If you meet a photographer, what questions should you ask them? What questions about photography will help you understand what they do? How can you use their knowledge to improve your own photography?
I’ve spent a lot of time interviewing photographers, and I’ve developed a list of essential questions for photographers that I highly recommend you commit to memory. These are the types of questions that will give you the best, most useful advice, and they’ll also help you understand how the photographer approaches their own photography.
That way, the next time you run into a photographer you admire or you simply engage with a photographer on a website or forum, you know how to come away with the most helpful information.
Let’s get started with my first question:
1. What is the one thing you wish you knew when you started taking photos?
Every photographer struggles when they start out – and improves as they gain experience. Which means that every photographer has one, or two, or even dozens of things they wished they had known at the beginning.
Advice you receive might include:
So it’s a great question to ask a photographer right off the bat. Plus, it’s very open-ended, so it can lead to lots of interesting tips and conversation.
2. How did you get good at photography?
No matter how skilled a photographer might be, they didn’t begin as a photographic genius. Camera settings, composition, light, post-processing; it all takes effort to master, which means that every photographer has experienced some journey.
So ask them about it. Ask them how they went from beginner status to professional (or skilled amateur, semi-professional, etc.). What did they do that helped them most? Was it reading books about photography? Photography courses? Viewing photography? Practicing? Some type of magic bean?
(Bonus: Plenty of photographers love this question, because it’s clearly flattering! So you’re likely to get a good, long, helpful answer.)
3. What essential resources do you recommend?
Every photographer has their go-to resources. These are the books, courses, or tools that they swear by. If you’re talking to a professional, don’t forget to ask them about the resources they find indispensable. This can be your shortcut to leveling up your skills.
Courses, books, documentaries, and workshops come in all shapes and sizes. Some might recommend a YouTube channel that offers quick photography hacks. Others may point you toward a comprehensive online course that dives deep into the technicalities. The point is, each photographer has their own set of recommendations that can offer you unique perspectives.
And if they’re in the photography education space, don’t be surprised if they recommend something of their own. Many of these photographers create their own courses or write books to share their expertise. This could be your chance to get an insider’s view. Learning from their curated material could provide you with tips that are hard to find elsewhere.
Bottom line: The right resources can help you refine your craft. Investing in the right books or online courses can provide you with practical skills that you can apply right away.
4. How do you get honest feedback on your work?
Feedback is a cornerstone of growth, not just in photography but in any creative endeavor. If you’ve ever wondered where to get an unbiased critique of your work, you’re not alone. Professionals have been through this and can guide you to platforms or communities where you can get constructive criticism.
Not all feedback is created equal. While friends and family might offer praise, they often lack the expertise to give you a detailed critique. Professionals can point you to online forums, photography clubs, or even specific social media groups where your work can be critically assessed.
How do you get people to be honest? There’s an art to soliciting constructive feedback, and a professional can teach you how. Maybe it’s about asking the right questions or maybe it’s about creating an environment where people feel comfortable being candid. Learn these techniques to get the most out of your feedback sessions.
5. What gear do you use?
I don’t recommend you start off with this question, because it comes off as a bit superficial; after all, it’s the photographer, not the gear, that makes great photos.
That said, gear does make a difference, and understanding a photographer’s setup can help you in two key ways:
- It’ll offer recommendations for your own kit (after all, if a photographer you admire shoots with a certain lens and achieves tack-sharp images, the lens is undoubtedly capable glass!).
- It’ll give you an understanding of the necessary equipment for different photography genres. For instance, a panoramic landscape photographer will need a certain type of tripod – but if you’ve never shot panoramas, you may not know this. Same with a macro photographer who uses a focusing rail, a long exposure photographer with a 10-stop neutral density filter, etc.
By the way, when you question a professional photographer about gear, don’t limit yourself to cameras and lenses. Accessories are often amazingly helpful and less well known, so I highly recommend you discuss tripods, tripod heads, filters, flashes, camera bags, and even rain covers.
6. Which lens is your favorite? Why?
This question about photography continues on the gear theme, except it attempts to understand why a photographer uses the lenses that they do – and what makes certain lenses better than others. Again, it’s worth emphasizing here that a great photographer can make images with any lens, but focal length, maximum aperture, autofocusing speed, and more can all affect your photos (potentially a lot more than you think!).
By the way, when it comes to choosing from among high-level lenses, it’s not so much about determining which lens is the sharpest. Instead, it’s about determining which lens fits your particular preferences and requirements, so that you can achieve the shots you’re after. Make sense?
7. When you go out to shoot, do you take any essential items other than a camera and lens?
Most photographers have an interesting accessory or two they can’t live without, like a cleaning kit, a portable charger, or even certain hiking boots.
And these items vary from photographer to photographer, depending on their shooting genre and style.
It can be a lot of fun to ask a photographer about their essentials. Be sure to find out why they carry the items that they do. And pretty soon, you’ll have a handful of items to add to your own gear wish list!
8. Among the photography gear that you’ve purchased, is there something you wish you hadn’t bought? Why?
It’s not a question that often comes up, which is part of what makes it interesting. As a photographer, what wouldn’t you buy?
You’ll get plenty of different answers here, and that’s great – encourage the photographer to be as broad or specific as they want. Photographers might talk about lenses that sit in their camera bag getting dusty, tripods that shake on windless days, lights that broke after five uses, or something else entirely.
Note each item, but don’t let it stop you from buying the equipment yourself; what works for one person might not work for another!
9. What are some common photography pitfalls?
We all make mistakes. In photography, some missteps can lead to poor results, but knowing what to avoid can make all the difference. So, why not ask a professional what to watch out for? The answer might just save you from falling into common traps.
Let’s talk about composition, for example. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment and snap a shot without properly framing your subject. Another common error is investing too much in gear, without dedicating equal time to learning the craft. This unbalanced approach can stall your progress significantly.
There are also more nuanced pitfalls. Some photographers get so caught up in achieving technical perfection that they forget to develop a unique style. Other mistakes are conceptual, like taking photos without a clear intent or message. These pitfalls can divert you from your artistic path.
Being aware of these mistakes isn’t just about avoidance. It’s also about knowing what to focus on for improvement. By asking this question, you’re not just collecting cautionary tales; you’re building your own guidebook for success. You’re armed with the knowledge of what not to do, which is just as valuable as knowing what to do.
Gathering advice on common pitfalls offers you a fast track to improvement. It’s like having cheat codes for a video game. You get to bypass the errors that could have slowed you down, ensuring a smoother journey in your photography career.
10. What are your favorite settings?
I recommend you leave this question open-ended because you don’t want to know the precise settings that a photographer uses every now and again; instead, you want to know the best settings for specific occasions, as well as the can’t-live-without settings a photographer always needs.
These settings might include:
- Shutter speed
- White balance
- Focusing modes
- AF area modes
- Image formats (RAW vs JPEG)
- Image aspect ratio (3:2 vs 1:1 vs 4:3)
- Image style (do they shoot in black and white or do they convert later?)
- Button customizations
Some photographers are very particular about their settings, whereas others tend to leave things on Auto and focus on lighting, composition, and processing. So don’t push the photographer if they don’t give you much (and don’t restrict the photographer if they talk about settings for hours!).
11. What kind of tools do you use for post-processing? What’s your workflow like?
Post-processing is very unique to individual photographers, plus it can be daunting for beginners – so if you struggle in that area, it’s a key question to ask.
You might start by determining the software the photographer uses, but then dig deeper. Ask about specific tools and techniques. (Do they color grade? Do they have any favorite sliders? Do they dodge and burn?) And if they seem open to it, ask about their workflow. In other words, how do they go from start to finish on an image? What does the process look like?
Be sure to listen carefully; the key to a photographer’s style is sometimes hidden in the smallest of details!
12. Out of all your photos, which one is your favorite? Why?
Photographers generally love talking about their own work, so this is a great icebreaker question and a great way to get even the shyest of photographers talking.
It’s not a useless question, either; if you ask a photographer about their favorite work, they’ll often explain how they approached the composition, why they like the shot, and potentially even the techniques they used to create it. It’s an information goldmine!
13. How do you stay focused on your art?
In today’s digital age, external validation is everywhere. Social media has made it easier than ever to seek approval through likes and comments. But is that why you got into photography? If you ask a seasoned photographer, you’ll find they have specific methods to stay focused on their art.
Personal projects are a great example. These are the endeavors that fuel a photographer’s passion. They are not for likes or follows but for the joy and satisfaction that comes from creating something meaningful. Another strategy might be to set aside “creative time” apart from your regular shooting schedule. This is time reserved purely for experimenting and developing your artistic voice.
You might also discover that professionals use tangible tools to stay focused. Mood boards, journals, or even a dedicated workspace can serve as daily reminders of what you’re striving for. These aren’t just physical objects but symbols of your commitment to your art.
By asking this question, you open the door to strategies you might not have considered. These tactics can help you strike a balance between seeking external validation and maintaining your artistic integrity. They remind you why you picked up a camera in the first place.
14. What do you think about social media for photographers?
Ah, social media, the blessing and the curse of modern-day photography. On one hand, platforms like Instagram or Facebook can get your work out there. On the other hand, they can be massive time sinks. Getting a balance is key, and who better to ask than a professional photographer?
Different platforms suit different styles. Instagram may be great for portrait photography, while Pinterest could be more suited for showcasing landscapes. Asking a seasoned photographer about their preferred platform can give you a new perspective on where to showcase your work.
How much time should you spend on social media? The answer varies. But finding out how a professional manages their time online can offer you invaluable insights. Maybe they have a set schedule or perhaps they outsource their social media management. Whatever their strategy, it can serve as a useful reference point for you.
Of course, the big question: art or likes? Social media can skew your focus towards getting validation rather than improving your craft. It’s important to hear from someone who’s navigated these waters successfully. They can offer advice on how to maintain your artistic integrity while still engaging with an online audience.
15. Whose work has influenced you most?
Out of all the questions to ask photographers on this list, the “influence” question is the most difficult to answer – but if you have the time and the photographer is willing, it can lead to outstanding insights into their work.
See, all photographers have influences. And while most work is original to some extent, by understanding how a photographer developed, you can nail down certain aspects of their thought process, such as:
- What they’re trying to say with their photography
- How they approach composition
- How they think about light
And asking about influences will often give you a few new photographers to follow!
Questions to ask a photographer: final words
Well, there you have it: 15 questions about photography to improve your knowledge, skills, and more.
These questions aren’t just a one-time checklist. They form a guide that you can revisit whenever you’re looking for a boost in inspiration or skill. And don’t hesitate to go back to these questions as you continue to grow and evolve in your photographic journey.
Now it’s up to you. Take these questions and go start conversations with photographers who inspire you. Your passion, combined with their wisdom, can lead to remarkable growth. These dialogues could very well be the catalyst for taking your photography to the next level.
Now over to you:
Do you have any key questions to ask photographers that I missed? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
About the author: Anees K A is a photography enthusiast who likes to explore the wild. He tweets as @aneeskA.