I recently answered a question on what makes a great photographer. Though the question itself is a little ambiguous because it wasn’t specific to any genre of photography, or if the individual asking was referring to the business or the artistic side of photography, so I decided to answer the question like I do at my photography workshops and travel adventures.
Basically 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 their intended audience—or as I like to say, a photographer who understands the three C’s of photography, creativity, comprehension, and communication.
Comprehension simply means a photographer must understand their equipment and how to use it. A photographer at every level knows the difference between an f/stop and bus stop, but great photographers know as a minimum the Rule of Stops, often called the Rule of Exposure. They understand how shutter speeds and aperture settings affect one another. In other words, if our proper exposure called for 1/60th at F/11, then the equivalent to maintain the same exposure is either 1/125th at F/8 or 1/30th at F/16 and so forth.
A great photographer also understands white-balance, and how it works with the Kelvin scale. They know during the Golden Hour not to shoot in the AWB, or automatic white balance mode—if you do shoot in AWB, it will wipe out the golden hour!
Plus great photographers understand the right tools are what will deliver the best results, and I don’t mean by brand name, I mean by design plus purpose. A great photographer knows the right lens to use for what they’re trying to capture and the difference between choosing a prime vs. a zoom lens, plus the proper aperture selection on the lens that will provide the results they and/or their client are trying to achieve.
When it comes to lighting, great photographers have learned how to see and feel the light, plus understand the quality of light and know what light modifiers bring the best results for the type of image they’re trying to create. A great photographer knows the differences between a beauty dish, a strip box, a large or medium soft box, grids, umbrellas, reflectors, etc. They know what each tool will provide when it comes to attaining a specific result.
Great photographers understand that comprehension is to know what gear to use, what it does, and why it does what it does. Ultimately they know how to make on-the-spot decisions to choose the correct tools to get it right in the camera with each shot.
Creativity is unique to each individual, some are naturally born with creative talents, others are not and have to learn it over time, give the edge to those born with it, however, many great photographers have improved their creativity through inspiration of other well-known artists. Great photographers know studying other great photographer’s work at some point in their career helped them understand what makes a great photo, and what doesn’t.
Great photographers understand the importance of communication and that it starts the first time any contact is made with a potential subject or client, whether it’s by phone, email, or in person. They realize that communication, like rapport, is ongoing from the first contact to the shoot itself and down to the delivery of the final images along with any follow-ups.
These photographers are careful with the words they choose and use along with the tone they inflect in their communications when it comes to their subjects and clients; they know this is the “building your rapport” phase of photography and like credit, it takes time to build it and only one negative instance to destroy it.
In order to better understand communication, a photographer should take from what is known as the “mother of all models,” the Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver’s 1949 Communication Model. This communication model is composed of the following elements—a sender or the 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.
Photographers are the senders and their voice is the transmitter outlet while the channel is the actual photography session in itself. A great photographer will avoid introducing noise, or distractions such as the phone ringing or other interruptions during their photo shoot, and they will also ensure their equipment is checked plus ready to go before a shoot even starts. The subject is the receiver and the destination is the final photographs.
In summary, mastering the three C’s are what makes a great photographer—comprehension, creativity, and communication, in the various genres of photography. Using these three C’s properly will also help you understand a great photo when it comes to critiquing your own photos or the photos of others. In the end, your subject or client is more than satisfied which makes you not a good photographer, but a great photographer.
With that I close and as always I ask you not to forget the men and women who serve to protect our freedoms, God bless them, their families and friends, Rolando.