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The DOs & DON'Ts Issue

Dos and Don'ts of Photography

The only thing you will learn from four years of college photo classes is what not to do.
December 1, 2004, 12:00am

Photo by the author

A Don't: Art school

The only thing you will learn from four years of college photo classes is what not to do. You spend more time listening to anorexic rich girls talking about what a photo "means" than learning something practical like how to work a fucking camera.

Don'ts:

Always taking photos, Architectural photography, ‘Advertorials.' Ansel Adams calendars, Alternative processes

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Dos:

Always taking photos, Aerial photos, Awkwardness, Ambient light, Automatic mode/Auto-focus/Aperture-priority

Photo by the author

B

Don't: Band photos

What? Why are these four guys so mad at me? And why are they standing in front of a trash-strewn vacant lot? Who are you guys, a tough gang from the bad part of town? Nope, you are every fucking band ever, and you are so boring to look at it makes me dizzy.

Don'ts:

Black & white, Blurry photos on purpose, photos in/of Bathtubs, Burning (and dodging), Bums, Brooklyn, Blinking

Dos:

Blogs, Breasts, Bunny ears (when you hold up two fingers behind someone's head in a photo)

C Don't: Cyanotypes and Cross-processing

Both of these are Alternative Processes, which is a required course in most college photo programs. It's like forcing a painting class to forage for their pigments amid nuts and flowers. "Alternative" means experimenting with the flexibility of the print-film process or something. Cyanotypes are all blue and splotchy. Cross-processing is where the colors are supersaturated, like that movie 21 Grams. Like using filters in Photoshop, it always looks bad.

Don'ts:

Cell-phone Cameras, Cindy Sherman, Closeups, Crooked framing, saying "Cheese"

Dos:

Color, Cinematographers, Collages, Cartes de visite (small portraits, about the size of a business card, popular during the 1860s)

D Do: Digital

Shut the fuck up, you stupid Luddites. Digital cameras are great. It's free to take as many photos as you want; they don't take up any space; there are no stinky chemicals, negative binders, contact sheets, or lab fees; there's no dust, darkroom, or expensive paper; and you can easily send your pictures to all your friends. Go ahead and take a picture of everything you see, every second of every day, just don't show them all to me…(cont.)

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Don'ts:

Developer (gives you cancer), Dodging, Dry-mounting, Daguerreotypes

Dos:

David Bailey, Double exposures, Dye-transfers, Dust-off, David Hamilton

E Do: Editing

…because there is nothing worse than a bad edit. There are plenty of good picture-takers out there, but what makes a really good photographer is the ability to edit the million photos you took down to the 20 or 30 that make sense. They'll show the rest of it in a retrospective when you're old or dead and people give a shit about every little fart you ever mustered.

Don'ts:

Enlargers, Emulsion, Ektachrome

Dos:

the Electromagnetic spectrum, Eadweard Muybridge, E.J. Bellocq

Photo found by Bobby Puleo

F Do: Found photos

Found photos prove that it's the photo, not the photographer, that matters.

Don'ts:

Fish-eye lenses, Fashion, spelling it "Foto"

Dos:

Fill Flash, Film stills, Fiber-based paper, Fog

Photo of a German by Jake Gleeson

G

Don't: Germans

The German canon of photography is rigid and boring. Why would a whole country share the same style and approach in a medium that has such endless possibility? What are you guys, Nazis?

Don'ts:

Graininess, Gallerists, Gelatin (made from horse-hooves, in all film), Gum-bichromate processing

Dos:

German engineering, Gerhardt Richter

Found photo

H Don't: Homoeroticism

All these gays passing off their softcore porn as fine art has got to stop. If you want to look at naked boys, just fucking look at naked boys. Stop paying $8,000 a pop to do it.

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Don'ts:

Hand coloring, Holgas

Dos:

Hasselblads, Homemade porn, Henri Cartier Bresson, Hidden cameras

I Do: Internet

Second-best to finding an amazing print in the garbage is stumbling across some lunatic's website. The Internet is the photo voyeur's Emerald City, and Google image search is like being God.

Don'ts:

Interiors, calling photos "Images," Ink cartridges, Infrared film

Dos:

Interchangeable lenses, Illuminance, Infinity, Inverse square law

J Don't: Jobs

Another thing they don't teach you in art school is that getting paid for taking pictures is super-fucking hard. Magazines just don't pay you. There are a million other dipshits like you out there who are willing to do it for free to get "tear sheets" for their "book." If you want to get paid you have to do ads or weddings.

Don'ts:

Jockeying for position, Jeff Wall,

Juxtapoz

Dos:

Jpegs, Jerry-rigged cameras

Photo by Jerry Hsu

K Do: Kids

Have you looked at your yearbooks from high school lately? The awkwardness and self-consciousness, the toothy smiles and horrible hairdos—kids can't hide anything from a camera.

Don'ts:

Kodak Instamatics, Kitsch, Kodaliths

Dos:

Kodachrome, Karlheinz Weinberger

Photo by Angela Strassheim

L Do: Large format

With every douche on the planet swinging T4s over their heads, snapping away like Ron Galella every time someone breathes, it's refreshing to know that some people still lug gigantic, ridiculously expensive large-format cameras to remote locations just for the sake of grain density.

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Don'ts:

Long exposures, Light Leaks, Live band photos, Low resolution, Liquid Light

Dos:

Leicas, Larry Clark, Lee Friedlander, Lenticulars

Photo by the author

M Don't: the "Mundane"

This is one of those words that gets tossed around like a golden turd in art classes. Photographers love it because it makes things easy when they are floundering to explain a boring picture. But the fact is, if it's boring, it's boring, and there's no angle or filter or film that's gonna change that.

Don'ts:

Models on the toilet (

VICE

has received this demystifying image at least a hundred times), Montages, Macro lenses, Magazines, Manuals

Dos:

Medium format, Mug shots, Motor drives, Mega-pixels, Memories

Photo by Jason Frank Rothenberg

N Do: Nature photographers

How could you ever hate a nature photographer? They're technically brilliant and brave. They sit around in a wet, mosquito-filled bush for days or weeks just to get the tiger yawning or the beetle mating. How serious is that?

Don'ts:

Nan Goldin, scratched Negatives,

Nylon

, Night photography (as a genre)

Dos:

Negative scanners, Natural light, Nudity, Nostalgia

O Don't: Overexposure

Overexposure means two things in photoland. The first is the technical term for when too much light reaches the film. This is caused by an inappropriately long shutter speed or an overly dilated aperture, and the result is a washed-out image. The second is when one photographer's work and life is granted too much press and attention. This often leads to a succession of alcoholism and early death. (Ever heard of Robert Mapplethorpe or Diane Arbus?)

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Don'ts:

Objectification, Oversaturated color, Old black man's fingers as he plays the guitar (an image we've gotten almost more than the hot girl on the toilet)

Dos:

Old magazines, Optics

Photo by Angela Gaimari

P Don't: Posing

"OK! Everyone get in here! Come on, guys, squeeze in. Let's go, tallest to shortest! Mary, put your arm around Charley—just do it, don't argue! Jimmy, stop making that face. Come on now, guys, grow up. Let's do this together. Mark, stand a little closer to Jen, that's it. Now, OK, hold still everyone. ‘Wally World' on three. Ready? One, two, three…Wally World!"

Don'ts:

Photoshop, Panoramics, Parallax, Pushing and Pulling, Photograms, Pinholes

Dos:

Porn, Postcards, Polaroid, Photo albums, Photo booths, Point-and-shoot cameras, Picture day at school

Photo by Mark Murray

Q Do: Quick reflexes

Good photographing is like a sport. You have to be fast, strong (cameras are heavy as shit), agile and hyperaware. It's no coincidence that Spider-Man is such a good photographer.

Don'ts:

Quick prints (expensive and look like shit)

Dos:

Quick load (a godsend)

Photo by the author

R

Don't: Road trips

Emo kids have sold this romantic ideal and ultimate picture-taking bonanza so far down the river that now, on its back in a jagged script the whip scars actually spell out:

Who cares?

Don'ts:

"Reportage," Retouching, the Rule of thirds, Red-eye-reduction flash setting, Reflections

Dos:

Rolleiflex, Robert Frank, Rangefinders, Richard Prince, Roni Horn

Found photo

S Don't: Sports photos

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Just like live sports, sports photos are about watching the same people in the same places wearing the same clothes do the same thing over and over again.

Don'ts:

Soft focus, Stop bath (Smells like eggs), Sepiatone, Self-portraiture, Sprocket holes on prints, Stock agencies

Dos:

Snapshots, Stealing Souls, Slide Shows, Self-timers, Stereographs, Starburst filters, Slaves, Sally Mann

T Don't: Text

Please don't write on your prints, or scratch words into your negatives, or project text through the slide, or whatever. Has that ever been done well? Writers aren't illustrating their books with bad photos, are they? So don't illustrate your photos with bad writing. You can't just throw in some words to beef up a boring photo. Words are a whole other world that you and I know nothing about.

Don'ts:

Tripods, Thin negatives, Timed exposures, Tints, Toning, Tungsten

Dos:

Telephoto lenses (for spying), Terryrichardson.com, Three-d, Tintypes

Photo by the author

U

Do: Us Weekly

The photography in Us Weekly is like a cheap, super hot whore who rubs your feet and swallows your load. It perfectly serves its purpose: to be entertaining, informative, and disposable.

Don'ts

: Underexposure, Used equipment, Unipods

Dos

: Underwater photos, Ultraviolet light

Photo found by Bobby Pulio

V Don't: Vacation photos

Of all the sterling silver that is dug up in the world by underpaid, zombified miners, the largest percentage goes to making film (true). So, even though the swimming pool at the Chateau Shamrock was in the shape of a shamrock, no one needs to see the whole roll of film you went through on it. You just wasted what some poor Mexican lost three fingers digging up.

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Don'ts:

Variable contrast paper, Vignetting

Dos:

Vaseline on the lens, Vistas

Photo by Balarama Heller

W

Do: War photographers

All the way up to Vietnam, these motherfuckers were basically shooting guns and film at the same time. They were war heroes and artists and would inevitably end up getting shot in some hard-to-pronounce place and left to rot in a swamp.

Don'ts:

Wide-angle, Wedding photographers, White Walls, Web designers

Dos:

William Eggleston, Wolfgang Tillmans, Walker Evans

X Don't: X-treem

anything

No matter how wide-angle your lenses go, you fucking EXPN, tri-hawk-sporting, scar-bragging, tattooed "adrenaline junkies" can never see how extremely embarrassing you are to the rest of us. You combine every annoying aesthetic and then "Turn up the volume!" until we can't even see you against that fucking graffiti backdrop.

Dos:

X-ray vision

Y Don't: Photographing Yourself

The majority of self-portraits are annoying and bad because humans are far too self-aware to photograph themselves in any sort of candid, honest way. Everyone puts on their photo face (usually mopey, serious, or blank), squints their eyes, and tries to look timid, shy, sensitive, and/or tough. It's really gay.

Dos:

Yearbooks

Photo by the author

Z

Don't: Zooming in

You are not blowing anyone's mind with your vivid closeup of the intricate textures of that tree bark. Your photo of the S from the stop sign is not poetic. Yes, the ant looks big because you zoomed in, but no, that's not interesting. Don't tell us you were trying to broaden the viewer's perspective. If you think that is broadening

anything

, you are a simpleton, and you should get back to filling in all spaces in the letters in your Intro to Photo guidebook.

Dos

: the Zone system