How To Become A Better Photographer

How to be a great photographer

Do you want to be a great photographer?  Do you think you have what it takes to be the next Annie Leibovitz?

Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to be around a lot of photographers.  I’ve worked as an assistant, an academic lab tech, a retoucher, and professional photographer.  In these roles, I’ve encountered a lot of shooters moving up and down the ladder of success.

Although the great ones typically have widely variant personalities, most execute the same habits and traits that promote greatness. The following list is simple but effective.  If you really want to be great, this is how you do it:

Practice

This should be a no-brainer, but photography as an art form attracts some the laziest people on earth.  It’s no surprise since photography has become an automated process courtesy of Canikon and Adobe.

Photographers who are great shoot everyday.  It’s like practicing the cello or shooting free-throws.  If you want to get better, you have to practice in a disciplined and organized way.

Assist

Being around and working for a great photographer is invaluable.  In addition to seeing the dirty innards of the of the photography business, you get to see how the photographer works through problems.

It’s the process of working through problems and finding elegant solutions under pressure that makes a photographer great.

Passion

I’m always surprised by professional photographers who don’t like photography.  When I see their work, its always the same – boring and passionless.  If you’re going to jump into the rabbit hole of professional photography, make sure you love it.

Specialization

If you want to work and be great, pick one aspect of photography and stick with it.  After you’ve mastered it, move on to something else. Most lifestyle photographers are terrible architectural photographers and vice versa.  You don’t have to be good at everything, just great at one thing.

Study

You have to study the masters. Most amateurs assume great photographers are blessed with a “great eye,” but the visual language of photography is just that: a language.  It must be learned and practiced.  The works of today’s greatest photographers rest on the foundation of yesterdays masters.

Everything from lighting to composition matters.  If you ignore the fundamentals, you’ll never be able to expand upon the art.

If you’re looking for some inspiration, here are some photographers past and present whose work I like to study:

Food
Con Poulos
Maren Caruso
Beth Galton

Editorial
Dan Winters
Pete Turner

Fashion
Richard Avedon
Irving Penn
Herb Ritts

Critique

Your Mom and Flickr don’t count.  If you want to get better, you have to seek out critical feedback. I’m a proponent of photography school, but if school isn’t in the cards, find a mentor who will give some “tough love” and help you evolve into a great photographer.

Lastly, photography isn’t about the gear.  The insanely great shooters can make killer images with anything.  Just remember, the greatest piece of photographic gear you own is resting between your ears.

For the delicious cake pictured above, check out this delicious S’mores Bundt Cake recipe from Clabber Girl.

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2 Comments

  1. 1

    Your wonderful lesson could easily have been titled, “How to Become a Professional Musician,” as every point applies to being a first class musician. Yes, we do have our lazy ones. and their careers don’t last very long. Thanks for helping so many photographers.

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