How to Be a Great Photographer in 7 Steps
We are inspired by the Greats. From Shakespeare to Leonardo, the Greats instill a sense of awe and wonderment in us, that in turns inspires us to achieve our own greatness. The world of photography, short as its history may be, has its own greats - Ansel Adams, Henri Cartier - Bresson and Richard Avedon to name but a few. What is it about the Greats that captures our attention and imagination? More specifically, what makes a great photographer?
In this article I will explore the characteristics that all great photographers share. Read on about how you can use these insights to be a great photographer yourself in 8 steps.
Always be Learning
The art of photography is so expansive that there is always something new that can be learned. No one person can possibly “know everything.” Even if it were possible, there will always be new advances, new technology and new developments in the world of photography.
A great photographer is always learning. They never let a lack of knowledge prevent them from developing their passions. The great thing about knowledge is that it can always be learned. Ask questions. Be inquisitive. Have a beginner’s attitude when it comes to photography.
Great photographers are always practicing. They are constantly honing their craft, refining their technique and developing their weaknesses. If you are not taking photos, then you are not a photographer. Go out there and practice.
If you find that you are not taking enough photos, then maybe you are viewing practice in the wrong light. Practice is not something that you should dread. Most of us look at practice as a chore - work that MUST be done.
However, that is the wrong way to look at it. Practice is something we do, because we enjoy the craft of photography. Practice is play. We are spending time doing something we love. Great photographers love taking photos and therefore, they are always practicing.
Always be Growing
Great photographers are always growing. A great photographer has never arrived at her destination, she is always traveling. There is always that great new thing just out over the horizon to be explored.
Don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone. In order to grow you must be willing to venture out into new territory. Identify your limits - and then surpass them.
Great photographers turn their limitations into opportunities - opportunities for growth and advancement. They seek to constantly improve by challenging themselves.
Develop Your Passion
As you grow in your photography journey, you may find that your motivation wanes. It is a perfectly natural thing. The reasons why you got into photography may not be the same ones that make you stay.
Great photographers are constantly working at maintaining and strengthening their passion for photography. For them, photography becomes a labor of love rather than work. It is not a means to an end, but the end itself.
If you should ever find your motivation fluctuating, ask yourself, "what do I love about photography?" What is it about photography that excites me?" "Why do I want to be a photographer?" See if you can come up with new reasons to re-ignite your passion.
Develop Your Style
The truth is, we are all unique individuals. Yes, it is perhaps the biggest cliché, but that doesn’t make it any less truthful. All the greats have unique styles. There is no confusing a Leonardo from a Picasso, a Shakespeare from an Emerson, a Jordan from a Bryant.
Your goal is to discover that same greatness within you and aim to express that in your photography. We all have a unique perspective to share. A vision that we want to express. A personality that we wish to convey. Let your unique “magic” shine through in your photographs. Use the photograph as an extension of your desire to express yourself.
Great photographers have discovered and taken the time to develop their unique style. This is not to say it is an easy task. It is perhaps the greatest challenge for photographers of all experience levels to surmount - nonetheless, it is a challenge worth taking.
You might be lamenting, "but I don't want just one style, I have many styles." Well, that in itself is a style. Your style may be flexibility and fluidity. You see, we all have a unique style.
Don’t be Afraid of Failing
Photography can be an intimidating art. As a beginner, you may be worried about where to start? What camera to buy? Where to begin learning about photography? Even as an experienced pro, there are always new frontiers, breakthroughs and developments that you will have to explore. The very thought of venturing into the unknown is a scary proposition. And most of us tend to play it safe, beached in our comfortable surroundings.
We are afraid of failing and that fear prevents us from ever taking the necessary first step towards success, which causes us to fail in the first place. Obvious as this vicious cycle may be, many of us seldom seem to recognize its stranglehold on our success.
Here’s what you need to realize in order to come to terms with the fear of failure: recognize that mistakes are a part of life. Instead of trying to run away from mistakes, embrace them. Take them as a sign, not that you are heading further away from your goal, but that you are one step closer towards its achievement.
Mistakes may be our greatest learning tool. Thomas Edison, when asked about his failures in creating the light bulb replied, "I have not failed. I've just found ten thousand ways that won't work."
Don’t let that fear of failing control your life. Let go of the need to always be right and instead of asking yourself, “What if I fail?” ask yourself, “What can I achieve?”
Great photographers take risks. They succeed where no other before them have. They dare to cross boundaries and challenge the status quo.
Don’t Make Excuses
There will always be obstacles, shortcomings, road blocks and detours on your photography journey - but you can’t let that stop you from moving forward. Great photographers make solutions, not excuses!
Don’t have models? Use your friends! When I decided to purchase my own set of studio lights, I needed a model to shoot. Instead of lamenting the fact that I couldn’t possibly get a professional model, I asked my friends on facebook if they would be interested in modelling for me. To my surprise, I received many positive replies.
Don’t have a camera? Borrow one! The photography class that I wanted to take in college required a camera to enroll and at the time, I didn't have a camera or the means to afford one. I didn’t let that stop me from registering. I simply asked around, and as luck would have it, my roommate's dad had an old manual SLR film camera that he agreed to let me borrow. It wasn't the best camera, but it was perfect for my needs.
Don’t know anybody with a camera? Buy a used one! There are many places on the web to find used cameras. Visit our gear for sale forum to see if there’s anything our members are selling.
Don’t know anything about photography? Take a class! As a kid I always had an interest in photography. I enjoyed being the person who took the photos for my family. Despite my enthusiasm for photography, I never really did learn the basics. In my freshman year of college, I decided to take an introductory photography class.
That class was an invaluable learning experience for me on my photography journey where I learned the basics and fundamentals of photography. What I am most grateful for, was being able to work with film and print my own photos in a darkroom. Because just a few years later, digital became mainstream.
Great photographers find a way through their adversities. Not all of us are lucky enough to have all the resources we want or need. Instead of using your lacks as excuses, learn to make use of what you do have!
Apply These Steps to be a Great Photographer
I hope you find these steps useful. See if you can apply one or more of these steps to help improve your photography and perhaps in the future, your name may be discussed along with the other Greats.