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