general interest group, or something specific like a portrait or newborns group.

cat opening a cat door

56. Build up a referral network of other photographers in different styles, and pass work around if it’s outside of your skill set or interest.

57. If you have the opportunity, hit up a conference like WPPI, Photo Plus, Imaging USA, etc. You’ll learn a lot, establish some great relationships, and probably get a good deal on some gear.

58. Become a content empire (I’m still working on this one).

59. Find mentors. Mentors to help you with technique. Mentors to help with business. Mentors to help with being a good person.

60. When you make a promise, immediately think to yourself how you can over deliver on it.

The series epic conclusion is coming Tuesday, 6/23. However, 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!


100 Things I've Learned about Photography in 10 Years


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.


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!

Second Star To The Right


How To Shoot The Milky Way

We took a family trip to Sedona, Arizona last month. Of course, you might be thinking "why would you go to Arizona in the middle of the summer?" I thought the same thing. Actually, it wasn't too bad. Yes it was hot in the middle of the day. But it's a dry heat. We spent so much time having fun that the heat didn't really bother us.

There was so much to see there! The big draw is of course the red rocks. They are beautiful and grand in every possible way. The hiking was a ton of fun. You really felt like you accomplished something when you finished one. We also took some day trips to see Flagstaff, Meteor Crater, and more.


Out in Sedona it can get dark. Super dark. So dark that you can see the Milky Way galaxy with your puny little human eyes. With no moon visible during our trip, it was a perfect spot to catch some star shots. Although I was a little rusty on the specifics, a quick text to my friend Ben Sassani got me set up with taking some good photos.

I set up for a 30 second exposure with the lens focused to infinity (there’s a little dial on your lens which marks infinity, so flip the manual focus switch on the lens and then rotate the focus ring until it matches up with the infinity symbol). I set my 16-35 lens to f2.8. The last variable here is ISO, which I bounced around between 1600 and 3200. I also used a tripod, a remote shutter cable and turned on ‘mirror lock up’ on the camera. All of these help keep the camera super-still. 30 seconds was generally a good place to be. If you go much farther, your stars start to turn into star trails. If you shoot for less than 30 seconds, you won’t get a great exposure. I recommend you review each shot and zoom in as far as you can to see if the shot was in focus. I found that infinity focus can be a little fidgety if it’s not set at exactly the right point on the lens.

milky way galaxy image 1

This was a ‘cousins’ trip, and one night we were all sitting in an empty parking lot admiring the stars. My brother-in-law brought a pair of night vision goggles. If you’ve never tried on a pair of these on a dark night, I highly recommend it. You can see every star and even see satellites! They move across the sky at a good speed, and once you know what to look for you will see them everywhere.

I decided to take a shot of the family hanging out, watching stars. I left the camera settings the same and added in the light from my iPhone to light-paint everyone. This meant they had to stand pretty still while I hit them with the light. Since the exposure was 30 seconds, I had enough time to run over an light paint everyone. It made for a great shot. Normally, the light-leak from the city in the background would mess up a shot of the Milky Way, but in this case I like it because it helps define the mountain range in the background.

milky way galaxy image 2

This trip was a great reminder for me plan ahead and bring what I need to get some good shots. Sometimes, the last thing I want to do is pack camera equipment for a family trip because it’s hard to make time to shoot when you have family activities going on. This time, I’m glad I did!


APA Contest Winner / BlinkBid Giveaway

Wading Giraffes

I was excited to hear that my giraffe image picked up 2nd place in the Fine Art/Personal category of APA's 2013 photo contest! There were some great winners in the various categories, and you should check them all out here. While I don't really enter contests, I do enter and support ones from the big names like APA, PDN, etc. I love seeing the amazing work coming out of those contests.

One of the prizes for my category was a copy of the software BlinkBid. If you are not familiar with it, it's sort of the de facto tool for estimating commercial shoots. I use it for all of my estimates and it has support for almost anything you could imagine needing to include. Need to have a line item for striking a set? Do you shoot film and want to make sure to bill for developing your B&W 8x10? Blinkbid has you covered. The estimates you print out are great too - you can customize them to fit your studio's look.

Since I already use Blinkbid, I have this extra license sitting around. I asked the Blinkbid crew and they ok'ed me giving it away. So, let's do it! If you are interested in a chance to win the software (a $229 value), leave a comment below. I'll randomly pick a winner on Monday, November 18th using some sort of fancy web-based random number generator thingy.

Wading Giraffes

I've had this image in my head for a while now. I'm not sure where it started, but I remember that I photographed the ocean in Hawaii last year. Once I had the idea, I started collecting giraffe images where I saw them. Some of the giraffes here are from Disney's Animal Kingdom, and some are from the San Diego Zoo (which, to me, feels a lot bigger than Animal Kingdom). This was a fun personal project I came up with, and I might do more animal shots like this in the future.

Wading Giraffes