December 17, 2020


I’ve been doing a lot of Zoom presentations to Camera Clubs and recently I’ve been getting feedback that I’ve never heard before…and it really surprised me:
Thank you for giving me permission to create what I love
Thank you for giving me permission to ignore the rules
Thank you for giving me permission to listen to myself
My first reaction was horror! Who am I to give anyone permission? I worried that I had presumed too much and crossed a line in my presentation.
My second reaction was bewilderment. Why do people think they need permission to do what they want?
My third reaction was sadness. It seems that the message so many people come away with after taking a photo class or joining a camera clubs is: here are the rules that you must follow to create good images.
And then they hear my message:
Don’t follow the rules
Create what you love
Don’t listen to other’s advice
And their reaction is often relief and excitement. Relief that they don’t have to follow the rules and excitement that they can follow their own instincts and create for the pure joy of creating.
But of course following this path comes with a price: others may not like your work, they may even be critical of it and you probably will not please judges or reviewers who believe in following rules.
But what would you rather do? Follow their advice and create images that they love but you don’t…or follow your own heart and create images that you love.
If it helps, you have my permission to ignore the rules, follow your Vision and create images that you love.

38 thoughts on “Permission…

  1. Unless someone is trying to have a career in some photographic field other than fine art, i totally agree with your advice and have given to others for many years. Unfortunately careers that provide a living through photography are growing far more difficult with each passing year. You are definitely in a very talented and small minority.

  2. Some great advice here Cole. In the world of art I feel it important to follow your inner creative juice and then when the observer is touched it is all the more gratifying. I know it is for me.

    I feel your work (especially that piece I have of yours hanging in my home!) will hopefully fit that bill!

  3. Cole, I have often thought about what I learned from you, and should have said “thank you” much sooner. I think the most important has been – create images that make me happy/pleased and don’t worry about the composition rules. Of course, it’s nice when someone compliments my work, but not necessary for me to like an image. Your simple technique of converting to BW was also especially helpful. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and passion. I look forward to your newsletters, and seeing you again someday.

  4. There are rules that must be learned — format choice, camera choice, lens choice, shutter speeds, depth of field, ambient lighting, film speed, long exposure times, etc. — all the mechanical background elements needed to get the prints you want. After that, you can work within these rules and be as creative as you wish. No permission needed but your own.

  5. Thank you for giving me permission to not have to ask for permission!

    I believe this old saying may apply: “It is easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission!”

    So, i apologize for this silly comment! You have my permission to delete it! 🙂

  6. I often thought that those out there that don’t know the rules and/or have not spent time following them, are free of self pressure to follow them. The creative process has no bounds with free and creative thinking. There is no confinement, or right or wrong, “there just is”…

  7. I have stopped sharing my photos with my more “professional” friends. They use very advanced techniques and think that it’s the only way to create perfect photos. I prefer simplicity, cleaning up a little in post processing, apply my own evaluations, proceed, reshoot if I AM displeased. My taste is a bit recondite and I love experimenting.

    1. “doing photography for fun”…great comment.
      I totally agree that it should be fun. I have found that clubs that have competitions within their ranks spend less time with new members, and tend to form cliques and share less. Non competitive clubs isn’t the same environment.
      More of a shared learning curve for all, old and new members. Without fear for showing experimental work and that is healthy.

  8. Having been a professional and now doing photography for fun and belonging to three camera clubs for several years, I have come to the conclusion that camera club photography is a genre in itself. The driving message is that if you disregard the “rules” you risk receiving a “6” or lower in a competition. Thin-skinned members will have a traumatic time coping with this reality. A healthier approach is to submit what you like, take the risk, hope that the members enjoy seeing your images, then go home, have a drink, and relax. I hope that some day I can take your and my advice! Keep the great images coming. We love your work!

  9. Awesome work Cole. I am one of those who believe that art does not conform to rules. It’s good to see you continue to challenge yourself in your craft.

  10. Cole, you are a radical liberal progressive. Conservatives follow rules and stay between the lines. Radical liberal progressives break rules and don’t like anyone telling them what to do. To each their own and do your own thing is their motto. You have my permission to be the person you want to be and make any picture that makes your heart happy.

  11. Art is personal…cameral clubs are mostly group think…as are competitions….I did not need Cole to teach me this but he reinforced it…please yourself…and when you do….be really happy that you have….it is rare and not so easy.

  12. True words! The world does not need cookie cutter art. We need creativity, testing the limits and more exploration of “what if?” The great art from the past masters was great because it exceeded the norms of the day.

  13. I have seen you in person four times and once on-line. I am almost converted. Thinking about leaving the clubs/groups/judging, etc. I have always been an eclectic shooter and gone my own way. Comfortable in color/B-W/landscape/macro/abstract/people/sharp/artsy/soft/hi-key or low-key, etc. But, I like most of the people in the photographic community.

  14. you can absolutely break the rules with your own photography and your own images – of course you can do whatever you want and you don’t have to follow any rules at all or ask permission- you also don’t HAVE to belong to a camera club – but the point is if you choose to belong to a camera club AND you choose to enter competitions with an image then there are rules! The two things really have nothing to do with each other

  15. If you like to be part of a group and take part in image competition or shows, then there must be rules to participate, else chaos reigns. However, you can belong to a group that shares photographic work and talks about it, without rules! We all like feedback; it doesn’t have to be through judging for points and ribbons.

  16. get any camera, point it at people, places and things and see what happens, then do it again until you get images you really like. then rinse and repeat. if you want a specific look/effect, google it, then try it out. there are no more rules in photography, only opportunities. peace.

  17. I went to art college where we learned there are no rules in art. A lot of camera club judges never learned that and like to recite the same ‘rules’ for something to say. I’ve been a camera club judge many times and creativity and often breaking the so called rules scores higher with me.

    1. painters have no compositional rules to follow as they paint what they see etc. photographers have aspects of composition coming out of the woodwork…i too, have been a judge for competitions and your right Denise…its the WOW factor that wins almost all the time no matter how good the composition is.

  18. In the comments from December 17th, Kerry mentioned photographic methodology as some of the rules. I see the freedom of not following staid methodology as the key to creativity. Defocus, intentional camera movement, multiple exposures, underexposing, overexposing or any other “rule” is intended to confine your image to someone else’s sense of reality and taste. Experiment and play until you find techniques that create your vision!

  19. I am not a photographer or art collector however I wandered into our library when Cole was doing a presentation and was blown away by this man his work his philosophy..
    He is a gift to this planet
    Bless you and Yours Cole!!

  20. Reading this I did remember of a club judge who would tell anyone who would listen about rules of photography. One of his favorites was “never put your subject in the middle of the frame”. Trying to prove that was wrong, I presented a photograph of a rose in black and white right in the middle of the frame and it looked quite awesome. The presentation was public and went “oh how beautiful.” And in front of everybody he asked me “this is a flower. Did you photograph it in the studio or in the garden?” “in the garden”- I answered. To which he replied “That’s not good. Flowers have to be photographed in the studio”. I knew that day i wasn’t going to be able to please.

  21. Cole. I’ve been following you now for over 10 years. This is one of the best articles I’ve read. It’s liberating even though many years ago I listened to what you were saying about taking photos for yourself and not others. I’ve forwarded this to a number of my contacts. You say what others are afraid to, and that’s one train why it’s liberating because you take the words out of so many photographers mouths.



  22. Cole,

    I’ve been giving the precisely same message to the folks I talk to. In fact, I am giving a Zoom presention to a few photography organizations in NC next week. Same message! I introduce myself as an amateur photographer. Not that I don’t earn a bit of money making images. It is just that’s not why I make images. Rather, I make images because that’s what I LOVE to do. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing.


  23. I just watched Cole’s presentation to my camera club. It seem that the clubs have a certain “strictness” that is apparent in the judging. My call’s images for the club “stilted”. It was so refreshing to here the message your art is the ART! Fortunately the presentation was recording and I think I will watch it on a regular basis!
    Thanks again!

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