This post was adapted from a story I read by Stephen King. It was intended for writers but I changed it up to make it work for photographers. There are plenty of similarities and in fact, I often teach that becoming a better writer will make you a better photographer. You may not agree with all of it but use what you can.
1. If you’re just doing this for fun, first make photographs for yourself, and then worry about the audience. “When you tell a story with your camera, you’re telling yourself that story first. When you look at through and edit your images, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.”
2. Don’t be timid. Timid is safe. Timid is mediocre. Take chances. Be bold. Go for it.
3. Writers are often tempted to use adverbs. The adverb is a word that is intended to modify a verb. Just tell the story with your camera from the purest point of view. Don’t modify it. Keep it simple.
4. See number three and find even more ways to be direct. Simplify your images by zeroing in on EXACTLY what you want the viewer to see and offering nothing more. When in doubt, leave it out.
5. When we’re telling stories with our camera, the objective is to welcome the viewer into the photograph. The emotional, connection is far more important than a technically perfect photo. Great photographs can exist without perfection but not without emotion and truth.
6. The magic is in you. I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad photography. Remember that the best photographers understand that YOU is more important than NEW.
7. Look at lots and lots and lots and lots of photographs. Great writers read – OFTEN. Great photographers look at lots of photographs. If you don’t have time to seriously study other photographers, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to make great images.
8. Don’t worry about making other people happy. If you intend to photograph as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.
9. Turn off the TV. TV—while working out or anywhere else—really is about the last thing an aspiring photographer needs. I have seen more aspiring photographers waste valuable time vegging out in front of a TV than I care to count. These same people tell me they don’t have time to hone their craft.
10. Don’t procrastinate. It’s always safe to sit on the couch and say SOMEDAY I am going to go out and make that image. It’s much easier than actually going and doing it. There’s no time like NOW. Tomorrow isn’t promised to any of us. Live and photograph like you believe that.
11. Don’t forget the value of friends and peers. They are on the path with you, struggling to make their own mark. Spend time encouraging them, supporting them, rooting for them. I have never seen a photographer improve their own lot in life by cutting down another photographer.
12. Photograph one image at a time. Great portfolios don’t come all at once. They are built one image at a time.
13. Eliminate distraction when you’re shooting. Don’t check your text messages or chat with the other photographers lined up making an image at that iconic location. Get your game face on, pay attention to what you are doing. Focus your mind AND your camera.
14. Stick to your own style. Imitating other photographers’ approach to a particular genre won’t get you to your goals. It will simply be a detour that wastes time along your path to creative development.
15. Dig deep. Important photographs are like relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world. The photographer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each relic out of the ground intact as possible.
16. Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your heart, kill your darlings. Be brutal when you’re selecting your best work. Cut, cut and cut again. Some of my most successful shows have been nine or 12 images. It’s very hard to do, but if you can do it you will see people react differently to your photography than you might expect.
17. Take a break. You’ll find looking at your photographs after a day or two break will be an often exhilarating experience.
18. Spend time researching your subjects but don’t overdo it. Once you have the basics go out and shoot.
19. Write stories about your best images. Put words with your images. It’s a learning experience for most of us and the most valuable lessons of all are the ones you teach yourself.
20. Photography is about getting happy. Photography isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates or building a big social media following. While all those things might happen to you, remember this: Photography is pure magic, as much as the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink.
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