Get Pro Photo Club is mostly about the business side of photography, but this week I’m going off-piste a little.
I’m asking myself the question, ‘Why are some photographers better than others?’
After all, every professional photographer should know how to use their camera.
Is it innate natural talent?
I think natural artistic talent is only a tiny percentage of the story.
Particularly for something as potentially chaotic as wedding and family photography.
I can’t draw, paint or sculpt, but I do ok with photography.
I truly believe anyone can be an excellent photographer.
But what does it take?
Let’s get the obvious stuff out the way; they’re often forgotten.
Firstly, IT TAKES TIME!
Being good at anything takes time.
You can’t be a mechanic or a builder or a dentist or any other skilled service without putting in a lot of hours of training.
Those people do several years of FULL TIME training before setting up their businesses.
The good news is that learning how to use your camera takes a lot less time, but achieving excellence and learning the business skills will take years.
Accept it and embrace the journey. You WILL get better.
It took me 3 years before I charged anyone for my photography and I’ve been in business for 10 years. So that’s 13 years to get where I am.
Like you, I’ve had those moments where I wanted to hammer nails into my camera and flagellate myself with it.
But time always passes and if you use that time to keep working, learning and growing you become like a steam train; it’s starts slowly, but unstoppable once it gains momentum.
The frustrating moments get fewer.
When I started out I was always prioritising composition and background over the quality of light.
Now I look for the good light first.
After all ‘Photo’ is a derivative of the word ‘light’ (eg. photosynthesis)
‘Graphy’ is a derivative of the word ‘art’.
We’re painting with light.
But in portraiture I feel expressions and storytelling is everything.
The word portraiture is a derivative of the word ‘portray’.
We’re trying to show the true personality of the people we photograph.
That’s one of the reasons I have a meeting with every family and wedding client before they even hire me. I want to get a feel for who they are (and who they aren’t).
The importance of building a connection is the reason I wrote all the different E-books and documents you can access in the ‘downloads’ section of Get Pro Photo Club.
My style is to find great light, then compose and pose and then breathe life into the photograph with tailored questions that are designed to get a natural reaction; or even interaction between people.
For example, I’ll ask a small child “What do you love most about mummy” during a family session.
I’ll ask a groom what he loves most about his new bride… …instant tenderness.
I’ll then ask the bride what she HATES most about her new husband… …instant laughter!
Now that’s MY style.
Another photographer may be more picky about the posing than me. Or they may be a wizard with auxiliary lighting.
Yet another photographer may be more inclined to do everything in a documentary style, keeping interaction to a minimum, or even non-existent.
That’s another one of the keys to being a good photographer.
Pick a style and specialise.
I’m not great at baby photography, so I’ve pulled away from it.
My skill is in building rapport with people and that’s largely wasted on babies. They don’t even appreciate my wide gurning repertoire!
Pick a style and get excellent at it.
It doesn’t have to be one genre of photography. My ‘Light, compose, pose, pose-questions’ approach works for several genres – even business headshots.
But how do you get excellent at a style, other than specialising in it over time?
Planning: have an idea of what you want to capture before the session or wedding. Even if you’re a documentary photographer you can still plan. You can scout the location for the areas with the best light and composition and you can wait for something to happen there; just like a wildlife photographer.
Feedback: Get feedback on your photography. You’re welcome to ask me. It’s good to get feedback from photographers and non-photographers because they’ll give you different kinds of feedback – both of which are useful. The best feedback will come from your clients when you do in-person sales sessions. You’ll learn a huge amount. Your favourite photograph will often be different to theirs and when you’re sat with them you can find out why. Shoot and burn photographers and ones who sell online don’t get this feedback and they’re really missing out.
Be obsessively picky: I’m one of the most relaxed, easy going people around. Too relaxed most of the time. If I can do a job half-arsed I will! My wife always tells me she wishes I was as diligent with housework as I am with my photography. Photography is the one thing I’m OCD with. You have to be. One or two small issues in a photograph will quickly undermine it. That said, be kind to yourself. Don’t beat yourself up if something isn’t right. We’ve all been there, many times. I’ve got my horror stories. Learn from your mistakes.
Embrace life and have fun: I always say that if you’re tired of photography you’re tired of life. We experience the highs and lows of life and we experience our client’s highs and lows too! If we don’t learn to smile through it all and manage our mind carefully this business can beat us up.
Great photographers see the world differently to most people. They’re inspired by life and the world we live in. Even small things like the patterns wheat fields make when they bend in the wind.
If you’re full of life then your photographs will be too.
It’s hard to take great photographs when you’re feeling negative and stressed.
Documentary photographers need a sense of humour.
We all do.
Sometimes staying positive can be hard, so here’s a tip…
Science has proven that feelings follow actions. So if you act happy and positive then you’ll start to feel it. It’s why sales people are told to stand up on their phone calls (I’ve heard some stand on tables!) because it makes them feel more confident.
Next Sunday I’m looking forward to telling one lucky winner they’ve won free wedding photography from me.
I could sit fretting about whether that promotion will bring me in lots of other clients, or whether it will be a waste of time.
I prefer to think about how happy that couple will be and how nice it will be to spend their wedding day with them and how grateful they’ll be.
So, I think a great photographer is someone who embraces life. What do you think makes a great photographer?
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