Forest McMullin’s five golden rules

1) Be nice
It seems so simple, but it’s also easy to forget when we’re focused on getting whatever shot is in front of us. I’ve been in some pretty tense situations photographing neo-Nazi skinheads, abortion protests, and sex workers, but I always try to be sincere, courteous, and, well, nice. Except in certain news situations (I’ve been in those, too, and it’s not fun for me) where it can mean failure, I believe that being nice has gotten me more access and more honest pictures.

2) Be curious
As a people photographer, I think my curiosity has served me well. Most stories I’ve covered have been a result of me wanting to learn more about a group of people or a place or a situation. I want to understand why things are the way they are, how people live their lives, why they think the way they do. As they answer my questions, they open up and become comfortable. By the time I bring out my camera, we feel like friends and they act more naturally when the shutter clicks.

3) Be prepared
It’s not as simple as having back-ups to gear- although that’s important, too. Preparation includes research before a shoot so you understand what you’re walking into. But it’s also a state of mind. It means being ready for unforeseen problems. It means not freaking out when people don’t show up on time or when weather turns bad. Which leads me to Rule 4.

4) Be flexible
Things change. Flights get cancelled. It rains. Someone won’t smile. It might be anything and you have to be able to get beyond it. Don’t be afraid to admit that the brilliant idea you had for a shot just won’t work. There may be a million reasons why it would have been a great shot and just as many why it will never happen. Take a deep breath and walk away from it. Go to Plan B. Or Plan C. Or even Plan D if you need to.

5) Be passionate
This is the toughest Rule and one that can’t be taught. Ours is a tough business, profession, pastime, and even hobby. If you want to do great work, you have to be committed to the process of constantly striving to improve. You have to be willing to go the extra mile for your clients and yourself. You have to be certain you never settle for “good enough”.

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