The Ten Commandments of Photography

The Ten Commandments of Photography

By “commandments,” I simply mean photography truths that have worked for me. Everyone has photography truths to believe in, but here are my 10.

Thou shalt not work for free.

Work-for-free “opportunities” are unfortunately easy to come by: a friend of a friend, a worthy institution, a nice project without a budget. Somebody or some fine cause will always appreciate your working for many thanks and no dollars.

Two problems here: Working for free sends the message that your work is worth nothing. And you’ll inevitably keep seeing more of those no-pay jobs and having more trouble earning the living you need and deserve. That's not even accounting for the damage you're doing to the photography community as a whole by devaluing our line of work.

Thou shalt always be prepared and professional.

Most of us have had a preparedness slip-up at one point or another. Hey, we're artists, not brain surgeons. But if you care about your business and craft, the first time you show up to a shoot with uncharged batteries or a low memory card should be the last time you make that mistake.

Showing up late is another blunder that we should all strive to avoid. Is there heavy traffic at rush hour where you live? Make no room for excuses; instead, leave extra time to get to the shoot.

Remember to create backups and save often.

Every time you shoot onto a single memory card, you're taking a gamble. If your camera body offers dual card shooting, it's smart to always use the second slot for shooting simultaneous copies.

Murphy's law states: “If anything can go wrong, it will." Gear is no exclusion from potential disaster. Photographing on dual card slots creates a safety net in the event of card failure. In a recent pool from a relatively small group of 4,344 photographers, 47 percent of them had experienced memory card corruption or failure in the past.

Hard drive backups are also essential. A savvy photo teacher of mine told everyone to back up their backups. While that may seem excessive, an extra layer of safety can be a good precaution.

While making backup hard drives is wise, having them all in the same place isn't ideal. If your home falls victim to a natural disaster or burglary, you're likely to lose it all anyway. To guard against these possibilities, this teacher of mine also stored a master backup hard drive in a safety deposit box.

Thou shalt not bash other photographers in a non-constructive manner.

One way all of us photographers improve our work and advance our careers is learning from others by critique. The most abundant and available photography critiques come in the online form. And due to the impersonal anonymity of the internet, this feedback can seem unreasonably harsh. Even worse, you might not think to verify the credibility of a stranger on a message board or comment section and wind up taking poor advice.

We all know that art is subjective, and criticism isn’t always thoughtful or helpful. Sometimes, it’s just disparaging and nasty. You’ve probably experienced that type of criticism yourself, learning nothing but how sour your stomach feels. So, keep that experience in mind the next time you offer critique to a fellow photographer. Will it improve your colleague’s work and perspective? That’s a positive. Bashing is negative.

a bronze sculpture of the three evils monkeys

Image by Bru-no via Pixabayq

Thou shalt develop thick skin, that thy faith refuseth whining.

Professional photographers deal with a gamut of difficulties on a regular basis; rejection, criticism, and unsteady income, to name just a few.

What’s the key to becoming a better photographer despite the unavoidable challenging jobs and tough criticism? The term is “thick skin,” and the idea is that you can take one on the chin and keep standing. This involves listening and observing carefully, without being overly sensitive to adversity. Keeping a sense of optimism and willingness to improve is essential to survival.

Thou shalt not fall into the "gear trap."

If your gear is in serious disrepair or, say, you desperately need at least one fast lens to be able to shoot indoors, an investment in equipment can be warranted. But "shiny object syndrome" is an ever-present pressure, as manufacturers constantly release new equipment with more bells and whistles.

If you understand how your equipment works and you're able to produce good results with it, no need to take out a second mortgage for a newer model camera. And unless you're making the enormous jump from crop sensor to full frame, your images won't come out that much better anyway.

Instead, focus on your education and learn new techniques for shooting and processing. That's where true improvements come from, not impulse purchases.

Thou shalt not over-rely on filters.

Where there are some fantastic pre-made presets and even filters out there to choose from, it’s sometimes easy to rely on a heavy filter to cover up a boring image.

Leave gaudy processing to the Instagram users, and instead, create your own subtle presets. Playing with sliders and effects in post-processing will teach you more about editing.

Thou shalt not be overconfident.

This commandment is easy to recall, because so often, overconfidence comes back to bite us. Is work falling in your lap? Have your last ten shoots been a piece of cake? Watch out. That’s the trap of overconfidence.

Take nothing for granted. If you’re confident in your high standards and commitment, but don't take the next shoot or client for granted, you’ll be fine.

Thou shalt not be rude or intrusive, but humble and polite.

On the phone or in person, politeness and good listening skills are always crucial to our professional success. That’s especially true in fast-paced assignments, when you might be pressured to shortcut communication or etiquette.

Celebrities tend to have a negative view of photographers because of constant harassment from paparazzi. Let's try not to expand that distaste for our profession outside of the realm of stars.

On this note, be mindful when photographing children in a public space or at an event. While you might mean no harm and the minor may indeed be doing something adorable, they aren't able to give the level of informed consent that an adult can. If you want to photograph them, introduce yourself to their parents or guardians, asking permission first before snapping away.

Thou shalt never stop learning.

The technology keeps evolving. The marketplace keeps changing. We do our best to stay on top of it all by continuing to learn. A background of confidence is great, but stay humble and anxious to learn about the ground ahead of you.

Your own additions to this list are welcome in the comment section below.

Lead image by Shawshank61 via Pixabay.

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13 Comments

Tony Clark's picture

Good words to live by.

user-220409's picture

"Thou shalt never stop learning" ... Best commandment !!!

Rifki Syahputra's picture

thou shalt not be easy to clienth

Scott Mason's picture

I think I know what you're getting at Rifiki, but can you please elaborate?

user-156929's picture

Thou shalt reset all your camera's settings to your defaults at the end of each session.

Rod Kestel's picture

I'll pay those...except....please forgive me, for I am a sinner. A journo asked me to do some pics for a story and being alert to First Commandment - Forever Free, I said 'pay me', even a nominal sum.

But no, like a bunny I did it for free. Free as in Freelance. And in so doing, undermined my own future pay as well as every other hard working photog out there.

I'm sorry. Maybe somebody will suggest suitable (reasonable) penance.

imagecolorado's picture

I don't know that I'd agree with categorizing these thoughts as commandments. To me, it seems more like "rules of thumb" that may be relevant to certain situations. Not that I disagree with them as "rules of thumb" but they really only cover a small segment of what "photography" is about. Take camera collectors for example. People collect vintage and a wide variety of photographic equipment and that falls into the realm of photography. I work alone most of the time, so all the guidance on how to behave around others is a little inane from that perspective. Working for free, well that's a personal choice now isn't it? There are ways to work for free and make money at it. To command people to work only for money is, well, it's not going to happen. The thing on filters, well that looks like something that was thrown in there as filler. What exactly is over-relying on filters?

How about Thou Shalt Not Expect Other Photographers To Do What You Want Them To Do?

Nice try, but ultimately not compelling enough to be useful.

Tim Behuniak's picture

Love it, Scott! Great article and good points to keep in mind.

Evan Kane's picture

Great read Scott :D

Amen brother! Here are a few of mine:
Thou shalt carry extra SD cards.
Thou shalt format cards after each download.
Thou shalt carry spare batteries.
Thou shalt make a list, check it often.

If thou considereset thyself to be a real wildlife photographer, thou shalt respect the wildlife by not flushing it out, not baiting it, not taking shots of nests and nestlings, not sharing locations where babies are with other photographers, not using flash on owls or waking them, not getting too close (use long lenses), not using recordings to draw animals out of hiding, and treading lightly in their range (it is their home), and not going into locations where the public isn't allowed (a camera is not a passport)

Scott Mason's picture

It makes me sad that people are treating wildlife like this. I hope you can spread this message.

Tom Marvel's picture

"Don't touch the model"