5 Great Pieces of Photography Advice I Have Received

5 Great Pieces of Photography Advice I Have Received

I have been fortunate enough to be on the receiving end of some great advice over the years. In this article, I go over the five bits that have resonated the most with me and that I think of on every shoot.

If Other Photographers Like it, You Have Gone Too Far

Never ask photographers for feedback on your photography. As photographers, we look at the images in a technical way, in a way that no other viewer will ever see them — the blown-out highlights, chromatic aberration, color fringing, and if the image is perfectly sharp. In reality, no one else cares about these things. What they want to see is a great image, not a technically perfect photograph. If you are becoming a big hit with photographers, but not the public, you may have delved too far down the rabbit hole of technical perfection. There is a reason why some genres and styles of photography only exist on photography sites.

Make Sure the Food Looks Good; Nothing Else Matters

I am a food photographer, so this makes sense to me. If you are not a food photographer, just change the subject, and I am pretty sure it will still hold true. This advice was given to me by Howard Shooter. He was kind enough to spend a lot of time over the phone with me when I was trying to work out if I wanted to be a food photographer or stick to the portraits that I had been working on in previous years. The best bit of advice that he gave me is also the simplest. Make sure the food looks good. There isn’t a great deal more to it. An elaborate setup is wasted on bad-looking food. It’s far better to have a good stylist than a good camera. I think as technically minded photographers that we often lose sight of this.

Remember, You Are the Only Person in The Room Who Can Solve the Problem

When the client is breathing down your neck and everything seems to be going wrong, the stress and pressure can come over you like a wave. I have often had clients stating problems with images and realized that I could not instantly fix them. At these times, it's important to remember that you are the only person in the room who will eventually be able to fix it and that they know nothing of the magnitude of the task in front of you. Take your time and work it out; no one else can. It is reassuring to know that although the clients are asking for the moon, they have no idea how to get there, but you will be able to work it out. I often remind myself of this when I am in a tight spot.

Shoot to Mitigate

Early on in my career, I had a really technical and large-scale production to shoot. I was in well out of my depth. But my friend reminded me that as long as I shot backplates, kept focus in place, and had my camera on a good tripod that we could do a lot in post. He advised me to shoot to mitigate any issues that might arise later on. Whenever something looks a bit tricky or if I am unsure on what a client has signed off on the day, I will make sure that I shoot additional shots and back plates to cover myself when they look at the images again in a few days time.

Only You Care About The Gear

My partner has a background in working for ad agencies. When I was starting out shooting with bigger agencies and bigger brand names in the advertisement world, I started to get really paranoid about my Bowens lights and 35mm Canon cameras. Were they good enough? Was the bit depth enough for the food? Would the optics render a nice enough image? All of these questions and more. It turns out, I was the only person worrying about this. I have since shot worldwide campaigns on everything from a Canon 5D Mark II with a speedlight and a $5 umbrella through to Broncolor packs and Phase One backs. As long as you can execute the creative brief, no one cares what kit you use to do it.

What is the best advice that you have received?

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17 Comments

Daniel Medley's picture

"Never ask photographers for feedback on your photography."

Beyond the most basic starting out technical stuff, I think this is spot on. Almost always, critique from other photographers is nearly useless. When someone puts up a photo asking for input from other photographers the silliness really ensues; nice photo but you have a just a touch too much dead space on the left side of the photo. Oh, no, you've cropped the tips of the fingers off--or toes, or feet, etc., you should never do that. Or, the gradations in the background seem a little off to me. Your DOF is too shallow, only one eye is in focus--the ears are not in focus, the leading limb, foot, hand is not in focus.

It's amazing to me how common tropes have somehow gained huge traction in photographic circles that are just silly.

Dan Bozza's picture

Ultimately, who are you shooting for? Another photographer? Probably not. A paying client? Are they happy with the images? Great! Shooting for yourself? Are you happy with the images? Great! That's not to say other photographers can't help improve your work, but so often I see it devolve into minutiae that at the end of the day, only photographers care about.

Patrick Rosenbalm's picture

It's not much different than playing music in some respects. If you are playing in an orchestra you better know how to sight read music and play it perfect as expected. Playing in a cover band is a different story. You better play songs your target audience knows and it doesn't have to be note for note perfect. Like shooting for photographers, you are not playing for other musicians.

Most venues are more concerned with how much business a band can bring them for the cheapest price as opposed as to how technically proficient they are. A good established band can certainly get more money and gigs than newbies. A bad reputation like being hard to deal with and poor punctuality will hold you back. Not much different than photography in some respects.

Harold Crossman's picture

I agree to a certain point. I'll ask experienced photographers for technical, but not aesthetic criticism, when I don't like a technical aspect...and take it with a grain of salt. I've had "Needs Work" photos rated on this site thrill my customers.

Robert Nurse's picture

"If Other Photographers Like it, You Have Gone Too Far"

I wonder about this a lot. Whenever I take photographs, I tend to have dual loyalties. I try to add a sense of artistic value and technical perfection that most viewers will just never see or appreciate. Only another photographer will appreciate what it took to pull it off. Often, I'll look at images of mine that my friends and family swoon over but all I can think is how much better it could have been and why.

"Only You Care About The Gear"

I just recall advice I've gotten time and time again: buy gear that makes things more convenient for you and consistent. I keep this in mind always. I know it won't make be a better "seer". But, cool gear sure is fun!

Indy Thomas's picture

"Beauty is in the eye of the checkbook holder"- Monte Zucker

When I first started out I was very defensive about my "vision" and the look of a shoot. I was pained to discover that my clients mostly had a clear-ish idea of what the final product was going to look like and the let me know in no uncertain terms.

While I feel that my job is to bring experience and creativity to a job, I am old enough now to realize that my job is to do all that and deliver what the client though he/she was paying for.

Patrick Rosenbalm's picture

Good article Scott. Appropriately titled too!!!

Dana Goldstein's picture

Best advice I ever got came from a consultant I worked with a few years ago. Grab a bunch of magazines, pull out every image that you would have killed to have shot, then start marking them all up, like literally with a sharpie. Describe everything you can about the image, then put all those images together and find the commonalities -- what type of lighting, processing, lens choice, mood are you attracted to again and again? That's the style you want you work to have. Now go out and figure out how to make that happen.

Catherine Bowlene's picture

Umm... I wouldn't be so sure about the first advice. It very much depends on your skills and if you want to get better it is RIGHT to ask for some advice from the technical point of view. Or you may ask to recommend some software for the editing. Like I worked with LG for quite some time but it was way too slow for me and my friend who is also a photographer told me about another one (by the way, does anybody know something similar to this image editor for pc- https://photo-works.net/‌ ?). But in general I agree that the advice from another photographer is useless, since everyone has their own style and something else just wouldn't seem right and the critique won't be objective.

Daniel Medley's picture

It seems your point is different than the author's. His point is, "Never ask photographers for feedback on your photography."

Catherine Bowlene's picture

But it depends on what your asking the feedback for! Sometimes you just need to hear some opinions to polish your skills. How do you learn if you never consult the person who has been into it for some time?

Daniel Medley's picture

I gather you're talking about technical feedback, whereas the author--and me--is talking about stylistic/artistic feedback. If you put up a photo on a forum and ask for feedback, you're going to get a bunch of different opinions, most of which are going to be complete nonsense.

The technical side is different. That's something which, in my opinion, can have merit with regards to the input of others; how do I reduce grain? why is one part blurry? etc. That sort of thing.

At the end of the day, again in my opinion, artistic and style opinions of other photographers is pretty useless.

Timothy Roper's picture

Basically, it comes down to being clear about what kind of feedback you're looking for. Lighting, posing, styling...what? Figure that out, and then go to people you think are good at the specific aspects. Just asking for general opinions is what ends up being useless. For example, I had another photographer ask me for an opinion about a portrait he did. He had used a hair light, which I can't stand, and I told him so (in a nice way). There was really nothing more I could say, and I knew that the second I saw it. I wasn't the right person to be looking at such a photo. Same goes for a lot of different styles and techniques.

Catherine Bowlene's picture

Oh, I see. Yep, it all is about being clear about what you ask the advice for.

Kareem Quow's picture

Really accurate, realistic perspective Scott..this article definitely reassured me on some of my own ideas and introduce me to some new ones that I will immediately make use of. thanks again for the content.

Harold Crossman's picture

The best advice I ever received was, "Learn how to use your camera well enough so you don't have to think about using your camera when shooting."

Bradley Occhipinti's picture

Best advice I ever got was: don't be a creator and a critic. Just focus on creating the best you can and move on to keep creating.