Deal 6: 365 days of training from the world’s best photographers
Over the last two years, I had the privilege of interacting with many talented photographers from around the world discussing their work, vision and style of photography.
My first ‘victim’ was Jyothy Karat – a photo documenter. I wanted a set of compelling and illuminating questions that could help a newbie start. But I had no clue as to what I should be asking. No amount of googling did help either.
But little did I realize at that time that I had the opportune blessing of being both ignorant and curious about photography. I sat down thinking about the questions that I wanted to be answered and clarified. After an hour or so, I did come up with some interesting questions.
Given below are a handful of questions that I use as a starter on every photographer that I interview.
Q1. What kind of gear do you use?
Q2. Which is your favorite lens? Why?
Q3. When you go in one of your travels, what all you take with you? Why?
Q4. Among the gadgets that you own, is there something that you wish you hadn’t bought? Why?
Q5. In the field, what are your settings?
Q6. What kind of tools do you use for post processing? Explain your work flow.
Q7. How do you educate yourself to take better pictures?
Q8. Among your works, which one is your favorite? Why?
Q9. Whose work has influenced you most?
Q10. What is the one thing you wish you knew when you started taking photos?
These questions have revealed interesting aspects and insights in to each one of the interviewees. Hope these help you to get started.
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August 5, 2013 06:29 am
Can you spot the terrible photoshop mistakes in these pictures? Can you spot the terrible photoshop mistakes in these pictures? http://bit.ly/17svj7c
September 16, 2012 05:44 pm
Asking a photographer what camera / lenses they use is like to asking Hemingway,
What brand typewriter does he use.
But knowing these details, gives you an insite into what physical capabilities they can achieve
ie: slow lenses / zooms limit existing light shots, shallow dof need fast lenses, bounce flash vs. direct
has different effects. Use tripod / monopod or Image stabilization lenses.
Also, what lenses they have available determines the selection of "pictures" they can deliver to the client.
When I shot film, I usually used a 35-105 f/3.5 as a "normal" lens. And had a 15mm, 20mm, 24mm,
100 macro, 2x extender, 80-200mm, and extra bodies in my bag. Plus battery pack, strobe, and p.c.cords in the bag too. Alot of backup equipment as usual. in the trunk.
These art some of the things that enhance or limit a photographers ability to "capture" certain shots.
September 13, 2012 03:41 am
guys it doesn't say pro photographer... it only says photographer. so what is a photographer? someone that takes a photo?
nope someone that arrange all elements to make the subject stand out... that is a photographer in pure essence... ^_^
so did i answer the question?
September 12, 2012 01:53 am
You have a point. But what is the harm in knowing who is using what? Can't it be considered as an awareness section ?
September 12, 2012 01:36 am
Another example would be guitar websites and magazines, guitarists have a financial and emotional investment in their instruments so many enjoy talking about (or are contractually obligated to talk about) their instruments, but the truth is, Eddie Van Halen or Billy Zoom or Eric Clapton could pick up any guitar and kick your ass, with or without any pedal or amp in the universe. But guitar websites and magazines sell ads to gear manufacturers, so it's in their best interest to focus on the gear. Quality gear that's well-suited for your purpose can help you get the job done more efficiently and maybe give you a wider range of options in any circumstance, but everyone has limits to what gear they can afford and carry, and part of being a skilled professional (at anything, guitar, cooking, photography) is using what you have to produce the best work possible. To be honest, more often than not, being constrained by the capabilities of your gear leads to interesting ideas and workarounds that give you important experience, making you a more versatile and skilled photographer. No one learns anything when their photography is effortless.
September 12, 2012 12:56 am
I'll back off a little and say "Favorite Lens" is probably a pretty fair question, I know I have a favorite lens that influences my style (whatever little 'style' I have) to some degree. And any beginner could use some lens advice (don't buy the kit lens, stick to EF rather than EF-S if you might upgrade to full-frame, start with a couple cheapish fast primes rather than a crappy slow zoom, etc). On the other hand, I'd never tell someone it's the 'best' lens, or the first lens they should buy, it just happens to be my favorite.
But I think it's downright insulting to start a conversation asking a photographer to list their gear. It's like telling a chef "This is the best meal I've had all year. Can you list the cookware, stove, knives, and utensils you use, and give me one recipe that you can use to cook everything?" Asking them where they've worked and studied culinary arts would be a much more productive question.
Ask any photographer, experienced or not-so-much, how they feel when someone says "Nice photos! You must have a great camera!" It's the same thing, it insults their creativity, vision, and all the work they put into learning how to compose and expose, which is a thousand times more important than gear.
It's the question camera marketing departments want you to ask, it's their goal to convince everyone that expensive cameras will make you an amazing photographer overnight. Come to think of it, all the advertisers on the Food Network like to do the same thing.
September 11, 2012 07:30 pm
Once again, we focus on gear. Half of the questions in here are either to do with hardware or software used by a pro, which, I can understand being accessible for most beginners. After reading the opening paragraph, I was hoping to see something deeper, questions that haven't necessarily got a clear-cut answer. I don't really care what the pros use, I want to know why they dug that out of their bag and what vision they had when they created their greatest images. I want to know what separates them from me, and how I can get there.
I will say however that I like the 2nd question because depending on how you ask, the answer could have little to do with gear, it has to do with how you see things. Let's be fair here: anyone with money can go buy a great camera, lens and any of the gear they want, but unless they stop obsessing over gear and start obsessing over their craft it is very difficult to improve.
September 11, 2012 06:13 pm
Thanks for the response.
Even though most of the people seem to be at a loss for answering the "Why" questions, most of them have a clear cut that sometimes amazes you. I am simply watching out for that. [Plus I will always edit out a bad answer :)]
September 11, 2012 05:59 pm
Thanks for your detailed reply.
But consider this - for a newbie, all these things hold utmost "importance" at least until he gains enough experience and knowledge. So I make it a point to always ask these questions. Plus it is educational to know what they use.
September 11, 2012 05:10 pm
Thank you for your comment and going through the interviews.
These questions are, as mentioned in the post meant to act as a starter or to flavor the rest of the interview.
There is some relation to the pics that are made and the gear they possess. But you are very correct in saying that it makes sense only when a particular picture is being discussed.
The photographer background is intentionally left out. I believe tht the reader will look up the info from the links provided if he likes the pics that the photog has taken.
Again thanks for the detailed comments.
September 11, 2012 04:51 pm
Some of these questions are good for getting some insight into the technicalities, but what is important? I really don't care too much about what other photographers use to get their shots. Ok, they've got that camera with that lens. And maybe they use a flash occasionally. What brand the flash is, is really not too interesting for me. Favourite lens tells me something more about the photographer, but not much. And the only really important part about the lens is focal length and how fast it is. Again, brand is not too important.
When I first started with photography I was obsessed with knowing the technical details. I wanted to understand how every picture was put together, to better understand how I could use that in my own images. In time, I have changed my focus. I want to know how and why the photographer got the shot. Not what aperture, shutter or even lens he/she used, but how that picture came to be. What is the story behind it? There is almost always a story. And that is the interesting part of a picture, not what gear was used.
Are the questions in the order you would ask them? I would probably skip most of the questions regarding gear, and just focus on their work, style and history. I'm sure any gear worth mentioning would come up naturally during the conversation. Or just ask them. But not as a first question.
I read through a few of the interviews on your site and noticed two things. The first is that the questions on most of the interviews works fairly well regardless of what we think. A list of questions don't really show the whole picture. An interview with the questions does. The second was that it felt more natural to ask about background first. A question that was left out from this list. Why?
September 11, 2012 02:27 pm
Thanks for the response.
If there are infinite answers, I would like to hear them all. Since I am awed by that photographers abilities :)
September 11, 2012 02:25 pm
I do ask them that. But I thought against it since that is too trivial to include in the list.
September 11, 2012 02:24 pm
Yes, exactly. Why this? Why not that? :)
September 11, 2012 02:23 pm
The target audience is different. Style is personal choice. For some one starting out, they will be more interested in "how they do it?". Thus the questions.
September 11, 2012 02:04 pm
With the exception of Q3, the first five seem nonsensical. If I had the opportunity to talk to a professional photographer, gear would be at the bottom of the list.
Q5 is quite amazing. "In the field, what are your settings?"
Really? How can they possibly answer this question with less than an infinite number of answers?
Qs 6 - 10 are great questions though.
September 11, 2012 01:59 pm
Thanks all for the response. I should have made it clear that these are NOT the only questions that I ask :) Depending on the style of the photographer and their work, more questions can be added. But these are meant as a starting point.
September 11, 2012 01:17 pm
Nice 10 questions, but you could have add one more
Q. What is photography to you?
This is the question i have asked to few photographers.
Q.And also which picture you took first?
September 11, 2012 11:34 am
I kinda agree with Bryan here, however I do understand where you are coming from with the half.of the question block. You also ask about the styles that they prefer and/ admire. Plus, a handy two bit question would be about how they started out ans what got them into photography in the first place. Being a curious cat, I have always found it to be interesting to know how the first steps were taken. E.g. why the camera? Why not the paint brush?
September 11, 2012 11:12 am
You should be focusing on style rather than technical details, if you're asking a professional.
September 11, 2012 10:11 am
After reading that first question, I guessed it would get the initial responses it did. Not that I don't think the responses are valid but remember, the writer admitted to ignorance and curiosity. So, if you're new to something and want to learn, why can't you ask the technical questions to a pro? Who do you ask then, someone that's a so so photog? There will always be better questions to ask but I've noticed that most people starting out will ask these f-stop questions, after all you do have to know why you'd use a setting before you make a photo if you're a "pro". I doubt all of you "pros and artists" leave your cameras on auto.
September 11, 2012 09:47 am
I have to say it's not what I expected. Where are the questions that delve in a different pool of understanding? I was a commentator for ESPN for years and I used to ask all the why questions and every answer was always pretty much the same. Even if you had language barriers... it always translated to the same answers.
September 11, 2012 08:13 am
I too have a slight "problem" (not a real problem of course ;-) ) with all these technical questions. Why do you ask them? What is your motivation for that? One short question till the end might be interesting, but at first? It's the photographer and his pictures that are interesting and the stories he or she has to offer with his pictures, not his gear or settings (they change anyway, depending on the subject and the environment).
Some other suggestions you might ask: WHY do you take photos?/What's the motivation behind your photos? and a difficult one to answer What are you trying to tell with your photography?
September 11, 2012 08:04 am
If you are asking questions to an individual photographer then the questions should be more based on their particular style. What are they known for and what is their thinking in taking these photos? Even better would be asking more information on particular favorite images you have.
September 11, 2012 07:22 am
"In the field, what are your settings?"
A: "Completely random based on what the shot calls for, I use the settings I need to get the shot I want."
Do you ask a Race car driver what air pressure he uses in his tires for every race? Because their answer is "completely random, it depends on the weather, temperature, track, and how I want to race"
September 11, 2012 06:46 am
Anyone who really understands photography would cut you off after question 1 or 2 and explain that it's a waste of time debating miniscule differences between cameras when a good photographer can take good photos with any camera. Professionals choose the best camera he/she can afford that's appropriate for the job. Most photographers choose their brand because of marketing, or because their dad bought them that brand when they were in high school, and they've been using that brand for x years and have a giant warehouse full of compatible lenses and acccessories.
Then you'd skip to Q5, which is like asking a computer programmer "so, what commands do you use?" You use the settings that are appropriate for the job.
Q6 is, again, just a matter of preference and coincidence.
Q7-10 are all very good questions, especially 7.
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