This girl/woman was shy when she saw me prepare the camera, but after some moments and across the crowd stares she was getting cheerful :)
1) Know your gear: not just the functions of the body but also the lenses. Know which lens has the sharpest focal range for a specific aperture etc. but you should also be aware that your sensor is dirty, so you know not too shoot F22 :)
In the end knowing your gear will save you time as you do not have to fiddle with the settings and try different lenses as your subject will be long gone baking chapatis. You will get better pictures as you will know the gear you use will be suitable for the job.
Also: know your editing software, at least the basics. Some deleted shots (or shots not taken as you thought that the light was wrong) might have turned out perfect once optimized with levels or contrast.
2) Optimize wisely: What I mean with this is that it depends on the subject if optimisation means: getting the best lens and camera setting, or that it means: shooting as fast as possible. Never loose a quick shot because you think you have the wrong lens on, the light is wrong (see #1), and never change settings if it needs too much time. Just shoot and see later if it worked out. If you have the time and are waiting for a nice sunset, then optimize in getting the right spot and light, setting up your tripod, lens etc.
3) This is 100% stolen from the master of light Galen Rowell: “if it’s good, shoot it. If it’s gets better, shoot it again.”. I actually forget to follow this rule many times, or at least do not take advantage of the possibilities of digital shooting. Normally I take only one or two shots of a scene while a few extra might have gotten me one excellent photo. Guess that’s a remainder of having limited amounts of expensive slidefilm with me..
4) Get good gear: if you want good pictures, get good lenses. A crappy lens on a $4000 body will give you perfectly exposed crappy pictures. A great lens on a cheapo body might get you underexposed but perfectly sharp images which is better in my view. If you do not have money for both good lenses as well as a good body, go for the lenses. Nowadays the ‘consumer’ bodies are 10 times better than pro bodies a decade ago, they just ship with crappy lenses.
5) Respect the cultures. do not take pictures if people clearly let you know they don’t want you to. You do not always have to ask, it will take away a lot of spontaneity and mostly you will know by the facial expressions that it is ok, but when shooting a full-on portrait and people might seem in doubt, be polite and request permission.
6) Be honest and share. Never promise to send a picture if you are not going to do it. I personally feel bad about when that happened, but the one being photographed feels worse and might hold a grudge against westerners or photographers. What you can do is try to explain what ‘digital’ means, that is always fun and more people in poor countries might know it than you think. Always show the image shot to the subject if they are interested. It will cheer them up and might very likely get you another opportunity for an even better shot (see advice #3)
7) Work for it! Photos do not make themselves unless you want to experiment with a self-timer. Maybe climbing Everest is too much trouble for you, but go out and walk, hike, ride a horse or rikshaw and find your subjects. Likely they will find you first, but they will be different from the ones you might encounter on a group photo tour. Tours are fine, but step out of line and take a different perspective. I find a picture of 37 white guys taking the same picture more interesting than the same picture itself..
Also: shoot a lot. Taking pictures will be a motoric skill, like cycling or playing the guitar and that will keep your focus on the subject and off the techniques.
8) blend in: go to local places: bars, bridges, temples, or just the rocks that the locals use to hang out and gossip. But also: kneel when shooting an image of a child.
9) Shoot differently: try a shot without looking through the viewfinder. Take a wide angle where everybody else zooms as much as possible and vice versa. Look up to children and down on the world. But, most importantly: never follow any rules besides this one: forget all of the above and do your own thing, creativity is personal and can only be evoked by practice, not by copying. That’s also why this top 10 list has only 9 entries :)