Want to Become a Great Photographer? Focus on These 5 Tips

From technical mastery to a distinct creative style, here are 5 things you need to focus on to become a great photographer.

May 8, 2023By Selin Oguz, BSc, Minor in Art History and Visual Culture

tips to become a great photographer


These days, anyone can be a photographer with a smartphone. But what exactly makes a great photographer? Photography is an art form that allows us to capture and preserve memories, tell stories, and express ourselves in unique and creative ways. A great photographer is someone who not only knows how to take a good photo but also has a keen eye for composition, lighting, and storytelling. Let’s discuss the 5 key attributes of a great photographer: creativity, technical skill, adaptability, attention to detail, and patience.


What Makes a Great Photographer? 

great photographer landscape photography paul zizka
Landscape photography by Paul Zizka


As simple as it may sound, a great photographer is someone who can produce great photographs on a consistent basis. So, what is a great photograph? A great photograph is one that evokes emotion, tells a story, or captures a moment in a unique and powerful way. A great photographer also knows how to take care of exposure, composition, and focus.


There are many different types of photography, each with its own unique characteristics and techniques. Some of the most popular types include portrait, landscape, product, wildlife, street, food, action, and scientific photography. No matter the type, however, photography is a form of art. As such, it’s important to note that what makes a good photograph is subjective and can be different for various people in various contexts, just as great art is defined differently by different people. Therefore, a photograph that is considered amazing by one person may not be considered as such by another person, and that is okay.


However, there are certain attributes that all photographers can foster and rely on to ensure that their photographs turn out well, not just to them but to a wider range of audience. Developing these skills takes time and practice but will pay off in the end.

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1. Creativity

sophie rivera photographer portrait
Photographer Sophie Rivera, via New York Times


There are thousands of professional photographers out there and millions more who own a camera. So what makes one stand apart from the crowd? A great photographer has a creative eye for composition, perspective, and lighting that sets them apart from others. They have the ability to see the world in a unique way and capture it in a way that is visually interesting and pleasing.


The first step in becoming more creative is believing that we are. We all possess originality within us that is within our reach but accessing and expressing creativity is a muscle that can be strengthened. The best way to do this is through practice and consistency. With time, your unique vision can manifest through your photography in a way that distinguishes your images from others.


A wildly creative photographer to take as an example is Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004), one of Magnum Photos’s co-founders. When talking about his photography, he said, for me, the camera is a sketchbook, an instrument of intuition and spontaneity, the master of the instant which, in visual terms, questions and decides simultaneously. It is by economy of means that one arrives at simplicity of expression.


2. Technical Skill

exposure triangle explained iso stutter speed aperture
The basics of the exposure triangle, via Photography Life


A great photographer has a strong understanding of the technical aspects of photography, including manual camera settings, lighting, and post-processing. They are able to use these technical skills to create images that are well-exposed and sharp while expressing the desired mood.


The first step to consider when it comes to technical skill is mastering the exposure triangle, which includes aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. These three elements control the exposure of an image and work together to determine the amount of light that enters the camera and reaches the sensor, resulting in a properly exposed image. Simple composition techniques, such as the rule of thirds, leading lines, and framing, can also be very helpful to think about when taking a photo. When combined with the concept of the exposure triangle, composition techniques can equip you with a really solid foundation.


Another important aspect of becoming a great photographer is to become skillful in post-processing. Using platforms such as Lightroom and Photoshop allows photographers to enhance their photos and bring out their full potential. When used in conjunction with good camera skills, post-processing can be used to correct technical issues such as exposure, color balance, and sharpness, as well as to add creative elements such as contrast, saturation, and filters.


3. Adaptability 

henri cartier bresson magnum photos photographer
Photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, via Magnum Photos


The next thing that makes for iconic photographs is the skill of adaptability. Adaptability is an important quality for a photographer to have because photography often involves working in a wide range of situations and environments. A great photographer should be able to adapt to different lighting conditions, weather, and unexpected events while still being able to produce great images.


For example, a photographer shooting a portrait outside on a sunny day may need to adapt to changing weather conditions, such as moving the shoot indoors or finding shade if the sun becomes too bright. A wedding photographer may need to adapt to a last-minute change in the ceremony schedule or the sudden appearance of a distracting element in the background of a photo. Adaptability also applies to being able to work with different types of subjects and clients. An adaptable and cooperative photographer is able to connect with their subjects and understand what makes them unique, and thus be able to create images that are meaningful, unique, candid, and interesting.


4. Attention to Detail

great photographer landscape photography camera
Landscape photography, via PetaPixel


A great photographer pays attention to the small details in their images, making sure that everything is in focus, properly exposed, and composed.


Attention to detail is an important attribute to apply both when shooting and in the post-processing stage. While a photographer must be able to quickly notice and act upon small things like the balance of colors, lighting, and the comfort level of the subject during a shoot, they must also take the time to carefully edit their photos, making sure that the colors are accurate, the exposure is correct, and that the image is as sharp as possible.


At the end of the day, photography is a visual art form. Having the ability to pick out perfect details is an important part of distinguishing your work from those of others. To start, try capturing the small, often overlooked elements in a scene to make your photograph stand out and experiment along the way.


For example, a photographer may notice that a leaf on a tree is in the perfect position to add a pop of color to an otherwise dull landscape or that a person in the background of a portrait is making a unique facial expression that adds to the overall mood of the image. Having a keen eye for detail can ensure that the photographer does not miss these great opportunities.


5. Patience 

Arnold Newman in his studio
Portrait photographer Arnold Newman in his studio, via Widewalls


Lastly, patience. A great photographer must be patient when shooting their photographs, being able to wait for the right moment to capture the perfect photo, as well as over the long term as they hone in and fine-tune their skills and craft. In a shoot, a nature photographer might need to wait for hours, or even days, to capture the perfect shot of a rare bird or animal. Likewise, a street photographer might need to wait for the right person to walk into the frame, for the right expression to appear on a person’s face, or for the clouds to provide the perfect lighting that they are waiting for. A portrait photographer, on the other hand, might need to wait until their subject is relaxed enough to be able to capture a candid expression.


In the long run, a great photographer should bank on consistency and patience. Mastering technical skills takes time and comparing one’s novice photographs to the expert photographs of another is a mistake made by one too many. Becoming a great photographer happens over time, and patience is an important part of not giving up too early.


Great Photographers to Learn From 

great photographer Annie leibovitz
Photographer Annie Leibovitz, via Masterclass


One part of becoming a great photographer comes from studying the work of other photographers that we admire so that we can learn from their successes and mistakes. Analyzing the direction of light, the angle of the camera, and the overall mood of famous photographs is a great way to add some depth and style to your photos.


To do that, here are some photographers to learn more about: Ansel Adams, Irving Penn, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Dorothea Lange, Robert Capa, and Annie Leibovitz.


These are just a few examples of famous photographers who are considered to be among the greatest of all time. There are many other photographers whose work is also highly respected and whose contributions to the art of photography have been significant. Studying the composition and the nature of the work of these photographers can be an excellent way to become a great photographer yourself.


It is also important to seek feedback on your own work and be open to constructive criticism. If photography is something that you enjoy, you can network with other photographers in your area to gain inspiration and feedback from them. Networking with people in related fields, such as photo editors and art directors, can also help you to get your work seen by more people and potentially lead to new opportunities.

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By Selin OguzBSc, Minor in Art History and Visual CultureSelin is a writer and photographer based in Vancouver, Canada. When she isn’t writing all things art, she is either traveling, meditating, or reading old classics on her couch.