For most folks, it’s pretty easy.
I’m often told that I’m a great photographer. While I don’t usually correct the person handing out the complement — hey, everyone likes to have their ego stroked once in a while — I have to admit here that it’s simply not true.
The real truth is, I can occasionally make a great photograph.
What Makes a Great Photographer?
There’s a difference, at least in my mind. A great photographer can consistently make great photographs. He often goes out with his equipment with an idea in his mind of what he wants to achieve. He considers location, lighting, composition, and camera settings. He takes full advantage of his equipment, no matter what it is, to help him achieve great results. Consistently. His worst photos may be about the same quality as my best.
I, on the other hand, try to do all of these things. I don’t usually succeed. I’m limited by my experience, my capabilities, and my equipment. It’s experience that helps you know when the light is just right and how to set your camera for the shot. It’s capabilities that make it possible to use all the tools on the camera to make the shot as good as it can be. Its equipment that ultimately determines whether the shot is composed properly (think lens focal length) and in good focus (think lens quality).
I’m also limited by my willingness to sit in one place for hours, waiting for the light to get just right. Or my willingness to hike that extra two miles to get into the perfect position to frame the shot. Or my willingness to face the cold or heat or strong winds. Or my simple willingness to carry a tripod when the light seems “bright enough” or that extra lens I probably should have with me. (I’m working on getting over all of these personal limitations, but it ain’t easy.)
In the end, I get mixed results. Some of my shots are really good and make me really happy. Others are crap. The rest fall in between. The fact that there’s no consistency is what keeps me from being a great photographer.
And I’m okay with that. I’ll keep trying and, hopefully, get better. But I don’t think I’ll ever be great. I’m okay with that, too.
How to Make People Think You’re a Great Photographer
So why is it that so many people tell me I’m a great photographer? Here’s my trick: I only show off my best photos.
Too many people share too many of their photos. You know the folks I’m talking about. They go out with their camera and take 50 shots at the zoo. They then dump all (or almost all) of them on Flickr or some other photo sharing site. You go through them and are overwhelmed by the mediocrity. The great head shot of the giraffe munching a leaf is lost in the shuffle of poorly framed images of zebras and ostriches. The interesting image of the rhino’s sleeping face is buried among out-of-focus or poorly exposed images of monkeys and lions. You get bored after the first ten shots and may not browse any further to see the buried gems.
Digital cameras turned everyone into photographers and services like Flickr make it too easy to put photos online. Too many people think they need to share all of their photos. As if every shutter snap is the creation of a great work of art.
Don’t Share Your Crappy Photos
There’s a lot of crap out there. It’s easy to distinguish yourself from other photographers. Simply share only your best images.
Be honest with yourself. Put one photo against another and keep the best one. Then do the same repeatedly to pare down the 50 zoo shots to three or four.
If necessary, get feedback from others — and I don’t mean the bullshit “great shot!” comments from fellow Flickr users who are fishing for reciprocal comments and “friends.” I’m talking about feedback from people who know good photos when they see them and are not afraid to tell you.
Don’t believe me? Try it and see for yourself. Weed out the crap you’re sharing on Flickr (or other online photo sharing sites) so only your best remain. Then see what people say about you, as a photographer. I think you’ll be pleased.