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 doggettstudios.com (commercial work) and austinchristmascards.com (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 eric@doggettstudios.com 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 ColorExpertsBD.com 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 lensrentals.com and rentglass.com.

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 austinphotogs.com). 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!

A few days with the Fuji X-Pro1

About a week ago, I decided to rent the brand-new Fuji X-Pro 1 for a few days. It was on a whim; I had not played with a Fuji X100 before, and so I didn't know really what to expect. My professional cameras to this point have been the Canon 5d and 5d mark 2, plus a stint with a 20d several years ago. Photographers have talked about the retro feel of the body, and there's no denying it. It has a definite Leica sensibility. Large, metal dials on top of a tank-grade metal body. APS-C sized sensor. About 18 megapixels. Having not spent a lot of time with either Leicas or retro-ish cameras (before they were considered retro), the feel of the X-Pro 1 was new to me. But I quickly got used to it as the benefit of a smaller-than-a-5d-body mentality kicked in.

One of the biggest benefits of the X-Pro 1 (other than its new, interchangeable lens mount), is its hybrid viewfinder. When you are looking through it, you can either see a LCD version of your scene (the EVF, or electronic viewfinder), or an optical version with some informational overlays (the OVF, or, wait for it, optical viewfinder). They both have good and bad points. The EVF mode definitely shows more information, but it seemed more difficult to focus for me. In low light, however, it excels. The OVF is interesting because you are not seeing directly what the lens sees - you are looking through a viewfinder that's a little bit off axis. So, you have to learn to adjust for that (but it wasn't that difficult).

Both viewfinder modes suffer from some sort of polarization issue. Meaning, when I use the camera with my polarized sunglasses on, I can't see either the EVF or the information overlays in the OVF. I'm sure there's a fancy name for this issue. It goes away when you rotate your camera vertically, but I thought it was weird to have this issue in a camera that has a rubber protection piece specifically for eyeglasses. All you 'togs that sport those self-shading glasses may want to take note.

And let's talk about that focus. Zack Arias originally thought this camera would be his DSLR killer. It's not, at least not completely. Overall, the image quality is awesome and I could see using it as an additional camera for a lot of jobs. Just not any involving motion, because the focus is too slow. One way around this I found is to pre-focus on an area and wait for the moving subject to pass through. With enough light and a tight-enough aperture, I was able to get some good results. In fact, the X-Pro 1 beats my 5d2 in fps by at least a full frame. But there were several times I thought I had achieved focus, only to discover later that I was way off:

Over the few days that I had the camera, I got better and learned to give the camera the time it needs. I even brought it along on a portrait session:

Manual focus is near impossible in a motion shoot, as it's a focus-by-wire system. Turning the focus wheel doesn't actually rotate the lens elements. The super-smart Fuji computer does that, just slowly. This might be something fixed in a future firmware update.

The built-in picture style modes are cool - I found myself shooting black and white and film simulation images in-camera a lot. You can also have the camera record multiple simulations at the same time (say, a RAW and a black and white.) Those are fun. Speaking of RAW, I couldn't test that as there was no RAW support for the files in PS or Lightroom, and you can't download the Fuji software from their site (update: a recent Adobe update has appeared to fix this.)

So, after 4 days with it, I was sad to see it go. It does have a personality to it that you immediately feel when you hold it. It's hard to describe. You find yourself wanting to make the camera work despite all of its idiosyncrasies. It has charm. Or it's dope. Or tight. Or whatever you kids want to call it. It's the camera I would take on a trip when I want great quality without the size of my 5d. Quiet and not intimidating.

Here are some samples, processed with VSCO via LR 4 (thanks a lot, Ben).

Pin the Tail on the TOS

I've been watching the Pinterest saga for a few weeks now. Although I have an account, I haven't used it yet (although I find it interesting that people have somehow found me there). As is the case with many social networks, the issue here are the terms of service that you agree to when you use Pinterest. Depending on your position (and your area of photographic expertise), you are either unbothered by these terms or you find them ridiculous. First, here are the terms as posted here (emphasis mine):

By making available any Member Content through the Site, Application or Services, you hereby grant to Cold Brew Labs a worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, royalty-free license, with the right to sublicense, to use, copy, adapt, modify, distribute, license, sell, transfer, publicly display, publicly perform, transmit, stream, broadcast, access, view, and otherwise exploit such Member Content only on, through or by means of the Site, Application or Services. Cold Brew Labs does not claim any ownership rights in any such Member Content and nothing in these Terms will be deemed to restrict any rights that you may have to use and exploit any such Member Content.

You acknowledge and agree that you are solely responsible for all Member Content that you make available through the Site, Application and Services. Accordingly, you represent and warrant that: (i) you either are the sole and exclusive owner of all Member Content that you make available through the Site, Application and Services or you have all rights, licenses, consents and releases that are necessary to grant to Cold Brew Labs the rights in such Member Content, as contemplated under these Terms; and (ii) neither the Member Content nor your posting, uploading, publication, submission or transmittal of the Member Content or Cold Brew Labs’ use of the Member Content (or any portion thereof) on, through or by means of the Site, Application and the Services will infringe, misappropriate or violate a third party’s patent, copyright, trademark, trade secret, moral rights or other proprietary or intellectual property rights, or rights of publicity or privacy, or result in the violation of any applicable law or regulation.

Right off the bat, it's obvious this is generic CYA legal speak: when in doubt, claim everything and you're covered. And looking at the terms, it looks like they've claimed just about anything they can (except for ownership, which is relegated to near-junk-bond status after the pilfering of rights listed above). As listed, they can do pretty much whatever they want with the content you have. At first glance - who cares? If I'm posting a product link to B&H, I don't care about this part. Where I do care, however, is with my content. My images are mine, and I don't like such grandiose rights claims about them, especially on a site that won't work without users submitting their content. Even more ridiculous is the second paragraph above, where they assert that you must either have the ownership to the content you post, or have secured the rights to post it. Who has such rights to all of the content on the internet? Of course, no one. Your interests are varied, and you want to share them. You're not a 'collector of rights.'

In this way, Pinterest's TOS are at odds with its own reason for being: if you can't share what you don't own, you can't pin, and if you can't pin, Pinterest has no content. It's like signing up for a 5k race and then being told by the organizers that you need to get the proper permits from the city to have a race. No one would show up.

Some photographers (Trey Ratcliff, notably) argue that you should stop complaining and embrace the wave of the future. This being the wave of giving away your work for free, hoping that exposure to the world (consisting mostly of, surprise, other photographers) leads to being hired by 'other' people (the ones that actually hire photographers)). Trey is an awesome, successful photographer, but he's also an edge case. You cannot start a photo business today by self-funding shoots, giving those away for free, hoping for someone to hire or license them. It's not a business plan.

Indeed, some photographers have begun to question their use of Pinterest, even removing their images entirely. Others (some wedding photographers, for example) have openly embraced Pinterest because it is good at driving traffic and getting your work in front of the public. This is why I said that it depends on the type of photographer you are. Family/couple-related imagery usually has no lasting commercial value, because (at least on the wedding side) most photographers license those images to the clients to do with as they please. There's nothing to stop someone (nor should there be) from pinning their favorite image from their wedding.

What's been missing so far in this is a response from larger commercial companies. Should the legal team of a large company be concerned that Pinterest claims an open-ended license of their assets? Maybe, maybe not. On the one hand, what would Pinterest do with them? I thought of this for a while. What if they put together a harmless television ad, showing a collage of content submitted by users? Do you think the Pinterest legal team might make some effort to license, say, this pinned image before featuring it in an ad? You bet they would.

Pinterest eventually will have to clarify their TOS (last updated March, 2011). We saw the same thing with iBooks Author when it was released. Pinterest can be a very powerful platform, with a lot of *trusted* engagement, if they do.

In the meantime, I'll keep my account there open, with nothing pinned. Well, except for this article.

The irony of pinning this post, with accompanying Pinterest logo, is not lost on me. According to their TOS, I must own their logo.


TWiP Interview

It's been about a month since the last post. In some many ways, the holiday season is my busiest time. In addition to my commercial/editorial work, I pick up a fair bit of Christmas card work as well. I'm looking forward to wrapping things up over this week so I can get to some Christmas shopping and baked-goods gluttony.

In the meantime, I had the great fortune to do an interview with Frederick Van Johnson of This Week In Photo. It's my hands-down favorite podcast and, to borrow a phrase from co-host Alex Lindsay, 'you should definitely check it out'.

You can find the entire interview here. We talk about my work prior to photography (including a stint at the Pentagon, web design, and a little film music scoring too).

I hope your holidays are off to a great start!