I have a set of constraints I use for my photography; not everything I shoot meets all of these rules, but I judge myself not only by how I feel about the photos but how well I do on hitting all of these (for instance, some pictures just have to be in color… and others need a little cropping… but I consider those “misses” and work to avoid). For the most part, I think of myself as an artful documentary photographer, sort of in the school of Cartier-Bresson, but with minimalist and more formal structure, sort of in the school of Harry Callahan. I think anyone can make up their own rules, like a game. Now that photography is so easy and so ubiquitous, I set it up so I have to work a little harder to make a picture worth looking at. Here are my rules:
1. No interacting with the subject or scene. All shooting is spontaneous, without preparation or posing. No “Smile.”
2. Shooting on location. No props. (Unless, obviously, are naturally occurring in the moment.)
3. Hand-held camera. No tripods or mounts.
4. No bag of gear or, particularly, lenses. I travel as light as possible, with as little equipment and gear as possible. An iPhone camera is just as good as a DSLR, and at times, even better.
5. Only natural lighting. No flashes. If there are artificial lights, then they need to be part of the unaffected scene.
6. The final image must be in black and white. The removal of chroma information in the post production is an essential part of the process. This forces attention to composition, and calls out the image as unlike most snapshots.
7. The aspect ratio of final image must be the same as the original image as shot (so, either no cropping or crop to maintain aspect ratio). I aim for no cropping, that’s ideal; all composition is done at the time of shooting.
8. The only post production modifications allowed are those which are typical in a classical darkroom – exposures, contrast filters, burning and dodging. No retouching or modifying the image. No adding of grain or blur. It is what it is. Think: documentary journalism rules.
9. No “special effects” either in camera or in post.
10. The physical print matters, not the computer image. So the final image can always be displayed and showed, but there must be a real print to show for the image.