What Makes A Good Photographer?
I'm 47. I've only developed a serious interest in photography in the last several months. I started with a Fuji FinePix P & S, within a month bought a Panasonic Lumix FZ-8, and within another two months bought a K10D. Tying it in with my love of amateur sports has been key, although I'm interested in shooting non-sports subjects too. I'm amazed at the knowledge and expertise of many in this forum. Just reading posts and observing galleries has been very educational to me.

I'm curious to know how folks in this forum developed their skills. School/classes? A mentor? Just shooting endlessly so "practice makes perfect"? What does it take to be an exceptional photographer?.



Comments (21)

OK, lets start with the obvious - practice! : ) The wonderful thing about digital is that you can take as many photos as you like, at zero cost. Dont try to make every shot count - just try things out, look at the results, and throw away the duds..

(On that subject also - dont be a perfectionist. If you are a perfectionist, and/or you do a lot of editing, there is a risk that your family album will suddenly become very sparse because you wont accept - and keep anything but the best of the best. Remember that just because youre taking it more seriously, doesnt mean youre not allowed to keep the slightly out of focus picture of Aunt Mary at her 80th birthday).

So, to the rest:.

First off is natural ability - the eye - the ability to see (and take) a picture opportunity that others would walk past. I think that is partly natural ability and partly learned. But it doesnt really matter, whatever youve got, youve got. I like to think Ive got a reasonable eye for the photo but its not in the same league as some. So what, Im having a lot of fun with my work..

Next - understand the basics - shutter speed, aperture, depth of field, ISO, white balance. That doesnt mean you need to develop huge in depth knowledge of each, right from day one, before you start taking any serious photos. Just the basic general understanding of what they mean and how to use them. This is not so much about improving your photos, as removing barriers - get the basics out of the way so youre not continually making errors in the basics when you could be developing your skills..

For example - after 30 years I couldnt tell you, in feet or metres, what the DOF is for a given aperture on a given lens, or where is the hyperfocal. Its not important to me. Small aperture = more DOF, wide aperture = shallow DOF is enough for what I do. If I did a lot of macro work, for example, it would be more important..

Theres also the non-technical basics - like the basic composition guidelines such as the rule of thirds. Understand these, apply them, and youve got it nailed in a sort of generic sense. Then youre ready to break the rules. I heard it said once of Ian Anderson, who played flute for Jethro Tull, that he was a classically trained flautist and he had to be - because no-one could play the flute as wildly (and in classical terms badly) as him, unless they had first learned to play it properly. If you know what I mean..

And the other basics, in the digital world, include your basics such as pixels, resolution, basic editing, cropping etc. Once again, just the basics so you can turn out decent final products on screen or paper - so this doesnt get in the way of your work..

Which brings us to the next and final piece of advice I have to offer. Once youve got the basics understood, and youre practicing all over the place, and developing your eye - what next?.

At last count there were 135,765 photographic topics to be learned and mastered. 97,354 of these have come along since the invention of digital. : ) It is neither possible nor necessary to learn all of them..

Pick your targets. The ones that are most relevant to you, the ones you care about the most. Dont try and learn everything at once. Like the DOF example above. I would say that most photographers, outside of the macro specialty, could easily get by without knowing keeping DOF tables in their head. Trying to master every topic as soon as you discover it, in a sort of shotgun approach, will result in you (a) knowing a little about a of things, and none of them well, and (b) spending more time reading books and the internet than actually taking photos..

I hope that gives you some help and food for thought..

Image control:Zoom outZoom 100%Zoom inExpand AllOpen in new window..

Comment #1

Good photographer is one who is able to capture essence of moment, beauty of light so well that other people and photographers will look at photos in delight..

Good photographer is one who is able translate lighting conditions into lens/ISO/apperture/shutter combination to capture essence of beauty best possible way..

Good photographer is able to appreciate wide view without forgetting to capture detail from it..

Good photographer is one who can predict conditions and setup he(she) needs for speciffic project..

I have 0 formal training, learning new things every day from own expirience and mistakes, reading books and forum posts..


Comment #2

I'm an amateur photographer, but what I think makes a good photographer is a person who will allow their photographs to be critique by others. I like it when a person says "Hey that picture is nice, but you can improve it by doing such and such". I also enjoy looking at other peoples photographs, for I get an idea what I should be striving for when I take pictures. One thing I'm trying to avoid is getting hyped up with the "latest" photography gear and just concentrating in taking pictures. I believe the saying "It's not the camera, but the person behind the camera that makes a good picture"...

Comment #3

Creativity, a good eye for subject, light and composition and practice, practice, practice.Don't be affraid to experiment (especially with digital).Looking at what other photographers produce helps a lot when learning..


Fred Kamphues

Comment #4

Jakey217350 wrote:.

What does it take to be an exceptional photographer?.

Hi Jay.

An exceptional photographer produces exceptional photographs..

All you need to be an exceptional photographer is to produce exceptional photographs..

There seem to be a load of things about cameras that you have to know, there seem to be a load of rules about composition you need to know, there seem to be a load of rules about everything and anything, and it appears to many that if they learn all these rules, they will become an exceptional photographer..

Me I am not so sure..

There ARE some exceptional photographers who post occassionally in these forums IMHO. Their work seems to be unique to them, unique to their vision, they seem to master the image and series of images all produced to the same top standard and they appear to have a style of their own..

While it is true that they know a great deal about photography, I am convinced that they know more about images, about shape, about light, about colour, about tones, about proportion, perspective, about mood, in short they know about exceptional photographs..


Comment #5

Hi again Jay,.

I remembered this thread we did in samples & galleries a couple of years ago about photographers we appreciated. Lots of links to inspirational photography..

Perhaps might be of interest to you also.


Comment #6

I participate in photo forums for 5+ years. Heard so many wonderful advices, opinions, stories. Saw tremendous amount of amazing photographs..

Favorite advices I collected in my memory:.

1. Enjoy photography and shot whatever you like for your own fun and joy..

2. Try to get better with every shot by analyzing result image, thinking what would do it better. Ask for help..

3. When saw something nice, take your time. Think what made you to stop: light or shape, moment, emotion. Try to catch it in photograph..

4. Look into detail (landscape>lonely tree in it>brunch against sky>leaf>hover fly on leaf).

5. There is no bad weather. There is no bad sunrise/sunset. At any weather you can shot some subject: sports outdoors/indoors/macro/still life..

6. Try to get perfect shot right from camera, don't rely on cropping and cloning..

Use Rule Of Thirds but don't forget that certain subjects should be centered in composition - imagine printing and framing photo..

Avoid tilted horizons and backgrounds. It could be done by purpose only..

Use leading lines..

Avoid distracting elements in images (blurred foregrounds, brunches getting into composition, power lines) - may be used by purpose only..

If you will reach the point of "seen all, done all" - grab your camera and shot for new project or reshoot something done long time ago to get better result..

Plan you masterpiece. Example: "At what season, weather, and time of day this view will be most amazing.".

Use your location. Have best collection of regional images. You know your area better then any visiting photographer..


Comment #7

I think you have to learn what is considered to be the norm for your target market. Things like rule of thirds and golden mean for composition and so forth. The market decides so a good photographer is one that makes images that please others and thus it's important to figure out what people tend to like in your target market (and this may change over time with trends/fads)..

To me the most important thing is to develop a good eye and a good sense of whether a picture is good or not (relative to what your target market considers good). These days post-processing skills are very important..

Looking at, say, a state fair photo contest the winning picture might be a bunch of dogs with party hats eating cupcakes (and not a technically great shot at that). So technical wizardry isn't always the answer. Sometimes it's just having interesting subjects to shoot (or creating interesting scenes)..

I'm curious to know how folks in this forum developed their skills.School/classes? A mentor? Just shooting endlessly so "practice makesperfect"? What does it take to be an exceptional photographer?..

Comment #8

1) Practice. It works 2 ways. First of all, like a musician or a sportsman must play/exercise every day to keep himself in shape, a photographer must always take and PP photos. If you do that, you develop your creative power. If you don't, you become degraded. Second, experience over the years gives you intuitive knowledge that is impossible to explain or teach..

2) Talent. Technically perefect photos are not enough. This is something God-given, but you can develop it if you have it..

3) Being passionate about it. You can only produce brilliant results if you forget about eating and sleeping while trying to achieve what you want..

If you ask me about my personal experience - well, I'm self-taught. When I was young, I read good books on photography, learned a lot by talking to friendly pros and looked at quite a number of paintings in various museums to study composition, perspective and light as they were used by the great masters.Does this help?.




Comment #9

Excellent comments and quite helpful. I will refer back to this thread often. Thank you..



Comment #10

Jakey217350 wrote:.

I'm 47. I've only developed a serious interest in photography in thelast several months. I started with a Fuji FinePix P & S, within amonth bought a Panasonic Lumix FZ-8, and within another two monthsbought a K10D. Tying it in with my love of amateur sports has beenkey, although I'm interested in shooting non-sports subjects too. I'mamazed at the knowledge and expertise of many in this forum. Justreading posts and observing galleries has been very educational tome.

I'm curious to know how folks in this forum developed their skills.School/classes? A mentor? Just shooting endlessly so "practice makesperfect"? What does it take to be an exceptional photographer?.



What makes a good photographer?.

IMHO, it's being able to see shots and then know what to do with your equipment to duplicate what you envision from the shot. It takes some familiarity and experience with the gear, because one can be greatly creative but lack the knowledge of apertures, shutter speeds, etc., to get the correct photo they have in mind. Being able to afford all the gear to maximize your ability to get what you are seeing and envisioning in your mind is another story. But bear in mind you get what you pay for so if you are serious dont buy bottom line..

I recommend purchasing as many books as possible on the subject and studying things starting with the basics - with LOTS of practice in between. In the 35mm days I used to carry a notepad to track every detail that I felt pertinent so that when I exposed the film I could critique myself. I am self taught for the most part. I do recommend finding a friend (or network) to find photographers you can shoot with. You will start to pick it up...

Comment #11

The camera is just a tool so it should be as "transparent" as possible and a non issue. Sure get the best and learn all you can .....and then forget it. Phoptography, I find works best second nature. But I am not Walker Evans. I don't toil on photographs for ours. Rather I shuffle on to the next photograph (often times on the same subject) much as I think Cartie Bresson would..

And that brings me to my next point, study the greats especially to you. Whose photography do you love and why? And how do they go about achieving their work. Practice Practice practice. These forums are great, however, even though it is difficult stay away from the big equipment trap and the technical mumbo jumbo and concentrate on making great photographs. Strive to be consistant. Magic, Bird and Jordan always did it every night not just once in a while. A good photographer doesn't take alot of shots to get a few good ones a good photographer takes alot of good shots.David..

Comment #12

In my opinion, all it takes is for people to like the photographer's pictures..

Art is subjective and photography is an art...

Comment #13

Posting in this thread.It was just getting good?The last poster was exactly right!!David..

Comment #14


Jetthro Tull.

Good 'ol times, locomotive breath, aqualung and uh ? ohRight, it's PHOTO-forum, I'll shut upLOL..

Comment #15

Being serious now:.

Yesterday evening, I was about to ask a beginners-question: I am trying to shoot low-light (lit candles only), but in a way that there is the least possible loss of detail.

And low grainyness. So, I was exercising with (d40 on tripod, 18-55) iso 200-400-800-1600-HI, exposure-fiddling +/-, slow flash, rear. Shielding the flash more and more. But I didn't get the results I wanted: Wanted the atmosphere and bright burning candlelights without the rest of the room looking like dark tunnel without detail. I was about to post here for help, when it suddenly dawned on me. I could adjust the level of flash! Tried that and within a minute, the right results..

Detail and atmosphere at last! level at -1.3 / -1.7You can hardly see the pic was taken with flash just what I wanted..

In hindsight, I felt quite stupid, coz I already did that on once my earlier P&S (sony). It slipped my mind, but I will NEVERMORE forget in the future..

That's the reason why you have to practice A LOT. Experience and hands on are good teachers, for the worst and the best. One learns a (small) lesson every time he/she focuses on obtaining the desired result..


Comment #16

Two questions:.

1/ "how folks in this forum developed their skills.".

I started takling pictures seriously in grade eight, and started buying camera magazines in grade eight (Popular Photography and Modern Photography).

In grade nine, joined the high school camera club and worked with it for five years (where I live, high school is grades 9-13).

After grade ten, spent the summer working for a professional news and wedding photographer..

Starting in Grade Nione, shot pictures for various community newspapers or high school events..

By Grade 12, was shooting weddings for a portrait and wedding studio most weekends..

Went to the best university-level photography program in Canada for one year (out of three).

Switched schools, shot a lot of pictures, kept reading..

2/ What does it take to be an exceptional photographer?.

Depends a bit on what kind of photography. There's "formula" photography, where careful study and lots of practice allow you to copy the work of others, or match a layout created by someone else.really well..

Lots of studio commercial photographers do this, with dinner pace settings, product shots, food photography, etc..

Understanding the purpose of the pictures makes some commercial photoraphers better than others. Friends of mine travel all over the world shooting for corporations and wherever they are last not from them, htey were in a jungle next to an oil field they can "see" the possibilites for photos that meet business needs, and illustrate business ideas and priorities..

About an hour ago, I read a quote from a reporter, but the same thing applies to great photo-journalists. She said she wants to cover all the great stories, and wants to always be on page one..


Comment #17

If I'm happy with my work then I consider myself a good photographer..

- note that happy can mean either a good shot, or a good lesson. Both are valid..

If I'm not happy, then I wasn't a good photographer that day..

The advice / critique of others helps me to have more good days than bad, but only if I go out and practice what I'm learning..

For what's worth, I've found this strategy to work for more than just photography......

Comment #18

I think being a good photographer encompasses 2 completely separate skill sets. The one is technical competency. This means understanding exposure, lighting and what all those settings on your camera are. This has gotten probably even more technical in the digital word now that we have white balance, RAW conversion, etc. to worry about. Some of us learned the world of post processing in the film days by working in darkrooms, but many didn't, now almost all professional photographers have to understand digital post processing.

The second and much more difficult skill set is artistry. It's understanding composition, quality of light, complementary colors. It's looking at the ordinary world around you and seeing extraordinary things to capture. I have worked with some people who are born very gifted at it. I have seen successful professional photographers who rarely get a artistic shot unless it's by accident. I wish I knew how to quickly improve in this area, but about all I can say is practice, study photographs you think are good and try to understand why, etc...

Comment #19

SMPhoto wrote:.

The second and much more difficult skill set is artistry...I have seen successful professional photographers who rarely get a artistic shot unless it's by accident... but about all I can say is practice, study photographs you think are good and try tounderstand why, etc..

It's interesting you should mention some "professional" photographers only getting an artistic shot by accident. My interest is sports photography. I've viewed some pro's photos at sites that sell prints of high school sports action to parents, student athletes, etc. A lot of them seem run-of-the-mill. No special effort to get an unusual shot, close ups of faces showing the joy of victory or agony of defeat, or anything unique. From viewing well-known sports photographers' work and reading about their methods, I've learned that memorable shots require close ups of faces and, if possible, eyes.

It's interesting how many photographers I've seen at games who just plop themselves at one location, take a bunch of shots and leave. I think that by following your general advice above one will obtain distinctively better sports action shots than the average..



Comment #20

Feel strongly enough about what you're trying to communicate and the rest will come naturally..

Ramen is how I afford my glass

Comment #21

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