The Photographer’s Ten Commandments

I: Thou Shalt Know Thine Equipment: Thou shalt pore over the works of the Masters, and also of the Technical Writers, yea even of humble Bloggers, in order that thou may know thine Gear. Thou shalt understand that other Trinity, consisting of Aperture, Shutter Speed, and also ISO. Nor shalt thou neglect exposure compensation, or blaspheme thy Photos through the overzealous application of Photoshop. Lest it be forgotten, read thou also the manual.

II: Be Thou Considerate: Thou ought not to go to such lengths to get thine shot that thou elbowest olde ladies, or doth speak rudely to passersby. The Spirit has laid it upon my heart to tell you, “Do not be an Ass for the sake of a Photograph.”

III: Thou Shalt Learn New Things Always: Let thine curiosity be limitless, that your joy may also be, and may thou also not let a day pass without having learned some new thing.

IV: Covet Not Thy Neighbor’s Gear: Woe unto him who speaks evil of his gear, for which he paid many talents. Neither shall he lust after his neighbor’s Leica, nor his Canon, nor even his Sigma, though it be worth a mint and look so very shiny. Nor shall he confuse the talents lavished upon said gear for the talent he’s got.

V: Thou Shalt Not Look Down Thy Nose at Thy Fellow Photographer’s Efforts: You whose work is heralded by the trumpets of angels, who now shoot with charms to soothe the savage beast, whose photographs even now move men to weep and women to rend their garments, were not always thus. Act therefore with kindness toward those whose experience is not as great as yours, that you may help them to learn.

VI: Thou Shalt Experiment: While thou shalt keep these commandments reasonably sacred, thou shalt break the Rules (with discernment) if it will make a better Photo.

VII: Thou Shalt Strive For Simplicity: Whether thou makest photos of the fowles of the air, fishes in the sea, beasts of the ground, or yon Dairy Queen whose dilapidated neon Sign is so pleasing in God’s sight, thou really ought not to cram the frame with that which is not needful.

VIII: Thou Shalt Approach Thy Craft With Sincerity, Curiosity and Gratitude: This great and oft myfteriouf Gift we have been given ought not to be taken for granted. See and Appreciate the beauty of the random, ineffable, and sometimes incomprehensible World, the better to photograph it, and also to be glad for it.

IX: Thou Shalt Remember Thy Roots: Honor those who have gone before you, your great Teachers, as well as the Saints Henri and Ansel and Dorothea, and all others of blessed memory, that your work may honor and be worthy of them.

X: Thou Shalt Shoot Often: I mean, verily, how dost thou expect to be any good otherwise?

He who has ears, let him hear.

Postscript: Maybe these commandments aren’t to your liking (and maybe, for that matter, I should’ve done them in the NSV versus the King James; too late for that now). If so, share thine — sorry, yours — in the comments below. You can also peruse other photographers’ versions at the links below:

Brian Auer/Epic Edits
 Tewfic El-Sawy/The Travel Photographer
Enticing the Light
Photojojo’s Ten Legal Commandments of Photography
A list from RandomKaos

More Photographic Randomness

Got a Light?

It occurred to me tonight, as I was looking through my Favorites in my browser for something to write about, that I’ve got a lot of little odds and ends worth sharing that wouldn’t necessarily sustain a post on their own. I’ve decided to just lump them in one place and let ’em simmer for a bit.


Allen Murabayashi’s Rant: I Love Photography might just be the best thing you read on photography this year.


Grover, portrait photographer:

Hopefully Grover doesn’t take the “professional” photography advice from 27b/6 seriously (warning: do not drink anything while reading this post)

Dorothy Brown gives photographers a reminder that once in a while, we really should step in front of the lens instead of spening all our time behind it.

Sure Beats Putting Posters on Telephone Poles: check out, a repository of lost cameras…

A bit of photography humor from the reliably awesome xkcd:


Now you, too, can look like a supermodel, thanks to Fotoshop by Adobé:

And, finally, The New York Times’ “Lens” blog has a photo essay made up of contest entries from Kodak’s early days.


So. Who REALLY Makes the Best Camera?

Whalehead Club, Dusk

A strange thing happens when you’re out in public with an SLR around your neck: people think you know something about photography. One question I’ve gotten a lot, with variations, is, “So, is Nikon better than Canon/Sony/Olympus/Minolta?”*

The short answer I usually give is “No.” This usually causes people to look at me funny, and I can kinda understand why; I mean, if I don’t think they’re better, how come I didn’t buy some other brand? The somewhat longer answer (which follows if I get That Look) is that Nikon is a bit better. For me.

Your mileage may vary.

The somewhat-longer-still answer:

When you’re buying a camera, there’s quite a bit to take into consideration: build quality, processing speed, video quality (if you’re into that sort of thing), JPG processing if you’re not shooting RAW, pentamirror vs. pentaprism, weather sealing, ergonomics, battery life, available lenses and the quality thereof, et cetera, et cetera. There’s not a single brand that’s had an unbroken run of successes; all but the most diehard Leica fanboys will tell you the M8 was a dog, for instance, and every other manufacturer has released cameras and lenses that had their share of quirks, if not serious flaws.

Generally speaking, however, these are precision pieces of equipment, built to some pretty high specs. As long as we’re comparing apples to apples (it’s no fair comparing one company’s compacts against another’s SLR’s), there aren’t usually enormous variations in quality.** It all comes down to finding what works for you. Some cameras feel better in the hands than others, some may have easier menu navigation and button layout, or features you’re not willing to live without (or that you wouldn’t care if the camera spit them out tomorrow).

Differences in sensors and processors, meantime, are a bit like the differences between shooting with Kodachrome or Velvia back in the day. The photos coming out of a Sony will look different from those coming out of a Nikon (even though both use Sony sensors), and the photos from your compact Kodak will look different than those from a Leica (even though both use Kodak sensors).

So which brand is better? No one brand is objectively better than the others,** but they are different, and there are subjective differences among them that mean you’ll probably like one over the others. And that’s okay.

*Now that I don’t have the yellow-and-black Nikon neckstrap on anymore, I’m curious if I’ll get that question a bit less. I’m starting to understand why sometimes I see experienced photographers putting black gaffer’s tape over the manufacturer’s logo on their cameras.

**Two caveats here: First of all, I’m dealing with bodies and not lenses/accessories, though even there I’d be assuming OEM and not aftermarket stuff; there are enormous differences between some aftermarket manufacturers, both vis-à-vis each other and versus their OEM counterparts. Second, there are exceptions here. For example, Canon has set the pace with SLR video, (though Sony’s SLR’s and a couple of Panasonic’s Micro 4/3 offerings are beginning to erase that distinction), and there are still photographers who shoot Nikon just because of the Nikon CLS (Creative Lighting System, which is a fancy name for their speedlights).

More Fun With Photography

Paparazzi (by kind permission of Colleen Fletcher)

Last week, I posted a handful of photography sites that are always good for a laugh. It got me thinking, though. It’s easy enough to laugh at someone’s mistakes, but really, when’s the last time you laughed at your own photography? And for that matter, when’s the last time you allowed yourself to be silly behind the camera? I’m not talking about the times you’ve made faces at your kids to get them to laugh or smile; I mean, when’s the last time you really let yourself go for your own photos?

I bring this up because I think a lot of us get into a frame of mind that says, “Photography is Art. I’m serious about my Art, and my photography.” And at that point, we forget to just get over ourselves and have fun. Now, I’ll admit that I’m slightly biased when it comes to the intersection of humor and creativity. Maybe it’s a personality quirk, or maybe just some kind of genetic predisposition, but I have a hard time being too serious for too long. As a result, some of my photography circles back to humor, and I’m also drawn to photographers whose sense of humor informs their work. As you’ll see in the examples that follow, you can still make some seriously good photos from a lighthearted place.

Let's go find some rebel scum! (by kind permission of Christian Cantrell)

Consider Colleen Fletcher of What started as a way of decorating the bathroom became something close to an obsession. She now has ducks for every occasion, holiday, and even location. Her ducks have seen Vegas, Jersey, and Europe, and have been photographed with sailors and celebrities alike. Christian Cantrell’s Microkosmic would be a favorite even if I weren’t already obsessed with both Legos and photography.

Jedi Chipmunk (by kind permission of Chris McVeigh)

And some photographers have turned funny into serious business. Brian McCarty (McCarty Photoworks) has combined a love of art toys with some serious composition and lighting skills and parlayed it into a client list that includes the likes of MTV, Rockstar Games, Cartoon Network and Southwest Airlines. Chris McVeigh’s unique vision (a vision that frequently includes Lego, Star Wars figures and a couple of semi-professional chipmunks) has led to gigs with Gizmodo and MacWorld.

It doesn’t stop there, of course. You don’t even need to be that funny that often, though a bit of humor in the right place goes a long way. “Straight” photographers have also found a dash of humor to be one of the most potent tools in their kit. Philippe Halsman’s collaboration with Salvador Dali, Dali Atomicus, comes to mind, as does much of David LaChapelle’s oft-imitated work. In other words, there’s a time-honored place for this. The photography police aren’t going to confiscate your equipment because you weren’t sufficiently intense, I promise (though your local police department may be a different story).

Untitled (by kind permission of Brian McCarty)

Let’s go out on a limb for a moment, and assume that if you’re reading this, you take your photography pretty seriously. You’re willing to take the time to learn your gear, technique, and anything else you have to get the hang of, in order to get better photos, and you’re aware that this isn’t a day trip you’ve embarked upon, but rather something that’s likely to be a lifelong journey. So far, so good. But if you’re taking yourself, and not your craft, seriously  (because really, it’s more about you than your “art” at that point), that verges on fatal. It’s bad enough that your photos won’t be much fun; it’s much worse that you become dull at that point. Besides, as Robert Benchley once astutely pointed out, if you don’t put humor in the right places, you risk people laughing at the wrong times, or for the wrong reasons. You don’t want that, do you? Lighten up!

Postscript: A heartfelt “Thank you” to each of the photographers whose work you see here.

On a Lighter Note: Photography Humor

Easy on the Photoshop, please.

Once upon a time, Frank Zappa asked, “Does humor belong in music?” We could easily ask the same of photography. After all, people take photography seriously. Maybe a little too seriously. But there’s plenty of humor had — albeit sometimes at someone else’s expense. There are thousands of sites out there with funny photos of dogs, cats, kids, and everything else; what the sites listed below have in common is that they’re not only funny, you can also learn a fair amount about what not to do as a photographer. Enjoy them, and if you can think of any to add to the list, comment or drop a line.

Awkward Family Photos is one bad judgment piled on top of another, on another… or maybe it’s like those Russian dolls, with a whole lot of nested awful. Many of the photos were done by professional photographers, and while you can blame some of the results on changing tastes and times, some of these families could clearly have used an intervention before stepping in front of the camera.

There’s still money in stock photography, with some photographers even making a living in the diluted, low-profit world of microstock. Awkward Stock Photos is a case study in what happens when people keep adding more crap to an already oversaturated market

Anyone whose attitude is “Fix it in post!” really should check out Photoshop Disasters. It’s a compendium of misplaced limbs, displaced hips, clones upon clones, and every other sin someone’s committed in photo editing and either didn’t catch, or figured nobody’d notice.

Uncle Bob Photography deserves a little explanation: “Uncle Bob” is a name you’ll see a lot on websites and forums frequented by pro photographers. He’s that uncle who’ll volunteer to capture your engagement/wedding/bat mitzvah because he’s got an expensive camera. Generally gives professional photographers conniptions by getting in the middle of their shots to get his shots, or because his flash has ruined several exposures. I’m not sure who this “Uncle Bob” is, but as Facebook satirists go, he’s good.

Aaron Johnson’s What the Duck is a long-running (five years is practically an eternity on the internet) webcomic following the adventures of an intrepid photographer duck.

A recent discovery, and a favorite not just because of the truly awful photos, but also the site owners’ snarky commentary on each, is You Are Not a Photographer. “Fauxtographers” of all stripes get called on the carpet here, and their work pretty mercilessly cut down to size. It’s not quite mean-spirited, though; the ladies (who go by Ginger and Mary Anne) often solicit feedback on how the images could be made better.

This time next week, we’ll be looking over the work of some photographers who are funny on purpose. In the meantime, have a look over these sites, and in between the laughs, take some notes, ’cause there are some Grade-A examples of what you don’t want to do with your photography, no matter how trendy it may be, or how good an idea it may seem at the time.