The Most Important but Elusive Secret of Being a Good Photographer

The Most Important but Elusive Secret of Being a Good Photographer


If you are lucky, you will meet some fantastic photographers. It’s a real privilege working with them, isn’t it? There are common factors most good photographers have. But, above anything else, they all have one thing in common.

What Is a Good Photographer?

I should start by saying what I mean by a “good photographer.” A good photographer takes a good photo. To do that, they know how to compose and expose a shot. They then use the camera and lenses that are best for the job they want to do. All those things are subjective choices, and what they decide is best for them isn’t necessarily so for everyone. Importantly, they know that.

They happily accept that others will come to a completely different approach to getting the best shot. Those photos may not be to their taste. However, they take notice of other methods of taking a picture.

Good photographers also look at different camera systems to discover what they could do for them.

Bad Photographers and the Art of Photographic Failure

Therefore, one can conclude that the opposite of bad photographers who quickly criticize others while thinking their point of view is the only valid one. They invariably believe their way of getting a photo and the camera system they use is the only way. Similarly, if they don’t like a particular genre or style, they believe it has no value for anyone. They cannot take any criticism about the system they use and are affronted by anyone who suggests a different opinion from their own.

My evidence for that? Look at the comments section of most camera reviews; you will see people jumping up and down and making derisive comments about the kit. They will then attack the person who wrote the review and sometimes their photography.

Compare their photography to the galleries of those who praise articles and other people’s photos. Those with a more positive outlook invariably take better pictures. Those with the worst attitudes will have no gallery and hide behind a false persona to cover their (probably) justified low self-opinion.

The strange thing is that people with an opposing viewpoint are far more likely to comment on an article than someone who is positive-minded. It’s as if they are trying to compensate for their lack of ability by trying to run others down.

The Best Camera Is not the One You Have With You

Camera brands have little to do with successful photography. Good photographers will appreciate the kit’s good points and accept their camera is not perfect. A bad photographer will defend their choice of camera to the death, no matter what, and take every opportunity to snipe at others. A camera is just a camera; a good photographer will take good photos with it, no matter the brand or model.

You Are Better Than You Think You Are (Unless You Already Believe That)

Many good photographers don’t appreciate their skills. They don’t have false modesty about the quality of their work either. However, they do realize they are on a journey of constant development. Moreover, they are always searching for ways to make their photography better. Whether through experimenting with new techniques, repeatedly photographing the same subject in different conditions, or delving into new genres, their photography is about improvement. Bad photographers invariably have an over-inflated idea of their skills.

One common factor that many bad photographers use to rationalize their belief that their way is best is that they use their length of experience to validate their point of view. “I’ve been photographing for 35 years.” That is rarely a reasonable justification, as some of the most exciting photographic work comes from younger photographers.

Do You Share Your Knowledge?

Good photographers always share their knowledge big-heartedly. Their generosity of spirit is essential to them. They revel in helping others become better at what they do. They celebrate other photographers’ successes too. Look at most of the great names in photography; they are renowned for imparting what they have discovered and the skills they have honed.

Tallest flower, first plucked.

Tallest tiger, first hunted.

Tallest tree, first felled.

Anyone who becomes successful at what they do becomes a target for others who will try to destroy their success. That kind of conduct is almost expected in the modern world, thanks to trolling on the internet. It’s the same appalling behavior in some media outlets, and even some of our leaders incite hatred. This sad reflection of the darkest side of human nature is something we should not accept in photography.

But it does happen in the photography world too. I’ve seen it even at the club level. One expects club leaders to support their up-and-coming members, but I have seen them cruelly attacking others’ work that is better than theirs. Clubs that are run like that are rarely successful, and sometimes, those actions ruin the enthusiasm of talented beginners.

Similarly, great names in photography are often the target of jealousy-driven scorn by those who are less successful. Brushing off criticism comes easily to the successful photographer; after all, they have nothing to prove.

A successful photographer could change the last word of the above poem to “photographed,” although the five-seven-five format of the haiku will no longer work. That’s okay because the most successful photographers rarely stick to convention.

The One Thing That Makes a Good Photographer Great

There is one thing, though, that makes a good photographer stand out. That is their passion that shines through in their photography. That is probably one of the hardest things to convey in an image. It is more than the technical abilities, getting the correct exposure or depth of field right. It is more than composing the shot to comply with one compositional rule of another. It certainly has nothing to do with the lens or camera. Embedding our emotions is the one thing we should strive to achieve with our photography.

How do you do that? If you find joy in the sunrise, wonder at the finest details of an ant, deep friendliness towards your model, amazement at the feather patterns of a bird, excitement at seeing a predator hunt, or fascination in the abstract patterns, then you have succeeded.

However, sadly, there will always be those who fail to read that passion in your images. But that’s their problem, not yours.