The Rules


Which camera? Find the one you feel the most comfortable with and go from there.

How often should I shoot? As much as works for you. Some say shoot all the time. For me, I shoot sporadically and find my work improves much more quickly.

How much should I shoot when I do shoot? As much as works for you. For each story I shoot, I shoot a lot early on and less as I go along. I'm intuitive and I'm post-visual so I review what I shoot as a way to learn about my subjects and their stories. Don't believe anyone who tells you that you shouldn't be intuitive or can't be; my best work comes from letting my mind loose and responding with the camera to all that I'm seeing and feeling and hearing and thinking. Also, don't believe anyone who tells you real photographers pre-visualise; if that's how you work, great...if not, work the way you need. Just make sure you get the shots.

Chimping is for losers. Nope, wrong. DSLRs are light meters - you can use them to check out lighting conditions as much as handheld light meters, to take reference shots etc. Essentially, it's just extending the amount of lighting information you see through the viewfinder, especially with the histogram. Why wouldn't you do that? On the other hand, make sure you're not chimping when you need to be shooting.

What is my style? Who knows? Shoot, review, repeat and see where it leads you. Just don't be afraid to be you. If you look at instagram, a million people are taking the same shots every day. The best chance you have is to be you, to photograph what's important to you in the style that is yours at that time. You may never be famous or make millions of dollars but it's the best chance you'll have.

Why bother if there's hardly any career in it and hardly any money in it? Because you can't not do it.

Cameras lie by default. Don't believe anyone who tells you that only unprocessed image files straight off the camera are legitimate ie in documentary. Don't believe anyone who tells you that you need to produce jpgs onboard the camera to also prove the image is unprocessed...if you do, you are simply letting whoever designed your camera hardware and programmed its firmware/software to make the processing decisions for you. Or if you are shooting matrix metering mode on your nikon, you are letting the camera use 300k reference images to influence how it takes the shot. Plus, cameras think middle grey is the schniz and overexpose or underexpose to compensate, which means you have to dodge or burn to return those areas back to what they were in the actual scene. Simply aim to process the image to replicate what you saw in real life. And don't think your favorite photographers are getting around without doing any processing on their photographs. And why wouldn't you? Why would you disrespect your subjects by allowing the camera to produce an image that will most likely be wrong (unless your scene averages out to middle grey and the light and shadow areas are all within dynamic range. Just aim to process to make sure the shot you produce is as close to what you saw - light, colour, etc - as possible.

Don't add or remove pixels. I think of this as more about don't alter the frame to lie about what was in the original frame. Crop? Sure, just don't crop out something that changes the meaning of the photograph. But question yourself if you have to crop more than a tiny bit; if do, it's probably a dud photo. And, of course, don't ever add in shit like extra smoke to make shots look better. If it wasn't there, don't add it. If it was there, don't remove it unless it's that little bit of cropping. Also, yes, do remove dust spots etc as they look crap and doing so does not change the meaning of the photo. Also, keep the original and a processing history.

Truth. Post-Truth. Fake news. Fuck all that. There is no such thing as unbiased reporting. If news was legit, it would simply be dot-point facts, and every news media outlet would report the same facts. All news media is interpretation of those facts. The truth lies somewhere between the sum of all the reporting of a particular story - left, right, middle. You're job is to be faithful to your subjects and their stories. That's it. Just don't lie. News is a trust relationship - readers trust journalists and photojournalists to tell a story, so they are trusting the facts and their analyses of those facts. If you lie, you violate that trust. If you are faithful, readers have one version of many versions of a story they can use to inform their own opinions.

Never stick with a mentor or listen to a teacher who focuses on making you shoot more like them, or someone famous. Find a mentor or teacher who's aim is to make you a better version of you. Then send me their number because they are fucking rare.

XXX has an eye. Bullshit. Everyone has an eye. Everyone sees the world and takes photos the way they see it. The only difference between them all is how much each of them work to develop their eye, to take photos that are the best examples of how they see the world. If there is any distinction between photographers and people who take photographs, this is it, not about whether they are getting paid to do it. Remember - Vivian Meier.

Success. Some do great, most do not. What's the difference? Skill, networking, timing, luck, hard work, etc etc. I'm shit at some of that so I'm not in the NYT every week. But I am getting now starting to get my stories out to the people that hopefully will gain some benefit. Yay me. But massive yays to the folks who are getting their images into mass media because you know they've worked hard in so many ways to do so.

A single photo tells a story. Bullshit. A single frame of a single moment of a subject's entire life cannot tell their story. Yes, they are crying and upset. Over what? You need more photos to answer that question. You need context. A great photo is incomplete just enough to let viewers put themselves and their views and experiences into it, to formulate their own stories about what they are seeing. They build a relationship with the image.

Documentary photography = photojournalism = art = communication. It is all designed to relate something and to make viewers think something or feel something or both.

Don't believe anyone who tells you that there is one right way to photograph. That's complete horseshit. Find your way and own it.

Don't listen to me.