The Photography ANTI-Bucket List: 10 Things To Never Do

People spend a lot of energy coming up with a photography bucket list, and for good reason, but what about a photography ANTI-bucket list? You know, a list of things to be sure never to do in your photography?

I love lists. Ask anyone who knows me well, and they will be quick to point out that I am one who likes to make lists and then check them off. Most of my lists are task-oriented (to-do’s), but I have a photography bucket list as well. In some ways, it’s easier to put together a bucket list of things you want to accomplish before you die than a list of things to not do. Yet, perhaps we’d avoid making some stupid mistakes if we had a photography anti-bucket list.

Here is list of 10 things many of us photographers have done that we wish we never had. For instance, have you ever missed a shot because you left the lens cap on or forgot your tripod at a location (yep, I’ve done both. Luckily, I was able to retrieve my tripod).  If so, consider adding some of the following do-not's to your photography anti-bucket list.

#1. Don’t get photography gear stolen due to carelessness

Thankfully, I haven’t had any photography equipment stolen (yet), but I know a handful of photographers who have had to deal with this misfortune. Obviously, no one intends to have their gear stolen, but there are some things we can do to help prevent that from happening. For example, don’t leave your gear out in the back seat of your car while you run indoors for a quick errand. This includes your camera bag. Cover it up, stick it in the trunk, or bring it with you. If you have your camera bag with you while traveling in an airport or other busy area, it’s a good idea to loop it under a leg of your chair while sitting.

Another tip is to only take your camera out when it is time to start shooting. Walking around town or in large crowds with your camera around your neck when you’re not doing street photography or photojournalism could make you a target. Photographers have been known to lose expensive lenses to highly skilled thieves who can detach lenses from a camera without the photographer ever knowing.

An additional way to guard yourself against robbery is to have your gear insured. Look for photography insurance policies that specify they will protect you from theft. For more information on gear insurance and other business topics, check out Jim Harmer’s guide on Setting Up a Photography Business Legally.

#2. Don’t lose data by not having a solid backup system

It’s not a matter of “if”, it’s a matter of “when” you will lose your data. We all understand the importance of backing up our data, but few of us actually go ahead and do it properly. We will get to it someday. I’m guilty of this myself. But you can’t predict accidents or bad circumstances that could lead to data destruction, so having a solid backup system is a must. In fact, that should go on your photography bucket list if you don’t already have a good backup system. The best first step to backing up your data is to organize your photo library in a consistent way. If you are an Adobe Lightroom user, check out Jim Harmer’s Lightroom Medic for some straightforward tips on how to keep your photo library organized once and for all. You will be grateful you did! Then, be sure to read Jeff Harmon’s IP article on the 3-2-1 backup system for instructions on how to properly secure your data.

#3. Don’t leave image stabilization vibration reduction on while using a tripod

Have you ever returned from a shoot only to find your images soft and annoyingly a tad fuzzy? Argh! What the heck, right? Often, I find that I’ve forgotten to turn off image stabilization (vibration reduction) on my lens while shooting on a tripod. Stabilization works by attempting to correct for camera shake in handheld shots. If the camera is on a tripod, the lens will still try to correct for movement that isn’t present, and the images will be soft. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done this! It’s a setting that is easy to forget about in the moment, but it can make a huge difference whether you nail the shot or not. Listen to Jeff Harmon’s Photo Taco Podcast to learn more about when to use image stabilization.

#4. Don’t shoot in the styles that are trending instead of what you truly enjoy

Are you on Instagram? Most of us use some sort of social media either personally, in our photography business, or both. Many photographers tend to be heavy users of Instagram for obvious reasons. It is really easy to get sucked into the hype of what types of photos get the most likes and would likely grow a social media account. I mean, who doesn’t want more followers? But, as a result, we end up shooting for likes and followers rather than for the art of photography, to tell a story, or for personal growth. Most of us didn’t learn photography just to build up a social media following based on what’s trending this year. I’d argue that our love of photography goes much deeper than that. Stay true to yourself and photograph that what inspires you. You’re less likely to burn out or get the photography blues, and your social media following and business will grow more organically.

I asked some of the writers for Improve Photography for their input on what should be added to your photography anti-bucket list. This is what they had to say.

#5. Don’t pack for a long photo trip without a gear list

Bastian Bodyl and Jim Harmer both noted their experiences with this either personally or as part of photography workshops. When you are excited to hit the road, it can be easy to forget critical items, such as batteries or a tripod. Having a gear packing list is a great way to make sure you are prepared for your trip. Check out Julian Baird’s Ultimate Landscape Photography Packing List and Frank Gallagher’s Ultimate Packing List for Travel Photography to get started on creating your personalized packing list.

I have been burned by not having some essential items with me on a photo outing as well. I’ve gotten into the habit of repacking my go-to camera bag right when I return from the road. If I’m taking memory cards out of my camera to upload into Lightroom, then I’m also checking my bag and replenishing items (like charged batteries) for my next outing. I always make sure to have a minimalist camera backpack ready to go with two batteries, an extra memory card, lens cloths, lens caps, rocket blower, filter set, tripod tool, and microfiber cloth. This leads us to our next tip from Deb Mitzel.

#6. Don't forget to reformat memory cards and charge batteries

Ok, admit it. How many times have you run out the door for a shoot only to realize that you’ve forgotten to recharge your batteries and/or reformat memory cards? Maybe you didn’t get to edit your last shoot yet, and your memory cards are full. You can’t reformat these in the field and now you’re stuck without a way to record images. I always keep a spare memory card and at least one battery in my bag. I’m not allowed to touch either (unless I’m checking the charge on the battery) as they are my “emergency” backups. This way if I do forget to recharge batteries or reformat my cards, or if one of them fails, I have something to work with in a pinch.

#7. Don’t forget to reset or review all of your camera settings before your next shoot

Nathan Goldberg chimed in with this anti-bucket list tip. Be sure to check white balance, ISO, metering, and tone adjustments, for example. It is easy to forget about those settings that are a little more buried in your camera’s menu and ruin your next shot as a result. Rick Ohnsman also lamented that he has missed quick shots from leaving the 2-second timer on in lieu of using a shutter release cable. I’ve done this myself as well and have thought, why the heck is my camera not firing? It’s amazing how our brains will trick us into thinking something is wrong rather than quickly realizing our simple mistakes.

#8. Don’t leave your camera next to a cliff unattended

Nathan St. Andre commented, “that was an expensive fail”. Oooof! I bet! I think this anti-bucket list tip can be extended to other precarious conditions as well, such as never leaving your camera unattended near a body of water or in high winds or on a rooftop. Even if it’s just for a moment. I once took a chain saw safety class in which we learned about the dirtiest four letter word: just. The instructor said most injuries occur when an operator “just” wants to do a quick cut (and so doesn’t wear protective equipment) or wants to do “just one more” cut when it is getting dark. You can imagine this scenario in photography as well. For example, you might want to “just” quickly grab a spare battery out of your camera bag when the wind picks up and blows over your camera and tripod. Watch out for that word, “just”, and you and your gear just might be better off.

#9. Don’t let “gear lust” stifle your creativity

Some people call it Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS). This tip comes from Brad Goetsch, and I think many of us can relate. It is easy to swoon over the latest gear or photography gadget, especially with the fun “doodads of the week” that we learn about on the IP Roundtable Podcast! Oftentimes, when we miss shots or are not feeling that creative in our work, we think that upgrading gear will take our photography to the next level. While this may be true in some instances, more often than not, we just need to work harder at getting the shot. As I discuss in my 8 Cures for Your Photography Funk article, one of the best ways to boost your creativity is to give yourself limits. What better way to do that than to stick with the gear you have and try something new?

#10. Don't be afraid to break the rules

This tip comes from Rusty Parkhurst, who says that it can be easy to get hung up on how an image is “supposed” to look according to common compositional rules or techniques, such as the rule of thirds, leading lines, never shoot at f/22, etc.. While these are great guidelines and starting places for composition, they can also hamper creativity. Pete LaGregor adds, “never listen to advice that tells you to never (or always) do something – every rule has an exception”. Including this photography anti-bucket list! Don’t be afraid to try something new.

I try to follow some advice I read in National Geographic Photographer Paul Nicklen’s ebook “Photographing Wild”, where he discusses his 20-60-20 rule. Basically, he recommends that 20% of your effort should be spent on getting the shot that counts, the one that is tack sharp and technically accurate. Then, spend 60% of your time trying new angles, compositions, techniques, and just let yourself be creative. The last 20% of time is spent really throwing all the rules to the wind and just playing around to see what you get. You’d be surprised as to how much this can develop your creativity and skills as a photographer.

As you can see, we’ve all made some mistakes in our photography, some more regrettable than others. None of us is perfect and things happen beyond our control, but we can stack the odds in our favor if we give some forethought on what not to do in our photography.

What’s on YOUR photography anti-bucket list?

11 thoughts on “The Photography ANTI-Bucket List: 10 Things To Never Do”

  1. Nice article Brenda! I’ve heard it said that you can learn from the mistakes of others or you can BE one of those “others.” Your list certainly provides quite a few I’d care not to learn the hard way. Thanks!

    1. Thanks, Rick! So glad you found the article to be helpful. I agree, it’s good to learn from the mistakes of others, although sometimes the lesson is best learned the hard way (I wish it wasn’t!). 😉

  2. Brenda, I may be an amateur, but many of these tips sound too familiar. For instance-

    Vibration reduction on while using a tripod? Done when switching from hand-held

    Packing without a gear list? Maybe just a day trip, but in my haste to catch the light…

    Review all of your camera settings before your next shoot- Too often when I’m up before dawn for a sunrise

    Don’t leave your camera next to a cliff unattended- OK maybe not a cliff, but I did leave a bag of accessories (~$200) somewhere near an eastern US river at dawn

    Great tips all around for amateurs and professionals alike!

    1. Marc – I agree! I think anyone, no matter your skill level as a photographer, can make these mistakes. It happens to the best of us! It’s good to hear that I’m not alone in some of these…. 🙂

  3. cousin to #8

    light stand – check
    off camera flash – check
    receiver for flash – check
    large umbrella – check
    body of water to put all that all that equipment next to – check
    sand bag for light stand – nope
    what could possibly go wrong . . .

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