One of The Three C’s of a Great Photographer

The greatest photographers in the world have three things in common, a creative eye, the comprehension of their equipment and the ability to communicate both to their subject and the intended audience—a few of the topics we cover in our photography workshops and adventures, the three C’s of photography—creativity, comprehension and communication.

Some people can learn or enhance their creativity while some are just naturally born with it, but it’s a requirement to possess when creating any form of art. It’s the “right side of the brain” we mention in our previous article, 20 Reasons Why There Is Failure in Photography, and it’s usually that spark that ignites our passion to produce photos.

Communication, Photography Equipment

Photographers must understand their equipment and how it works. Here we’re using a Hensel Porty 1200 with a Chimera soft box to overpower the sun with flash during one of my photography workshops in Costa Rica.

Comprehension means that you must understand and know your equipment; this is where you use the left side of your brain. We’re not implying to take wrenches and screwdrivers to your camera and tear it apart, save that for the camera repairmen. What we’re saying, it’s as simple as knowing the difference between an f/stop and a bus stop. It’s not hard, but you’ve got to know how all your photographic gear functions plus it’s capabilities, inside and out.

Now this brings us to communication which requires both sides of the brain and applies to just about everything we do in life—don’t believe me, well throw your smart phone away and see how your life changes for the day. It’s common knowledge that communication or the lack of communication is the root of all problems, so I will focus on communication in this article since most photography involves some sort of dialogue between a photographer and a subject, plus the final photo is a form of visual communication for your subject and the intended audience.

We communicate messages, directly and indirectly, through our photography. In fact, communication is so important in any type of relationship, that I devoted an entire chapter in my latest book, Taming The Trouser Snake to this topic. We even made it the first chapter of the book. As a disclaimer, I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication that provided me the background to thoroughly explain the “mother of all models,” the Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver’s 1949 communication model, in that “guide” book.

Taming The Trouser Snake is not specifically targeted at photographers, though any photographer that works with models would benefit from it’s information, so here I decided to provide a brief overview of the communication model as it applies to photographers. Successful people, especially those that run successful businesses know this model well, so I can’t stress its importance when it comes to photographers if you want your photography and your photography business to benefit. Even if you’re not a photographer full-time, understanding this model will benefit you in everything you do.

The Shannon and Weaver communication model is composed of the following elements: a sender (information source), a message, a transmission, a channel, a receiver and a destination. In this mix you also have the concept of noise, or interference. Again, you get a more in-depth explanation in my new book, but I cannot stress the importance of understanding this model—I guarantee you, it will make a difference in your photography and everything you do in life.

Using this communication model as it applies to photography, a photographer is the information sources (sender) that transmit visual and verbal communication (message) to their subjects. A photographer’s voice is the transmitter outlet, and like all transmitters, if that outlet fails, the message will not be heard as it was intended and the results usually have a negative impact on the subject. It’s important to note that subjects subconsciously study signals from the body language of the photographer that can impact their perceptions about the photographer’s professionalism and abilities.

The channel is the photography session and if that session experiences noise, or distractions, such as the phone ringing, clock-watching because the subject or photographer has other commitments, etc., the message will suffer its effect. The message is two parts here, the message the photographer is trying to send to the subject, and the end message the subject and photographer are trying to create (photos).

Potential noise or interference occurs if a photographer has problems with his or her equipment. This usually occurs because the equipment was not checked before the subject arrived. The result is a distraction that can impact the confidence the subject has of the photographer, which can impact the shoot in a negative manner. An unconfident subject will display a tight face where the corners of the eyes are not in harmony with the corners of the lips. The photographer and the subject are merely left with a picture of an uncomfortable subject.

Communication in Photography, Heather Carden Model

JJ Gallegos photographs Heather Carden during one of our Virgin Islands photography workshops. He provided direction (communication) to her for the shot he was trying to achieve during this shoot on location in St. Thomas.

The subject usually is who hired the photographer and the photos are about the subject. The subject is the receiver. If the receiver does not accept the channel, say the subject doesn’t like the location of the photo session or the props, then the receiver and the sender will experience interference and the entire photo session becomes a failure.

The destination is the final photographs, not pictures; anyone can take “happy snaps,” but few can create photographs. In order to produce a great photograph, the subject and the photographer must arrive at the same destination or conclusion.

Communication doesn’t start the moment a photographer picks up their camera; it starts the first time any contact is made with the potential subject whether it’s by phone, email or in person. Communication, like rapport, is ongoing from the first contact to the shoot itself and down to the delivery of the final images themselves along with any follow-up. It’s imperative photographers are careful with the words and tone they choose to communicate throughout this entire process.

Photographers should understand that emails are printed words that often sound harsher than spoken words as there is no verbal or visual tone to help decode the actual intention of the communicated message. The right tone or inflection of another person’s voice, often helps convey a message more clearly than if the words were merely printed. A printed word without clarification can create noise that will cause the subject (receiver) to shut down, while the right words or vocal tone can weave clear channels of reception. It also doesn’t help that text messages and emails normally don’t allow us to view body language, another form of visual communication from the sender to the receiver that helps us understand the message.

As an example, when I physically talk to my subjects before a shoot, I sit down directly across from them. This posture places us both at the same eye-contact level. I avoid standing if my subject sits during a conversation, as I do not want to give the appearance I’m looking down upon my subject in conversation. While photographing my subject, I normally shoot from a lower position, usually bellybutton up, which also gives my subject the feeling they are upon a pedestal.

Ultimately as photographers we must be careful in what we say, when we say it, how we say it and where we say it—these are key forms of communication between a photographer and their subject. Like a doctor who practices great beside manners with a patient, a photographer must practice professionalism and exhibit great communication skills that follow the concepts of the Shannon and Weaver communication model. This helps ensure a photographer will not root problems with their subjects.

The greatest photographers in the world are those that possess creativity, comprehend their equipment, and understand communication, something we teach at all my photography workshops and adventures. Simply put, creativity relies on the right side of the brain, comprehension utilizes the left side of the brain, and communication requires both the left and right sides of the brain. I close by saying, please don’t forget the men and women in uniform, their families and friends, without them, we’d have no free communication–God Bless! Rolando

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