To Be a Great Photographer

I see this topic come up a lot on blogs and Youtube channels. There's always someone pushing out a 'top ten' list or a collection of "how-to' tips on being a better photographer or taking great images. These are fun, easy ways to get ideas or provide reminders of basic photographic concepts, but this type of content offers little to no value. It won't give you an edge or take you to the "next level". Usually, it's just good click bait. Lists and tips dangle the idea that you can improve just by consuming the content. Unfortunately most people stop there. I'll admit I've been guilty of this many times too.

The truth is, if you want to be a great photographer, the solution is NOT to watch more videos or read more blogs. It's not to take another class or attend another conference either. Education is important, but information without action is useless. So here's the unpopular, inconvenient, no-BS truth. To be a great photographer, there is only ONE process you need to follow and it's this:

  1. Shoot often and try new things.
  2. Study your work to learn from your mistakes.
  3. Make adjustments based on what you learn.
  4. Repeat 1-3 forever.

In other words, practice. Pretty simple, yet so many people dismiss it, always searching instead for next new thing which will up their game. I propose that instead of a list of things you need to buy or tips you need to follow, you should consider the things a great photographer needs to BE:

  • Independent - be able to work alone, be self-disciplined
  • Curious - have an inquisitive, exploratory nature; develop a love of learning
  • Imaginative - think outside the box and be able to innovate as you grow artistically
  • Dedicated - continually seek improvement, never give up, be consistent in your efforts
  • Selective - be able to critically evaluate your work and your progress
  • Observant - have an awareness of the world around you; attention to detail
  • Authentic - find your true north, develop your own sense of style
  • Patient - whether you're working with people, landscapes or even still-life, you'll need a lot of this
  • Decisive - believe in yourself and don't be afraid to take action; doubt crushes creativity 
  • Enthusiastic - have an unapologetic, heartfelt and all-consuming excitement about photography!
Repetition is the mother of all skill.
— Tony Robbins

Without that last one, none of the rest matters. And don't despair if this seems like a tall order. None of us will have all of these traits within our grasp all the time! But being mindful of these things is like taking that proverbial first step on a journey of a thousand miles. Photography, like any exercise program, is a practice. No amount of gear, software, classes, books, blogs or conventions will ever make you a great photographer without practice.

By the way, I was guilty of neglecting my own practice throughout most of 2016. I scowled at thought of picking up my camera, hated on my past work and sought no improvement. As you can imagine I also got nowhere. But this is a new year and I'm recommitted to the journey. It's not always the charmed pursuit some people make it out to be. It's a long and relentless road, full of emotional dips, interruptions and soul-searching. It can also be lonely, frustrating and expensive. Oh yeah, and there's NO END. However the gains far outweigh the sacrifices, so I think it's a road worth traveling. Who's with me?