On our journey from being a guy (or girl) with a camera to become a photographer, we go through various steps and lessons, and with it thousands of photographs (and at least the same amount in hours in front of a computer screen). Most of these lessons involve technical aspects, we discover depth of field and start to think in f-stops, motion and we analyse shutter speed, noise and understand iso. We then enter the wormhole of gear madness, and (at least for a while) believe, better gear will make us better photographers. And then we discover the most important lesson to learn: While all these technical factors are important, they don’t make us a (better) photographer.
All these technical aspects are like a drivers license. We’re now “allowed” on the streets, but only experience makes us safe drivers, and we’re far from winning any races. Just because we know how to catch a ball doesn’t mean we’ll ever win the Super Bowl.
I thought I might share a few lessons I personally had to learn over the years, and they may or may not apply to your type of photography, but they sure are worth thinking about.
Don’t listen to your peers
It doesn’t matter what other photographers or the members of the local camera club think of your photography, they will never be your clients, and (unless you become world famous) will most likely never buy a print from you. They have their own idea of photography, which is great for them, but it should not change your vision. Take on advice from people you trust, and believe in your very own view of the world.
Social media is not a validation tool
To be clear, social media is important, and numbers do count. The larger your following, the more people you’re able to reach. The quality of your audience, however, cannot be measured in numbers, and the amount of “likes” and positive (or negative) comments are absolutely no reflection on the quality of your work.
At any stage of our journey, we have our idols. The names change over the years, as we discover new styles and people, but we will always have some we look up to. Let their stories and work inspire you, but don’t try to become them. The same applies to new styles. Study it, perhaps learn it as a technical exercise if you like, but don’t copy it just because it’s “in” right now. BE YOU. Always. During a photo shoot, on the telephone, on social networks, be YOU. Some will like you, some don’t, that’s life, we can’t please everyone.
It’s a Poker Game
If you don’t understand the game, you can not win. If you understand the game, and you’re handed out great cards, you still have no guarantee to win. If you are brilliant in dealing with people, reading their expression and their body language, and you’re in control of your own tone and demeanor, you now have a much higher chance to win, even with bad cards. Someone with great people skills will generally produce a better image with a cheap camera, than someone with a great camera, but is uncomfortable with others.
The list of lessons is long, from “understanding AND breaking the rules,” to the importance of understanding legals, contracts, releases, copyrights, insurance and bookkeeping, all of these elements make the difference between a “camera owner,” and a “photographer.” And none of these involve aperture or shutter speed.