Postcards from a photographer

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. Here are a few notes to my younger self.

Brass tacks, tactfully

You seem savvy enough to know that there is more to this work than good intentions. Nevertheless, it is a messy business. Hash out expectations with your client as early as possible.

Always bring extra

Bring enough snacks to share with grouchy coworkers and rogue livestock. Also, are you wearing pants? Good. Put a freshly charged camera battery in your right pocket. Spent batteries go in your left pocket.

Don’t look away

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

Really, it is your job to smile

Build rapport before you photograph.

Always be improvising

Don’t worry if you’ll have enough time, enough light or enough coverage – you won’t. Just keep your lens clean and take your vitamins. Then, channel Bruce Lee.

Be someone to lean on

Field managers can juggle tasks like a superhero but even they can’t read minds. Trust is a two-way street. Communicate often and navigate by asking better questions.

Debriefing isn’t therapy

There is an emotional cost to this work. Create, and keep, rituals for yourself to process your experience. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.


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

What did I miss? Send me a postcard. [email protected]