Dear Photographer Who My Assistant Wants to Slap…


A few minutes ago, I got a message from my amazing assistant, Jesse.  It said simply, “I kind of wanna slap this guy” along with the screenshot (above).

Here's what the screenshot says: “Hi Jim.  I can't believe I just ordered photography instruction from someone who thinks compositing two photos together makes a good nature “photograph.”  Freakin' Yikes! I have no words for what an idiot you look like to any photography community.  But I guess you're profiting, right?  Maybe law really is your first and primary calling…..”

Side note for those who don't know me: The law reference in the comment was about the fact that I'm an attorney who no longer practices law because I run this site full time.

I wish I could publish that photographer's name and email address, but unfortunately there are other photographers by the same name and I don't want anyone to be falsely accused.

Dear Photographer Who My Assistant Wants to Slap…

You aren't the first person to call me an idiot.  In fact, you aren't the first one today.  Frankly, some days I'd agree with you.  I make some pretty dumb mistakes.  I believe you've made one too.

Your mistake is believing that anyone who creates photography differently than you is an idiot.   I'll explain why,  but first, I want to introduce you to a few more “idiots.”

Trey Ratcliff Is An “Idiot”

Years ago, Trey Ratcliff started posting HDR images.  At first, I was absolutely taken by them.  I looked at everything he did and I was enamored with it.  It was absolutely out of this world.  I loved every shot he posted, and I wasn't alone.  Millions of photographers from around the world love his work as well.

I learned a lot from Trey Ratcliff.  I've used his products, read his blog posts, and learned from his videos.  But you know what?  I don't shoot like Trey Ratcliff anymore.  I learned from him and eventually took a different direction in what I personally like in a photo.  He shoots differently than me, so he must be an idiot.

He's an idiot who has shaped the course of the entire industry for the better, inspired millions of people to pick up a camera, and introduced far-flung areas of the world to people from thousands of miles away. And he's learned to use his creativity to provide for his family.  What an idiot!  Doesn't he even care about image quality???

Henri Cartier-Bresson Is An “Idiot”

Can I just be real honest here?  I don't love street photography.  Sometimes I see a really beautiful street photo, but it's rare.  To me, it seems like most of the photos are just random comps of city scenes turned to black and white to make it seem more artistic.  I just don't have an appreciation for it.

Therefore, Henri Cartier-Bresson is an absolute idiot.  He shot differently than I do.  He used technique that I don't, so he's an idiot.

His “idiotic” approach to photography changed the industry.  It got him 3 decades of assignments from Life.  It led him to photograph the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, world-wide upheavals, and the assassination of Mahatma Ghandi.  Oh, and did I mention he made the idiotic choice of being one of the first to shoot 35mm? That standard will NEVER catch on!

Jeremy Cowart Is An “Idiot”

Ugh.  This guy makes me sick.  Jeremy Cowart only started doing photography full-time in 2005 and he's already done so much damage to the artform.  I've seen videos where this “idiot” smeared goop on the front of his lens to achieve really unique looks.  He is comfortable enough in his own skin to allow himself to try things that most photographers would never dare do.  He feels confident working with his model and develops an instant rapport.

He's photographed the people of Rwanda and Haiti, and helps many thousands of people through his Help-Portrait events.

He has helped millions of people around the world with humanitarian efforts, and millions more have had a good cry at their computer screens as we get to enjoy the tremendous images he produces.  He's my photography hero…. and he's an idiot.

Am I An Idiot Too?

I'm not much of an idiot.  I'm frankly not doing things different enough to be considered a royal idiot like Henri Cartier-Bresson or Jeremy Cowart.  Sometimes I struggle to create truly unique images.  I'm not as good as they are, but I'm learning and improving each day.

I might not be shaping the course of the photography industry.  Some day I hope to, but today I'm just enjoying photography the way I like to enjoy it, and helping millions of photographers who visit this site to have the confidence to enjoy photography how THEY like.  And one of the techniques I enjoy using is compositing.  Yes, even landscapes (GASP!).

Maybe I'm becoming an idiot.  You helped me to realize that today, Photographer Who My Assistant Wants to Slap.  Why?

  • I don't set my white balance.  I shoot on auto white balance and fix it in post.  It's rare that I set it.  Why?  It works for me.  When I'm in the field I'd rather focus on composition and light, and change whibal later.  Freakin' yikes!  What an idiot!
  • I only use my calibrated monitor settings for printing.  Most of the time I go uncalibrated because I want my screen to look as bright as people's screens are who will see my photo on Facebook.  Idiot!
  • I don't shoot full frame anymore.  I moved “down” to a crop sensor Fuji because they are lighter and easier to pack.  What an idiot.  I must not care about image quality at all!  Freakin' yikes!
  • Along with a group of extremely talented individuals like Nick Page, Erica Kay, Connor Hibbs, Jeff Harmon, Sandy Dorau and others, I produce a photography podcast 5 days a week.  Yep, an audio show about something visual–photography!  Idiot!  That won't work!  (If I had a dime for everyone who told me that before it blew up and attracted tens of thousands of listeners a WEEK!)

Just to be crystal clear–there are areas of photography where compositing would NOT be appropriate.  Compositing President Obama into a shot with Kim Jung Un?  Ill advised.  Why?  Because it purports to tell the truth when it does not.

Is compositing landscapes unethical?  It would be if you lied about it.  But that's not what I've done.  I send out an email newsletter each week showing my favorite shot of the week and what it looked like straight out of the camera.  I've talked about compositing on dozens of podcasts, in multiple articles, spoken about it at photography conferences, Facebooked it, tweeted it, Instagrammed it, you name it.  Check out my portfolio.  You'll probably see 3 or 4 composites in there.

I've been blessed to find tremendous success in photography, and much of that has been because I've decided to simply shoot for ME.  I approach photography with the techniques that I enjoy, and I'm grateful to the Improve Photography Community of over 1 million followers on social media who have found friendship here among other photographers who also like to shoot differently.  In fact, I was recently honored to be ranked among the top 40 most popular photographers in the world.

If I am open and honest about my approach to photography, why does it still make you so angry?

Live Life Like an Idiot

It's not too late for you, Photographer Who My Assistant Wants to Slap.  I can talk to Jesse and stop the corporal punishment 🙂

But you're not alone.  Ever since I started Improve Photography in 2010, I've been berated with the same vitriolic drivel that you spread throughout the industry.

I've come to embrace my idiocy.  I'm a baby idiot, but I'm getting dumber every day.  I'm learning to allow myself to do “wrong” things in photography.  Things that are different from the common wisdom.  Things that are cutting edge and scary to those lost in a sea of “rules” that keep their photos from being unique.

Be An Idiot

  • Don't like editing at all and just want to shoot in JPG?  That goes against what most people in the industry are doing.  Do it anyway. If it's how you like to make art, then knock yourself out!
  • Really like visiting the popular photography spots around the world and don't like it when people tell you your images aren't unique enough?  Do it anyway.  If you ENJOY shooting those locations and YOU like putting your own spin on time-proven photo locations, then shoot it!
  • Tired of people telling you that your flash is too bright in all your shots and you need to blend the flash with the ambient more?  Listen to them.  Learn what they're suggesting.  But if in the end that's just how you like to shoot, then don't let anyone stop you.

Learn from everyone.  LISTEN to comments from other photographers.  Try out new things even if you don't like them at first.  But at the end of the day, be you.  

Dear Photographer Who My Assistant Wants to Slap, come be an idiot with me.  Let's dare to enjoy photography how we want to enjoy it, and maybe–just maybe–we'll find our place in this fantastic artform.

Until then, keep hatin'.

Jim Harmer

P.S. Come check me out on Instagram!  I've been way too slow to catch on to Instagram, but I've really enjoyed seeing the work that you all are doing and I'm on there every day now.  I'm checking the #improvephotography hashtag regularly and following as many of you back as I can.

P.P.S. Just in case the sarcasm didn't come through, I'm praising Trey Ratcliff, Jeremy Cowart, and Henri Cartier-Bresson.  They are absolutely amazing people who approach photography differently than I do, and they've enjoyed tremendous success.  Cheers to them.

P.P.P.S. Thanks for the “Freakin' yikes!” comment.  I'm going to say that all the time now.  Freakin' yikes!


56 thoughts on “Dear Photographer Who My Assistant Wants to Slap…”

  1. I smeared goo on the front element of a lens in high school, took some pictures and proceeded to clean it off under the kitchen faucet. Should have put a UV filter in it first. That is an idiot.

  2. Bravo on your response. Sadly people like Photographer Who My Assistant Wants to Slap are everywhere looking to dim the enthusiasm and creativity of those around them because they have fallen victim to prescribed or formulaic photography or can’t separate photography as documentation from photography as art. I count myself among the idiots who are exploring, learning and trying to define how photography can best express my creative vision and voice.

    Carry on to you and the entire Improve Photography community of idiots!

  3. It takes a lot of confidence in your own work to just go off and do your own thing the way you like it. I noticed a big leap in satisfaction once I just decided to do what I like even if those techniques weren’t considered the standard. There’s really no way to get beyond the standard unless you break it eventually.

  4. Everyone has their own likes and dislikes, their own eye and appreciation for what looks good to themselves. There’s no right or wrong in creating art. Never has been. Never will be. It’s all unique to the individual. The very act of taking a photo involves a conscious decision to manipulate reality in some ways, from what’s in the frame and what one chooses to leave out to your choice of settings (blurred water? frozen waterfalls? streaking clouds?). We can all have our standards of what we will or won’t do and what we consider acceptable manipulation. But realize that any such distinction is really arbitrary because you’ve already altered reality the moment you press the shutter release.

  5. Suzanne Thompson

    Jim Harmer…(in my best Nationwide tune) Epic comeback starts right here! I hope one day to be half the ‘idiot’ you are. I have learned so much in the past 6 months I’ve been following. Thanks for all you share!

  6. Jim, you summed it up perfectly: different = bad. The lack of tolerance and open-mindedness for others’ views, styles, thoughts, and ideas is astounding, isn’t it? Now get back to building your idiotic company… 🙂

  7. LOVE LOVE LOVE your response Jim! I’m still learning to be an “idiot” just like you and all the Improve Photography photographers out there and I wouldn’t have it any other way!


  8. Glad I’m not alone.. I’m an idiot too. 🙂
    I’m sure with a site as popular as yours you get a lot of similar emails. It is too bad really. Not sure why people can’t understand that art is a personal thing. If you don’t like someone’s just move on to the next. No reason you have to comment on everything you disagree with. The electronic media has embolden a lot of people to say things that they wouldn’t otherwise.

    I always look forward to the next episode of all your podcasts and you know what? I don’t always agree with what the guests/hosts say. As crazy as this sounds I’ve never emailed you to tell you. I just moved on. I know I’m and idiot and nuts. LOL

    Love your podcasts… please show some more love to Tripod. 🙂

  9. Great response Jim.

    We all have different tastes and approaches to photography. These preferences and decisions evolve and change. I applaud you for turning this situation into a teaching moment not just for the “photographer my assistant wants to slap” but for all your followers and students of the IP community.

    Keep up the great work I so appreciate all that you have built from the podcasts to the website and helpful articles. Bravo, my friend

  10. I just joined so I can be an idiot too. ? I love your work and your generous willingness to share with newbies. Screw slap guy! If he’s so damn clever, why does he need your stuff anyway. Douche! Sorry if I can’t say that but guys like him are the worst and intimidate us new to all of this to not try different things. Keep up the fantastic work and instruction.

  11. Henri Cartier-Bresson, was quite an “idiot” but what about Jacob Riis who helped shape the tenant laws we have now days with his work in New York yes he took pictures of less fortunate people at the time what an “idiot” who does that but partially because of him a lot of the tenant/ landlord laws we have today are in place, and not to mention his work that pushed child labor reform. If I make even a small change in the world with my camera I would he a proud “idiot”

  12. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and every village needs an idiot. Thanks for stepping forward to be our “idiot” Jim! I get it, there are purists in the photography world, some want to shoot with film, some want to lug around vintage cameras and glass plates to perform their craft. Kudos to them and some eschew the manipulation that can now be done digitally. As long as you are not promoting yourself as a photo journalist and submitting your photos to a news publication then have at it with whatever you do with your photos digitally. I have a shelf full of lenses and a closet full of tripods that are reminders of me being an idiot and buying wrong….Freakin’ Yikes!

  13. Jim,

    I’ve followed you for some time and hope to be an idiot like you someday! Freakin yikes! I don’t even know HOW to composit, yet!

    Thank you for all you do for all us idiot-wannabes!

  14. I am SO HAPPY that you replied to this guy!!! I may not do your kind of photography, but I sure appreciate it. People that can’t get over their own “value” system need a good talkin to every once in a while!!

  15. This person has their own issues, if they’re lashing out at you for something they don’t agree with or understand. They’re entitled to their opinion, but it’s sad that they have to lash out with insults. Perhaps he should listen to a few podcasts/videos and decide if the people producing the content have the same creative ideals and vision that he’s trying to learn. Personally, I love the work you and the rest of the IP team do, both technically and creatively. Keep it up.

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