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Throwback Thursday: What Makes a Great Photographer?

Lately we’ve been hearing a lot of conversations about what it is that makes a great wedding photographer and just how on earth that can be determined. Can we really compare two photographers (often of contrasting styles) and come to a conclusion as to which is better or is it all simply a matter of opinion? A little while ago we delved into the subject to see what conclusions we could make and as it’s “Throwback Thursday” we thought we’d take another little look at what it is that makes a great photographer…

dom the tog bride finalone2In the past we’ve talked a lot about the different styles of wedding photography, the different types of posing, approaches to shooting, framing, light manipulation, processing… the list goes on. But whilst we’ve tried to be as in-depth about each aspect of wedding photography as we can the question we keep being asked is this: What makes a great photographer?

It’s a question that in all honesty I’ve always skated around, mostly because despite the basic standard of a photographer clearly being the first important hurdle to leap on the track to choosing who will be capturing those all important memories for you, I remain unsure whether the question is really a valid one. Overall I would have to say that beyond the basic requirements of being able to use the camera properly the answer, in its most simple terms, is perception. There are undoubtedly incredible photographers out there who are yet to attain the recognition of their peers as a true ‘great’, yet their images might speak to you personally in a way that even the most acclaimed photographers cannot achieve. Similarly even the work of those considered true greats in the wedding photography community is only as good as their restrictions allow them to be.

What we define as great photography is of course completely subjective. You might look at a photographer’s technical ability in order to attach a value to their work and this might certainly shed some light on whether they know what they’re doing or not. Anyone who tells you that there are no rules in photography is talking nonsense; of course there are rules and certain shots will simply not work no matter how good you are, but the trouble with looking purely at technical skills is this: there may be rules to photography, but for me the ones who are the true artists are those that learn to break them successfully.

Of course that basic technical knowledge is essential – a photographer that can’t operate the camera properly is no use to anyone, but beyond a certain point technical skill becomes almost irrelevant as natural creative instincts take over. It’s quite possible to be a camera geek and know exactly what setting to use in every situation and even capture technically impeccable shots with precisely the right light balance, composition and framing and yet end up with an image that lacks any character, emotion or intrigue.

So should the question be not ‘what makes a great photographer’ but what makes a ‘creative photographer?’ Perhaps, but by it’s very nature creativity cannot be constrained or boxed within guidelines. Some of the factors that can certainly contribute include an understanding of how to use light for effect rather than simply for balance, a keen attention to detail and constant readiness to react within a split second of seeing (or even to pre-empt) a special moment arising, but it’s mostly about being able to translate the unique way that you see the world through the camera, and in doing so reveal something of yourself in the process. Picasso clearly saw the world in an entirely different way to Monet and would doubtless paint an entirely different picture of exactly the same object but both might be considered creative masterpieces for entirely different reasons.

what makes a great photographer?

Two factors that certainly have a part to play alongside creativity though are experience and consistency. Experience in itself does not of course equate to good photography and sometimes it’s the fresh faced newbie that produces the more exciting image, but in the constantly changing and unpredictable environment of a wedding experience certainly helps. Consistency is also very important – anyone can get lucky and capture one great image, even on the simplest of cameras. But you need your photographer to do it week in, week out and in every situation, lighting condition and surrounding.

Wedding photography of course provides a curious twist on the generally accepted definition of a good photographer because here personality and customer service become impossible to ignore. Landscape photographers have no cause to worry about the happiness of their subject, fashion photographers work with professionals whose job it is to look good in front of the camera. Wedding photographs are about the people, and unless the photographer can forge a good connection and understanding with the couple then in most cases they’re unlikely to produce photographs that can truly be considered great. Good communication skills and a genuine care for the subject then must surely be considered a key part of a good photographer’s skill-base.

I said at the beginning of this post that the answer to what makes a good photographer is perception – both theirs and yours. The big factor in whether you connect with their images is their perception of the world and their environment and if you feel a connection to that style then it’s really up to you whether you perceive them to be good or not. Photography is personal to the viewer and however much we photographers individually may cringe at some images and applaud others there’s really no right or wrong answer. All we can say is make sure you do your research, look at lots of images, read testimonials and make up your own mind. Technical skills and peer reviews may be an indicator of a good standard of work but unless those photographs make you, personally feel something then what we can tell you makes them good has no kind of relevance at all.

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