How ‘The Walking Dead’ is Just Like the Photography Industry


I didn’t want to like this show. Cross my heart, I didn’t.

Zombies? The undead? Not really my thing. I liked to think I was a little more cultured than that. Sure, I’ll eat Nutella straight from the jar but I DO use a spoon and I always heat up my Pop-Tart before eating it, which is a true sign of refinement.  So, I held out for the entire first season. I felt it to be just another apocalyptic zombie show like a gazillion that had come before it.

But then, while editing on a long winter’s night, I clicked on Netflix to occupy myself while I worked and there, in my “Suggestions for Cheri” list was none other than the AMC hit series,“The Walking Dead.”

I have no idea what I had watched on Netflix in the past that made them feel confident that I would enjoy this show, but I’ve learned not to argue with Netflix. Other than the suggestion to watch “Hot Tub Time Machine,” they pretty much have me figured out.

And, I can’t say what made me do it — maybe it was because I was tired, maybe my retouching juice (wine) had kicked in, maybe I had just eaten ribs — I still don’t know the reason, but whatever it was, it made me click “play” and from that first scene, I was immediately and irrevocably sucked into “The Walking Dead.”

The show isn’t about zombies: it’s about the characters and how they react to the situations they find themselves in. It’s about choices and relationships and hard decisions and gore. A lot of gore. So much gore that you really shouldn’t eat BBQ or anything with a red sauce while watching. It is well-written, well-acted, well-directed and a heck of a lot like the photography industry. Except we don’t have Daryl and his crossbow, which is our loss.


Here, let me explain:

Situation: The Walker Zombies don’t know they are undead. They walk around with other zombies and gather in throngs all intent on the same goal. They don’t realize what they are and tend to go and do what the other zombies are doing.

Compare: Many inexperienced photographers don’t realize how much they still have to learn. It’s easy when you’re new to simply do what others are doing: market the same way, shoot the same way, edit the same way. Don’t beat yourself up over it, it’s a natural thing; but it doesn’t get you anywhere other than where everyone else is.

Situation: The Walker Zombie that has the best chance of succeeding, and by succeeding, I mean chomping into a huge mouthful of flesh, is usually the zombie that goes his own way. Unlike a large group, you never see this solo zombie coming at you. He’s hidden behind a tree or in a closet of an abandoned house. Just when you least expect it, he pops out and has you for lunch. Literally. By doing his own thing, he succeeds.

Compare: When your photography looks just like a bunch of other photographers’ work, what is there to make you stand apart? When you market with the same specials and same ideas, what makes you different? As the song goes, Ab-so-lute-ly nuthin,’ huh.

Situation: “Where’s Carl?” the line uttered on a regular basis seasons 1-3 when searching for the youngest family member.

Compare: “Where’s my Wacom stylus?” the line uttered on a regular basis in most studios when sitting down to retouch.


Situation: The show has a defined leader, Rick, but it’s clear that if all members don’t participate to better their situation, they will fail.

There are no divas, and if there are, they are usually the characters nobody likes. And we all cheer when they are taken out “Walking Dead” style. I usually find myself pointing at the TV yelling, “Yeah, that’s right. You. Are. Outta. Here!” And, oddly enough, the most bad ass of the group doesn’t consider himself that way, which only adds to his bad ass-ness. Plus, he has a crossbow, which is always a plus.

Compare: My friend, Ray, told me once that “we get the photography industry we deserve.” Ouch, but he’s right. If we aren’t part of the solution, we’re part of the problem. The only way we make our industry, our group, better is to work together — removing egos, removing divas.

In our industry, quite often the person you should be learning from is the person who is actually out there quietly doing, who doesn’t consider him/herself anything other than what they actually are: a working photographer.

(Note: If this working photographer also has a crossbow, rides a motorcycle, has cat eyes and wears a sleeveless vest, it’s a no-brainer. In fact, if you know someone like that, why are you still here reading this column. Go! Go now! And email me the address to this person so that I can go there, too. Please and thank you.)


Situation: The Governor. That eye-patch wearing SOB with a hidden agenda who convinces a whole town full of people that they are better off under his protection. He’s admired by many, but he keeps zombie heads in an aquarium and his actions only serve his own needs.

Compare: As far as I know, we don’t have any eye-patch wearing photographers who call themselves “The Governor,” but that doesn’t mean we don’t have industry people with a self-serving agenda. Be careful whom you admire, kids.

Situation: There are times when there are so many zombies, the characters feel they will never win. They have smashed heads, poked eyes out with rods and they are exhausted. They feel overwhelmed. The odds are against them. Things go wrong. But they persevere. They either move forward or die.

Compare: Duh.

And lastly,

Situation: The zombies are a haggard mess of humanity who move sluggishly, look unkempt, and make low moaning sounds.

Compare: Any photographer after shooting a wedding.

Image credits: The Walking Dead Season 3 Cast Photo by Dave S, Photographer Pool by Augustas Didžgalvis and Selfish by Alexis Gravel.

  • dskennedy2

    Interesting take on the industry. But I must take issue with your reasons for staying away from the show. There was not a gazillion zombie shows before The Walking Dead. There may have been hundreds of terrible zombie movies that came before, but the only reason I was pumped for this show was the fact that it was the first television series to tackle this genre. I remember years earlier wishing someone could make a show about survivors in a zombie infested world. Could have done without all the self-righteous, politically-correct handwringing (you gave Carl a gun to protect him from zombies?! How dare you!), dumb decision-making (let’s not build a fence or moat around our exposed farm), and meandering Soap-operatic drama from seasons 2 and 3, but seasons 1 and 4 are almost better than any zombie film that came before.

  • harumph

    Yeah, I had a hard time even coming up with one zombie tv show before The Walking Dead. The excellent BBC mini-series Dead Set was the only one I could think of. There’s never been a US video release unfortunately, but definitely track it down if you can. It’s very different, but I think it’s a much smarter and more focused show than The Walking Dead.

  • Jay Scott

    I’m trying to decide who the Photo Industry Governor is. I’m leaning toward Mr. Kelby. He’s not evil, seeking power at the cost of others’ well being. But I do see inexperienced followers mindlessly insisting that his rules are the only way and always right. I’ve watched enough of his critiques to know that he does not appreciate art. If it doesn’t follow the rule of thirds or isn’t “pretty”, he won’t like it, typically.

    That’s just my opinion.

  • dennispike

    You are wrong, by the way… we DO have Daryl.. Daryl himself, Norman Reedus is a photographer and just released a book of his photos.

    And the Walking Dead is the best show on TV.

  • Kim James

    Great insight! Felt the same, loved the show, didn’t want to. Perfect comparison. I just want to take pictures.Stay anonymous, except to my clients, I don’t like hero worship. It always turns out gory.

  • peaceetc

    I haven’t seen The Walking Dead, but I know enough about it to know how spot on this comparison is. Mindlessly following anyone or anything can only take you so far before you have to think and act on your own, but not at the expense of others.

  • harumph

    PS: Hot Tub Time Machine is pretty funny.

  • Spongebob Nopants

    The Governor? That would be paparazzi.

  • davidcbriscoejr

    Never seen a photographer who walked. They all run. Liked the series so much, I’ve been reading the comic book series which it perfects. The TV story is different in all the right ways, especially in its development of Daryl and, on the other side of the spectrum of good and evil, the Governor. Also, better choice on whose limbs get amputated.

  • Nicholas Chin

    The governor are the institutions people hero worship… NatGeo, Magnun, etc. Many people are sucked into emulating their “habits of success”, e.g What camera to buy, what lens to use, what brand of duct tape to buy for covering up the brand on their gear… without realising that it is the history, experience and hard work of these institutions that made them successful, not their habits.

  • Chris

    I much prefer Beavis and Butthead

  • Vin Weathermon

    A fascinating comparison. I’d been avoiding the series for the same reason…the “haggard wedding photographer” at the close pretty much validated the entire argument :-)

  • Athila Lambino

    The photographer equivalent of The Governor is definitely David Jay. Wants us all to think PASS is the Woodbury of society and the solution to our problems.