I was asked an interesting question the other day by a friend who was interested in photography: “What is it exactly, that makes a good photographer?” Put another way, “What is it that separates a lousy photographer from someone considered to be a really good photographer?”
I should first state that we are not talking about amateurs versus professionals here. We all know that there are many amateurs who produce very compelling images.
So after I gave the question a little thought, I narrowed it down to 3 very basic things:
2.) skill set
3.) the opportunities you have or create for yourself for taking great pictures
So let’s look at the first item – vision. Some people are born with a good photographic vision, others not so much. Vision is the great thing that really makes your photographs different than mine. It’s unique to each of us. From the day a photographer first pick up a camera, they are continually trying to improve their vision. The way we see the world is something that develops over time. Even the greats who have been taking photographs for over fifty years are still trying to see the world in a new way. When it comes right down to it, the way our brains, our eyes, and our hearts render the world is the essence of our photography. It is an ever-evolving process of teaching ourselves to see in a different way.
The second item on my list is a very easy one to comprehend. The skill set that a good photographer must possess involves things like how well you understand basic camera fundamentals, dynamic range, flash, gesture, contrast, color, light, tonality, computer software and file handling, measuring exposure, post processing techniques, communication skills, and a host of other things.
Finally, good photographers are ones who create opportunities for themselves. The best photographers have portfolios that are worthy of showing. To do that, it meant that they had to work hard at what they do. They get out of bed early to be ready for the morning light. If you’re a landscape photographer, you travel and position yourself to find great locations. If you’re a street photographer, you generally will want to live in a spot that is well populated with an active city life. A wildlife photographer has to know the behaviour of their subject so they can be in the right place at the right time.
Good photographers are constantly educating themselves about new techniques. They practice using their skills on a daily basis. They plan photography excursions. And they communicate with others to arrange sessions. They make things happen so that their collection of images grows along with their bank of knowledge. Good photographers put themselves out there in the world. They don’t just sit at home and wait for something to happen.
I’ve always said that the best photographers are the ones who can consistently create compelling images of any subject in any environment or set of conditions. They combine their skills with opportunity and then apply their vision.