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. It’s funny, because at the end of the day, he liked what you put out there enough to invest in your course work……and you’re the idiot?! No sir!! Well crafted reply, my friend! When I got back into digital photography almost 8 years ago, it was your site and your classes that taught me what I needed to know to be able to run with my idiocy like scissors!!:) I’m loving every minute of it! I refer people to your site all – the – time for excellent instruction or really anything photography they are seeking. It’s called #communityovercompetition, as we are far stronger together that we could EVER be apart!!! CHEERS AND HAPPY SHOOTING, YA FREAKIN’ IDIOT!! ☺️

  2. Ooh, I’m an idiot too! And proud of it! Started a project this year – 366 sunrises all from the same spot! Had one photography buddy tell me that was dumb, that I needed to move around and that if I wanted to photograph sunrises fine, but doing them all from the same place was boring and nobody was going to want to look at that. I have learned more about the fine points of sunrise photography this year than I ever expected, and captured some stunners to boot. A second photography friend is of the opinion that ‘if you have to edit the picture afterwards to get the shot you want, you shouldn’t be taking it in the first place.’ And refers to folks who use post-processing as ‘hacks.’ So I’m a hack, too; because I’ve found that subtle enhancements can really be incredibly effective, and upgrade a shot from ‘okay’ to ‘omg.’
    Thank you, thank you for this article!! Some of what you’ve said describes exactly how I’ve felt and lacked to words to express.

    1. Ellen,
      I guess That makes Mark Hirsch an idiot too. He not only decided to shoot a tree in a field in Wisconsin every day for a year, but he did it with an iPhone and no filters. And that was so idiotic that he has books, calendars and a very busy schedule. Oh and Apple was so intrigued with one of the tricks he used to get some shots that they flew him out to hq and the next iPhone included his idiot ‘trick’ as a feature. Keep on doing your thing girl and be proud to be an idiot.

  3. The whole line of Photography Books “for Idiots” just got a big boost.

    Obama and Kim Jung Un in a photo – that made me LOL for real and just gave me a great idea for a MEME. LOL.

  4. Hi Jim

    I’ve read and reread the original post and am at a loss as to what the aim of his/her message to you was. There’s nothing constructive, advisory or compelling in the message. If they’d provided a solid argument as to why compositing is wrong then some air time would be warranted. Sadly there was nothing of the sort in there.

    But whether compositing is wrong is a subjective matter. How far should you take the purest argument? How much post processing is OK and when do you cross the line? That is where you hit personal preferance. Is photography an art form or a science? In truth it’s both – painting with light is (I think) where the term photography comes from. On the one hand should we display an image exactly as the camera captures it (err that’d be as a rather nasty and small chemical negative or as a load of 1’s and 0’s neither of which are that exciting to look at – but could constitute art – bizarre art, but art nevertheless). Or should we darkroom / photoshop every photo to within a mega pixel of it’s life to produce an impossible perfection? Perhaps we should all strive to produce an image that serves our purpose at the time and provides satisfaction to either just us, our friends or a wider community? Sometimes no processing, sometime loads. Sometimes just some.

    Why the message – what was the point? Probably to make you feel hurt/bad/angry. Again what’s the point? It’s just a little sad.

    So fair play to you – keep up the good work. I really enjoy the pod cast, the website, the e-mails and all the other stuff you and the IP team get up to. Unlike you’re potentially-soon-to-be-slapped chum I want to learn from other’s experience, experiments, failures and successes so that I can challenge myself, my skills and to enjoy the experience.

    Thank you for doing what you do


    A very English Idiot

  5. Well Jim you certainly are quite an idiot about writing a post! ? I love making composites too and I’ve always liked your posts since I’ve been reading this site. Most of the time I can tell yours apart before I even look at the author. I’m also planning on taking your many suggestions for the X-t1. I’ve gotten to mess with it at camera shops and it definitely wins over canon and Nikon. Right now it’ll be a nice step up from a cannon powershot sx530 hs!

  6. Well said and well written! Photography and art are subjective. Everyone likes certain things and dislikes others.

  7. Wow, or I should say, “Freakin’ Yikes!”. Thanks for all the idiocy you bring us, Jim. I’m an idiot, too. Being an idiot is fun. I strive to become a better idiot every day. I’ll never be perfectly idiotic, but that won’t keep me from trying. I know that with your help, and the help of so many others in the Improve Photography network, I can become the idiot that I want to be. A happy idiot. In the end, that’s the only kind of idiot that really matters.

    Keep on being idiotic! 😉

  8. Funny, I just took a collection of cloud photos today so I can practice my sky replacements. Apparently, my goal is to dumb down my photography enough to someday be as idiotic (I mean awesome) as the rest of you.

    Is there a line forming to help Jesse?? 😉

  9. That’s freaking awesome you freaking idiot! Freaking yikes!

    In all seriousness, I’m glad you responded in such a diplomatic way. I admire your ability to use words to eloquently get your point across. I wish I had a tenth of that talent and 100th of your talent as a photographer.

  10. I do not care what others say, it’s my freedom as an artist. All professional photographer have there photos through post production, Jason Lanier, Scott Kelby, Moose Peterson .
    Keep on shooting and evolve, don’t be hold back by a Jerk.

  11. To the original author of the letter to Jim, advice from 2000 years ago:

    – Marcus Tullius Cicero

    Open your mind to learning new techniques and processes, it will certainly make you a better photographer, even if you choose not to use them.

  12. I love this comment because, due to lack of time to do extensive editing, this is exactly what I am doing – shooting only in JPG. Freakin’ Yikes!

    “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.”

  13. Excellent response, Jim! Your skills as a photographer, writer, and business owner are evident. I have yet to listen to a Podcast or portfolio review without taking valuable notes. According to the original message, I am an idiot too. Why? Because my technique is different than 90% of my local photo group. Freakin’ Yikes!

  14. Freakin’ Yikes!!!
    I guess we need to have a new club…the “IPC” Idiot Photographer’s Club…CUZ I GUESS I BE ONE! LOL.

    Ah well! All Hail you sir, for your masterful crafting of a response, that has inspired a new movement.

  15. Good to know that photographers who try something a little differently are considered to be “idiots”, I’ve only ever called myself an idiot for forgetting some vital piece of equipment – e.g. hiking to the top of a hill to get a great long exposure of the evening sky/city below only to forget the release plate for the tripod head!

  16. Keep being an Idiot. Its been good for you and good for a lot of us as well. I hope you never stop. Also, let Jesse slap him, it might be good for both of them.

    This was very well written and I applaud the response to someone dumb enough to say such things.

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