51 Things I Know About Photography


I was certain that today was the day. It was going to be my 50th post for DIY Photography. To prepare, I’d been putting together bits of advice, lessons learned, and general observations about photography and life. It was when I decided to go back and re-read all of my earlier posts, though, that I realized the numbers were off– I’d lost track of the dates.  As it turns out, this is actually post #51. My milestone had come and gone. My initial thought was to simply trash the post and move on, but a milestone is a milestone, even if it’s a day late. So, instead of 50 observations, I offer 51– the 51st from a rather unlikely source. There is no particular order. There is no ranking. While they are all a matter of personal opinion, I think there’s a little something here for everyone. I hope that at least one or two of these are as helpful to you as they have been to me.

1.         On time is late.  Always get there early.

2.         Treat every job/assignment as if it’s your biggest ever. Your client will. So should you.

3.         Knowledge and creativity trump fancy gear. Every time.

4.         Brides have an intelligence network rivaling the CIA. If you piss one off, they’ll ALL know about it.

5.         Same goes for art directors.

6.         Think about more than just the shoot when location scouting.  Bathrooms and bars are important, too.

7.         Gaffers tape will save your ass more times than you can count.

8.         Preparation is key. Charge what needs charging.  Clean was needs cleaning.

9.         Set reasonable goals.

10.       Invest in a good tripod.

11.       Be part of a community.

12.       Don’t compare yourself to anyone else.

13.       Don’t be afraid of making mistakes.  Embrace them.

14.       Seek out honest critique– even if it’s harsh. Learn how to take it. You’ll grow.

15.       Compose more, shoot less.

16.       Let others influence you, but don’t copy them.

17.       Learn classic lighting and posing. Even if you never use them.

18.       Learn how to clean your own sensor.

19.       Becoming a good photographer takes time.  Lots and lots of time.

20.       It’s okay to leave the camera at home once in a while.

21.       Keep at least one backup of your entire catalog off-site.

22.       Sometimes the better shot is behind you.

23.       Check all four corners of the frame before you press the button.

24.       Get dirty every once in a while.

25.       Be good to the crew.

26.       Read the manual. Then read it again

27.       Own and use at least one film camera.

28.       Save everything.  Your opinions will change over time.

29.       Your LCD can’t be trusted.

30.       Have a professional photo editor help with your portfolio.

31.       Calibrate your monitor.

32.       Ignore the haters.

33.       Listen to the ideas that won’t go away.

34.       Avoid gimmicks– in shooting and in editing.

35.       Always pack a snack.

36.       It’s okay to break the rules…but make sure you learn them first.

37.       Keep a journal.

38.       Spend less time looking at other people’s work and more time shooting your own.

39.       Never shoot outside at noon if you can avoid it.

40.       Only show your best work.

41.      Respect the gear. Take care of it, but don’t baby it.

42.       A good photo speaks for itself. So does  a bad one.

43.       Prints make great gifts.

44.       Learn how to read a histogram.

45.       A bad photo is a bad photo– Photoshop won’t change that.

46.       Natural light may be the best light, but you still need to learn flash and strobes.

47.       More than three minutes on an image in Photoshop is almost always way too long.

48.       Update your website.

49.       Chimp less.

50.       Find the light and make it your own.

51.       “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” — Wayne Gretzky

Like I said– these are all things that have worked for me. I am sure your own list will look very different from mine. Feel free to share some of your own words of wisdom in the comments. We learn best by sharing.

  • Katsukuni Tanaka

    I”m a bit confused on number 47, what kind of photo editing are you talking about here? Because I usually take more than 3 minutes on a single photo.

    • Jeffrey Guyer

      I’m talking about whatever processing/editing is needed for a photo to go from the camera to the client. I already spend way too much time in front of a computer screen. Getting it as close to correct as possible in the camera means less time chained to my desk. I think getting it right in the camera is something we should all be shooting for.

    • http://photography.dustingrau.com Dustin Grau

      I think it’s also a reference to #45. Basically, if you shoot an event with 1,000 photos and spend 3 minutes on each to get a good shot from it, you’re gonna be editing for a while. Be harsh, edit hard, and move on to the next. If you find a gem, polish it after the lesser have been culled; otherwise learn what you did wrong to require the 3min+ edit and correct it in-camera next time.

      • Jeffrey Guyer

        Good point, Dustin.

  • https://www.facebook.com/tac.coluccio Tac A Coluccio

    I love this. I can relate to so many of them!

    • Jeffrey Guyer

      Thanks! I’m glad I hit the mark.

  • nick

    13 applies to 8!

  • http://www.beleslinfoto.hu Milivoj Mike Beleslin

    Can you please elaborate on no. 27 & 37?

    • http://photography.dustingrau.com Dustin Grau

      I believe those go hand-in-hand, as I’ve tried that before. I had inherited an old film camera, but the meter was a bit off. I had used my dSLR’s meter to get a ballpark exposure, but mostly I knew I’d be adjusting things “blind”. I loaded up a roll of film and went out shooting, but I tried to keep a journal of my exposure for each frame I shot, so that when I got the film back I could figure out what did/didn’t work out well. Think of these 2 items as learning to track analog EXIF data :)

    • Jeffrey Guyer

      27- I believe that shooting film regularly– or even just once in a while– is a great way to improve our photography. Knowing you have a limited number of frames helps you slow down and make every shot count. I find it to be a great tool for learning to assess exposure.

      37- I think a journal is a great way to keep track of ideas and projects you want to try in the future, but it’s also helpful for keeping track of details without having to dig through metadata later. I also use it to sketch lighting setups.

  • Dustin Grau

    I have to say this list is probably the most concise compilation I’ve seen in a while, and all of it 100% truth.

    • Jeffrey Guyer


  • http://dangerismymiddlename.com Paul Danger Kile

    15, 47, and 49 require experience; by that I mean that they have an inverse relationship to a persons experience level, and a beginner may need to break them. I do realize that this is your list, and you are not a beginner, but some other writers actually disparage people for doing these.

    • Jeffrey Guyer

      No disparaging here, Paul. Everyone will approach this differently.

      • http://dangerismymiddlename.com Paul Danger Kile

        I didn’t mean to imply that was the case, by saying that it wasn’t. I only mention it, because it is very common other places. I read everything that you write here. This is one of best sites out there. :-)

        • Jeffrey Guyer

          You didn’t imply it. I was just agreeing with you.

    • Ahmet

      In my opinion a beginner shouldn’t use PS at all. (OK, as little as possible) It’s more important to learn photography than fixing in post. And it’s just too easy to do it in post. It’s a bit like shooting film.

      • http://dangerismymiddlename.com Paul Danger Kile

        I don’t use it to fix things. If a photo needs to be fixed then it gets deleted instead (#45).

        I use it in place of the darkroom. All of my shots are RAW, to use JPEG would be like waiting for prints to be processed; someone else has made those darkroom decisions for me.

        As an analogy: Ansel Adams was a master of getting it right in camera, but he didn’t stop there; he also required the mastery of the darkroom to have enough control to make the pictures he visualized.

        • Vegard Fjalestad Pedersen

          I don’t think they should use PS the first half year perhaps, but after that I’d say lightroom would be okay. It gives a better understanding of light, at least it did for me. It wasn’t before I invested in lightroom I started to think about blown out highligts and such!

        • Ahmet

          Yep, I guess you are not a beginner. On the other hand where is the line between fixing and enhancing? If someone learns to make awesome images in jpg, will have no problem later. But you can’t learn the easy way, there is only the hard way.

          To compare a real beginner and Ansel Adams…

  • Andrea Tani

    I’m printing this, and I don’t print text very often.
    This is a very, very, very good list. I can relate so much…

    • Jeffrey Guyer

      Thanks, Andrea! Happy to help.

  • John C

    20 is almost the opposite of me, I need to carry my camera more, and shoot more in general. I have spent a lot of time reading theory and such, I need to leave the camera home less. (I am making progress on that)

    • Jeffrey Guyer

      It’s a balancing act, John. I agree completely that reading an entire library of books doesn’t do as much as actually getting out and shooting…a lot. But don’t let the camera get in the way of actually enjoying life. Be IN the photos once in a while.

  • John C

    But I must say I love this article. I think I’ll pick a few to focus on and print those up and keep them handy. Then add to the list as I improve.

    • Jeffrey Guyer

      That’s great, John. Keep us posted on your progress.

  • https://www.facebook.com/dan.sulla Dan Sulla

    Nice list pretty much dead on.

    • Jeffrey Guyer

      Thanks, Dan.

  • Axel Esteban

    I can share a kind of rule or saying we have here in Argentina. Is “the five enemies of sound and audiovisuals workers”
    1- Kids.
    2- Drunks.
    3- Rain.
    4- Dust
    5- Insecurity

  • http://wilcfry.com/ Wil Fry

    Nice. I’ll be honest; when I saw the headline, I didn’t think I would agree with as many of these as I do… But I do agree with so many of them, and several only learned the hard way (#10, #23, #40, #51).

    Trying hard to nitpick, I won’t buy/shoot film, but I occasionally pretend I have a film-style limit: I will arbitrarily set a number like 12 or 24, set my camera to NOT display the image I’ve just shot (or turn the LCD around, which is a cool feature of the 60D, etc.), and pretend I’m shooting film. Such limits force me to compose more carefully, expose more carefully, etc.

    Bookmarked this! :-)

    • Jeffrey Guyer

      Thanks, Wil. It’s not nitpicking at all. I often do something like that with my students, covering their LCDs with gaffer’s tape and only allowing 24 sequential frames. I check the file numbers to make sure there’s no deleting.

      Thanks for joining the conversation.

      • http://wilcfry.com/ Wil Fry

        Loved this, in case I wasn’t clear. :-)

        And I’m fortunate I never had to deal with #4. :-)

  • Ebz

    Absolutely awesome…39…49…Could you elaborate please??? I’m a developing photographer I do it because I love it so I have a lot to learn…

    • Jeffrey Guyer


      39- The sun at high noon is particularly harsh and difficult to control It casts nasty shadows on the face and is just a real pain in the ass. If you absolutely must shoot portraits in this kind of light, you’re really going to have to master controlling the light with scrims and diffusion panels.

      49- Chimping is what we call it when a photographer checks their LCD after every single shot, regardless of whether they’ve dialed in any changes or not to their exposure. Learning to trust your knowledge of exposure is vital.

      • Phil

        Fantastic list Jeff!! Gonna print it out and store in my camera bag. I also noticed 39 and tied it immediately to #36 :)

        • Jeffrey Guyer

          Thanks, Phil!

  • https://www.facebook.com/ania.urban.315 Anna Urban

    Love this – especially nr. 47 “More than three minutes on an image in Photoshop is almost always way too long.” 😀

    • Jeffrey Guyer

      Thanks, Anna. I’m glad you found something here that spoke to you.

      • Vegard Fjalestad Pedersen

        I disagree, that depends on what kind of photography you do. I do a lot of portraits, and i spend at least 10 minutes on each and every one. You don’t have to do it, but I like to spend some time in Photoshop to make it “pop”. Lighting does most of the work, but it looks event better to my eye after being properly and thoroughly edited.

        • Jeffrey Guyer

          There is certainly no “right” or “wrong” approach. Portraits make up probably 85% of my photography. I can usually crop, boost the contrast, smooth the skin, and sharpen the eyes in about three minutes. Anything more than that makes it more about the processing and less about the subject. Just an opinion.

          • Vegard Fjalestad Pedersen

            I guess it depends on the photographer. I have the time to spend a ridicules amount of time in Photoshop, and I enjoy doing so. For you that might not be the case. I do want to say that I think you should be able do be finished in 3 minutes, but in general i spend a lot more time just because I can!

  • Peter J. James

    Ive heard that 41 applies to women as well.

  • http://www.canon5dtips.com/ Tom K.

    15. and 51. are in conflict :)

    • Jeffrey Guyer

      I disagree. 15 is aimed at not needing 20 shots of the same thing when three or four will suffice. 51 has more to do with missed opportunities.

  • Felipe

    I loved it. It’s the kind of thing that inspires us. I would like to incorporate it all without getting “remembering”; as if it were already “mine.”

  • Ian Kuhn

    Excellent rules/guidelines. I grew up on film and while I don’t shoot film now I still have that mindset. My grandfather and uncle (both photographers in their own right) were big on getting it right in frame…although in their heydays postprocessing was all done by hand and there was no digital option. My mother used to call it, “Doing it the Lazy Way.” If you do it right the first time, you don’t have to do it again. While I see nothing wrong with photoshop or other photo editing software, I have to agree with the three minute rule. After 3 minutes it becomes digital art in my eyes. Great for those that like it, but I’m happy with a quick crop, maybe a slight balance/exposure adjustment and I’m good.

    However there have been times that I’ve played with photoshop just to see what it could do. I did one for a cosplayer where I made them pop out of a comic book frame. It was simple, as far as photoshop users are concerned, but for me it was a challenge as it was a lot more than I usually do. Never be afraid to try something new, but know how to do it “old school.”