You read all of the photography blogs and you watch all the YouTube editing videos and your Instagram feed is full of the most amazing imagery and yet you feel like your own work is falling short of the amazingness that you see from others in the industry.
You wonder why. Is it because they have fancier gear? Or because they are Photoshop wizards? Is it because their lives are simply prettier than yours or that they have a more grand creative vision than you do?
You want to know: What does it take to be a great photographer?
I am happy to report that you don’t need a bunch of expensive gear (though I do love playing with a new lens!) or an extensive knowledge of Photoshop (but that can be fun, too!) or a perfect life with a perfectly clean house and perfectly dressed children (does ANYBODY have that?!) to be an amazing photographer.
I am even happier to report that you have most of what it takes to be great already. Because, the thing that makes an amazing photographer is a unique point of view and you’ve GOT THAT!
The other half of the equation is the ability to communicate that unique point of view with the world in an effective way. So how do you accomplish that? How do you take your unique way of seeing things and translate it into amazing photography?
That journey is unique to every individual artist but there are some steps that almost all of us can agree upon that will help you reach your goal of being an amazing photographer:
1. Take pictures. LOTS of pictures.
It might seem obvious but the best way to be an amazing photographer is to take photographs! Of course, not every shot is going to be a masterpiece — and if I am going to be honest, not even 5% of your shots are going to be portfolio-worthy.
But by putting yourself behind the camera frequently, you are making shooting second nature, learning your camera and how to adjust settings to capture a variety of scenes. You are forcing yourself to see the world in a rectangular frame. You are giving yourself the opportunity to see what works and what doesn’t.
The ambitious 365 project is popular not only because it is ambitious but also because it is a surefire way to see growth in your work. If life doesn’t make daily shooting possible, consider trying a weekly project or committing to creating a grid of photos each month.
Setting goals that encourage you to shoot frequently will help you to stay on track toward amazing photography.
2. Be a photography student.
Photography doesn’t come naturally to most of us. Perhaps there is some prodigy out there who picked up a camera and immediately started creating gorgeous images, but ask anyone I know to show you their work from five or ten years ago and they will shudder a bit at the thought of it.
In order to become a good photographer, you have to LEARN how to be a good photographer.
Whether it is signing up for an online workshop or attending a big photography conference or simply watching YouTube videos on your lunch break, seeing yourself as a student of photography will open you up to new information and is key to growing as an artist.
3. Be a copycat photographer.
Wait a minute? Isn’t copying someone else’s work a big no-no?!? Absolutely NOT!
Master artists have been copying each other’s work for centuries to learn techniques and improve their own art and photography is no different. What you can’t do is copy and then claim it as your own.
But if there is an amazing photographer out there whose work you adore, by all means study his/her work and try to recreate it. Study the light, the composition, the processing, and the emotion and do your best to copy those elements yourself.
And then eventually, you can take what you have learned and use those same techniques in your photos, translating them to your own work and unique point of view.
4. Critique others and allow yourself to be critiqued.
I don’t like hearing a list of all the things I have done wrong, do you? And yet I stand by my advice to have you do just that!
Putting your work out into the world with the specific request for critique is one of the best ways to see improvement in your photography. It stings, but the fact of the matter is that we often can’t see what is wrong with a photo until we have someone point it out to us!
So let it sting for a minute and then take the time to appreciate what someone has to say and see if you agree. Chances are, allowing fresh eyes to contemplate your work and give you feedback will help you to recognize areas for improvement so that the next time you pick up your camera, you will be intentionally better.
Just as important as requesting critique is critiquing others (when asked to!). Analyzing the work of other photographers will help you identify the stylistic elements that draw you in and the technical elements that you find to be most important in an amazing photograph.
In turn, you will be able to translate this more critical point of view in your own work behind the camera.
5. See amazing as a journey, not a destination.
It is easy to look at the work of photographers you admire and feel like they are at the top of their game. To you, they have reached “amazing” status. But I can promise you that those very same photographers would say that they are continuing to strive for more, stretching themselves to see improvement in their work, and constantly yearning to feel “amazing.”
The fact is, in an industry that is perpetually evolving if you aren’t working toward improvement you become static…and that inevitably leads to a less-than-amazing product. We are all traveling on this same frustrating, beautiful path toward artistic satisfaction and while there will be triumphs and failures along the way, I have found that the amazing part isn’t in creating individual images, but rather in seeing the evolution of my creative vision through a body of work.
As soon as you can appreciate that you never really arrive at “amazing” but rather you are creating amazing things *right now* on your way to MORE amazing things, the sooner you will free yourself from debilitating expectations and open yourself up to be the artist you were meant to be. And that is simply amazing.
What inspires you to be a great photographer?
Whether you’re already an amazing photographer or on your way, I want to know what inspires you? Is it your kids or family? Art? Is it a memory or a feeling you want to capture? Leave me a comment about what moves you to be a great photographer.
All photos by Kellie Bieser