Some good questions

A high school photography teacher wrote me recently with some questions. As part of her ongoing credentialing for teaching photography, she needed to “…gather information/advice from those in professional photography community.” She went on to ask me a series of great questions from her students drawing on having asked them “What questions they would ask a professional if they could.”

The questions were:

1. How do you get inspired to go out and take photographs?

2. How long does it take for you to make/create the “perfect” picture?

3. How do you know you got the “perfect” picture?

4. What do you believe is required for someone to be considered a professional photographer? (i.e. schooling, experience, ability…)

5. How do you get inspired, or what inspires you?

6. What do you enjoy most about being a photographer?

I read the list and thought that these were great questions, which any photographer should consider. I also think that any serious student of photography would probably want to ask these same questions of at least half a dozen different photographers to see how different people answer the same question(s.) With that point in mind, here are my answers:

1. How do you get inspired to go out and take photographs?

In the best situations, going out photographing does many things for me which are all very pleasant, so I rarely need to be “inspired.” Photographing gets me outside, usually in great light and often in equally good weather. I see things in a new way, encounter new people and generally am very stimulated, both visually and intellectually. Since I spend far too much time on the computer, anything that takes me away from that is good. I also know that I need to continually be practicing my photography techniques and if I do not do that often, I will lose that skill.

2. How long does it take for you to make/create the “perfect” picture?

About 80% of my best photographs are born out of roughly the same process. Something catches my eye and so I make an initial photo of it. After a few photos, I look at the screen on my camera to see what I have recorded. By looking at it on the small screen, I pay more attention to the graphic of the image and less to the content. Then I zoom in to check the focus and see what is really “in” the photo. At this point, I either give up, since the image is not working, or I change the composition/framing/ angle and make some more exposures. That usually means I will be taking many more images and periodically reviewing those on the screen. The big question I am considering is the difference between what it is that I am seeing with my mind’s eye as compared to what it is am I actually getting in the camera. I typically keep working till I get want I want or I give up when I realize I cannot get what I want.

3. How do you know you got the “perfect” picture?

I am not sure if any picture is ever perfect, outside of an advertisement. Still, I am happiest with the image(s) I am making when I am enjoying the process of making them AND when the idea in my mind’s eye is aligning with the image on the camera screen. When I start repeating myself, it is time to move on. I only know if it is really a “perfect” image when I look at it later. I need to remove myself from the emotionally charged experience of making the image in order to see if what I captured prompts the same reaction, hours or days later.

4. What do you believe is required for someone to be considered a professional photographer? (i.e. schooling, experience, ability…)

I have blogged extensively about this so I would encourage anyone interested in that question to read some of those blog entries. To summarize, the technical skills required to be a photographer get easier by the day. Most of today’s digital imaging technology is designed to make photographing, post-production and printing as easy as possible. Those skills simply are required for someone to be considered a professional photographer. More importantly, the pro of the future will differentiate him or her self by the style that they bring to their photography. Skills in marketing, social media, business or self-promotion will be what separates the successes from the also-rans. In the world of publication photography, for example, expertise in a topic, language or subculture will differentiate the masters from the aspiring photographers.

5. How do you get inspired, or what inspires you?

For years, I was inspired by the fact that my career as a whole and my work as a photographer were continually changing. Recently, I realized that I get inspired when I think about what is coming up next in my day, my week, or my life. I am most inspired by the small challenges that I face on a daily basis in my work as a photographer, teacher, small-business person, etc. When I was doing newspaper photojournalism, for example, the challenges were different, but the process of pressing myself to do something new and different, that was the same thirty years ago as it is now. Lately, I have been challenging myself to learn new digital imaging techniques in the same way I continually try to teach my workshops in a better way.

6. What do you enjoy most about being a photographer?

Photography allows me to challenge myself daily, on a small scale. I also get to explore places that I would normally not go to and do things others may not, while I am working in the “service” of making images. Photography allows me to share what I do best with others who appreciate my set of skills. Photography also makes me part of a larger world of people who love our shared medium, regardless of where they are from, what camera they use or what type of photography they care so passionately about.

Those are my particular answers. To really grow as a photographer, the best thing to do would be to ask those same questions of yourself and of the photographers you know and admire. My guess is that the myriad of answers will be a great reminder of the highly subjective nature of our medium. It should also highlight the importance of defining your place within that same medium, but only on your own terms.

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