How to Be a Good Photographer in 8 Simple Steps

December 27, 2011

in DIY Photography Tips, Photography Business Tips, Photography Tutorials

How to Be a Good Photographer in 8 Simple Steps. IheartFaces.com

Okay, a little disclaimer: This tutorial isn’t really a post about being good at photography.

I wish I could boil that down to eight simple steps — it would’ve saved me a lot of time over the past few years. But I would need about 700 pages (and a lot of coffee) to write a post like that, and there would be a lot of info missing.

So this tutorial isn’t about exposure, composition, finding your niche, or finding the light. It won’t help you become the most talented, most famous, most creative, or most expensive photographer. It’s about being a photographer but still remembering to be…well, good.

Because being good is important. Not just because Karma can be a you-know-what, but also because it’s easier to connect with your subjects when you’re a generally pleasant, positive person. It’s also good for your sanity, and sanity can be a limited resource for photographers. (I blame sleep deprivation due to 2 a.m. blog-stalking marathons. But that’s just my personal experience.)

How to Be a Good Photographer in 8 Simple Steps. IheartFaces.com

How to Be a Good Photographer in 8 Simple Steps

I’ll admit, I’ve probably broken these rules a few times. But overall, I think they form a pretty good game plan for being a good person who also happens to take good photographs.

1. Be good to newbies.

Assuming you weren’t born with a camera in your hand and an innate knowledge of white balance, you were new once. I was new twice — once when I learned on film, and again when I switched to digital and got my hands on Photoshop for the first time. Luckily, there were always people patient enough to push me over the learning curve. Someone probably helped you, too, or at least pointed you in the right direction. Go back to that place, whether it’s a college, a community center, or an online forum. Find someone who just had an epiphany that they want to be a photographer. And instead of heaping on the snark, give them a few pointers.

How to Be a Good Photographer in 8 Simple Steps. IheartFaces.com

2. Be good to your critics.

My mom thinks I’m the best photographer in the whole world, but some people inexplicably disagree with her. I’ve learned a lot from those people. Be open to brutal honesty, because even a seasoned pro with 20 years of experience has room for improvement. Besides, when someone bothers to give you constructive criticism, it means they see a glimmer of potential. And when you’re the critic…

I Heart Faces Good Photographer Tutorial

3. Be good to bad photographers.

I can’t tell you how often people send me links to websites where photographers dole out insults such as “Is that a pregnant woman or a man with a hairless beer belly?” I don’t think that’s hilarious. I think it’s bullying. Don’t get sucked into sites that exist solely to make fun of people. Being mean won’t make you any more successful, unless you’re on Real Housewives. (And even then…at least be Bethenney!)

4. Be good to other local businesses.

If you hate losing business to the $7.99 special at Sears, then keep your local economy going strong. Support your fellow small-biz owners. Don’t skim the latest bestseller at your local bookstore and then buy it on Amazon to save a few bucks. Meet your clients at a corner café instead of Starbucks. When you discover an amazing mom-and-pop restaurant, check in on Facebook and praise it on Yelp. Google the 3/50 Project. Do unto others, and all that.

 I Heart Faces Good Photographer Tutorial

5. Be good to your clients.

Go the extra mile. Send thank-you notes. Bend sometimes. Use nice words when enforcing your policies. Rein in the bragging. Don’t exploit your clients’ personal lives. Use your reach to raise awareness, not to raise your own sales or profile.

6. Be good in your advertising.

Make sure it reflects the kind of businessperson you are. “Underhanded” can be effective, but it probably isn’t the image you’re going for. Don’t poach — poached clients generally don’t make loyal clients anyway. Don’t make passive-aggressive jabs at your competitors online. Don’t post your link on their wall. Tell people why they should hire you, not why they shouldn’t hire your competition. And on that note…

How to Be a Good Photographer in 8 Simple Steps. IheartFaces.com

7. Be good to your competition.

No, really. Don’t copy their setups, don’t steal their ideas — but do realize that it’s a small world. Your local park is their local park. They drive past that same rustic barn or field of wildflowers that you do. Don’t obsess over whether they’re copying YOUR setups and stealing YOUR ideas. If you’re feeling really zen, recognize that you have something in common, get a drink together, and talk about how much you love rustic barns and fields of wildflowers. Your competition may be the only other person in your town who actually wants to discuss chromatic aberration and crop factors.

How to Be a Good Photographer in 8 Simple Steps. IheartFaces.com

8. Be good to your ego.

Stop worrying about who’s better or worse than you. Watch a marathon one day, and take note of how many people are looking over their shoulder as they cross the finish line. No one? That’s because you need to look ahead and focus on your own run, or you’ll fall on your face. It doesn’t matter if the newbie next door is charging $65 for a full disc, or the photographer down the road commands a $1500 sitting fee. Everyone has a different style, a different strength, a different client base.

How to Be a Good Photographer in 8 Simple Steps. IheartFaces.com

Know what you do best.
Charge what you’re worth.
Treat your clients well.
Take pictures you love.
And be good.

 Kara Wahlgren - I Heart FacesKara Wahlgren, owner of Kiwi Photography, is a South Jersey portrait photographer, freelance writer, and mom to two crazy boys. View more of her work on her blogsite or like her on Facebook.

Special thanks to Angie Arthur, Amy Locurto, Sharon DeLaO, Susan Keller, Boybarian Dad, and Nikki Peterson for the use of their photos of happy photographers from our various 2010 I Heart Faces PhotoWalks around the country.

{ 83 comments… read them below or add one }

Kaelyn July 31, 2015

There should be more people like you in the world.

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Tena March 12, 2015

I’m not a photographer but I love taking photos and just came across your article! I just wanted to tell you how much I love it! You have an awesome attitude and positive outlook. You remind me of me. 😊

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Charles October 17, 2014

What nice thoughts. I’m probably guilty at a few of these at some point of other. Thanks for the reminder.

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Valerie Winfrey October 13, 2014

I so love this…..and I’m not a photographer!!

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D. Russo July 4, 2014

Like you I started with film and the wet darkroom when I was 8 yrs old. Now doing digital everything and Photoshop, (I eat, live and breathe it.) I’m also a teacher and have been doing photography for a loooong time as well as being a painter too. And you are so right – we need to remind ourselves of the “other photographer” – not the competition, but the real person behind the camera. You did a great service today to remind this photographer, and others, about the newbies and even though I knew all that stuff and taught it too, I had to be reminded.

Reading your article made me realize that there’s always room for improvement and that learning is lifelong. I have always learned from my students and now that I am retired I don’t have that access on a daily basis anymore. Thanks for helping me to see the students again. I’m over 50 by the way. Not that age matters….lol

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Ivor Houlker August 15, 2013

Really lovely article, Kara – stands out from a lot of other photography advice type posts like this. :)

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Kara December 4, 2012

Linda — get involved in photo forums, ask for feedback, brace yourself for harsh criticism, take it gracefully, apply it, grow from it, and repeat! That’s how I learned (and how I still learn!). :)

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Linda November 11, 2012

This link was sent to me from a friend. I am not a professional photographer, in high school I shot 35mm then got married had kids. When we would go on vacations-unlike now the camera wasn’t the first thing out that needed to be packed. In the 1st advice you make mention ‘…having someone push you…’ I’ve never had that. People say I’m good however I don’t ‘feel’ like I know what I’m doing. I really started taking a lot of pictures, not photographs, when my kids got older and involved in school activities. I’m thankful I did, our youngest son passed away right before his 20th birthday. So my slogan now is “Making Memories” however I want the peoples memories to be great, I can make it fun but what is captured can be different. Please help. Thanks for the advice written and any you maybe able to give me.

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Laura August 12, 2012

Really great advice! I am very “Green” and love the positive advice and reminders of the WHY we do Photography in the first place…..I LOVE giving my clients memories and pleasure when they look at the passion that I have for photography. I love doing my best in telling their story!!

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Cheryl February 14, 2012

A friend sent me to your site and I am so glad she did. I have to agree with the others…thank you for your words of wisdom. I needed to hear them today. You gave me a smile!! :)

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K8 February 2, 2012

Such an encouraging article. Thank you for these reminders – much needed for me!!

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Kelsey February 1, 2012

Thank you for this! I needed to read this today and EVERY day! The small town I live in his like 7 people that are ‘photographers’ and it can be hard to get new clients/same clients, different locations, etc.

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amy January 19, 2012

Thank you, thank you! :)

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Stephanie Elie January 17, 2012

How to Be a Good Photographer | A Handy Step-by-Step Tutorial http://t.co/Jj0P7VoL

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Heather January 16, 2012

wow. wow. wow. love!!!

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Stephanie Belton January 15, 2012

Brilliant article, so well put! And when your brand is your name it’s even more important to be good and stay professional in all aspects of our lives.

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brett January 14, 2012

Well said. Great advice on “perspective”, perhaps more important than focal length.

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cpanel vps January 12, 2012

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Pamelala January 8, 2012

LOVE and TRUTH!

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Carla Hoosier January 5, 2012

Great advice! I need to slow down and take note of my own work and value how much I love Photography. It’s therapy to me and gives me something to look forward to. Thank you for your time.

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Jay January 5, 2012

Some great tips. I just hope people take it on board with an open mind. There’s way too much negativity in the photography community at the moment. Don’t know if it was always like this, but it sure is depressing right now.

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Patty Jasso December 30, 2011

THANK YOU! such a wonderful article :)

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John Mee December 30, 2011

Some interesting but valid advise for #photogs & others here. http://t.co/FdkmTBxP

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Helen December 30, 2011

Love this! I think I need to put in a calendar reminder to read this post again in 6 months or so 😉

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Paavani December 30, 2011

How to Be a Good Photographer – http://t.co/wVT9Rb52 #photography #etiquettes

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Paul December 30, 2011

Thanks for a thoughtful post.

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Nita December 29, 2011

Excellent advice for any business person or artist regardless of whether they are a photographer or not. Bravo!

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holly December 29, 2011

Wow this is exactly what I needed to hear today. Seriously. Thank you so much.

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Patrizia Corriero December 29, 2011

Photography Tutorial – How to Be a Good Photographer | I Heart Faces http://t.co/zvclZM89

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Olu December 29, 2011

Well written and said, great advice

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Sarah December 29, 2011

So great, thank-you so much for sharing this! I find it really hard somedays to filter through all of the negativity I see towards ‘newbies’ and have enough courage to keep pushing on.
Someday when I’m on the other side, I will make it my goal never to forget where I started!
Thank-you for this.

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Kara December 28, 2011

Thanks everyone! :)

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Steve Stanger December 28, 2011

Probably not what you think. // Photography Tutorial – How to Be a Good Photographer | I Heart Faces http://t.co/EJFJyELA

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