I was working with one of my long-time students yesterday. He is becoming a great photographer. He’s only been at it about four years, but he’s getting there.

He was reminding me that what he liked about my work, was that he could still see the fire in my eyes. He noticed that as I approach my fourth decade as a photographer, I still have the passion for it.

It got me thinking about how somebody becomes a great photographer. While I am sure there are plenty of other factors, I think the primary forces behind greatness in photography, or any pursuit for that matter are patience, perseverance and passion.

Let’s break these down and talk about what they really mean. Patience is the habit of being patient.
1: bearing pains or trials calmly or without complaint
2: manifesting forbearance under provocation or strain
3: not hasty or impetuous
4: steadfast despite opposition, difficulty, or adversity

If you want to be a great photographer, it’s nearly impossible without patience. Waiting for the right moment, going to the right place, looking for the right background, finding the right light, moving in on the right subject and learning your equipment well enough that it’s second nature to use it properly, all take amazing amounts of patience. Without patience, you have the opportunity for great shots through luck. But you have little opportunity for true greatness in general.

Closely related to patience is perseverance.
1: to persist in a state, enterprise, or undertaking in spite of counterinfluences, opposition, or discouragement

Wow this one is tough. Photography, when practiced at the highest levels, is a pursuit that is full of amazing highs and terrible lows. There’s so much that can go wrong in a photograph that I am usually stunned when it works out. If you’re just happily shooting snapshots and documenting life around you, there’s little chance you’ve encountered these wild highs and lows. But if you pursue photographic greatness, then they are no stranger to you. The “counterinfluences, opposition, or discouragement” we face in today’s world are many. There’s the war on photography, a global recession, huge competition, bad light, bad backgrounds, crowds, cops, gear failure, bad weather, etc. I could go on but you get the point. There are many forces working against making the truly great image, and only those who stick it out despite those forces massing against them, can be great.

Lastly, but in my opinion most importantly, is passion.
1: intense, driving, or overmastering feeling or conviction
2: ardent affection
3: love or a strong liking or desire for or devotion to some activity, object, or concept
4: an object of desire or deep interest

These are strong words. Note that they might describe how you felt about your first serious boyfriend/girlfriend. That’s the kind of intensity you need to feel about photography to be a great photographer.

When you go to bed, does a certain photo you wanted to get but missed haunt you? Do you daydream about your next big photo expedition? Are you willing to give up dinner and a movie three out of four times in order to save money for that new camera? Will you work to get the shot no matter what? That is the sort of passion I see in great photographers. When you hear someone describing photography who really loves it, you’ll know what I mean.

While you can argue for many other factors to be considered when discussion great photography (and I am sure you all will :)), I’m convinced that the big three are patience, perseverance and passion are at the top of the list.

Not everyone wants to or needs to be great at photography. But if you pour a little more patience, perseverance and passion into your next image, you might not achieve greatness, but I’ll bet your pictures get better.

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