The 6 Commandments of Photography ( In My Opinion )

Doug Sweet is a photographer, instructor and writer, based in Houston,Texas . Beginning in 2001 shooting street and architectural photos, his career has allowed him to shoot every aspect of photography from events to weddings . If you can’t find him behind a camera, he’s definitely thinking about it. Find him on Instagram @opticaljournalist

Nothing in this life is easy or fair and nothing is owed to you.

If I could go back and talk to myself, on the day I decided to pursue photography, that’s the first thing that I would say to myself. Photography on its own isn’t an easy thing to pursue, much less jumping into something specialized like fashion photography. There’s an added stress element that you never even consider. Now, it’s not just lighting, but how to properly light certain fabrics or how certain make up reacts to different lighting conditions. There’s a whole world out there that is scratching at the surface once we decide to pick up a camera. There’s no road map, no magic pill, nothing that you can do but learn, grind and be prepared if an opportunity comes . Here are a few things I have learned on this journey. I’m still learning everyday and this list continues to grow and if this helps, then I’m definitely good with that.

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Commandment #1: Who Cares ?

Yes, it sounds harsh, but it’s a lesson that makes life that much easier the minute you understand it. There are thousands of people everyday that decide to pick up a camera and decide they’re going to be a photographer . No matter how good you may be, no one cares. You can’t relax and think jobs are going to come your way because you’re good. I’ve seen people who have absolutely no idea what to do with a camera besides point and shoot who have more bookings than someone more qualified because of their work ethic. From the day you pick up a camera, you hopefully start learning everything you can, but the only thing that can’t be taught is work ethic. It has to be put into practice daily. If you aren’t going out and getting clients, someone else is.

Commandment #2: Don’t Be Afraid To Ask

When I was starting out, I was trying to learn everything I could from anyone locally who had any kind of success in this business. I would send emails, tweets, smoke signals, whatever to anyone I could . I wasn’t asking anyone to show me anything other than point me in a direction where I could learn something…..anything. Most times IF I received an answer, it was condescending or flat out rude and spiteful. So, in a moment of straight fear, I decided to reach out to people who weren’t in my city and in some cases, not even the same continent. I reached out to people who I figured were so big my emails probably went directly to their trash. People who I figured had people to read their emails because they had better things to do. Strange thing though, they started responding. Some emailed back a sentence or two, some sent directions or encouragement . Then there were those who flat out said things like “send me some of your work”, reviewed it and taught me things. Before you ask, no, I won’t tell you who they are , but I will tell you, reach out. Use social media for more than cat videos and selfie filters. If you don’t hear back , don’t take it personally, keep grinding, keep working, someone in this community of shooters will help you, guide you or encourage you. What’s the worst that ca happen, they say no ? The key though , help yourself. People aren’t going to give you their valuable time if you haven’t done anything remotely of value with yours.

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Commandment #3: This Is A Business

Yeah, you got into photography because you love it. You like to create , yada yada. Bottom line, if you want to keep doing photography as a job, you need steady cash . My mistake was not valuing my talents and either not charging or not charging enough. This is a business, the sooner you realize this the better you’ll be. I’m not saying not to take some “exposure “ gigs when you’re beginning, I still take some if they’re beneficial to both parties. I meet great contacts, get a bit more practice behind the camera and I get to expose myself (not that kind of expose) to people who wouldn’t normally cross my path. Understand you are a business, every job that comes has to be met with is this good for my business ? Will shooting that fashion event at no charge help your business? Is this clients budget worth my time and effort? It sounds selfish because it honestly is, your business, brand, work, etc. has to be protected and compensated accordingly. One of your hardest obstacles are going to be family. ‘’ Bring your camera “ is going to follow invitations a lot. If this is going to be your livelihood, don’t feel bad about telling anyone your rates. There is nothing wrong with free work, I’m saying it again, but make sure your business gets taken care of in any deal.


Commandment #4: I’m Serious, It’s A Business

You’ve picked a name, branded it, built a website and clients are trickling in. You’re living the life of a photographer.

Now, take care of the business. Money for taxes, getting your DBA , paperwork, billing invoices, contracts, emails, following up with possible clients, managing your calendar, marketing and finding new clients. Are you going sole proprietor or LLC ? How much insurance do you need ? Wait, what type of insurance do you need ? Photography is honestly somewhere around 10-25% of what you do if you’re a small operation. The rest of the time is spent making sure you stay in business. This was stuff I learned along the way and most times I met with “ oh, yeah I never thought about that “.

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Commandment #5: Failure Is An Option

I detest the saying , “failure is not an option” . Yeah, it is. It’s going to happen. If you don’t fail, you’ll never learn anything. I keep a quote from Dustin Hoffman on my desk , "The truth about failure is you don't learn from success.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve failed, rebranded, changed Instagram names or flat out missed opportunities because of my own stupidity. It happens. Best advice: have a shot of whiskey, milk, water, whatever and get back on the job. Dwelling on mistakes and failures will make you second guess every step you take which hurts your business , which hurts your creativity. If you’re scared to screw up, then you’re scared to take leaps and chances, which means you won’t grow. Not as an artist nor as a business, it won’t happen in fear. Embrace the failures, respect the fear, but don’t hide or give up to either.


Commandment #6:  Remember Why You Do This

In spite of all the possible stresses , remember why you do this. You love it. It’s fun, you enjoy pressing that shutter and creating something beautiful. You enjoy spending hours at the computer polishing your work. You’re in love with the rush you get when a client raves over your work . There’s a wonderful sense of pride when you get a new client who was referred to you . There’s so much to this world of photography that it’s extremely easy to get bogged down and stressed to the point you want to quit. Find ways to keep it fun, me, sometimes I just take my camera, put in my headphones and zone out while I shoot my city. It refreshes me, there’s no deadlines, no clients, no stress, just back to basics. The other thing I do that definitely recommend you do, put down the camera. At least once a year, I don’t take jobs, I don’t consult, teach, nada. I don’t even look in the direction of my camera or my Wacom, well maybe a passing glance. I enjoy life, veg out and just live. I come back renewed, fresh, mind clear, more creative and I see things clearer behind the camera too. There’s a reason you chose photography, the thought of doing the same thing everyday frightens you. The camera keeps calling you, when you’re not shooting you’re thinking about it. When you’re just relaxing, you see shots you’d take if you had your camera. Things like that, should be the kick you need to realize this is the thing for you. Now, if you’re only in it for the money, get out. Its disrespectful to those who came before us, it’s disrespectful to those who work a 9 to 5 and come home and get up to learning or honing their skills till the wee hours. Most importantly, it’s disrespectful to the art. I hate to sound preachy, but it is what it is. Love photography and she will love you back. You’ll get extremely close and sometimes hate each other, but you just can’t stay away from one another. Endure the trials and she will reward you. Put in the work and she’s going to work with you, every step of the way. You know, I’ll change my answer, that is what I would say to me if I was just starting out.

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Melissa Rodwell