My little buddy Charlie Parker and I were out for a long walk through the forest preserve today and having had a few days off, a rested mind and some time on my hands, I was remembering when I started off transitioning into Commercial Photography.  Plenty of ambition, just enough naivete and a very rough roadmap of where I wanted to go in this career.

I didn’t walk into this completely blind as I had done plenty of interviews with established portrait and corporate photographers to learn about their take on the industry, the art of Photography and the possibilities for someone just breaking into the field.  It wasn’t very encouraging…..not in the least.  So, as is typical, I ignored the warnings, the opinions and doomsday forecasts and just did my own thing.

Thankfully, I have learned a few things in the process of 15 years and not only about the techniques and craft behind photography but also about the business and really quite a bit about myself as well.

And here’s the unedited, spontaneous list of 100 things I have learned as a Commercial Photographer:

  1. Never throw sand in the sandbox.
  2. An expensive camera with all the bells and whistles does not make a good Photographer.
  3. Always shoot in RAW.
  4. Only show your best work.
  5. Shoot.  Shoot More.  After that, keep shooting.
  6. Practice doesn’t necessarily make perfect but it does always make better.
  7. Photoshop is not magic, it’s a tool to enhance an already awesome image.
  8. Don’t try to copy someone else’s style.  Create your own.
  9. Learn how to read your histogram.
  10. Cameras are not toys, they are tools.
  11. Photography is one part vision, one part technique.
  12. Never throw out a price over the phone.  Put it on paper and explain the details.
  13. Don’t ask why. Ask who, what, when, where and how much.
  14. A bad photograph cannot be photoshopped into a good one.
  15. Your subjects will mirror your disposition.  If you’re smiling, they will too!
  16. It’s better to underexpose than to overexpose.
  17. You’re only as good as your last photograph.
  18. Always buy lighting cases with wheels.
  19. Create an inventory of your equipment.
  20. Carry as much insurance as you can afford.
  21. Always require a deposit.
  22. Have a back-up of your images.  One onsite and another in the cloud.  Schedule the back-ups to be performed daily.
  23. Ask and you shall receive.
  24. Saying “I’m a Commercial Photographer” in social settings is pretty cool.
  25. Photography is incredibly physical.  Stay hydrated. Stay strong. Stay healthy.
  26. When shooting an event, don’t be a creepy voyeur, try to blend in the scene and keep smiling.  (See #15)
  27. I don’t miss film.
  28. Prime lenses or zoom lenses?  It’s all subjective.
  29. Take the time to shoot what you love.  Print it big.  Frame it.  Hang it.
  30. Make friends within the photography community.
  31. Critique your own work.
  32. The editing of images is as important as photographing the images.
  33. The definition of Photography is painting with light.  Learn how to read it.  Learn how to use it.  Learn how to manipulate it.
  34. Drag the shutter.
  35. Pay your Assistants asap.
  36. Never say no to a client.  Instead, offer alternative options.
  37. Don’t compare your progress to someone else’s successes.
  38. Be prepared for famines and make the most of the feasts.
  39. When in doubt, embrace the rule of thirds.
  40. Know your camera like the back of your hand.
  41. Things break…always have a back-up camera body and flash.
  42. Composition is key.
  43. Learn to relate.  Whether it’s the guy on the shop floor or the CEO of a Fortune 100 company, you’ve got to be engaging.
  44. Instill your subjects with confidence…let them know that you too are not a fan of having your photograph taken so you can empathize.
  45. Make it painless.
  46. Nikon or Canon?  It’s all a matter of taste.
  47. Do research on your subject and their company before each shoot.  It’s a plus to go in knowing a bit about them.
  48. Keep your sensor clean.
  49. Always ask your clients what they are looking to achieve with their project.  It’s always more than producing great images.
  50. Shoot in manual mode at all times.
  51. Always arrive for a shoot atleast 15-30 minutes prior.  You never know what delays you may face.
  52. Choose a specialty and excel in it.
  53. Put the camera down.  Enjoy the moment.
  54. Be a mentor to your Assistants.
  55. Persistence and patience in this industry are essential.
  56. Even when you think you got the shot, shoot a few more as insurance.
  57. Calibrate your monitor.  An inaccurate display is like dating a pathological liar….it can be very deceiving.
  58. Learn how to market yourself.
  59. Always have extra gaffers tape on hand.
  60. When a clients’ first question is “how much”, their primary concern is not quality.
  61. Of these three: quality, service, price, you can only offer two of these at one time.
  62. Respond to your clients or potential clients e-mail and phone calls right away…even if just to say “I’m on a shoot but will get back to you as soon as possible”.
  63. The best equipment is what you have.
  64. Only put it on a credit card when you have the funds to immediately pay it off.
  65. Always stay calm.  If it’s not working, just remember Occam’s Razor and check to see if there are batteries in it.
  66. Wear comfortable shoes.
  67. If you don’t like your website, no one else will either.
  68. Never give your clients a reason to worry.
  69. Critique your skills.
  70. Join your local Chamber of Commerce.  It’s great for Networking and may teach you a thing or two about running your business.
  71. Never shoot a person who doesn’t want to be photographed.
  72. Don’t be a hack….practice White-Hat SEO.
  73. Re-check your camera settings.  Lock them in before shooting.
  74. If a client wants to try something on set that you know will not work, do not just say no, shoot it and show them why it won’t work, then be a rock-star and offer up a different idea.
  75. There will be people who are not fond of your style, whether it’s your personality or your portfolio.  Be pleasant.  Move on.
  76. You select your clients as much as they select you.
  77. If you are awarded every job you bid on, you might be undermining the whole industry with prices that remove the value of what we as commercial photographers provide.
  78. A little HDR goes a long way.  Don’t overdue it.
  79. Shooting for free makes you the photographer who is cheap, not good.
  80. Be prepared, even when the shoot is planned for 2 hours, they tend to run long….pack an apple, some almonds, a banana.
  81. Take your camera off that tripod.
  82. Shoot what it feels like.
  83. Be bold.  Be Assertive.  Take charge.  Take Direction.
  84. Ask each client what their target budget is.  Yes, they will tell you.
  85. Estimate according to the complexity of the shoot, the time required, the value given and your clients’ budget.
  86. Study, understand and employ the value of usage terms.
  87. Candid moments hold more emotion than posed photographs.
  88. Shoot beyond eye level.  Bend, crouch, get on the floor, have a step stool.  Try every angle.
  89. Black and White doesn’t automatically mean “Art”.
  90. It’s better to be flexible on estimating and keep your clients then try to search out new ones.
  91. Always carry a polarizing filter.
  92. Embrace Fibonacci’s Ratio.
  93. Do yourself a favor and do not use direct flash.
  94. Smaller capacity CF cards always.  It’s better to lose 4 gigs than 32.
  95. Always send a thank you card.
  96. Take the time to educate your clients on what is needed for a successful shoot.  Whether it is what to wear or how to schedule and always be there to offer your help in conceptualizing the project.
  97. Keep in touch with your mentors as with time they will become your colleagues and close friends.
  98. Understand that 90% of your function is to serve as a business-owner.  The other 10% is to take photographs.  Do them both with excellence.
  99. Remember that Dr. John says “A quitter never wins and a winner never quits”.

And probably the most significant lesson that has come from these years of learning, shooting, making mistakes, perfecting my craft and adapting to the ups and downs of this business is that you don’t go into Photography to be a rock star, to become rich, or to simplify your wardrobe with cargo pants and black t-shirts.  You do it because you love it and cannot imagine doing anything else.