Figuring I could be a useful human by putting my cameras to work, I jumped into photography by hiring myself out to NGO clients. I had a lot to learn.

Postcards to my younger self in 140 characters or less.

Brass tacks, tactfully

Hash out expectations with your client ASAP. Always act pro: cross-cultural negotiations confuse clients, too.

Good intentions?

The work is the same, gratis or commissioned: 1. How will you solve client’s problem? 2. Cost, logistics & deliverables?

Always bring extra

Small bills. Snacks to share with rogue livestock. Camera batteries (right pocket = fresh batteries; left = spent).

WYSIATI & culture shock

“What you see is all there is,” says Kahneman. You can retrain bias with time. You don’t have time, so think slow.

Don’t look away

Give your subject respect. Give your clients and their audience honest work. You don’t need to give the cynics anything.

Really, it is *your* job to smile

Build rapport before you photograph. If you rock up and take pictures, who will give you their story?

Always be improvising

Don’t worry if you’ll have enough time, light or coverage – you won’t. Instead, clean your lens and count to 10.

Trust goes both ways

Field managers can juggle tasks like a superhero but they can’t read minds. Over-communicate. Make time for the team.

Bad day?

Remember your role in the int’l media supply chain. When lesser evils fill your decision matrix, score the pictures and carry on.


This work has emotional costs. Create, and always keep, post-job rituals. Unpack and process your experience. Find sleep.

Global power dynamics are fucked

Yep. Zoom in: Never underestimate a person’s agency, or the local community, or your own bias to power.


Remember that you’re not the first photographer to face these challenges. These are things we all have to learn by doing, I think.