Yreka, California 2014
Yreka, California 2014

I am a big fan and believer of “heuristics” (or rules of thumb). I was first introduced to the idea of “heuristics” from Nassim Taleb (in his book “Antifragile“) and later more from Gerd Gigerenzer (a German psychologist who wrote the excellent book: “Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious“). Below is a list of heuristics (ad random thoughts on photography) I personally believe and try to follow:

  1. When in doubt, click (credit: Charlie Kirk)
  2. When you’re scared, shoot
  3. Buy books, not gear
  4. Money can only buy you happiness if you spend it on experiences (not material things)
  5. Don’t buy a photography book unless you plan on reading it more than once.
  6. Don’t buy a photography book with the intention of selling it into the future.
  7. When in doubt, ditch.
  8. A photo is either a “hell yes” or no.
  9. It is better to travel to fewer places (than seeing a lot of places, but less time in each spot)
  10. Always have a backup when traveling and taking photos (camera, lens, battery, memory card, film)
  11. Better to bring more film (than less)
  12. A week in a foreign city is a sweet spot to getting to know the city
  13. The bigger your camera, the less likely you are to carry it with you on a daily basis, and therefore you are less likely to shoot daily, and will end up shooting less
  14. Try to take at least 1 photo a day
  15. When in doubt of a photo, don’t upload it
  16. Work on series, not individual images
  17. Lots of likes and favorites doesn’t necessarily mean the photo is good
  18. It is better to be deeply influenced by a few photographers (and know their work really well), than being a little bit influenced by a lot of other photographers
  19. Changing a bad color into black and white won’t make it a better photo
  20. Adding clarity, sharpness, vignette won’t make a bad photo better
  21. Post process a photo until it looks about 80% good and stop, or else you run the risk of over processing
  22. Stick to one film
  23. Stick to presets
  24. Having fewer cameras or lenses is less stressful
  25. The less time I spend on social media the happier and more focused and productive I am
  26. Don’t compete against others, compete against myself
  27. Spending time with photographers obsessed with gear will make me want to buy more gear
  28. The more time I spend on gear review sites, the more gear I want to buy (that I don’t need)
  29. Whenever I am feeling uninspired by my photography or dissatisfied with my work, I want to buy a new camera (thinking it will make me more creative, and spark more inspiration)
  30. I only need 2 pairs of clothes while traveling (one pair I’m wearing, and the other in the bag). Wash each pair in the shower with shampoo every night and hang dry.
  31. While traveling don’t wear cotton (stick to athletic quick dry material)
  32. The most successful photographers are often the least satisfied
  33. The more people who say they hate your work (or call your work overrated), the more successful you are.
  34. People with a large followed by following ratio (on Twitter) aren’t spammers
  35. The more hash tags a photographer uses on social media, the more hungry for attention they are
  36. The best photography I can do is in my own backyard (I better than anyone else, and it is usually more unique)
  37. Shooting film helps the editing process (I unintentionally let my film marinate for a long time because I’m either busy or lazy, and therefore when I get my film finally processed and scanned, I’m no longer emotionally attached to my photos and can “kill my babies”)
  38. If I spend too much time trying to make my digital photos look like my film photos, just shoot film
  39. I’m happy if I can make one meaningful street photo a month
  40. The more a photographer gossips about others, the more insecure they are about their own work
  41. You are the average of the 5 closest photographers to you.
  42. Photographers who criticize the equipment of others are often just jealous and want that equipment
  43. A viewer will respect or value a photo more if you tell them you shot it on film (unfair, but true)
  44. To get an honest critique, tell people to be “brutally honest” and help “kill your babies”
  45. Don’t defend my photos during a critique. Keep my mouth shut, nod, and take notes
  46. Always be ready to share my portfolio with someone else (via my smartphone or iPad)
  47. While traveling I generally shoot 1 roll of film every 2-3 days
  48. When booking accommodation, the most important thing is location, location, location
  49. When traveling in a foreign country and trying out a new meal at a restaurant or a coffee, ask the waiter (or barista) what they ate or drank today (as a good guide to make your own decision)
  50. The more tourists in an area, generally the less interesting it is to photograph
  51. If possible, always fly direct. If the cost of a direct flight isn’t 25% more expensive than the cheaper option, go for it.
  52. It never hurts to ask for permission when taking a photo of a stranger
  53. Best way to overcome jetlag : fast for at least 18 hours before arriving at my target destination
  54. Creepiness is proportional to focal length
  55. If I want to overcome jetlag, drink as much coffee as I want until it is time to sleep at around 10pm my destination time
  56. When on an international flight, switch my watch to the target destination, and try to stay awake (and sleep) accordingly
  57. If I’m jetlagged and it’s past midnight in a foreign country, take melatonin.
  58. When in doubt, smile at a stranger and say ‘hello’
  59. The most interesting thing to photograph is your own life.
  60. Have a double-shot of espresso whenever I feel uninspired (always does the trick).

What are some other rules of thumb or heuristics that you personally believe in and follow? Share your tips and thoughts in the comments below!

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32 Comments

  1. Hey Eric, you missed the one you said in the last video on how to be invisible: the longer the focal length the creepier you look!

  2. one of the few that I apply: “a street photographer ALWAYS brings black gaffers or electric tape in their bag”, “just use 2 cameras, the rest is overkill unless you’re using different formats”, “when you take pictures of someone ALWAYS thank the person and smile”, “if people ask about your camera, answer them, this relaxes them and allow you to take another picture”, “don’t tolerate mocks, about your technique, equipment or style, just ignore them”

  3. – Be mindful of being in the presence of a great photograph.
    – Read Art History Books, especially post 1900 art movements.

    – Read books on Critical Theory

    – Read as much as you can on everything else under the sun. It’s all grist for the idea factory

    – Carry a note book. Write down every idea you get, every observation you make, interesting quotes.

    – Always have a business card ready. It legitimizes you even if you aren’t in the business professionally and is a great ice breaker.

    – There are no bad ideas. Bad ideas are raw material for good ideas.
    – Wear comfortable shoes.

    – Write about your pictures; especially when you are starting out. It helps you clarify your vision.

    – If you are traveling a lot, and lounge access is not part of your fare, buy lounge access once in a while, especially if you have more than a 4 hour layover Your body and your mind will love you.

  4. Don’t get hung up on expensive gear.The idea behind the shot should be SHARP not the other way around.

  5. Kinda pretentious and something I’ve never experienced.

    43. A viewer will respect or value a photo more if you tell them you shot it on film (unfair, but true)

    1. Digital images are flat and commercial-looking. Film has a flattering color rendition and graininess. Film rolls and developing-scanning cost money and therefore you have to think before you shoot and this makes you a more mindful photographer (and in the eyes of others as well).

  6. Hi JH ,Up to a few weeks ago I would have agreed with you 100%. I recently have had a few people comment ” I see you use an old film camera Wow ” “I would love to see a nice print of that picture” I’m not sure why this applies -why would people trust a film image more than a digital one ? Perhaps they do not associate a film image with the internet and social media and having their image transmitted across the world. Actually I think this is a valid concern -but that is topic for another time !
    Rgds

  7. “Photographers who criticize the equipment of others are often just jealous and want that equipment”

    May I suggest a more charitable point of view? Photographers who criticize the gear of others are just as susceptible to GAS as the rest of us, and they are merely displaying a natural immune defense to the acquisition of more gear.

    Sometimes in order to remain happy with what you have, you resort to the extreme measure of deciding that everything else is crap.

  8. 18 of these have absolutely nothing to do with photography. 5 and 59 are the same. Some of these are just statements and not rules, such as, “While traveling I generally shoot 1 roll of film every 2-3 days.” Ok.

  9. Eric, You have good ideas and You know the job. You also say that shooting film makes you slow down. That means, I think, that “less is more” or that you give preference to quality over quantity. That’s a very good point. So… why do You write so compulsively? Why don’t You mature your articles slowing down your mind and your hand? Why do You write at the speed of your lightening ideas? Writing is not talking and people that talk too much generally don’t have that much to say.

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