10 Things That are More Fun and Useful to Photographers Than Playing Farmville


I read about how some photographers are having challenging times. How there isn’t as much work coming their way as before. Whining and kvetching about the “state of the industry” and a bunch of other stuff that does no good at all.

Then I see the Farmville and Mafia Wars and other time-wasting posts fly by in my Tweetdeck… many by the same photographers I just saw complaining that the business isn’t what it was… you know, back in them “Good Ol’ Days.”

Guys, these are the good old days for young people.

And, BTW, what has getting someone ‘whacked’ or finding a pig in your garden doing for your business? Anyone? Really… send me an email with what stupid time-wasting online gaming is doing for your work, and I will post it and send a bunch of links your way.

Look, I don’t care if someone wants to play those games and still get stuff done… who cares. These comments are directed toward people who are wasting time and worrying about their business consecutively. I am not against fun, I am tired of the whining that wasting time inevitably produces.

So I have a little list of 10 things you can do to have fun and will certainly be more conducive to growing a photographic career than tending your online aquarium. Here we go.

1. Identify your ‘Fans’ and create ‘Evangelists’.
Do you have anyone who is a super fan, those who love your work? Make a list of them. And then figure out how you can make them true evangelists for your photography. How can we turn fans into ‘raving fans’? Find out what they like about your work. Note what you can do to make more raving fans instead of ex-clients. It is so much easier to keep a client than to get a new one.

2. Take 5 of your images and do a critique of them.
Do it online if you want to be really brave. And remember that a critique is not simply what is wrong, it is also what is right. Do a thorough investigation of each of the images. What makes them work? What are their flaws? What could you have done to make it better if you had to do it again. Don’t do this in your head… write it down. In the process of writing or typing it becomes more important in your mind.

3. Write a review of a fellow photographer.
On Flickr there are those “Testimonials” that can do something nice for another photographer. If you don’t know someone, go to a gallery and see new work. Find the photographers I occasionally link here on LE, and visit their sites. If you have some shooters that inspire you, take a few images and write a review. Why do you like the work? What makes it special to you? How does the work engage you? You may find some ideas to help your own work.

4. Do something silly with photography.
Shoot from the hip. Take an image every 15 minutes. Document your walk with the dog. Document the dog. Take the camera and shoot without looking through the viewfinder. Make images at night with a flashlight. Play. It’s OK to not be serious.

5. Send a note or email to a photographer you admire.
If there is a shooter you admire, even if they are totally famous and nearly a celebrity in themselves, send them a note and let them know. Not a “you rock, dude… cool shots and totally awesome babes” kinda thing, but a thoughtful, well written note that tells them what you like and how it has inspired you. We aren’t doing this to get a reply… just for fun. And what you may learn about yourself while writing this can be very eye-opening as well.

6. Pick up one of those disposable cameras at the drugstore.
And use it to make incredible, outstanding images. One shot per shoot. In other words, if you do a shot of something, pull it out and make ONE image – and make it rock. So when you get that little stack of prints, each one looks like a million bucks – or at least as good as those little disposable cameras make. (No, digital P&S cameras don’t count. No chimping. It is about the fun of getting the shots back unforseen.) Alternate: Take the camera and shoot whatever the image count is on a single outing – no DSLR taken – just this camera. Make every shot count.

7. Take a Workshop in a different discipline.
Find a cool writing workshop and sign up. Do a pottery workshop, or something on web design. If you have never done any kind of art, take a painting or watercolor class. Sculpting and welding could be fun. Well, the welding thing could be a little dangerous, but then so is chasing elephants with burning torches… I digress. Have fun… learn something else, and it will burn some incredible ideas into your brain.

8. Pull 1 or 3 images out of your portfolio and write a short story based on the content.
An image is a story… now tell it. What is going on in the picture? What was the story behind it? Not the BTS stuff, fiction. Fiction. Make up a story about what the image is about. Alternate: write a poem that the image could illustrate. Or a rap song… whatever. It is such fun to do… and can increase the ‘story telling’ ability of your next photographs.

9. Do a video of you shooting.
Not a behind the scenes video… focus the camera on you from where the subject is. You can see what you look like when you are shooting. That is what the model/subject sees when you are shooting. Very enlightening, and it can help you develop your shooting persona.

10. Reshoot the cover of your favorite CD/Album.
Take it as a self assignment. You know the music intimately, and probably a lot about the band/composer/singer who performs in it. Of course shooting the artist may not be possible (Joni… “Hejira”… I am open anytime.) Take the lyrics if available and find an ‘image’ within them to help the illustration. The energy that concentrates on the assignment can kick some creative ass… ya know.

Or you can, you know, waste ol’ shorty in Mafia wars.

Follow along on Twitter, and if you are thinking about doing a workshop to jumpstart your lighting and photography, take a look at Learn to Light.

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  1. Great post. As usual

  2. Moral of the story: “quit whining and shoot more” I love it!

  3. Great post, Don; another one hit out of the park.

    I also try to keep myself open to the serendipitous shot. Ones where there really isn’t time to left-brain it to death; just enough time to capture the scene (your camera is ready to hand, right?). For example, on my way home from shooting a double-header yesterday evening, this scene presented itself. I only had time to grab the camera and shoot one frame before I had to put it back down and start driving. I’m rather pleased with it. :-)


    I try to keep myself open to seeing things around me — light, shadow, texture, color, relationships, etc. When I succeed in achieving this open-ness, I also find that it is meditative; I feel more connected to and a part of the world around me.


    • Absolutely!!!! Once you start to see, you can never go back to just looking.

  4. sounds like someones farm isn’t working out too well…

    j/k :)

    • Careful, I may have to send a mafia guy over to take care of yous…

  5. Lots of great ideas in this post, and I really dig the tone. Very funny, very smart!

  6. Thank you so much for this wonderful article!! Lots of great ideas to try and look forward to accomplishing them!!

    I don’t make my main living off photography..YET! And I don’t play those silly online games either lol.

    Take care and once again, thank you!

  7. I love #7. I think people assume they have to toil in their area to get inspired, but sometimes stepping away and doing something different gives your brain a refresh and chance to look at old problems in a new way.

  8. Damn you, but I was getting so close to level 400 in Mafia Wars!!!

    Great post as always, and some of us need to be reigned back in on occasion. And with the warming of the weather, hopefully it will help with being more focused. =)

  9. Your commentary consistently rises above the crap that compises most of the internet. It’s the first post I read each day, and I read almost every one of them numerous times and frequently print, yes, print, them to keep on hand.

  10. Great post Don. I’ll note too that #5 doesn’t have to be a whimsical thing either. I make a habit of contacting and saying a few good in depth things to the people whose work I admire and has helped me. It’s worked out fantastically well. I’ve actually booked a few jobs this way, get to pretty frequently pick the brain of Nick Onken and a number of other photogs I like and have started gaining some interest from a rep. If you can find a way to help them and give back a little (and not, “I can assist you anytime”), all the better. Hey not everyone responds, but if you can establish a good connection with a few (and don’t be a pest) then it’s extremely helpful.

  11. Nice post – personally, I have done the “write a letter to photog” – I’ve sent a few e-mails to some pros, just to say I am a fan – and gotten some surprising feedback – one even took the time to go through my website and say a few nice words of encouragement.

    • Yep…

      They will indeed often return emails and compliments.


  12. Don,

    First, great shot of Alex. It’s nice to see the finished product and I’m sure she loves it. Second, love all your advise. Consider this comment a #5. Wonderful work and great teaching style! Hope to see you again soon.


  13. I have actually got more work even in these bad economic times. I have noticed a few full-time photographers have closed down shop which has brought a bit more business to the part-timers.

  14. I’m not (chronologically) a ‘young people’ but I do like your post and especially like #7 …

  15. Great post. A very different take on getting inspired. I have been using a medium format and large format camera because I miss the excitement of developing the image. Plus I find I have slowed down and thought more before taking a photo.



  16. Great post Don,

    Saw your bit on giving a compliment to another photographer. For the last two years I having been paying it forward see blog post below


    This year I gave a present to a photographer a Pro Account at Flickr, this guy is the next James nachtwey or Don Mcullin but had a simple account. Simple I buy him a account at flickr so he can use it to the full advantage.

    As for the disposable camera brilliant. We finished our degree all smug about how great we were when our tutor entered the room and confiscated all our high end nikons and glass and gave us a final assignment.

    With a single 34 shot disposable camera with built in flash we had to do a portrait of a CEO, company premises and feature set. We had eight hours to do this and found our subjects and have full colour prints in this time. Mortified we picked up these cameras and headed out. Evereyone of us did this assignment with professional results. It s not the camera its you as a photographer that counts.

    Also dont fall into the cults of different photographers and there techniques develop your own style and have the cahunas to stick with it. Experiment and have fun.

    I was invited to do wedding photos at a naturist wedding, still kicking myself that I turned it down, a niche market with referrals, nobody knew me there who cares if I was in my birthday suit….

    have fun share it and encourage others, and always pay it forward,

    I believe in Karma,


    PS I am not a fan nor evangelist but another Pro Photographer who respects you.

  17. I’ve taken more pictures in the last couple of months since I discovered the “Hipstamatic” app for my iPhone than I took with my EOS in the whole of the last year. It’s amazingly inspirational. I’ve bought all the additional films, lenses etc and I take loads of images with the settings randomised – one shot, no re-takes, and I don’t even review it until later.

    They aren’t always successful in their own right, but they do give you lots of “wow, now if I did this instead of that” moments. Then you get inspired to get out the big camera and do the shot again, properly. It’s a lot of fun, takes no time at all, and you end up seeing the amazing in some really ordinary scenes that you would never have thought to shoot before.

    Check out a few on my Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/darrenmwinter/sets/72157623673205381/

    • I totally agree.

      One more thing the iPhone camera does… it makes you see when you aren’t ‘shooting’… in other words, the camera frees you to see the world and look for interesting things without the necessary ‘gear’ items we use when shooting. We begin to see things everywhere, and all the time. Grab that iPhone and shoot it – just to see what it looks like.

      That is a very good thing for our creative eye.

  18. Great post! Very interesting ! Good ideas for creative photography!!! thanx!

  19. Great post, there are so many distractions these days it’s important to stay focused. Thanks!

  20. I wholly agree with #4 (do something silly)

    I created a picture (for a competition) which got more attention and feedback than anything else I’ve done:

    I have no shame …. I may do a series (oh no!!!)



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