The question of what it takes to be a good photographer is a question that will draw as many answers as people it is asked of. Many will cite things like the ability to form a perfect composition, achieve proper exposure or consistently get in-focus shots.
While these hallmarks of technical proficiency aren’t meaningless, history has revealed that a photo can lack one or all of these traits and still be considered a good photo — great, even.
Being a good photographer is about so much more than an evenly distributed histogram.
At the risk of being a bit abstract, I’d like to submit three characteristics that I believe anyone who is driven to be a good photographer must possess.
Kids have adults beat when it comes to curiosity. Children enjoy everything except vegetables and bedtime because everything is a new experience. They seek out new discoveries, new sensations. Sure, their curiosity can lead them to mischief every now and then, but it’s part of the learning process.
Photographers would do well to acquire (or re-acquire) and maintain a childlike curiosity.
Garry Winogrand championed curiosity when he claimed, “I photograph to find out what something will look like photographed.”
I can’t think of a more fundamental reason to pick up a camera. Of course, as you continue to photograph the faces, places and things around you, your reasons for shooting will grow and become more nuanced but the underlying motivator will remain.
Go out and discover what the world around you really looks like.
Curiosity isn’t all that valuable if you don’t act on it. Having the courage to get up and act on your curiosity doesn’t apply only to photographing difficult subjects or working in dangerous environments.
Street photography stirs up anxiety in some individuals; for others, portrait photography or macro photography can be intimidating. The specific reasons for why one might experience angst over a given type of photography is unimportant here, though I suspect a general fear of failure is a common thread.
Courage, though, is how you make things happen. Don’t fear failure — we all fail at some point. Pull yourself up, learn from your mistakes and keep trudging along. Don’t fear new experiences — they will reshape your thought process and expand your creativity.
To be a good photographer you need to commit to what you’re doing. It doesn’t matter what your skill level is, what genre of photography you tend to indulge in, where you live or what kind of camera you own.
You must commit to following through on those concepts of curiosity and courage that we discussed above. You must commit to continuous self-improvement (both creatively and technically). You must commit to your work in such a way that nothing — not even Instagram fame, or the lack thereof — can hamper your passion for photography.
Things won’t always go according to plan, but some good old fashioned “sticktoitiveness” will help get you through the discouraging times.
There are things you can do in an effort to become a good photographer — study, practice, seek feedback — all of which will prove useful. But like all creative endeavors, the foundation of success (not in financial terms) is based largely on internal attributes and motivations.
Whether you have what it takes to be a good — or great — photographer is up to you.
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If you're looking for a pragmatic way to improve your photography without getting bogged down in theoretical tomes and technical manuals, Action Cards are the thing you will want to get your hands on.
The Action Cards are 65 beautifully designed and printable project sheets that will give you over 200 photography assignments, covering everything you can imagine.
Each sheet contains:
- Notes on how to shoot a specific composition or genre.
- An exercise for you to practice with.
- Insightful questions to ask yourself about your results (and more importantly, how you can improve them).