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You most likely clicked on the title expecting some sort of technical advice in regard to exposure, composition, color, perspective or whatever. Well you’re wrong because it’s not about any of those things. You should master all of them, no doubt, but this time it’s got nothing to do with the technical advice the Internet is already full of, and has been for a few years now.
No, this time it’s about something else, something that ultimately makes the difference between photographers. It’s not professionalism, marketing skills or knowing how to use eight studio lights at once (and still make sense). All of these matter, especially to pros and they will make the difference between food on the table and dollar menus at McDonald’s. It’s something that has to do with personal work, probably a bit more than what you do for your clients. If you are not interested in creating personal work, and by that I mean nothing that is being asked of you, read no further, this article is not for you. For the record however, it’s personal work that gets most high end photographers where they are right now. Not that any of them have reached the highest possible peak, because I don’t believe there is one, but let’s face it, they are envied by most of the other photographers. I’m not going to name anyone because I’m not that kind of guy, plus I’m not really keen on sacrificing my Internet privacy because someone thought I forgot to mention their photographer god.
So, what is it? What is that thing that needs to be remembered, at least once in a while, by every photographer, yet so many have never even realized it yet? Some have been shooting for years having the wrong conception about this thing. I won’t keep you waiting anymore, you probably already think I’m being rude just building so much anticipation. Here it is: the most important thing you have to remember, to acknowledge, or whatever you want to call it, is the fact that whenever you are shooting whatever it is you are shooting, something that is external, especially when it’s other people, you are in fact shooting yourself. That’s right, it’s not fundamentally about the people you’re photographing, it’s about you. Before you tear this theory apart saying I must be the most selfish, egocentric photographer who also writes, hear me out. Think of every time you’ve ever reacted to something around you, something you had no control over. A busy day on a New York avenue, a bear catching a salmon in its teeth, your uncle Bob lighting a cigarette or your son scoring at a soccer game. The moments you chose to capture actually say more about you than about your subjects. The same thing goes, probably even a little bit more, for shooting something with direction. Sure, there are guidelines to both candid shots and directed photo sessions. But ultimately, there is the you behind the camera and a projection of you on what’s in front of the lens. Once you come to understand that, or remember it after a while, because in the daily rush of having a successful career you might forget it, you will most likely have a brief moment of introspection, a sort of talk with yourself if you will. I don’t mean to get all philosophical and stuff, it’s not really my thing, but the fact is that each of us is different, and so should our photos. Listen to yourself every now and then and bring out your personality because that’s part of what will make you appreciated. Sure, the subjects you photograph have a lot to do with it, but it’s more important how you deal with them.
The same thing goes for editing and retouching. After you come back from a productive day of shooting, download everything from your memory cards and start browsing, the photos you pick out to be the best are an indication of what makes you tick. Do that with another photographer by your side, and even if you will have common selections, I guarantee he’ll be choosing a few different shots as well.
Then there is the retouching part, the final look you give to a photograph. I love it just as much as photography itself because it has brought on a whole new arsenal of tools you can use to create cool stuff, and if you learn how to use them properly, your personal style or voice, whatever you want to call it. will come out just as much as it does in the raw photograph.
I call this the most important thing to remember, but I’m certainly not on a mountain top screaming my lungs out that I hold the very key of absolute truth. No, I don’t take myself so seriously. I do think however that you should give all this some thought, even if it’s in the morning before your next shoot (actually I’m hoping it will be). Make no mistake, you could go on your whole life without realizing that what you photograph is who you are, and you might even acquire a decent status. But wouldn’t it be better to have an ear listening to what kind of photos you really want to take?
Image credit: katalinks / 123RF Stock Photo