What Separates Great Photographers from Good Ones?

What Separates Great Photographers from Good Ones?

After a conversation with a photographer this afternoon when we pondered the question of ‘What Separates Great Photographers from Good Ones?’ – I decided to record a short video on the thoughts of my friend.

By no means is it the only thing that separates the great from good photographers – but perhaps it’s one.

Interested in your thoughts in comments below.

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

Some Older Comments

  • Les Boucher March 22, 2012 04:01 pm

    I have made a couple of comments on this subject before but, I am back to learning just what the technical side involves. Yesterday I picked up a Nikon D7000 and now I am learning to fly it. But without understanding the technical side of the equipment - before I snap off my first shots - I think that I would br doomed to failure.
    This camera is a completely new learning curve for me and, as an official old fart, it is going to take some time to master. As with every thing though time and effort will prevail. I guess it's a lot like flying a Bi-Plane and then being put in the seat of a jet fighter and told to hit the skies. But it answers the question in my mind.......without the technical side all I picked up yesterday was an expensive paper weight. ;~))

  • Barbara March 21, 2012 10:31 pm

    Hey folks just launching my new site, wish me luck and happy snapping. Barbara

  • Rodney Ruffin January 20, 2012 08:15 am

    I would like to believe that I am a pro or very close to getting there so to speak. I have been a musician for a lot of years and I do know the difference between a technically perfect piece and a feeling passionate piece of music. The difference is very noticeable if for nothing else but the predictability of the song. A scene or subject that draws the viewer into the picture has served it's purpose when it causes a movement in the mind or body. I like to make the viewer think of themselves in that picture and in turn makes them believe they are actually there instead of the subject or in the scene. It helps in composition also.

  • Tanya Lillie January 8, 2012 01:42 am

    I am definately the "people" photographer. On an engagement shoot, the couple asked me to do their wedding. I was hesitant because I'm a newbie and not sure I have the experience to do a wedding. I agreed upon their instance and comment, "You get us." Two years ago I purchased my current camera, Nikon D300S. I'm still learning the camera. I'm still learning lighting, camera settings, etc. The story comes naturally, but I have to work real hard at the technical aspects. My goal is to be able to do an entire shoot with no "fixing" in Photo Shop!

  • Tom January 3, 2012 08:47 pm

    A good photograph is pleasing to the eye...good exposure, composition, lighting etc. A great photograph generates an emotional response with the viewer. Great photographs cause us to think, to question, to interpret, to laugh, to smile, to cry.

  • Les Boucher December 31, 2011 09:28 am

    I have thought about this topic in the past and, I guess that I am a right brained person as I tend to lean more towards the "artistic" or "Emotive" side of things rather than the technical. While I do try to improve my technical expertise through reading and study I think that, if you are an instinctive photographer, too much knowledge can remove the edge that you have.

    I see many people who have immersed themselves so far into the technical side of our hobby/ pastime/ profession that they tend to lose the ability to see the beauty and form which is staring them in the face.
    On the other side of the coin I see those who pick up a camera point it in the general direction press the shutter and wonder why their photographs, to put it bluntly, stink. When I have asked if they had bothered to read the instruction book or if they understood what the various settings on their equipment were for I have been hit with a blank look and statements such as “I paid an enormous sum for this camera and I should just be able to take a photograph without worrying about all of that s**t”. People with that attitude may have been better off purchasing a cheap point and shoot or at least setting their camera to auto everything and letting it do all of the work for them. They never learn or ever bother to gain the knowledge that will help them improve their photography but if they are happy with the shots I guess that is all that matters....to them.

    It all comes down to, in my opinion, balance and what is right for you as an individual. As with all rules they are sometimes best when broken. Take the rule of thirds as an example in most cases it will work but there are times when you will take a shot where nothing lines up technically but it is a great shot just the same. The same thing applies when taking any shot or when processing it in your digital darkroom. If it is right for you or your client then there can be no argument...unless of course it is with a judge in a competition....but that is a whole different subject.... LOL.

  • Randi December 31, 2011 02:16 am

    I believe your right in your summary of what makes a good and great photographer.
    You talk more specifically about people photographers.
    I would like to evolve you finding to look at how this affects the subject of choice.
    Ie Photograph; people places nature etc.
    I think this is a good evolution of your summary.
    Is it the eye or the technical or even more important the passion?
    Is it the romance of the subject to the Photographer?

  • Anne December 31, 2011 01:41 am

    I strive to capture moments and the world as I see it. And I think that's exactly what you were talking about. You have to have the technical ability to capture the color, the object, the focus that you want but also need to the ability to capture the feeling or story that you are trying to share. If you can do both of those, people can see what you see

  • anu December 30, 2011 03:56 pm

    I believe you are absolutely right.Emotions are an important part in photography.

  • naz December 30, 2011 04:33 am

    Ginger- You said "

    As for the video above, I think your friend has hit it on the mark. There is a moment of ‘ether’ where the two elements merge. Unfortunately I’m currently at that ‘hit or miss’ stage."

    you don't have to be- learn what Henri Cartier Bresson knew- learn to find good compositions- look beyond the initial impression of the scene that drew you to it and find the composition within that WILL make the photo better- once you know WHAT to look for, you will know HOW to take the photo more confidently knowing that you are composing on proven compositioonal 'rules' that really DO work to make the photo much much stronger- aND while some [people again may think rules are too rigid and stifling- and will make their photos 'look like they are just duplicates of old master's photo ompositons' nothign coudl be further fro mthe truth- once the rules of composition are mastered, then your individual creativity comes into play-

    Henri Cartier Besson used to say that he didn't 'snap the shutter' but rather 'banged' the shutter- there IS a very real reason why he said that- He would scout a location, get his compositioon perfect, the WAIT for subjects to come along and 'hit the mark' within the composition- when they were in the right spot compositionally, he would 'bang the shutter' as fast as he could in order to capture the right moment with everythign in the right spot- a seconf or two either eaqrlier or later woudl have been too laqte- the compositon would not have worked and the photo would have been a failure (and yep- I've seen photos of his where he 'experimented' with composition until he got it right, and you could just really see when the photos finally all came together and worked- and you could also begin to see why the other photos did not work once you understand how he was composing his photos on the root 5 principle of design

    Everyqwhere we look- the 'rules of compositon' are at play- in advertising, in nature, in photos, in math, even in our designs- our bodies are designed upon the 'divine proportions' or the 'golden ratio'. It's NO accident that masters of art, photography, architecture, etc etc etc all designed on these golden ratios- Heck- even ballets are designed around the golden ratio because there IS true beauty in the divine proportions-

    Stop by htel ink I gave above and bookmark the site and read the articles-

  • naz December 30, 2011 04:17 am

    Folks- there is NO getting around itr- IF you want to be great at something you MUST learn the craft inside and out- painters who became great didn't do so by simply just swlopping paint on to the canvas 'hoping' that some combination of globs would turn out to be masterpieces- Nope- they studied art- learned the nuances, and mastered technique- Pablo Picaso didn't just randomly apply paint to canvas, or randomly plop his subjects throughout the painting frame- He and ALL other great artists knew exactly where to place their subjects to produce a maximum harmonic flow throughout the painting- and to draw the eye where the artist wanted the eye to be drawn.

    Do youself a favour and STUDY Henri Cartier Bresson's photographs- and while doing so, just KNOW that all the other great photographers throughout history have followed the very same composition guidelines why? Because they are tried aand true guidelines that WORK- (Yes, some of the greats 'broke the rules' AFTER learnign the rules thoroughly- but my goodness- they 'broke the rules' witrh SKILL- knowing how to manipulate composition to best effect the desired results that they were after)

    Do you want a compisitonal 'rule' that will instantly take your photos up a notch? Then get away from the 'rule of thirds', and start Composing on the 'rule of diagonals' (which in many cases will mean zooming the composition in tighter to 'get to' the diagonals within a scene, and which will mean actually 'learnign to see' deeper into scenes in order to extract maximum compositional detail from the scene)

    Learn about the 'sinister diagonal' the 'baroque diagonal' 'reciprocal diagonals' the 'root 4 compositions' etc etc etc, and you will be well on your way toward being able to create truly memoral photos- (note, these rules aren't that hard to understand- and you'll be looking htrough your viewfinder much differently than you currently do, and you';ll also be looking htrough the viewfinder more confidently, knowing where to 'place' thje subjects witrhin the frame)

    I only just stumbled across the following website (which is about hte only one I've seen to even discus such 'rules', and already my photos are improving- Before, I was lost as to where to place subjects within the frame, or what lines to look for or even how to compose on angles- it was all just guess work before- 'hoping' that somehow, every once in awhile, one or two of my photos would just 'simply work'- Well, now my photosw ARE beginnign to work - NOT by luck, but because I'm beginign to understand what almost all great artists and pghotographers KNEW and used- that composition matters! and that just like any job, you MUST learn the craft- learn compositioon, and learn it well BEFORE your photos can begin to advance to the next level-


    There may be a few 'lucky folks' who can shoot on instinct and seem to be able to produce a bit higher than usual true 'keepers'- but analyze their 'keepers' and you will see that these photos come pretty close to the rules in terms of composition in the link above

    I know a lot of people turn their noses up at the thought of 'rules'- and I did too- thinking rules would be just too rigid and 'stifling' however, learnign hte rules can acvtually FREE you to 'break the rules' with confidence KNOWING that your compositions will still work expertly- I was spinning my wheels before- not knowing what direction to turn- trying out all different manner of 'photo treatments in POP hoping to 'improve' the photos- but all I was doign was adding window dressing hoping to cover up the fact that I realyl didn't know what I was doing compositionally- and it showed!!!

    I see a lot of folks on flickr in the same rut- they have a good eye for subject matter, but their photos just 'miss the mark'- some bartely, some by quite a distance- I suspect most of them would scoff at the suggestion of leaqnrign composition rules- which si too bad, as they could take their already good shots to the next levels

    For those that think there is no need to 'leanr hte rules' try en terign your photos to a juried competition or better yet- submit them to competent critics for analysis- There IS a reason great photographers get noticed by critics- it's becausde their photos SHOW that they really know their craft and that they really KNOW the rules- just as the great masters knew their craft-

  • Kennard September 27, 2011 08:51 pm

    W/o viewing the comments made and just watching the video, I have this to say. Good vs Great is in the eyes of the people whom are the subject and the viewers. I believe every shot I shoot is good until I view a great shot among them. When the clients face lights up and you get a tingle in your stomach, are your shots GREAT. It's more of a peace within kind of feelin. Brother and sister photogs who criticize ur works may leave you in doubt but ur inner peace/spirit confirms your greatness. Go in peace w/great technique. I hope I don't have to be dead before someone sees my greatness. smile/lol

  • Hyatt Newport Beach September 27, 2011 04:25 am

    I am extremely impressed with your writing talents as smartly as with the format on your blog. Is this a paid subject matter or did you modify it your self? Either way keep up the excellent high quality writing, it is rare to look a nice blog like this one today..

  • Kennard April 20, 2011 10:13 pm

    After great thought, it comes dwn to this. You can shoot w/ the best camera in the world but are not able to capture a person. That expression with a personal touch you loose the greatness of that person and the moment in which separates good from great. By chance is good, by purpose is great! kennardsr of TriinityWorks Photography.

  • Roger March 18, 2011 06:01 am

    I think (for me anyway) that really getting to know your camera, intimately, technically, functionality or mechanically, technique...to the point where all of those things mesh, and harmonize, to the point where you aren't having to think as much about the mechanics of the shot. To the point where your camera becomes an extension of you. The way one moves their hand, the fingers, the exertion of pressure to lift or move an object...after some time it becomes instinctive.

    Another aspect of which sets apart the great photographers is the ability to see like a child again. Seeing things as if for the first time, afresh. Have you ever lost your keys? And you search the house your car, your coat, purse and still can't find them. Then you sit at the table and there they are, even though you already looked there. We tend to look past things that are familiar to us. We're outside, and look up and see a bunch of clouds, and only see clouds. A child looks up at those clouds and sees a rabbit, or a man's face...Learning to see again makes for a great photographer.

  • ginger March 17, 2011 08:33 am

    you are offering such a service with dps! thank you.

    As for the video above, I think your friend has hit it on the mark. There is a moment of 'ether' where the two elements merge. Unfortunately I'm currently at that 'hit or miss' stage. So many times I see a perfect 'moment' to capture, but when it comes time to review the end result, it seems to fall short technically.
    I can get the composition and the 'gist' of what I was trying to get across, but in the end, the photo just doesn't 'pop'. I am much better with analog than digital, and I am just learning the digital end of photography. Thank you for all you have been sharing so far!!!

  • sergio March 16, 2011 08:09 am

    hey great video darren, i think its right. the habilitie of capture the emotion of the moment is unique. obviously we all have lerned to klick our cameras and we make our best to improve our technique day by day, but the are those who have birth for this,
    by the way i would be loved if you can make an opinion of my last hollydays work ( actually it was like an extended weekend , 3 days , no more but was awesome ) in a lil town outside buenos aires ( im a beginner but i think its one of my bests )

    heres the link to the album of my personal facebook.


    hope your answer in my mail box and thanks for all the tips every weekend they are reallllly usefull

  • Tammy van Slee March 16, 2011 03:51 am

    I am great at capturing the moment! People tend to feel very comfortable with me. I love watching people, getting to know them, and then I shoot away. However, when it comes to my external flash, and the extremely low lighting that D.J.'s choose for dancing...my technical skills are horrible! I cannot seem to get it together! It becomes quite frustrating, and leaves me with an abundance of work in Photoshop.

  • Ervin March 12, 2011 01:41 pm

    I think Pax came close - unfortunately "great" photographers, like "great" painters are born with that something special. The "great" ones have that undefinable something special, that has to be used in conjunction with all the technical skills etc that the good, and the really good photographers ( or anythings) have - a complete understanding of their tools, of light, of composition, of people.

  • Sheryl Martin March 12, 2011 01:04 am

    Darlene, the way to learn technical skills is to get out there and shoot in Manual mode. The only way I shoot now is either Manual, or Appeture Priority and in Raw. If you continue to shoot in "auto" modes, you are not learning - you are using your camera like a point and shoot. Experiment by changing your shutter speed in different lighting conditions, same with appeture.

  • Darlene March 11, 2011 02:07 pm

    Very interesting topic.

    I believe that there are some fantastic photographers out there who don't capture emotion. I think that people are often viewed as subjects, not humans with true emotion. I'm a beginner photographer, I love when I can capture pure raw emotion and aim to do so but it doesn't always work out that way, I don't allow this to discourage me by no means, not every photo can be "THE" shot. I would like to work on the technical side and learn what my camera can really do, I am using the auto modes more than anything and when time permits I'll get to where I'd like to be one day. In the meantime, thank goodness for auto modes! Cheers!

  • Diane Salatino (Di) March 11, 2011 08:41 am

    I love this topic, It is true what separates us, I personally am a people person I know I am about expression and moments I always ask what they are looking for ,only if they say Di I want something different then I will shoot out of my box, But that is why there is so many of us out there some amazing photographers in both moments captured and technical I would like to know more technical with the camera but the clients I have Love the fun and fresh look. so I guest I could place my self in Great at what I do but could be Better in how I do it, Thanks for the eye opener on how yo add something new to tour professional list . DI

  • Sheryl Martin March 10, 2011 10:58 am

    A little story for William Munoz (above): A couple was having dinner at a friend's house, and the wife began showing some recent photos to her friends. Her friend told her the photos were amazing, and then asked her what camera she used. She responded by asking "your dinner was amazing, what pots and pans did you use?"

  • ScottC March 10, 2011 05:27 am

    I don't think I've ever seen a post on DPS generate more discussion than this article, quite a few interesting points made all around.

    I'm just a hobbyist and I don't take myself (or my photography) too seriously. All for fun and memories but sometimes I really like the results!


  • Sheryl Martin March 10, 2011 01:27 am

    Daniel - If David was shooting portraits I'm surprised he even had to "ask" his assistant for "the really wide" lens. A good assistance with good intuition will already know what lens to grab before his/her Photographer boss even asks.

  • Daniel Fisher March 9, 2011 04:21 pm

    Definitely a good discussion starter.

    I'm working on getting more comfortable with the the emotional side of this at the moment. I'm finding getting into the studio, talking to other photographers, models, etc is helping immensely! The technical side of things is important, but I think it's more weighted towards the artisitic feel for photography.

    I'm sure I read that up until just recently, David LaChapelle would often ask for "the really wide" lens from his assistant when on a shoot. This might go a way to highlighting this point somewhat.

  • Keri March 8, 2011 07:25 pm

    I am more of a people person and I looking forward to learning more about my camera.

  • Sunny Kalsi March 8, 2011 05:32 am

    Great question. My personal opinion is a great photographer is on who can interpret the scene, and apply the "right" technical settings whilst capturing a moment in all it's glory.

    The best technical photographer will not be able to produce compelling images without capturing the emotion, and feel of the image. A photographer who can capture emotion needs to have the technical know how to capture the image appropriately.

    Technical photography + ability to interpret the emotion of a scene is a minimum requirement to capture compelling images consistently.

  • william munoz March 7, 2011 03:28 am

    After 30 years of fulltime professional photography, Sheryl Martin expressed it perfectly. Over the years I have displayed images that people love and they ask " what camera do you use a Nikon?" I tell them no Pentax and suddenly the image is not so good. Have run into many other pros with similar attitude. The goal is the image that moves not the camera that brands.

  • Sheryl Martin March 5, 2011 08:50 am

    I agree with you up to a certain degree. I have known extremely technique savvy photographers who didn't quite "get it" as far as taking a photograph that "wows" us. At the other extreme, I am a very intuitive photographer who is working at increasing my technical skills. Or, in other words, I have a "good eye." I think we need to ask if someone with excellent technical skills who doesn't have a good intuitive creative sense will ever be able to develop that sense. So, is it a perfect intersection of technique and having a "good eye?" I think not, I believe the artistic, creative intuitive sense is more important. I have taken shots by accident (not understanding the full camera techinique) that had that "wow" factor, and by using that same creative strength, was able to take mediocre photos and make them great with the use of Photoshop.

  • J. T. Palmer March 3, 2011 12:09 pm

    Hi Darren,

    Enjoyed your comments on what makes a good photographer. I am a technical person, so I need to know how my camera works and how to use the settings to achieve a top quality photo. A person needs creativity, compositon skills, know lighting, patiences, and to shoot outside of the box to produce great photos. Many factors contribute to a above average photographer. Also, a person has to shoot alot to get better. I like shooting candid shots of people. I have taken photos of a couple of models and it was fun because they know how to poise and they know what to do. I have to work with more everyday people to gain more confidence to take good portraits. I enjoy all kinds of photography. Night photos are great fun! Thanks for a great photography website. JT

  • Cathy March 3, 2011 06:20 am

    This is a conversation I've had many a time with the photographers I know. I've always felt myself to be a people photographer as you put it - able to see a shot but in need of help with the technical ability to capture it as well as needs to be.

    I'm in the second year of a City & Guilds level 3 photography course which has taught me a lot of the technical ability I've lacked although I'm still not as confident as I'd like to be. Doing an evening course and trying to build the work up out of college has been hard as the time constraints imposed by 'real life' ie having to work full time, being made redundant twice in as many years and, if I'm honest, not the best of time management has left me with a tendency to focus my coursework on the techniques that I feel comfortable with when I should be focusing on the more challenging areas.

    I have no doubt having seen the wide range of fantastic work that my class mates at college have submitted that a mixture of both is crucial to becoming 'great'. However I do feel that the emotional side of photography is more important. After all technique can be learned the rest can't and you can keep learning all your life. the rest is just practice. The more we shoot the more we learn and the better we (should) get.

  • Mary Johnson March 2, 2011 03:33 pm

    This is a tough place to reach. Everyone tells me that I have the talent for capturing the right moment and at the same time, I try to study other peoples techniques - settings, gear they are using, etc. pretty much on a daily basis to have that part be as natural as the actual moment of capture. No one can be taught compassion or inspiration but hopefully we can learn, by practice, the technical aspects of photography to get the final result of "greatness".

  • Leanne March 2, 2011 09:54 am

    This is my first time commenting, always enjoy reading these newsletters (though quite often I'm catching up rather than keeping up to date) and still have to try put a lot of the tips into practice but I would say I am on the side of connecting with the subject and have to learn more of the technical side, a few of my great shots have been so lucky that the light was just right but I was taking the photo anyway because of the moment that needed to be captured. I am becoming more aware of the technical aspects that need to be considered however find that sometimes I am now over thinking the technical and end up losing out on the moment. I am sure that the two will come together with practice and confidence gained.

    Many thanks for the newsletters and the opportunity to join in a discussion about photography :-)

  • Bill Tweedy March 2, 2011 02:47 am

    I think you touched on a good subject. Have been a film photographer for most of my career, I have a good technical understanding of my camera, lighting and composition. As a wedding portrait photographer using film, I was more disciplined using my creativity and use of lighting. I did not have the luxury of digitally shooting 600-800 frames per wedding.
    I find that a lot of younger photographers of today really need to understand the basics of their camera and lighting and posing. Today, the photo journalistic approach is ok, but the need for some traditional work should also be included. When talking to perspective clients I find myself having to educate them about why traditional photography should be part of their wedding package.
    Capturing the right moment comes with experience and a creative eye. You have to be aware of your surroundings and activity. Be ready at a moments notice to get that once in a lifetime image.

  • Jeff Dostalek March 2, 2011 02:45 am

    What an interesting post. I am new to photography and have wondered the same question. What makes Bob and Dawn Davis so spectacular. I believe you can master the technical stuff with practice,. But capturing the emotion of the day is something that may lay inside you. I dont think that can be taught or learned. Even with practice it is hard to draw emotions out of a photographer. My thoughts.

  • Reg Good March 1, 2011 10:50 pm

    For another perspective, perhaps a photographer is good or great because there is someone to say one is good or great. And there will be differences of opinion as to whether a particular photographer is good or great, and all comment will be valid, judged variously by the evidence offered. It's possible a photographer alone is the only one to say that she or he is good or great! Well, for that person it is a statement she or he might even live by. To say one is good or great is a subjective term. Of course, the opinion takes on more relevance if a larger number of people agree on the value of a photographer. Nevertheless, it's a subjective judgement, and how significant is any of this unless one is deciding on a photographer to hire?

    Maybe judging the work of a photographer is more legitimate. And so, what is a great photograph? Yes this is subjective too, but there is a body of critical thought built up over time that is applied to a work. And that more objective critical judgement is not so much some place on a spectrum, but a particular mix of technique, moment, occasion, media,,,The mix of these is the magic. And it's not really something controlled. Wedding and portrait photographer Rob Heyman has said one of his most popular photos with people over the years is one of three children running on a pier toward him. The children are all out-of-focus. A lamppost in the background is in focus. He also says many clients have asked for a similar shot, and he can't do it again.

    It's interesting that we focus on the photographer rather than the photograph. It does give us a kind of handle to work with. What do we do with billions of photographs? I guess if we identify our 'great' photographer, it helps us to find the 'great' photograph. But perhaps more germane to this discussion in a photography school is where does the great photograph come from? As students of photography that should be our quest.

    I might suggest, our photograph has to come from within us. We won't get it be imitating another photographer. Absolutely, we can help our photography by viewing many photographs. And yes, the study of technique and practice, an ability to connect with people, a creative eye, a critical knowledge of art, being in the right place at the right time, all count for a lot, but not as a spectrum one is placed along but as the mix of all these. Somehow the mix creates that deeply felt photographic image. And it is magic, isn't controllable.

    The perspective I'd like to offer is that our work of photography is our study and application, yes, but it is also losing ourselves and what we know to what is outside of us. It is giving ourselves over to something we don't understand, trusting in the thing we don't understand and trusting ourselves to it. To be honest, I don't believe it is about 'me' whether I'm good or great. It's about the photograph. To be a photographer is to study and practice, but more, it is an attitude. We take photographs when we focus on the world out there, being in that world, seeing the world, and that world, at times, will give us a photograph we love, and maybe others love, and it's not about our control: it's a gift to be discovered, and that is good and great.

  • Tanya Rogers March 1, 2011 01:53 pm

    I believe a great photographer needs to know technical stuff, but I feel knowing how to capture the emotion of the scene is more important. Like was said in an earlier post, the technical can be fixed in photo editing, while the emotion of a scene can not.

  • Bouck Pillay Vythilingum February 28, 2011 09:35 pm

    what is an amateur photographer?
    An amateur photographer must worked for about ten years harder until he shoot a good photograph.
    An amateur needs a good eye , creativity and imagination. Don``t forget there is no ugly face for a good photographer. The photographer do not takes photograph , he makes it .TQ

  • Bouck Pillay Vythilingum February 28, 2011 09:16 pm

    My opinion is a great photographer must be always present at the right moment and right place to have a goal. A great photographer is not a gambler ,he must always be the winner. He represent the goalkeeper for a world cup match. He is not allowed to close his eyes during the match. Not only the readers are waiting to see some good pics but the editor is also waiting for some good photographs from the great photographer to write his editorial. TQ

  • Bouck Pillay Vythilingum February 28, 2011 09:00 pm

    My opinion is the great photographer must be always present at the right moment and in the right place to have a goal . He represent the goalkeeper for a world cup match , never close his eyes at any moment during the football match. A great photographer is not a gambler . He must always be a winner . Because not only readers depends on him but also staff and collegues of his newspaper who are waiting to see good pics for the paper .TQ

  • Les Boucher February 28, 2011 09:20 am

    It's a lot like going fishing in my opinion. Have you ever wondered why it is that some people catch more fish than others? Why it is that out of 25 boats or 30 people sitting on a wharf only one will be catching the majority of fish?
    The answer is really quite simple. They have put the time in to understand the technical details and information that is required to follow their hobby or profession. None of it is luck...they understand their equipment, the habbitat in which the species they are chasing lives, the tides, moon phases and what is needed to get that species to end up on the dinner table and that includes intuition.

    Photography is no different. Without an understanding of your equipment, what constitutes a top notch photograph (in not only your eyes but that of the prospective buyer), the time of day. lighting as well as the subject that you are photographing you will go home to an empty dinner plate.

  • Tanya February 28, 2011 07:29 am

    I loved this video. I have to say that I am a people photographer with much to learn about my camera. I am one of those who loves to shoot and get the moments, but I am also one the relies on the luck side. I believe that I am good, but I am not great due to the fact that I am still trying to learn the settings on my camera. I become frustrated because, it seems, I have no time. However, I am making time to join photo sites. I have a friend who is pushing me to learn my camera better so that my photos will be...well just like what you were talking about; a perfect balance of technique and being able to capture a great moment. I want to be a great photographer; not a, “I am a professional because I just bought a Nikon!” photographer lol

    While watching and listening to your video, I noticed on the right that your site recommends the Interactive Online Photography Course with your personal tutor. I may give it a try for I live in a small rural town. I plan on dedicating more time to this site. Thanks again!

  • Donna @ Comin' Home February 28, 2011 05:59 am

    Darren, I'm new to your photography blog but have subscribed. I wanted to join the challenges but my camera is just a point and click. I know very little about iso speeds, focal length etc. ..actually just a tad bit more than nothing. I guess I can't submit photos since I don't know that information to submit with it.

    I started out blogging about a year ago and take multitudes of photos on a daily basis. Through tips from friends I have learned about using daylight rather than flash, framing, using unusual angles, and I crop less now, only because I've learned to get more of my subject and less background.

    When it comes to photography people, my favorite thing is to capture their emotions. My photos of the grandchildren are getting better all of the time. It makes my homemaking blog 'come alive' to be able to do this and now I'm hungry for more technical ability. I have to do a lot of food photos, tutorials (for sewing), landscapes (for walks in the woods), and people shots for 'tea time' chats from the heart. My teen daughter seems to have an instinct for those emotional shots so I now 'pay' her for shots to use.

    I'm hoping to learn more of the technical side of things through your website. I had a fantastic time doing the 'details' challenge! My teen son, also a 'natural', had been pushing me to focus more on details for some time now..but you helped me edge out even more.

    I'm hooked now! Thanks for the excellent video! I happen to know it's not that easy to 'chat' naturally on a video like that. You sounds so interesting and like you really love the art of photography. You're really inspiring. :o)[eimg url='https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/UzvWdbZwGxqwxY9HhwAtmQ?feat=directlink' title='UzvWdbZwGxqwxY9HhwAtmQ?feat=directlink']

  • jim fisk February 28, 2011 01:53 am

    I watched with interest your video on the difference between a great photographer and a good one. I not certain I have reached the good category yet, but being an engineer, I feel more comfortable with the camera settings than I do with people. While there are more things I need to learn about setting the camera to achieve a specific effect, I realized long ago my artistic side is not well developed. Since owning a digital camera, I have started looking a my environment in a much different way. I now look at a scene and think about how to photograph it. I do believe I am still stuck in the techie mode. I think mostly about how to set the exposure. What shutter speed, depth of field. Your video has caused me to try and refocus my thoughts when thinking about taking a picture.

  • Gary Bridger February 27, 2011 06:51 pm

    Hi Interesting your report what separates photographers from the good and those who just take pictures. I feel to day especially that there are to many point and shoot photographers. here in Malaysia with Canon being a big influence, So many people with cameras. But have they any clue how to use them , or reading what they are looking at?
    well i have been in photography for 30 or more years. 25 as a wedding photographer. And many other subjects.

    like a good Chef , It takes know how , a 6th sense , and the ability to create to please. Like the cartoon Ratatouille ! there are those who can cook, and there are those who are masters. After all this time I still felt I lacked what some like David Bialy and Graham Clark create. So i took up an Honers degree in digital photography. In doing so and leaning the art of photography, I found my self with a different approach to every subject. Now i am selling stock photography as well. Again i turn to other skills that the market require.

    reading many magazines and looking at photography here in asia there is much to much point and shoot with crazy viewpoints trying to hard , And then leaving the rest to the photoshop masters. Instead of creating in the camera its self , what at the end of the day photography is all about.

  • Miranda February 27, 2011 01:13 pm

    I think your friend has a great point. Being relatively new to photography, I think this is a really good concept for me to try and balance. I have always had a love for photography and since I have taken so many pictures over the years, I have taken some really beautiful, moving photos. I guess the reason is that given the perfect circumstances, full auto can do the job and all you really need to consider is the story that you're trying to tell.

    Over the past year or so, I've become more serious about photography- investing time and money into learning about good photography, taking classes, reading books and buying new equipment. Yet, I have noticed that there seems to be a difference in the photos that I take. I tend to focus so much more now on technique that I tend to deal with a lot more anxiety than I used to. I'm not talking about feeling just a little anxious, I'm talking about crippling, heart pounding anxiety to the point where I can't even think about what my photos mean, all I can focus on is if they're properly exposed, if they're sharp, etc. I think that even though my photos have been "good" in the technical sense of the word, I am lacking the emotion that my photos used to have because my focus has been in the wrong place.

    Anyway, I suppose this will be something that will get better with time and experience. The more comfortable I become with the how to's, the more relaxed I can feel and (I hope) the better photographer I can become.

    Thanks for the thoughts. This is something I found very beneficial to me and maybe with some breathing exercises and some more experience, I can grow more toward being GREAT.

  • Kristen February 27, 2011 11:28 am

    I am for sure an emotional photographer, I am trying so hard to learn about the buttons and settings on my camera but I totally connect with my landscape or person. For sure more emotional on my end but I will be REALLY happy when I get the knack of all these new settings!

  • AJ February 27, 2011 03:21 am

    Lighting is important too.

  • Sherry February 26, 2011 03:22 pm

    I totally agree, that a great photographer has the best of both worlds. However, I also think that a great photographer ALSO is an artist, and that is a gift. A great photographer is passionate about telling a story or capturing a moment in such a way that it completely portrays what is happening. A great photographer is able to put all of these elements together on a regular basis....THAT is a GREAT photographer.

  • Drew February 26, 2011 09:37 am

    I guess it comes down to what your definition between a great photographer and a good photographer. I think it really has more to do with consistency. Any photographer or even picture taker can get a great picture by chance. A great photographer will study the subject and spend the time and energy necessary to get everything just the way they envision the picture to be. I don't really think you have to have extreme technical knowledge to be a great artist. There are great piano players that do not know what the frequency of middle C is, but they are still able to create beautiful music. Likewise a sculpture may not know the Young's modulus of the materials they use, but can still create a beautiful piece. Likewise a photographer may not need to know how to calculate depth of field, but can still manipulate the camera to capture the image as they envision.

  • petra February 26, 2011 02:10 am

    I thing that above all, there is a uniq thing that defers powerfull photogropher among the others and the thing is intepretation of the world, the moment, the person, even architecture... Sometimes intepretation is different from other intepretations and is very likable and new, somtimes the intepretation gives a different feel about the time we are iliving in... and so on. So for me, the intepretation of the world aoround us is the most inportant and to give to the world what you have to say, you have to be a master of your equipment, light, composition...
    For example, a man who loves forest spends lots of time in the forest at different hours of a day, seasons, shares moments with people... So, he knows forest in all its versions. To capture what he is enthusiastic about, he has to master the equipment, the light, compositon and he/she has to be very emphatic to now, what will work for people to see and admire in the picture.

    A friend of mine said, a very good photographer, that what he is impresed with in two weeks in the new enviroment, he has to take pics. After that, the impresion is gone. So he tries to capture the world while he is stimulateed. It works for him.

  • John D. Roach February 25, 2011 04:56 am


    I value you video. I think you are on target. However, there is something more, since it is not always about empathy and emotion for people in scene directly, but it is also about empathy, emotion, sense of moment and capturing something that people may value or feel compelled to look at again. It is about seeing a scene through someone else's eyes and feeling it shared. That is particularly true for the landscape, wildlife, and architectural photographer who has to step into the scene and make it vibrant and real for others. That is my challenge as I am primarily that kind of photographer. I would like to suggest that doing more photography of people, may just help to develop that quality of greatness in photographers that do not primarily do portrait, or street photography, etc. type of work. Indeed, recently I did some sports photography and I began to think of how see a bit differently.

  • Jonathan R. Green February 25, 2011 03:15 am

    I found the comment interesting as this is very much part of what I teach, (or try to teach), during workshops. I began as a complete layman trying to capture the moment and learned the techniques as time went on.
    I always open with ¨the eye of the photographer is what makes the difference between a good photo and an amazing photo...¨
    I follow that with RTM...

  • Nevalee February 24, 2011 03:44 pm

    Totally agree that both elements are equally important in creating those special moments from camera to print. I'm aiming for middle ground to understand the technical/editing techniques but striving for the emotional connection to tell the story. That is for me the beauty in photography.

  • cheryl February 24, 2011 06:36 am

    emotional photographer. I need to be/ learn more about the technical side...

  • william munoz February 24, 2011 04:30 am

    Need to break this down into two parts. A great photograph and a great photographer. Any one can take a great photograph and many do, however, a great photographer through years of skill development will very likely be able to get that great photograph more often. For me the 'skill' of patient focus is most important. I all too often get lost in the moment and goodbye great photography. Now a great photograph is one that connects that mind with the heart; that allows imagination to soar; that moves people to see their world in a different way. In others words art.

  • Bouck Pillay Vythilingum February 24, 2011 12:22 am

    Two differents kind of work makes by the great photographer and the good photographer.
    The great photographer has more responsibility on all his photographs. For example to present before a court of justice to discuss about his photographs. For each of his photograph ,the great photographer must always have imagination . When he points and looks in the viewfinder of his DSLR, he is not allowed to close his eye..So many great photographers died on the field of work . The good photographer
    have a lot of time to photograph their subject . He can choose the background for shooting at everytime of the day and night.

  • Bouck Pillay Vythilingum February 24, 2011 12:06 am

    A great photographer has intuition at the right moment and must always be present in the right place to shoot ,he must not miss any event.. For example; the great photographer job is the same as a photojournalist he must create and show emotion,kicks and cries . Because everyday the readers or observer were waiting to see what kind of picture they will see on the front page of the paper . He must also narrate good stories to accompany his photograph. The good photographer is very different from the great , the good photographer work with many kind of artificial light to shoot . Good photographer use Photoshop in order he can sell his photographs. Good photographer can take a week to make a good picture.

  • janet keen February 23, 2011 08:16 pm

    I get sick of people obsessing over what's good and what's not.
    As long as you are an amateur having fun who gives a dam?.
    Children in my opinion take some of the best most imaginative shots I've ever seen.
    Some professionals take some of the most contrived and overdon shots I've ever seen.
    Just develop a taste for what you like and keep an open mind with regard to learning.
    But don't get too involved about worrying wbout who is best.
    You are in the grave quick enough just relax and enjoy it.
    Cheers janet keen
    Have a look at my shots..

  • Cancy Francois February 23, 2011 07:00 pm

    I have been reading articles on dps for over a year. When I first started in photography the site answered all the basic questions for me. I have been more willing to give back, helping others because of what I've learned here. Anyway, about this video, we all know that it's a balance of the two. As a person already said, we sometimes take turn. I must also had that some photographers work in team where they can create synergy and others work alone. When a picture is taken, we only see what's in the frame but the story about how the picture has been created is also important. How many shots, how long the photographer had are also important questions that need to be answered. I hope this makes sense. Last, I believe good photographers can become great base on opportunities, luck and the overall environment where they work.

  • Karma February 23, 2011 05:15 pm

    Thanks for the video Darren. I've never been a technical person but I do love do capture 'moments'. It gets frustrating though when I need to capture a moment and only fail because I don't have the necessary knowledge of the technique needed.
    On the other hand I have a friend who's very technical and isn't necessarily creative. He draws inspiration from other great photographers for a certain type of shot and he gets it! Makes me jealous!

  • David Counts February 23, 2011 01:56 pm

    People say I have the "eye" my pictures which are not always super technically good often tell a story. I was once at a Birthday party standing shoulder to shoulder with 5 people taking pictures and several said how did your pictures turn out better than mine. I guess I knew when to click.
    I had a teacher once who said when you see action turn around. So you see the people as they are watching the event unfold and that gives you a good perspective.
    Also I seem to see stuff in a way the average person does not and I see in a detail that helps tell the story.

    But my last thought is sometimes you just have to be in the right place and the right time and if you cant be
    then you have to work with what you got. I often see a pretty sunset from my suburban office window and wished I was capturing that sun on a beach or someplace more photographic.

  • Jim Richey February 22, 2011 01:24 pm

    I believe every great photograph has three qualities:
    EYE -- a strong graphic presence that stops you in your tracks and makes you want to take a look.
    BRAIN -- the image engages your intellect and demands further study. This is where the technical stuff has to work -- attention is focused on the subject, your eyes take a pleasant journey through the image (composition), the right things are in focus or out of focus, the tones (exposure) are right, distractions are minimized, the right things are sharp or fuzzy, etc.
    HEART -- the image moves you emotionally. This is the hard one because everyone comes from a different emotional place.

  • CLC February 22, 2011 02:02 am

    I'm more of 'the moment'. We do equine photography and I have a strong background in horses/riding, so when we're doing shows or other action events, I'm focused on getting it right from that aspect. Knowing 'the moment' is almost automatic for me.

    The technical stuff - not so much. I have to THINK about it. I try to do that BEFORE the action starts - or, when doing portraits (also with horses, in natural light) - then I'm more free to concentrate on getting the shot.

    I need to get better about thinking with both sides of my brain. And I'm still working on "what is my style?"

  • Tom Hyatt February 22, 2011 01:41 am

    I am definitely a people photographer. I am a "Computer/Software Engineer" by trait, so I am more analytical than creative. I sit back and watch and shoot. I struggle in trying to setup shots rather than capturing moments as they happen.

    Thank you Darren for all you do!

  • Christy Jones February 22, 2011 12:53 am

    typo above... Christy Jones (not Jnes).

  • Christy Jnes February 22, 2011 12:51 am

    I think that great Photographers can draw emotions out of any subject - even inanimate, such as a barn, a tractor, a landscape. Of course anything with eyes - even a doll... Lighting, composition and technique are all very important here, even if achieved by accident. The most outstanding photographs will have that element of surprise or incongruous that even the best photographer can't really plan - a gust of wind; an Amish guy, maybe a streaker or a platypus to add the ..."Voila!"

  • Daniel Martin February 22, 2011 12:47 am

    Well my friend I do believe that a GREAT photo comes with a mix of bit technology and a large amount of love and intent to communicate your feelings to your viewers.
    GREAT pictures have to tell a story. They have to touch the viewers and make them wanted to look further for more… Techniques and rules are ok but cold… A good mix is the best way to do it! This is my opinion :-)

  • Mariann Asbury February 21, 2011 07:05 pm

    I was very grateful that you made this video available. I have worked with children for 12 years as a child care provider and has slowly turned my business into a photography business where I now am not doing child care anymore, but solely planning on photography. I have during my position as a child care provider caught a lot of moments and grabbed my camera and blessed the parents with pictures, but lately I also learned the techniques with light, camera and action. I believe it will help. I do not have a web site yet, but I do have my facebook business page called BambinoZoom & Shootz where pictures can be seen as I have set my privacy settings to everybody to be able to promote my business. Thanks and wish me luck

  • Michael February 21, 2011 05:35 pm

    I think the "Great" photographers no doubt need to know technical stuff real solid. Not guessing anymore at all about the basics. I think they capture the emotion of the subject completely and have a way to convey its message through the capture of light. They hit the shutter button probably almost in a second nature fashion as what they feel in the subject is shown in the image. I hope to some day line it all up and be able to do this where my equipment is just an extension of the part of me that captures the emotion I am trying to portray or relay.

  • Ang Kroeker February 21, 2011 09:54 am

    I am an emotional photographer! I know my camera but not well and I need to learn how to us light better. I love people and some how have the ability to shoot at the right time and get that moment. I love capturing people when they don't think I'm watching! [eimg url='/Users/Ang/Desktop/Feb 2010/DSC_1567.jpg' title='DSC_1567.jpg']

  • Michelle February 21, 2011 08:40 am

    I believe creativity is more important that technicality.
    Having the 'eye' & connection is important. Passion really shows in photos & can make all the difference between a pic that is flat or one that speaks to you.
    I also believe that a great photographer will take great images with any camera & any equipment.
    Technical aspects will come with experience but never let it stop you from getting out there & creating art.

  • Kim February 21, 2011 07:21 am

    I am a people photographer, I talk with the people that I take pictures of, to find out what they like, what is important for them, and where they are in their lives right now. This helps me to project a picture of who they are. For with years of experience in Photography, I understand that this person will change and be different in 10 years, and my job is to be the professional photography journalist and capture the true spirit of who they are, what they are going through and the way that they see it. With this said I am always interested in finding out more about how to take better pictures and utilize the tools that digital photography has to offer.

  • Tashique Alam February 21, 2011 06:48 am

    a very interesting topic indeed. i think even more important than skill is the ability to capture a moment. but both these factors can be toppled by the factor of imagination. if you have that, you can both think of new ways to capture the emotion in people and also come up with your own techniques.

  • elly February 21, 2011 03:55 am

    I'm definatley on the side of lacking technical skills-I'm learning but am lazy or don't worry too much when.it comes to capturing quick shots like when I'm out onbthe street walking past an interesting scene I don't wanna waste time dialing.my camera to the right fstop or whatever! I do think I am one of those emotional photographers who does have that nack of knowing when to snap just at the right moment!

    On the other hand when it comes to.things like water shots and low light I am aware of the technical stuff.but I'm still learning and trying to ween myself off the auto button!

    Alot of my earlier shots were on auto and when u look at the picture u don't think oh yeah she used that setting Bla Bla instead its the story that overrides the whole technical side. I think composition is very important though!

  • elly February 21, 2011 03:54 am

    I'm definatley on the side of lacking technical skills-I'm learning but am lazy or don't worry too much when.it comes to capturing quick shots like when I'm out onbthe street walking past an interesting scene I don't wanna waste time dialing.my camera to the right fstop or whatever! I do think I am one of those emotional photographers who does have that nack of knowing when to snap just at the right moment!

    On the other hand when it comes to.things like water shots and low light I am aware of the technical stuff.but I'm still learning and trying to ween myself off the auto button!

    Alot of my earlier shots were on auto and when u look at the picture u don't think oh yeah she used that setting Bla Bla instead its the story that overrides the whole technical side. I think composition is very important though!

  • Patty February 21, 2011 02:58 am

    A very thought provoking topic and one that really makes me stop and think...
    I agree with many of the earlier comments...but one really stood out. I think, too, that many get caught up in trying to learn every technical part, but we, whether newbie or pro, can ALWAYS learn something new...in ANY profession! That's the fun in it!! I feel like i would lean a little more toward the side of "capturing that moment" and the emotional aspect...the connection. I'm not one for the "posed" studio portraits(and I know not all studios are like this)....but LOVE the outdoor, natural ones...just following along and clicking at the right time!! More of a 65/35 for me :)

  • Morgan February 21, 2011 12:20 am

    Thank you for posting that, it really got me thinking! I am of the opinion that a great photographer is somewhere in the middle, in control of the artistic components as well as the technical. Just like a brilliant dancer or actor, if you're all technique and no emotion people are going to have a hard time connecting to your work. Conversely, without the technique a potentially amazing creative photo may miss the mark. I definitely think applies regardless of the subject.

    I am a total newbie (only about 8 months under my belt so far) and I am just trying to learn as much as I can to improve on my photos artistically and of course technically. I have a long, long way to go but videos like this as well as the other articles and posts on this site really get my brain working, so thank you.

    Here is a link to some of my most recent travel photos, of anyone has any feedback I would love to hear it! https://picasaweb.google.com/home

  • SJ GHOSH February 20, 2011 09:57 pm

    You have very nicely told us that there is a conscious need to remind yourself of both these aspects before you actually click the picture.

    If I make a deliberate effort to connect to the subject I think it will respond to me. Well it need not be only people in a wedding; it could be any inanimate object.

    But with all due respect to the need for technically being correct I emphasize on the connection bit.

    Why ? Because the moment may never come back; because I love to sit at leisure and work on my picture with a software program and create some thing artsy or make amends of some small technical flaws of WB, or tint or shade.......I will never be able to tell the subject to look up or sideways or some such thing.
    love you all.

  • Les Boucher February 20, 2011 05:41 pm

    I'm inclined to agree with your friend that Great Photography comes from a combination of both technical and intuitive skills.
    No matter how much you study and apply the basics such as the rule of thirds, camera settings, focal length or eating your crusts to get curly hair (the last one doesn’t work by the way...I’m bald) without the intuitive skills to back it up you are just taking snap shots. Well thought out and framed snap shots but ones which lack the emotional appeal which the buyer is looking for.

    I have a friend (actually I have more than that but that’s another story..LOL). This friend takes photographs while the camera is set permanently on Program or Auto settings. While the shots are reasonable she is adamant that any problem can be fixed in Photoshop. At the other end of the scale I know someone else who wouldn’t think of taking a shot in either of these settings and is always adjusting aperture settings and shutter speeds, checking manual focus and if what is seen in the viewfinder then doesn’t fall into the rule of thirds, they are just as likely to pack up their equipment and move on.
    Both of these people miss out on some great shots because of their bloody mindedness where they aren’t willing to think outside of the box.
    I’m not a professional and all that I know of Photography comes from reading listening to others and trial and error over many years. I may not be the greatest Photographer on the planet but I would stack some of my work up against either of these people because I am willing to look at things from a different perspective.
    Despite what your parents told you, sometimes rules are meant to be broken. Do I shoot on an auto setting? Yes sometimes I do. Do I use Photoshop (elements in my case)? Yes I do and to the purists amongst you I would then ask....Did Ansell Adams use a dark room?

    I will use whatever I "FEEL" will get me the results that I desire. It may not always be technically correct or according to the book but I like the results and so do many others from the comments that I receive.

    Maybe this will confuse things even more but, I hope it helps someone out there, who is struggling to work out what is right and what is wrong, to try and think outside of the box...you might be surprised at the results that you achieve.

  • chang February 20, 2011 01:24 pm

    I enjoy this discussion very much. This is essentially a discussion of what photography truly is about. Great photographers not only possess a rich understanding of the technical aspects of photography, but also know how to apply the knowledge to create images that hook on to the viewer's mind and stir up some form of emotion. A great photographer is an amazing story teller.

  • zaidsethi February 20, 2011 10:18 am

    I agree that the greatest satisfaction I get is when the two; technical and emotional come together i.e. the technical allows the emotional connection with what I am photographing clear to the viewer. What I struggle with is articulating what a great photograph looks like. Maybe it's the same problem as putting into words what makes music or art great? If there is anyone out there who has come up with putting into words what makes a photograph great I would love to hear.

  • Ed Le Doux February 20, 2011 08:04 am


    Great school; great question on what makes a GREAT photographer - or just a photographer.
    I believe that doday's world of specialization has resulted in a seeming lack of an answer to your question. Why? Because people are being forced to - or willing to - pick an answer from a set of components of the whole. A classic 'reductionist error'.

    Instead, a GREAT photographer would NOT be on any point of a spectrum, but encompass the entire spectrum, with varying levels at each point of the spectrum. When this photographer self-analyzes, they
    recognize tyhe strong elements and constantly maintain and improve these; They recognize the weaker points and work (yes - that nasty 4-letter word!) to improve these areas as much as possible; lastley the are expert at integrating all the elements with creative precision and balance, constantly analyzing, evaluating and upgrading the TOTAL PHOTOGRAPHER and ALL the elements that make it a holistic reality. CQI (continuous quality improvement).

    This is true with photography and ALL endeavors or we're condemned to being 'experts' at a small segment of the whole, like a baker knowing everything about frosting and very little about baking cakes.
    This is just a 'frosting worker' - NOT A BAKER. The same clearly is true for photographers and ALL other endeavors.

    So I believe that it's not a point on a spectrum or a narrow, minimalistic set of of skills. It's ALL of it, balanced and maximized to the best level you can attain - with CQI.

    Ed Le Doux

    North Providence, RI, USA

  • ArianaMurphy February 20, 2011 06:24 am

    This is a great discussion! And like others, something I have been pondering for a while. What turns a snapshot into a photograph, what turns a photograph into art, what turns art into GREAT art?

    I think it takes some of everything that most are mentioning here. Technical skill, of course, is very important, plus a good handle on the "rules"of composition, light, etc. Yet many of the really great photographs break those rules. The emotional element is crucial, but it is not only understanding and capturing the emotion of your subject, but also in transmitting your own emotions in that place and time.

    Photographers tend to think and talk in terms of "capturing" an image, and rightly so. But photography is also an act of self-expression, like any other art form. We do not take pictures in a vacuum, and allowing a part of ourselves into our photos is paramount to bring the "art" into photographs. Great photographers are those who are really good at transmitting those emotions, to making the viewer feel like they were right there at that moment, seeing what they were seeing and feeling what they were feeling.

    In some ways, photography is more like dance than like painting. The transmission of emotion is a very active and immediate necessity with every shot, and elevates the activity from jazzercize to the telling of an emotional, personal story.

  • lorna February 19, 2011 09:22 pm

    Hi darren
    Im a amateur photographer,i have been very interested in photography for the last two years,i have done a couple of courses just to learn the technical side which has been very helpful,on my nature, portrait shots and still life shots,but i have been fortunate to have been asked to do 3 weddings where i have taken all the shots on auto because havent been confident to come of auto,but i produced lovely shots that have captured the moment perfectly this is has lead to recommondations for a further four weddings ,so going by your video clip i am one of those photographers that capture the moment wonderfully but without the technical side,what advice could you give me for the future,
    lorna mears

  • Jtan February 19, 2011 09:11 pm

    i'm neither and thats depressing.... heh...
    its the same question asked in the building industry....
    i do architectural lighting design. my background is interior architecture.
    there are lighting designers from the electrical engineering background..
    they are the ones whom are very technical.
    me and my kind are the ones that are more visual, arty than technical..
    its a lacking i sorely miss.... tho i'm striving to learn...

    but the engineer or architect that achieve a a balance of both aesthetics and technical skills are what we do not call 'great'... they're brilliant!
    an insight to the artistic part of story telling is to read good stories, poems, and movies, plays etc...
    something to stimulate the mind towards creativity.. to break boundries ala, thinking beyond the box...

    got lots of friends, engineers, whom ensconce themselves in a comfort zone of technical information...
    and i cant even understand a tenth of what they're saying or know....
    we cant do without each other..

    to achieve greatness, brilliance... one must smash the mirror...
    to break the boundaries that is called fear of ridicule, inferiority, mediocrity, u name it...
    and get on with the fascination...

  • Jesper Elgaard February 19, 2011 08:53 pm

    Hi Darren.
    I've been visiting your blog often the past months, and I always enjoy the newsletter. Thank you for all the inspiration.
    I'm a danish full time photographer, that shoots portraits, weddings and an enourmous amount of microstock. I've been trained by one of the best guys in the world.

    To give my comment - People's person or technical shooter. I have to say, you have to be a bit of both. For me its a two way street. I know my techniques, the gear, buttons and settings well enough to not think about them, when I shoot. That way I can concentrate on my customers and models, and talk, calm down and build that important level of trust that's needed to get the feeling or the emotions I'm trying to bring out.
    I don't think I can choose the most important skill - Communication or technique. Because either with out the other could be a disaster. If you have a great connection, but the images is no near sharp, blown out or too dark, its not good. If you images are technically perfect, you might lack glow in eyes, smiles or just can't get people to relax. The story might be gone.

    Thanks again for a great site.
    Best regards, Jesper Elgaard

  • Adam Fenner February 19, 2011 06:33 pm

    I'm a storyteller, and my goal is always to tell a story. I started off with a few lucky shots and someone recommended DPS to me. This is where I learned my technical stuff, and where I learned how much I don't know. Along with meeting other photographers and really stretching my legs out. But I believe that the technical skills are necessary to tell your story or your subjects story. Whatever that subject may be, and whatever that story may be.

  • Nathaniel Burnham February 19, 2011 03:01 pm

    Thanks for posting this!
    It definitely takes practice to master technique as well as timing. Timing takes patience and technique is something you can't learn from a book. You have to get out there and get your hands dirty. I know a couple people that are really good at both aspects of photography, but they have all been shooting longer than I have.

    All that to say: practice makes perfect!

  • Claire Crump February 19, 2011 02:32 pm

    I am totally an amateur photographer, with a good digital camera (Fuji) but not SLR yet unfortunately, and this is the first time i have posted a comment. I have just taken some beautiful photos of my friend's 3 week old grandson, mostly in black and white and i asked exactly the same question. Many people would touch these photographs up, and i want to know what they would see in my photos that they would 'touch', when others who are amateur like me, just look at the photos and say wow! I guess if you are technically very good with your camera and know it inside out, then you will feel in control of your tool, and not actually have to think about what you are doing with the camera and so can give all your time to 'focussing' on the subject/s.

  • Mervin McDougall February 19, 2011 12:42 pm

    I will agree with you. There are some photographers who are particularly good with the hardware. They can analyse a scene and determine the right equipment and settings for getting the perfect exposure.

    On the other hand, there are those who have the potential to capture scenes which communicate emotionally as well as visually. The images are not necessarily perfect composures but their imperfections are what makes them communicate so effectively. For example, an underexposed, grainy image of a boxer who is shadow boxing. It may be argued that the image was poorly taken. However, the imperfections add to a sense of a gritty, determined moment.

    I think there is one more quality that intersects with both the people person and the gear conscious photographer - the business person. After all, the way the photographer gets known is through self promotion and this adds to his/her ability to be recognized as a good/great photographer.

  • Katte February 19, 2011 11:49 am

    I believe that the skill of seeing a great picture is the most important. It's something you either have or you don't. Yes technical is important, but a lighting mistake can be fixed in editing. If you don't have a great story to tell then all the editing in the world won't make it anything amazing. Great photography is an art and requires a special out of the tec box thinking to get amazing shots.

  • Richard Earl February 19, 2011 10:34 am

    The camera is a tool... just like the brush is to the painter. As there are good-better-best brushes there are grades of cameras. But neither a top grade brush nor a top grade camera means much unless it's in the hands of ... AN ARTIST. The "great" photographer has a talent that enables him/her to soar beyond "auto" - to surprise the viewer with a perspective or combination of objects & light that is unexpected and that, together, "connect" with the viewer.

    So a "great" photographer is first and foremost a talented artist. That talent can be polished but not created. If you weren't born with it, you'll never have it. Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on your view) there are cameras that can pretty much take an "acceptable" photo on their own no matter how much talent the "photographer" lacks. This is fine for what I call "record shots" (aka snapshots).

    But a great image is as different from a snapshot as a symphony is from a boombox. A "great" photographer CREATES visual music while a "good" or ordinary photographer merely RECORDS it.

  • Allen February 19, 2011 10:26 am

    I have had the opportunity to work along side a very technically good photographer on the same shoot while I am accomplished in the basics but seem to have the ability to "see" the picture more then he does. The results as judged by the public is that I sold many more photographs then he did. I would go so far as to suggest that in many situations the cameras of today do an adequate job of handling the technical aspects and allow the photographer to concentrate on the composition of the shot. I will say that from a technical aspect my friends photographs are beautiful, however they tend to be....flat....when it comes to interest, action.....life? I do believe a basic knowledge of technical abilities is essential but seeing the picture is what sets a great photographer apart form just a photographer.

  • DAVID MCSLOY February 19, 2011 10:20 am

    It was interesting to see you on video. I enjoy your website and find it very informative. My feelings about great photographers is that they have good basic knowledge of their equipment and when to use it but also have the ability to visualize the kind of picture they are after. They also have learned about lighting and composition to a better degree than average photographers. When shooting people they also understand that there is the added component of human nature at work which makes it much more complicated than shooting inanimate objects. Working with people, like shooting a movie, involves a lot of things like having empathy, developing a relationship that puts people at ease, giving direction to obtain the results you are after, having the right clothing, background, etc. along with the technical knowledge . Sometimes luck may be involved when things happen unexpectedly, but here its the professional that is ready and able to take advantage of it and get the shot , or in the movies the scene that stands out.

  • Samuel Barton February 19, 2011 09:23 am

    Great post Daren! I am very much a technical photographer, but I really need to develop the Emotional aspect ie. capturing the story of that particular subject and not just getting the "formal" or "posed" looking shots.

    I thin some more discussion and teaching on the story side would be wonderful.

  • Judy R February 19, 2011 08:36 am

    I am more of the people photographer . I agree capturing the moment is the most priceless thing and it gives me an utter sense of amazement and passion. Sharing it is magic!

  • Walt February 19, 2011 08:22 am

    Your comment about "capturing stories" is the key. In one scenario, technique may be the right approach to capture the story (products, food, buildings, landscapes). In another scenario, rapport between the photographer and the person or people being photographed may be the right approach to capture the story (wedding receptions, graduations, anniversaries, birthday parties). Another scenario may require a blend of technique and rapport in varying proportions (weddings, bar mitzvahs, sporting events). I think what separates a good photographer from a great one is having 1) reasonable mastery of both technique AND people skills, as well as 2) being able to assess the photographic environment and apply the right proportion of both technique and rapport.

  • Wendy February 19, 2011 07:50 am

    It's hard for me to admit, but i think that i'm still a 'newbie' . I go for the emotional side. I want to be this great famous photographer b/c i love it! These days there are sooo many people out there with cameras. I love this video. I watched it the same day my cousin told me i wasn't good enough to shoot her wedding. To stand out in today's world with so many people holding cameras - you need to know what your doing. I think most of us (from what i've read) are on the same page. You need the talent, the ability to capture those moments. But you also need the understanding. I have the basic. If i want to be GREAT.... i need to know more then basic. I almost feel foolish to think i could be the same as a well seasoned (aka... someone who's had years of experience and education). Thank you all for the inspiring thoughts.

  • DavidP February 19, 2011 05:26 am

    I come at this question from the perspective of my passion - landscape photography. I agree with the emphasis on both the technical (Light, composition, equipment, post-processing, etc.) and the creative (vision, emotional, passionate, connected, etc.) side. But I would add another aspect that doesn't get talked about much - Being willing do do the WORK. By this I mean doing the research necessary to be in the right place at the right time. Doing the preparation needed to execute your vision. Getting to the place you need to be at the time you need to be there. This all involves time and sacrifice. For example, if I'm not willing to get up early, drive/hike in the dark and setup my equipment in the right location, then I'm not going to get the spectacular shot that will separate me from the simply good shots taken an hour later from the side of the road.

  • Sarahle February 19, 2011 05:04 am

    Photography consists of technical ability and artistic ability..it's what it is made of. What comes to mind is the great photos you currently can view online taken by teenagers and inexperienced people..however there is no doubt as to the art of the photo. The toy camera such as the Holga and others allows skilled and unskilled artistic freedom for the masses and it is a pleasure to view the image.
    I say "shoot, shoot, shoot cause I want to see it !!!" But....it is doubtful that an unexperienced person can pick up a camera such as a Canon Mark II or a comparable DSLR and use it with much success(at first). Therein lies the technical...you must understand the shutter speed, the apertures, the techniques of composition, long exposures, exif data, lighting, and much more to be able to compose the images that lie in your mind's eye when you see it in almost perfect physical form in front of your lens. The idea is to merge those two qualities the art and the technical as seamlessly as possible. I believe, at that time is when it comes to the individual and how far they want to take their photography experience. Our best photographers are talented...they have a natural ability to spot the art but also have the technical background from years of study and probably 100's of thousands of shutter clicks literally under their fingers. I am an amateur photographer...I am self-taught...I'm half-art and half technical..I read all the time, I study all the time, I think of the next photo all the time, I think of the current photo all the time, my camera, a six year old Rebel XT has been through the wringer but I've still got more photos to wring from it...my photos have won awards and they've been lousy..I've improved and become more confident..but always sadly but gladly aware that there's more hill to climb...I'm not near where I want to be...my goal is not reached. The best part is...I have a new shooting partner...my 15 year old son was gifted with an Olympus Pen for Christmas...he is young, soaks up the technical aspect like a sponge and is talented artistically...he thinks through his photos and he's come home from our photo hunts with some amazing images...this is the future...these young photographers that have all the technical information, schools, classes, workshops available to them and have a hunger for the next photo and can consistently produce moving, beautiful, technically well-done images. They also have respect and care for the past days of film and want to learn that art/techno also...I believe we should all keep shooting as it brings us closer to the goals we have set for ourselves...our perfect photos.

  • Mindy February 19, 2011 04:45 am

    S.R. Nair, if you don't care for the video, that's fine. But why waste bandwidth and spread unpleasant feelings by making rude remarks? Let's keep DPS a friendly and useful place, not a place littered with rude and unkind remarks.

  • Al Chapman February 19, 2011 04:38 am

    I would change your labels to technical and artistic, it's not just being a people person, add that artistic vision that captures not only when to snap the person, but, the bird, tree or sky that when mixed with technical expertise makes the great Photographer.

  • Maureen February 19, 2011 04:22 am

    I agree with what you said, Darren. I feel that there is one other thing that separates great photographers from good ones and that's confidence. Not a huge ego or false bravado, but confidence that you can handle anyone standing in front of you. It makes the person feel confident in you as the photographer, so they feel more comfortable. Confidence also allows you to do something a little different with your photography and not be afraid to show it and get feedback. My work has improved over the years as I've gained confidence. I know a few photographers who do great work, but never show it to anyone because they are afraid.

    This is a great subject and it was fun exploring it.

  • Andres Court, Ecuador - South America February 19, 2011 04:00 am

    Well I'm a very technical photographer, but when capturing people you really need to also emphasize the emotion or a connection between the photographer and your subject. I also am a landscape photographer and in that case beside the technical part of the photo, the composition is also very important so the photo is great and not only a nice one. To obtain this it is imperative that the photographer has the patience to wait that all the elements that one has on your mind come together.

  • Marque February 19, 2011 03:17 am

    I am an aspiring photographer/hobbiest. So far life has led me in the world of design (animation/graphic/internet), but my early love was photography and I am now coming back into it.

    I think, depending on your focus, that will determine what type of balance you need between the two. Can you work completely on technical, sure. Can you completely run on non technical? Again, sure. A person can get that great picture with a simple point and shoot. However, in either case something might be disappointing: "ooo that pic would have been great if there was more/less light" or "the pic is okay, but, it's missing... feeling".

    You, as a photographer, will always need both, but depending on the situation, and what your passion is as a photographer, you will lean toward one direction more than another. Not that it is wrong, but if you are technical, and are working on a very 'empathic' project, it could be a very alien world to you (and vice versa of course).

    Me, I am an organic photographer, I love people/animals/nature and I rely on the world to give me my colours and my opportunities. Technically, well, I couldn't find my way out of a cardboard box without a little help. So I still struggle with understanding how the relationships work between lighting, ISO, F-stop and shutterspeed. But I am happy because not being technical, I have many opportunities to learn.

  • DaveA February 19, 2011 02:59 am

    A great photographer can do two things very well, connect with their SUBJECT and See The Light.

    By connecting to the subject it does not matter if it is a person or a rock wall. They see something in their subject that needs to be captured.

    The second aspect, See The Light, is not just as it is at that moment. They can see how a subject SHOULD look with the right lighting. All the greats have this. They are willing to wait for the right lighting, or come back when they think the lighting is right. For portrait and wedding photography, they know how to create it. In each case, the photographers know what to do with the equipment to capture it.

    Without the understanding of the light, and the connection with the subject, the image would just be a picture, a snapshot. Someone may get lucky and get a great shot, but a great photographer makes the great image, and far more often!

  • Tom Sales February 19, 2011 02:56 am

    The age old question of vision and technique. Here's my personal take on this. Technique is essential for both good and great photographers. Knowing the full technical capabilites of one's camera, lenses and other equipment can only be achieved through reading the manuals and applying that knowledge to shooting many photos. Shoot, shoot, shoot...there is no shortcut to this. And learn from your mistakes as well as your successes.
    The question of vision is more elusive. In my opinion, the great photographs (as well as great paintings,great sculptures,great music, great books,etc.) impact the viewer and cause the viewer to think about what he is witnessing. One's mind is opened up and our thought processes are in high gear. Dorothea Lange's "Migrant Mother" is a perfect example. The despair etched on this mother's face as she is surrounded by her young children and gazing into the distance begs the question 'what is she feeling'? Is she worried about feeding them? Is there some sickness? Has she given up hope? Great photos cause us to think and react. And that reaction varies from person to person.

  • mandi February 19, 2011 02:48 am

    I'm inbetween. im a poor photographer because all i can afford is my camera, i have little over $2,000 into it with all my lenses, I had an external flash once but one day i found it tucked away nice and neat in its case broke, (i believe one of my kids, so now i don't even have that. Can you be a great photographer with just a simi expensive camera if you know what your doing? I'm still learning the technical side trying to learn the manual focus training my self to wing my self off auto focus, some times i still strugle to get those crystal clear focus on the eyes photos. maybe some one here can help me.. so consider my self good photographer trying to get to great photographer. I have had no schooling because i can't afford it so im self tought from online places like this and I study images on line allot.. check my website and let me know what you think of my work.. All i use is my pentax k10d, 50mm wide pentax, 70-300mm promaster, few other lenses, tripod, cable release, high speed card, and any good natural lighting i can find.

  • mayie delgado February 19, 2011 02:37 am

    The great photographer is both technically prepared and knows when to press the shutter at the right moment. I agree strongly with this. in addition however, the great photographer is one who is wiling to go out of the box and experiment on nontraditional practices. The great photographer dares to over or under expose, pan the camera during exposure, cut off some portions of the subject at composition, and even shoots out of focus for drama. This is going beyond what great photographers do. Thank you.
    Mayie Delgado, Manila Philippines

  • mayie delgado February 19, 2011 02:36 am

    The great photographer is both technically prepared and knows when to press the shutter at the right moment. I agree strongly with this. in addition however, the great photographer is one who is wiling to go out of the box and experiment on nontraditional practices. The great photographer dares to over or under expose, pan the camera during exposure, cut off some portions of the subject at composition, and even shoots out of focus for drama. This is going beyond what great photographers do. Thank you.
    Mayie Delgado, Manila Philippines

  • Teresa Boardman February 19, 2011 02:14 am

    I like this but I think there is more to photography than photographing people and I can apply these ideas to my landscape and architectural photography. It is the connection with the subject or as a friend used to tell me the emotion in the shots that makes them.

  • Jorge February 19, 2011 01:59 am

    Creativity is the answer, as I see it. Tech is important, but is not all. Your question here is kind of a simplification. Human beings are more complex to be fit in this kind of question. I belive we can not find two photographers who apoach their vision of the world by the same tracks, and I am glad is that way. Cheers!

  • Amy Poche February 19, 2011 12:47 am

    Great thoughts! I'm by no means a great photographer and I seldom photograph people except for my favorite performers, but I look around my world for a view or image that fits within the frame of my camera that I feel needs to be captured. Might not be something that I post or print for others to see; just something I want to see again. I've been fortune to capture some great moments because the lighting was already perfect for the shot. I'm always looking at great shots on the Internet and checking out the metadata to learn more about settings! Still learning and loving every moment!

  • Tim February 19, 2011 12:29 am

    What a great discussion. As with just about everything else in life, Darren is right about great photographers as well. Great photography requires balance. If you don't have both technique and emotion a picture ends up being flat from a photographic lack on one end of the spectrum or the other.

  • Jules February 18, 2011 10:58 pm

    What a wonderful discussion! And so true. I have seen both of the spectrums at the extreme. I tend to go more towards the emotion since I focus on families and children. Sometimes I wonder how much personality and/or gender enters in. In other words, women, who it has been proven, are better at watching body language, may lean towards the emotional side, as do extoverts. Whereas men, who tend to be more analytical, and introverts, may lean towards the technical side. But you friend is right on the money that a great photographer finds a balance between the two.

  • Mike February 18, 2011 10:11 pm

    I tend to see the moment an get some very good shots in what I call "happy accidents" although technically they are not. I do have a reasonable hobbyist knowledge of my camera and change my settings to what I think is appropriate at the time. I would like to be more technical and understand why things work or fail and I'm working on that. So for me, Great shots should be a combination of seeing the emotion and technical ability

  • Charmaine Hardy February 18, 2011 10:03 pm

    You really have me thinking here. I am just beginning to take my photography seriously, so the technical side of things are still hazy to me.
    I try to keep my photography "real" if that makes sense? I use natural available light, very rarely do I use a flash and I NEVER use photoshop or similar programs. I experiment with my camera settings as often as possible, however my usual mode is Portrait followed by Macro both in Auto and Manual. So does that make me a technical photographer or a creative one? Someone recently commented to me that my credentials "dont come from a cereal box" meaning I dont do the usual shots in the usual spots with the usual poses. I like variety. In saying that, I recently started to photograph newborns, and what I consider to be a bad shot, the parents love...I think the success of any photo is how natural it is, who is viewing it and does it meet their expectations as far as colour, detail, and what the emotion or subject was.


  • Wally Slowik February 18, 2011 09:11 pm

    In my mind, a great photographer is someone who can look at a scene, visualize an image in their mind and then utilizing their camera and post production work bring that scene to life for others to share. There is allot more to it, understanding light, 'feeling' the subject, knowing when to click the shutter come to mind, but seeing the image before you even pick up your camera is the key.

  • Michele A Morgan February 18, 2011 09:10 pm

    Darren... I so enjoyed your video. Me, well, I need to know more about light, exposure, composition. I lack the technical skills; however, I continue to practice! I'd like to think that, when taking pictures of people, I am capturing a moment and that my photo is not just a photo...that it's a reflection of that moment for the viewer.

  • Barbara February 18, 2011 08:37 pm

    I agree that "capturing the moment" is a vital ingredient of a great photograph if the subject is people or an event. But what about other subjects - landscapes, still life etc. ? Of course, the quality of the light and the climactic conditions might be part of the photograph that have to be captured at a certain moment, but sometimes all those things can be controlled by the photographer. What makes a "great" photo in these circumstances?

  • janet keen February 18, 2011 07:59 pm

    Hi Loved your post. I am an artist and definitely a people person but lack the technical knowledge. I have my Canon 550D on AV all the time. Want to learn more so your site is great.

    You can check out my shots at http://janetkeen.blogspot.com

  • Corinne February 18, 2011 07:29 pm

    Hi Darren,
    Technically-focused, vs. people-focused....I'll add one more category -- since I mostly photograph landscapes, nature close-ups, and chocolate close-ups -- i.e. no people usually....I tend to be focused on the composition, on what would make a great composition or design.
    I may change my mind when I start shooting more portraits soon. We'll see.
    Interesting discussion.

  • Subhash Masih February 18, 2011 07:22 pm

    Well i believe that being a Great Photographer is a combination of 3 aspects..
    1) Your Love (Committed & Consistent) for Photography
    2) Your Technique (light effects, picture composition) & natural ability (artistic sense) &
    3) Your Photographic Equipments (Camera, Lenses etc.)
    Once you have the love of photography and technique in the first place..then having the right gadgets is the most important aspect..The success rate (Exceptional pictures) would be extremely low using a 'Point n Shoot'..

  • Raymond February 18, 2011 06:40 pm

    My surprise is that I thought this issue was obvious and has plagued me for 40 years. The issue is to recreate an experience or perception, be that visual, emotional, sound and so on into a physical form for communication to others. Paintings, sculptures, books, music, photographs and so on.

    If either the tools or medium is not available then there cannot be that communication. So, if one has an image in the mind and cannot draw for toffees (like me) one fails to communicate. Photography is (and always has been) a more technical manifestation of the same problem.

    Like others here, I am a scientist, electronics by discipline; the technical elements of the photographic process holds no real mystery. Understanding what is “moving” me at any particular moment in sufficient detail so as to isolate that element, emphasise and record it always seems to elude me.

  • marcel lemieux February 18, 2011 06:28 pm

    I have been doing photography for quite a few years..still consider myself an amateur..my cameras have been simple like Fijifilm to Olympus mid -professional..my success has been composition..your subject/article touch me quite a bit..i agree with the professional part ,but also with the intuition part which is partly said..if my photography does not have soul,peoples know one way or another so that being said,i continue to explore my strength and stay open to new stuff..i have found with time that experience and errors are the best school...my moto is always stay open..always be willing to learn..

  • sanjay sharma February 18, 2011 06:18 pm

    I feel that to be a photographer par excellence one has to shrug away the fear of not being tecnically 100% correct. At times the best photographers are not the best when it comes to using technology. I have a friend photogrepher who continues to use an old vintage camera with bare minimum features but comes out with amazing results. Thats because he places creativity above technology and dosent like technology to restricy his ability to see things differently.

  • Augustin Man February 18, 2011 06:13 pm

    Far from being not even a good photographer, let alone a great one, I think photography is like any other kind of art: music, picture, literature, i.e. technique (shutter speed, aperture, depth of field, filters, etc.) should be mastered so well that the performer shouldn't think of it not even a second (like a subconscious mind) and concentrate on his/her subject only.

  • Singapore wedding photography February 18, 2011 05:20 pm

    I think it's really about passion, lots and lots of it. With that comes skills and technique.

  • Howard February 18, 2011 05:01 pm

    I believe that it is often sequential.

    After 36 years in the profession and reflection of my entre' into and and career in photography, I believe that many photographers are initially consumed with the technical, as they wish to get the depth and clarity possible with a simple piece of glass and film (pixels today).

    I also found, working with students, that once one masters (at least to some degree) the technical; if serious about the craft, they delve deeper into the subject, as the technical is now much like driving an automobile... you just instinctively know what to do and when.

    That is when a photographer begins to blossom into an artist, rather than a craftsman.

    Some have a greater desire to master both, and I believe that is where the true photographic Masters come from.

    The rest are satisfied with some really nice work.

  • Luvracin "Goose" February 18, 2011 04:55 pm

    Great video blog thanks ! I got back in photography about 4 years ago but was shooting with film since the 7 grade covering my brother in the high school sports ! In Jan . I covered a 5 day night racing event with 275 Midgets racers going for a 24 car main event on Sat. My editor Rog sit in the stands and I cover fro the infield . I use a Nikon D-80 with the Tamron F 2.8 70-200 In S mode With it pre focus . to get the action and Both eyes open ! This photo clip will show the Good the Bad and the Ugly !here the link just click on the FLIP & FIRE !
    And the driver walks away ! OH and I use no FLASH . The car came out from behind the other shooters and just pull the trigger ! I can see I need more FPS ! or one that goes to video LOL ! not much time to be adjusting the Tech End here ! Luv your info and thanks Jerry

  • Courtney W February 18, 2011 04:03 pm

    Completely agree with Matthew Dutile! I might even write that down to remind myself! :)

  • texan mama February 18, 2011 03:55 pm

    I am glad to see this question because I am very frustrated with some pros I listen to who insist that you need to use photoshop to crop out this or fix that or bump up this or smooth out that. Or, head swaps or fix composition, blah blah blah

    I am asking myself, what ever happened to thinking about the shot before pushing the button? We all need help in post-processing but some photos nowadays get so pimped out that they stop looking REAL and instead look completely fake. Posed. unnatural.

    Unfortunately, I think many of those photos are popular. I think that's where the photographer puts on their businessperson hat and is providing the client with a service that they want. Nothing wrong with that.

    But I see them being all in a niche that will satisfy their customers and maybe some others.

    I think a GREAT photographer takes shots that evokes emotion from any viewer, not just the client/subject. A good photo will look stunning to anyone.

    This is exactly why people should spend more time behind the camera and less time in front of the computer doing "fixes". Just my 2 cents. And I'm no where near there yet... but I aspire to be.

  • Joe Dsilva February 18, 2011 03:18 pm

    I would dare say that you would make a good photographer if you learn to balance both sides of your brain function. I.e, it more or less goes like this, while your right brain is hunting down a perfect composition for a sunset your left brain should tell you to step down the aperture for a sharper landscape shot.

  • Fasika February 18, 2011 03:06 pm

    Photographs taken after connecting with your subject is magical. Thinking about some of the greatest social documentary photographers and greats like Yusuf karsh. Taking the time to honestly connect makes subjects comfortable, me comfortable, fun and magic happen. You can guess which camp I fall into. I on the other hand need to work on technical precision. Thank you for the excellent post.

  • Jeremiah February 18, 2011 02:24 pm

    I would definitely agree with the assessment explained by you and your friend about what separates good from great and that's very difficult to do. So to answer your ending question - I wouldn't say that I've necessarily mastered the technical part of the photography....but I'm definitely on that side of the spectrum, that's what I have been studying and improving on the most......the other part doesn't really seem to come natural or I'm afraid it may come out in a way other than whatever I intended or just sometimes a little boring and not really that special.

    right now I'm working on the 365 self-portrait project and I'm about midway through it....some are pretty good some I think maybe a little too simple.....but when I look at some of the others on flickr.com I see a stark difference.....although mastering photoshop may help bridge some of the gap. But generally speaking, the emotional aspect is not a strong point.

  • Dave February 18, 2011 02:20 pm

    I must also agree that a combination of technical know how and the ability to capture the essence of the subject through the minds eye, contributes to ability to capture the moment.

  • JulieLinn February 18, 2011 02:17 pm

    I believe I am more emotional, less technical. I find that I get lost in the "story" and forget what I actually need to do to get it! I believe you have hit the nail on the preverbial head! I do not do weddings, however, a friend of mine is just devastated because her photographer did not even try to capture her wedding day and reception with an emotional connection so essential to a bride and her day; the photos are pretty sorry.
    I have also realized that I will have the rest of my life to "get" lighting and compostion, I will only have the one moment to get any shot. Everyday technology gives us more tools and toys, moments only happen once.

  • Steve Andrade February 18, 2011 01:29 pm

    I would consider myself a people photographer. I like to capture the moments, emotions of family even pets. I am avid cyclist as well and take my slingbag and camera whenever I ride. Living in San Diego is a plus because there are great locations and allot of people to shoot. San Diego Zoo is great place to capture faces from animals and tourist. So, I ride hit my brakes on by bike, whip my bag around and find the perfect shots My ultimate goal however is to be both, a technical photographer and a people photographer. My father was a Wedding photographer in the 70's and I was his camera caddie. I would lug around his Mammiya Twin lens, and his Haselblaud camera, what a camera. Watching my father perform was awesome. The way he would pose the bride and groom. He had a very famous phrase he would say when taking a picture of the bride and her father that would make him cry. He would say " She's not daddies little girl anymore". I have seen a many grown men cry and it always worked like a charm. My father is 83 now and he still has the sharpest mind to give me advice when i need it. I will continue to visit D.P.S and become the technical photographer.

  • Dino February 18, 2011 01:23 pm

    This is a very interesting subject. On the technical part I think a photographer can always learn that by either taking courses or reading articles. I think trying to connect with your subject is much more difficult, I'm not really sure it can be taught. I love taking portrait shots and a instructor once told us we have to interact with your model, guide them, make them feel comfortable, you have to be in control. I fine this very hard right now, maybe it will come with the more subjects I work with.

  • Mweekly February 18, 2011 12:36 pm

    AGREED!!! My wedding photographer had amazing equipment, thousands of dollars worth and many lights and flashes and the pictures were amazing. But he had to be directed a lot by my sisters and family who told him which shots to get, he didn't interact at all. Some others with less sophisticated cameras got better "moments" during the wedding, and those are the ones I'll cherish

  • Iza February 18, 2011 12:28 pm

    I think there are a lot of workshops teaching both technique and artistic sides of photography. The examples of instructors would be Freeman Patterson, Bryan Peterson or David DuChemin. All those people put enough stress on using right aperture and shutter speed to make intentional, and creative images. And they make it easy to learn from them. But the truth probably is that we are all too much in hurry to just click and move on. Unless we are lucky to be in the right place in the right time, our photographs will be only technically good, without content. If that.

  • Satrio Suxmowidodo February 18, 2011 12:20 pm

    The great photographer will create the picture that tells many story... while good photographer try so hard to tell to many people how they great their techniques and way they shoot..

  • Brigitte Klusik February 18, 2011 12:11 pm

    Hi. What a wonderful topic. I'm so glad you brought up the emotional v technical. Even though we do need to know the technical side to experiment and be creative, and also discover some wonderful imagery that comes from mistakes, which of course you learn from, I feel I shoot very emotionally. For me when I look at my images I know what every one of them means to me and where and when I took it. Having said that, it was posted somewhere that said don't forget, the audience is not emotionally attached, so I think you need to incorporate both for an interesting image. It's also a great challenge to become more technical and will expand your Armour of creativity. I just posted an image of Lake Eildon after the deluge and it was picked up by Parks Victoria. I think partly because I made a statement about the time & place and how it made me feel. It is now posted on their web page and I am extremely flattered that maybe it made them feel like they were in the surrounds.

  • Alina February 18, 2011 11:53 am

    Great points there! I'm more of a people photographer and capturing moments and artsy stuff, but don't know a whole lot about the technical stuff. Really great post thanks for sharing!

  • Charles Hilton February 18, 2011 11:09 am

    This is a complex question and I am not sure if it could ever have a simple answer that everyone could understand. For most of my adult life, I have followed many photographers, tried to learn the techniques they used and then adopted them to what I would photograph. In other words, I was looking for a formula that would help me to take photos I felt something about and others would like. In many ways I accomplished those things a long time ago. I still had that something missing and was never really satisfied with my work.

    With technical skills learned from years in a full color and black and white darkroom and then along comes the digital age with computers instead of darkrooms and digital capture instead of film. There has to be enough technical experience to even be able to see what is in front of your camera as well as to be able to pull out what you see.

    I think it is both visual art of seeing as well as the technical part of being able to capture it that often keeps a photographer from really seeing. After the digital world came on me, I made a decision that I would just explore the subjects more, let the little boy inside of me go. As I did that, my sense of wonder and the ability to really see things that others didn't begin to happen more and more. I think what most photographers need to do is just to trust what that inner self is trying to tell them and to get away from being hammered with it has to be like this kind of attitude to be good or worth shooting.

    For me, if the subject be it people, animal, landscape or any kind of object doesn't bring out your own passion, it will never bring out the passion of the viewer. I am sure that Ansel Adams made a statement like this but there are going to be three people involved in every photograph, first the photographer interacting with the second, the subject and third the viewer even if the viewer is again the photographer in the end there is three but if there is no emotional excitement in all three, there is no great image.

    Make up your own mind to what you love and are passionate about, the pursue it with all the experience you have, your photos will become more interesting and others will begin to see them as such. Try to be like everyone else and soon, you will only be one of a million or so. If you love it and are passionate then that should be enough, let the critics talk about what they like or don't like and take it all with a grain of salt then do what drives your passions. YOu will find a unique style of your own, then people can only copy you, they can't be you. You make the best you and are unique.

  • Annette Bryant February 18, 2011 10:20 am

    You used the word "connection" and for me that's it. Technical, yes. An eye for composition, yes. But whether
    it's people, wildlife, macro or anything else, something about the image must "connect" to the person viewing it.
    Great post, Darren!

  • ken February 18, 2011 10:07 am

    i don't feel the need to say that i'm either technically correct, or a people person...
    the only real thing i need is for the viewer of my photos is to feel something inside themselves when looking at my shots...
    that means I've done my job well...

  • Myles Erwin February 18, 2011 09:55 am

    Just had the chance to read this in my email. It is a fascinating topic to discuss. However, I also think there are a couple of other things that set great photogs apart from good ones. I think the mesh of technical skill and artistic skill is important. However, I think two ideas that are equally or even more important are style and consistency. This bridges the gap for all sorts of types of genre from A to Z. If a photographer can develop a solid style that is unique but can excel at it and be absolutely consistent they can achieve greatness.

  • lebeast February 18, 2011 09:51 am

    I agree completely with this discussion. It really is about that marraige of technical ability and storytelling.
    If you can make a person feel something from an image....and they relate to it, or even feel like they know the subject, then your job as a photographer is done. But if the technical side of the image is not strong, the story could be lost regardless of the capture.
    Both need to be present to get the point across successfully.

    : )

    ~ l e b e a s t

  • DaWiVa February 18, 2011 09:38 am

    A lot of good things have been said here, and the initial premise is solid.
    However, [there is always a however isn't there] We all have to be aware of self serving statements.
    Those who do not like to invest time in the technical aspect and in the study of "post production" software find themselves smugly saying it is the "vision" that is most important; those who invest hours on end studying the technical implications of their equipment and software may smugly, in turn, say that one without the other is a lack of commitment to your passion.
    We have to evaluate why we think what we think - and in all honesty admit if there are idosyncracies that interfere with our judgment.
    I have a friend who says "Ihate computers, I hate to work iwht them" what he is truly saying is "I am afraid of them, I am afraid to be embarassed by them and I am too lazy to invest the time to learn"..

    Our author says that there is an "intersection" that is the fact and we must deal with all the roads leading into it.

  • S.R. NAIR February 18, 2011 09:34 am

    Darren, you might be a mighty good photographer, but you are a poor speaker. You have also not told us anything of great significance.

    i don't want to be a flatterer. I have told you nothing but the real truth about you.

  • Mirella February 18, 2011 09:16 am

    I really need to know more about my cameras canon 40D and 400d

    ISO and NOW just got a light meter for the first time and I know nothing about using i, is a t seconic

  • Brian February 18, 2011 09:15 am

    Great discussion. I have been shooting on and off for quite some time and feel myself struggling with the tech side since I didn't go to school for this. I just picked it up when I was young. I wish to learn so much more from the tech side.

  • Colin February 18, 2011 09:13 am

    I have to agree with the thrust of your thoughts and those of your friend. BUT - the technical aspects, technique, camera skills, can be taught. Can be learned. Can be acquired from a book or a video. The PEOPLE relationship skills, the empathy skills you either have or do not have. These are not teachable in my opinion. Largely they are the result of your formative experiences in childhood and adolescence . You are a person who empathises and can relate to a subject or you are not. If you are not it is a handicap which you may well be able to overcome to a limited degree but as with music you have talent or you do not, so with empathy. You may learn to play the piano well technically, but you will never be a Chopin or a Mozart. Or a Claudio Arrau or a Daniel Barenboim.

  • Sandy February 18, 2011 09:02 am

    I'm an amateur. I have basic, decent kit (I think). Many of my pictures are good. But my friend, a professional photographer....well ALL his pictures are great.

    I'm not really interested in 'technical'...more what I can do with it. And I'm graphically very aware. Some of my 'graphic' images are amazing...but as photographs....none compare with my professional friend's pictures.

    I was part of a course recently and many of my pictures caught the attention of the tutor and most of my course colleagues. While my own attention was drawn to some very clear, sharp,colourful, well-lit, etc, etc, pictures.

    I'm not sure that better knowledge and application of technical expertise will improve my pictures...but I do want some of those nice clear, flawless pictures!!

  • Gypsie Winds February 18, 2011 08:43 am

    Ahh the conflict between the right and left brain may never end. I photograph weddings, architecture, wildlife, landscapes, seascapes, and underwater (A.D.D.?). I am definitely right brain. I love people, places and things but without emotion why push that button? A big part of that emotion is looking for what the subject feels. Is an animal tense? Playful? Aggressive? Do the bride and groom finally have a quiet moment to look into each others eyes? Timing is critical, special moments never repeat themselves in the same way. Everyone wants to feel something when they look at a photo. And every good photographer wants others to feel something when they see the shot.
    However, without technical ability you cannot create that emotion in others because a flawed shot detracts from the moment. Technical ability is the foundation that allows emotion to show in a great shot.

  • Jenni February 18, 2011 08:33 am

    This is awesome and thank you for sharing. Tomorrow I will be photographing a single Mom with two girls. Lately I have been so focused on the technical side of things that I have shied away from the emotional/story telling part of it. This was a great push in the right direction. Tomorrow I plan to tell the story of what it takes to survive this world as a Single Mother..strength, courage & compassion.

  • J Neil Hammitt February 18, 2011 08:27 am

    I guess I would fall somewhere in the stronger on emotional/different/hopefully interesting compositon of photos. I am quick to admit being weak on technical skills and rely on my D 80 and D 5000 cameras to handle most of the settings. And have just been urged by others to shoot in RAW for the first time. I belong to one of the largest camera clubs in the US and they have both color and B&W pint SIGs, weekly that are quite beneficial as to comments and suggestions of how to improve your photos. Some of the critics are retired photo journalists and or have made a living in photography. They also teach classes that are presented in understandable language terms and do not assume that the students are technically sound on camera and processing functions. I like landscapes and human interest shots in the outdoors.

  • Anna February 18, 2011 08:27 am

    From what you said, it sounds like a great photographer is at the intersection of 3 things....technical skills, creativity, and connectivity with the person/ people. Unfortunately, no one has all 3 skills honed at one time...our constant challenge!

  • Mike February 18, 2011 08:21 am

    Nice thought provoking topic and I for one kinda liked the audio format. I could scroll down and read a few comments etc while i listened to you. Besides if you type like i do, well let's just say I understand why you did an audio post. :=).

    I'd agree that we should want or strive to find that "middle ground" the balance between technical expertise and creativity.

    That being said, if you made me choose between two photographers, one more technically proficient and the other more creative, a "better eye," I'd chose the more creative one every time. There are aa couple of reasons I feel this way. First a minor technical problem can be fixed in post. (And lets not get started on the whole should you or shouldnt you is it still photography if you manipualte it arguement.) :-)

    The second reason for me would be that sometimes the technical imperfections ADD to the image rather than detract from it. we can all think of examples where this happens.It not just shooting people either . Creativity and an "eye" can be used in any form of photography I'd say.

    On a side note I'd rather have a photographer with an "eye" and weak on technique over one who is technically proficient and doesn't have much of an eye. Can teach the technique much faster and easier than to teach creativity. Assuming that you can teach someone to have an "eye" at all.

  • wolakota February 18, 2011 07:28 am

    Thanks Darren for this very interesting topic...

    I think about it for two days now and I am not sure about it but I would think anyway that there is a part of chance, but, fist, the chance can be given by searching opportunities for good shots.

    Second, the chance is also increased by carrying always a camera, even if it is a basic one. A small but very good lens increases much more the quality of the picture than plenty of it stayed at home.

    About technique's knowledge, I think the most important is to know how work light and perspectives and to know extremly well the camera. After that anyway, knowledge can only grow up more and more and help to see easier the pictures.

    When you mixe that with a reel research of proper style, and first of all, a great eye, you might have a great photographer.

    After that the eye and tast of the person who looks at the photo makes the rest.

    Does it make sens to you (meaning everybody of course)?

  • Mary February 18, 2011 07:21 am

    Thank You! That was great to hear! I am definitely a Photographer where the ease in it, is for me, catching that awesome moment, embracing people, feeling their meaning. I came to a screeching halt with my camera, when I realized how much I had to learn technically. This insecurity is holding me back now, although I am constantly learning more and more about my camera and lighting, posing, etc. I'm kind of at a point, where I know I'm a good photographer, but my insecurities are holding me back from moving to bigger and better things on my own. I dread being paid for pictures and disappointing someone. Thank You for your message, I needed to hear it!

  • Scott Campbell February 18, 2011 07:12 am

    My list of character attributes that separate the Great for from the good are: the ability to see it and the knowledge to know how to take it, find the right position, angle, and distance, wait for it, or create it; the courage and fortune to put yourself in the right place at the right time, a shy photographer is not a great photographer; a willingness to have the camera with you and the paraphernalia that goes along with it. I can see great photo opportunities but miss them for the above reasons.

  • SwissJon February 18, 2011 07:01 am


    An interesting video, but it kinda leaves those of us who don't include people as the subject, or deliberately haven't interacted with a human suject because that's the style they want, with nowhere to go. You can't interact and draw emotion from a landscape, a bird, a tree, a an anonymous person walking by, but that would suggest that those kinds of photography only have one thing, a technical aspect, and that's blatently untrue.

    Photography is an art form, and like any kind of art, the artist has to know what kind of emotion they're looking to put into a photograph. It's not the subject matter that's important, it's the observer.. Without a photographer, the happy couple would still be happy, a bird would still sing, a cloud would still pass over a lake, the sun would still set. So what's the photographers role? To get the aperture set? To obey the rule of thirds? Or to try to find a way to capture the emotions that environment makes US feel.

    My biggest love is Landscape photography, but every photo I have taken that I have given 5 stars in my collection I've felt emotion when capturing. I've also taken some technically perfect photos that form me are completly devoid of emotion.. I think the debate should therefore be one betweeen a technical and an emotional photographer.. And in that debate, I'm firmly in the emotional ball court.. But only because I haven't known the technical aspects of photography for very long.. Learning them has improved my photography immensly, but for me, emotion is number one.. Without it, a photo is stagnant and boring.

  • barbara mcgroary February 18, 2011 06:59 am

    totally get what you are saying & consider myself to be more on the people skills photographer, but working on the tech side, as one is nothing without the other...

  • James February 18, 2011 06:52 am

    I found your short video to be very helpful. Personally I do not have too much interaction with living subjects at this time. I am just getting started with making my photography into a money making venture. I am part time at this point and think that maybe I want to keep it this way, for a while at least. I do a lot of nature, people out having fun and doing everyday things, my grandkids of course who are a great source of inspiration for me as well. There are things that I still need to learn about my camera (Nikon D90), but I have about 20 years of general photo knowledge to draw from. The digital aspect is what I am trying to develop here. I tend to think that I may be good at people interactions should I move closer to portrait/model type photo shoots, but that is yet to be seen.

  • Stefano February 18, 2011 06:42 am

    Imho in any art form talent is the factor that makes the difference. As in painting, music or even writing, technique is only a means to express a superior vision, something unseen by the rest of humanity. The artist perceives things that are concealed to the majority and reveals them to the world. Often it is a painful operation and surely not something one can plan or acquire. Every individual has a unique vision of the world and with the proper training one can produce and express interesting and new pieces but the greats just stand on a different platform altogether.

  • jim gray February 18, 2011 06:27 am

    I spend most of my spare time photographing birds. My best photos have come only fairly recently because my technical grasp of things used to be terribly weak. Coincidental with gaining experience with my equipment, I have learned to observe my subjects long enough to appreciate what is going on in their heads and anticipate their next move. At the same time, as conditions change during a shoot, a mastery of the technical end of things will better prepare me to catch the surprises that get my subjects and me excited. So, I agree that there must be a confluence of technical skills and that intangible knack of capturing those magical moments. I do think that any shortcomings in one can be, to a certain extent, balanced by superior ability in the other.

  • Iain Austin February 18, 2011 06:12 am

    I agree with R.G.
    To me the perfect photogapher has to have two skills:
    The Technical Skill - the ability to take and develop a 'perfect' photo and knowledge and ability to know when not to.
    The Communication Skill - the ability and imagination to recognise and to tell a story through the picture.

    To me the perfect photgrapher will present me with a picture that tell me a story, but if the technical skill component (good, bad or indifferent) inteferes with it then it is a no-no.

    It is easy to illustrate the opposite - a photo that is perfectly composed, focused, white balanced, cropped etc., but which leaves me cold.

    By the way I've been at this for 60 years and can sometimes get it right - so maybe the perfect photgrapher also has to be at least 150 years old.

  • Jack Woessner February 18, 2011 06:08 am

    I think my photography skills, like probably most amateur photographers, fall some where in-between the intersection of the two skill levels. I have a decent camera eye, but not a great one and my technical knowledge is above average but not nearly at a level that would allow me to create photos that really pop. Most of my great photographs resulted from some skill and a lot of luck. I'd rather be lucky than good but good trumps luck every time.

  • Frank February 18, 2011 06:04 am

    I like to think that a great photographer is one who has a great eye for composition and also has a knack for seeing his own perspective of a subject. I like architectural photography, and I like the idea of being surprised by something I perhaps missed when looking at a subject from a different angle. To me, technique is being used as a tool to capture the moment.

  • Leny Cato February 18, 2011 06:00 am

    I am onlya very beginner, have point & shoots, but bought my 1st real camera in october. Am trying to shoot in different settings. Need to learn an awful lot about settigs etc....I like to take photo's of things, scenes, people that tell-bit of a story that I would like to remember, things that evoked my emotion innsome way or other.

  • JayC February 18, 2011 05:59 am

    Of course one has to know how to operate their equipment and what will happen when they click, but to capture the "decisive moment" takes anticipation. When I was shooting a soccer match, it came to me. If I see the action, i.e., the ball hitting the players head, I've missed it. My thought process then went to blocking the action with the mirror up; this allowed me to anticipate and get the premo shot. Another aspect in my landscapes is that one needs to be able to "see the light". This takes practice. When someone says: "oh, that's really pretty." I like to examine why is it pretty. Is it the subject, shapes, emotional response? or is it the color of the light? Then think of the scene in 2 dimentions instead of 3, to examine more closely what should and shouldn't be a part of "pretty". I hope this isn't too abstract for you; it's what goes thru my mind if I have a camera in my hand or not.

  • Veceslav stanuga February 18, 2011 05:59 am

    If we are starting with the levels of good and great then the point about technical ability is not the issue here as a starting point.when you ask some of the greats ,they usually make comments about being totally aware of everything that was going on at the time of capturing the image.This state of awareness is called "being in the present moment".It is in this state that the reality is revealed to you and in some way you are on observer of what actually is going on and not overlaying your ideas of what you think is going on.what makes a great photographer is one who mentally gets out of the way and just allows things to happen.

  • Rick V February 18, 2011 05:59 am

    Like a number of prior commentors, I believe the most important feature of a good shoot is the telling of some story larger than the instant of the shot.

    If people or animals are the subject, empathy is a central part, as Daren alluded to in the video. It presents the accumulated and projected emotion of the subject in a compelling way for the viewer. For inanimate subjects like architecture or landscape, conveying the current emotion of the photographer through compelling perspectives or effects produces the impact on the viewer.

    If the viewer is the photographer, later in time, stirring memories are recalled. If the viewer is another, transfer of the sense of connection with the subject can occur as if they were there in person.

    Isn't that what art is all about? It's not about mechanical or software gadgetry; those are only the means for more intricate recording. More subtle and nuanced messages can be conveyed with more complicated equipment, but the more visceral emotions can be portrayed by even the simplest p&s.

  • Puneet Dembla February 18, 2011 05:58 am

    I am technically perfect, I never make mistakes in my exposures or setups but I lack a lot in the emotional aspect, I want to learn to capture the character, the moment, the angle !

  • Justin Donie February 18, 2011 05:53 am

    Growing up, I was taught to value some forms of expression and not others. These are GREAT, these are OK, these are unacceptable. As I've grown through my life, I've come to see things very differently.

    As such, I love and hate questions like this. One the one hand, this sort of question is meant to stimulate thought about the difference between photographers who contribute something significant to the world of photography versus those who don't. And that's fine, for what it's worth. But on the other hand, such questions imply a scale of "better / worse" that pretends objective standards for beauty, relevance, power, poignancy and execution which are, in fact, simply matters of opinion, which shifts like sand and the seasons from year to year and age to age. "Ah," you say, "then the truly great ones are timeless," yes? No ... If I move millions in my day and not a soul in 100 years, am I less great than one whose millions are scattered over many lifetimes. No, it's just a different kind of connection.

    The simple fact is that photography is a mode of communication, capable of conveying thought, feeling and fact. And like all other such media, what is mastery to one is stifled and fake to another. What is natural and free to one is talentless and random to another.

    Value is in the heart, mind and soul of the beholder, as is the assigned "greatness" of the one whose work we evaluate. We don't need to all agree or worry about disagreeing over which photographers WE consider great or even the reasons why we think they're great. This is simply not a field where objectivity has a place other than to pad ego.

    To me, a more useful question is "For you, personally, what makes your favorite photographers so dear to you ... is it their inspiration, subject matter, style, execution, professionalism, freshness, freedom, randomness, newness, sameness ... what makes a photograph and/or photographer great for you, now, today."

    Let's not teach yet another generation to believe that technical competency or the ability to please crowds is the same as greatness.

  • C.Massie February 18, 2011 05:50 am

    I'll throw in a googlie - I'm not convinced that the technical side is too important (unless your photographing a technical subject). I'll tell you why I feel this. My wife has a natural eye (I wish I did) & she knows virtually nothing about the technical side but believe me she turns out some first class results. She has a NIKON D3; ok you could say that this is wasted on a beginner but I wouldn't agree - Because the camera is so good she doesn't have to bother about the techniques, the camera does that for her & allows her to concentrate on the photograph she wants to take!!! And isn't that the aim of the game?
    How many out there use the"P" setting so as not to miss the grab shot - isn't that something along the line of concentrating on the image rather than the techniques? Me? Unfortunately I'm a bit of a technique person, but I'm far from sure that I'm on the right path...!!!

  • swas February 18, 2011 05:47 am

    im an amature photographer. personally i like to put emphasis on emotions and story behind the picture i make. frankly i m learning about technicality,don't know much now, but seriously feel everything are dead without life so are pictures without story behind it .love to hear what you feel and tips are always apretiated thank you

  • Juliet Frey February 18, 2011 05:41 am

    Just watched your interesting video. Since you ask the question, I consider myself a sort of poetic photographer, rather than a technical or empathetic photographer. I try to use good technique, of course, but at the same time, human vision is not mechanical. I try to mix the ways we remember things with the ways we see things, sometimes half glimpsed, so my work is often a bit weird. Add to this the fact that I was quite nearsighted as a child and therefore did not see things in brilliant, perfectly technical, and realistic detail. Maybe because of this, my images tend to show things imperfectly seen.

  • Ron Paulk February 18, 2011 05:41 am

    There are many ways to lean the technical aspects of photography: online, formal classes, seminars, workshops, etc...The artistic part is a bit more difficult. I would say it is critical to know as much technically as you can. Know your equipment like the back of your hand, know the basics of photography: exposure, white balance, depth of field, correct lens selection, etc....get the "how to's" ingrained. In taking golf lessons, I have heard that there are many poor golfers with a great grip, but no great golfers with a poor grip. The technical stuff is absolutely necessary for great photography, but it is only the beginning. After that, I think, admire other's work, try to see what it is about great photos that draws you in. Finally, push the shutter button often. Digital photography offers an opportunity to shoot and shoot and shoot without busting the budget. Climb up on a rock or ladder and look down on your subject, lay flat on the ground and shoot up, get at eye level, move right, move left, back up, walk in close. Try wide angle close up, telephoto standing back. Begin to see the world: people, animals, buildings, and landscapes in new ways. In doing so you will build an understanding of "your style." In the end it is what you uniquely bring to the equation. Don't just try to emulate others, their style is theirs. What is it you want to say with your photography? It is your story, so tell it in you own unique way.

  • Suzanne Leakey February 18, 2011 05:34 am

    Fantastic video which I have to agree with. I am a good photographer, from the emotional sense. I connect well with my subjects... but I am a newbie technically and although I am learning, I am lacking. [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/bysuzanne/5038447413/' title='HerGunShow Girl 2' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4105/5038447413_354ff5a033.jpg']

  • Claude Aldridge February 18, 2011 05:26 am

    It's the ability to first see the wonderful beauty of our creation, to want to capture it and hold it. Driven by this we learn the technical parts of the shot.

    It is after this that we see people in a different way, and want to capture that beauty as well.

  • Malinda Julien February 18, 2011 05:16 am

    My son (who works with me) and I have had this conversation many times... I feel you have indeed captured the exact things we refer to.

    I would add, though, professionalism. Knowing how to not interfere in what you are photographing .. being quiet and aware, not the "center" of attention.

    Great video... :)

  • PattyB. February 18, 2011 05:08 am

    I would definitely agree. I have always thought I am lacking because I don't have a lot of technical knowledge. Well that's not true, no matter how much I learn about the technical aspects of photography I feel like I don't know enough. I rely on my ablility to capture moments, to pay attention to people and the little things about humans that make us all special... and beautiful. I have also lived my life as a people watcher so while I may not always connect with every subject the way I would like, I still "see" the things that most people don't when they are looking at other people and I do my best to capture that.

    The only thing I would add is that I find I appreciate photographers with an understanding of all of the arts, not just photographic. Being involved in and understandings techniques that painters and sculptors use for thier craft is very often helpful in composition.

    The great photographers that I most admire are the ones that have it all. Not just "the eye" we all so covet, but also a technical understanding of their equipment and light that makes them able to bring that moment to life again when it is printed. Sally Mann ( she melts me) is a prime example of this. She transfers so much rawness, emotional and otherwise, onto film by being technically knowledgable and knowing what art is, not just taking a picture.

  • Ron February 18, 2011 05:03 am

    I find myself occasionally crossing both of these areas, but not consistently. I generally concentrate on technical issues within the 1st 4-5 frames. Once the session is rolling along, I begin relating and connecting with the client in a much more personal level. What occurs thru the session? The conditions change technically, whether it be available light, or a studio setting, etc. I find myself "missing" some required technical adjustments. That is where I lose the consistency from a tech point of view. It's never a situation where the frame is completely lost, but could have used some fine-tuning to make it special.

    If I concentrate a bit more on the tech side, I can see a my clients "slipping back" a bit into a more reserved offering.
    My personal challenge is to be fluent in both photographic languages:
    Technical and interpersonal connections with clients. I occasionally cross both at the same time and those magical moments are captured!
    So now the goal is interesct both, consistently.


  • English2 February 18, 2011 04:59 am

    I agree 100% with Susan T.
    I can see the "piece of art" in my head well before I can make the camera see it.

  • Paloma February 18, 2011 04:58 am

    Of course it is both: creativity and technique.

    But, you are born with the ability to SEE... anybody can learn the technique.

  • Nitin Malapalli February 18, 2011 04:52 am

    I feel that if a photograph is not born of technical quality, it suffers by not completing it's own effect on it's viewer. Information loss, plain and simple. So technical quality is extremely important for good/great photography, but it is not everything.

    Who is a great photographer? We only like photography which reflects our own needs/desires/emotions. We like photographers, following that logic, who are like us. We appreciate the like-mindedness. I've observed that most photographers who are regarded as great by the public eye cover the more general topics with their photography; topics which touch and connect with every mind on the planet. These topics cannot afford to be quaint or distant to the public eye. They must speak to all.

    So in the end, it's about how well you communicate (technical quality) and what you communicate (material quality) which selects you as good, bad or great.

  • Christof Baer February 18, 2011 04:50 am

    I totally agree with the fact that great photography combines technical knowhow and the ability to “capture the moment”. I liked what you said about the ability to empathize with the subject and I think that the great challenge of photographing people (one of them, at least) is to understand your subject, his or her state of mind, the emotions that he or she is portraying, and to get that onto your film (or CCD). But there is a third aspect to it all beside mastering the technique and having a “good eye”, something that combines one and the other and which I find as critical: TIME. Maybe good technical photographers which are not so good at capturing the story behind the picture are unable to do so precisely because they have to spend too much time adjusting their camera settings and trying to play with too many options; and maybe the inspired photographers who are not so technical cannot afford to flip a few switches before pressing the shutter because “the moment” only lasts a fraction of a second. Therefore, apart from learning your tech stuff and trying to be empathetic with your subject, you have to master time and timing. In the end, isn’t photography all about stopping time?

  • Linda Tillis February 18, 2011 04:49 am

    SCORE!! I think you hit it right on the head. I am a very good "people" photographer (so says my husband, friends and clients). I am now striving to be a "technical" student. I have been blessed with the "when to click" knowledge, but the lighting, depth of field, or other points may not be perfect at the moment of "click". It is my goal this year to merge the two disciplines.

  • Tim Judson February 18, 2011 04:47 am

    First, I love the video post! More please!

    I think the challenge of mastering both sides of the equation can be daunting for many people. I love to tinker with the technical side of photography but have a hard time capturing the emotion. My wife is the opposite. She has an amazing eye but struggles with basic settings to get more out of her shots.

    My approach has been to try and master a few elements from each world. Trying to be a master of both is overwhelming. I've experimented extensively with a only a few technical approaches and settings in certain conditions and try to marry that with a simple approach to capturing emotion. The few times I have worked really hard on that, the results have been some great shots.

    So for me, it's finding the intersection of a some limited approaches of both technical and emotion rather than mastering both worlds.

  • Richard Greenwood February 18, 2011 04:35 am

    For me at least, your question is very timely. I belong to a very sound camera club, and I'm increasingly frustrated with what I see. Large numbers of the members are technically superb, but sadly lacking in imagination. Their images are perfectly exposed, tack sharp, and well composed; but they totally lack imagination. They are cliche. The problem is, the judges at our competitions really do respond to the cliche. They never seem to tire of the camels trekking over the sand dunes or the little girl with the chocolate on her face. Too often, and I think digital photography has exacerbated the situation, people taking photographs lose complete track of the idea of a picture having a connection to a story. I don't know how we get that idea re-infused into photography, but I wish we could.

  • Cynthie February 18, 2011 04:34 am

    ~ Seeing the subject DIFFERENTLY. This is what captivates me in a "great" photograph.
    Presenting it in a unique fashion through focus, composition, light, context, contrast, etc.

    ~ Eliciting emotion is CRUCIAL...for me to consider any photograph "great."

    ~ Figuring out WHY you want to photograph a subject (not speaking of working as a professional here), but WHAT about a particular situation is captivating you? Great photographers KNOW.
    (Learning about this. My tendency is to attempt to capture too much, diluting the power of a shot.)

    ~ Technique / technical ability count for sure, but CREATIVITY overrides technique IMO.
    (I'm working on both. Still LOTS to learn.)

    ~ An experimental attitude. Pushing the boundaries of your creative work. Staying open to learning more.

    So much could be said on this excellent topic. Thanks for the forum.

  • michael G Collins February 18, 2011 04:32 am

    Very interesting,
    My thoughts are that you are a natural or you are not.
    My mother was a natural, struggled to put a film in but took very good photos.
    I am not a natural so all I can do is to learn and do and hope that I can improve.
    I suppose with me its the journey that counts.

  • Lynda February 18, 2011 04:21 am

    I was dissapointed for a while in my photographs. Years ago I had taken a photography course, so knew a lot of the technical side, but the photos were flat. Then I heard somewhere to focus on one thing and move around that. It helps. If I am asked to photograph a company truck, focus on the logo and work outwards from there. Last weekend, the glint of light off the snow caught my attention so I focused on trying to capture that in my photograph. If I succed, then it's a good photograph for me and i've been more satisified lately.

    There were far too many comments for me to read, but one thing that does not make a good photograph is ego or overuse of photoshop. With the digital age I see a lot of "I'm a photographer - isn't this the best shot in the world, it only took me 5 hours in photoshop to fix up". I'd be interested to see how people feel about modified photographs still being considerd a photo. In my opinion it is no longer a photo, cause that's not what you shot, but rather a piece of art instead.

  • Elis Alves February 18, 2011 04:20 am

    I agree you need to have both. But I think knowing the moment is more important as I don't believe it is something you can learn. You can improve your timing but you won't be as good as those who already have it.
    The technical stuff is important, and you can become a genius at it but your photograph will still be lacking that punch. We need to come to a point where the technique is second nature, where you can compose your image and get your settings right without thinking twice. It is merely a tool to make the right moment stand out more.

  • Stephen VanHerpen February 18, 2011 04:15 am

    I think that a great photographer probably has both technical skills, people skills, and hopefully business skills as well. (though I'm sure that we can all think of exceptions to all three parts!)

    I don't think that a great image comes from there. I'd suggest it is a willingness to dig deep into what makes a poor/good/great image, and constantly striving to find ways to bring that great image about. Sometimes it's a quick snap as you are out and about, sometimes it's the other end of the scale with an elaborate setup, lighting, lens choices, models, grips and scenery. I think great images come from developing an inner eye, to look at a scene and understand what would make a poor/good/great image. There's a reason why we take a hundred photos, and can a first hardly pick out the bad ones. I think the great ones have a seriously developed seive that sorts easily, and isn't afraid to discard what doesn't work.

  • Carole February 18, 2011 04:09 am

    I find a LOT of photographers concentrate only on capturing the moment and figure they can fixit in post....
    I think that is lazy and unprofessional. As a former wedding photographer, I continually dealt with " uncle bobs" who under cut my prices and produced inferior work.... put it on auto and shoot....while they did record the event they did not have the skill set to deal with difficult lighting conditions and unforeseen events. Time after time unhappy brides come to me to try to salvage their images and create a professional album out of snap shots! It's NOT easy! okay I will hop off my soap box now ;)

    to me a great photographer is a trifecta... technical knowledge of equipment, lighting and composition is a MUST........ an ability to read the scene or subject to get the connection emotionally or the mood ..... and a large dose of creativity to make their work stand out. I also feel like it's important to leave your ego at the door....you have to please the client too! If it's products, what image does the company want to convey? if it's portraits, does the client want formal or casual or sexy or fun?

    As I have evolved from wedding and portrait photography to commercial and product photography I find I still need all three elements to create work I am proud of.

  • Jeff Swanson February 18, 2011 03:58 am

    Amazing photos are the backbone of amazing photographers. You will see many "average" photos out there ( I know- I have taken many) that untrained eyes deem as terrific- but trained photographers instantly pick out faults or ways they would have done the shot differently, and most likely, better. I have had many customers tell me they love my photos- and that keeps bread on the table. But few fellow photogaphers see my work and use words like amazing, or incredible. That keeps me grounded and inspires me to do better. I am my worst critic and therefore will never be satisfied with ordinary photographs, even though most of them tend to be. Strive for perfection and just like the end of a rainbow - you will never reach it. It is that journey that sets us apart from the ordinary.

  • Mark Miller February 18, 2011 03:57 am

    I think a great photographer creates images that transcend the typical. Like many others have noted, they capture emotion or place - the essence of the moment. I think this has much to do with the vision of the photographer. If the photographer can learn to experience, value and understand the moment while photographing it at the same time (which isn't hard to do if you're worried about your f-stop or your composition), then there's a chance he'll capture that essence. At the end of the day, it seems like a great photographer should be a great person, in the sense that they live each moment to the fullest instead of simply recording it. If the photographer can transcend the typical, there's hope that their photographs can too.

  • Travis Millward February 18, 2011 03:57 am

    BALANCE. Balance. balance.

  • Pam Hughes February 18, 2011 03:56 am

    Thank you for such a great topic. I am a new photographer only shooting for about 3 years and it seems from what I have been told and seen in my work that I am able to capture the moment and the composition seems to be something I am comfortable with. I do alot of artistic photography along with wedding, children, etc. so I really try to capture that unique moment but I am lacking on the technical side of lighting, settings but am learning gradually. Luckily I shoot with my husband who is more technical so that does help but we have so much to learn.

  • Alec February 18, 2011 03:55 am

    I think you raise an important point. We're taught alot about the techie stuff but so much of photographing people is capturing emotion. I was at a workshop and the photographer was able to make the couple behave in a' lovey dovey' way. And so we got some nice couple shots. So maybe you could get people from time to time to talk about how to elicit the emotions you want from say a model or regular people or what cues they look for when they are looking for the 'right' moment.

  • John Gerbase February 18, 2011 03:50 am

    Maybe it's a matter of having both qualities which we all have and the great ones have more of each then those of us who occasionally get that wonderful moment where both skill and the sense of the moment come together for the picture that captures the essence.... It is wonderful to see those rare moments of luck and genius come together..... That's what gives me breath....

  • Susan T February 18, 2011 03:50 am

    I am a good photographer, who has good instincts, a good understanding of composition, and my subjects, I know what makes a good photo, what takes it from a photo to art. what I need to go to the next level is the technical stuff. how to get the best out of my cameras and whatever form I choose to output that work.

    This is where I feel insecure and sometimes fumble.

    I do feel that if you do not have that feeling for the moment, even the best skills will not totally do it for you. but you need both. Artistic instinct alone will not make it in any medium, not just photography. You need to build up the skills that support the artistic talent. Talent alone will not support you.

    That is what will take me from good to great.

  • Dharmesh February 18, 2011 03:49 am

    I personally cannot get my head around the technical stuff. I can understand the minimum basics, but when it comes to looking at a scene and approximating the settings I can't do it. I rather take some test shots and check my LCD to make sure I have a photo the way I like and visualized.

    A great photographer in my opinion is the one who communicates through his photos and generates a feeling inside the viewer

  • Strix February 18, 2011 03:49 am

    I'd say I'm pretty good at catching emotions, moments with people interacting and without them being aware of being photographed or me being intrusive. These are usually reasonably well composed (they are, in essence, just snapshots but do capture the moment, the atmosphere).
    When it comes to those Ansel Adams type shots - no way can I do that. It is a totally different technique. But then so are the studio portrait/still life type photos.
    Yes, technique (darkroom/lighting etc) can be taught as can the theory of proportions and placement BUT ULTIMATELY it is all about having an "eye" which cannot be taught.
    You either have it or you don't.

  • Stanley February 18, 2011 03:45 am

    being technical is great in some areas because you can make a good picture look great or just take is to another level, emotion comes with time, working with others takes being around others and understanding what you want and they also need to understand the expectation of whats being done and not to make it a secret on what you are trying to get out of them... I'm at work so i have to jet... this was my two cents. back to SQL and .net... oh i wish i was taking pictures. I would clean a dirty picture VS a bad install of SQL any day..

  • John Parli Photo February 18, 2011 03:41 am

    I'd have to agree but also think the business side of things needs to be included in that list as well.

    p.s. Great quote and note @Kelly Carmichael.

  • Hagen February 18, 2011 03:40 am

    Attention to detail: wow or impact, simplicity (subject or message is very clear), clarity (no clutter, no distracting pieces, no branches out of someone's head, no unintentional reflections).

    I'd also very strongly agree with your comment about use of light. Most of the killer photos that hit me right off, involve great control of light.

  • W February 18, 2011 03:36 am

    Hey Darren,
    Great thought! I have been thinking about it for a long time now...I have been a photographer for over 30 years
    and I have very little formal technical training, so thank God for your site and others like Fro! But I have a passion
    for the art of photography, and if you don't connect it ain't going to happen in the lens.

    I have come to realize after working with many photo technical individuals that I can teach a passionate person the science of photography quite easily, but you simply can't give someone a personality and a passion
    for the art.

    You've got to have that fire in your belly to make it real in the lens, regardless of your schooling, equipment and
    subject matter.

    I am now at the crossroads in my career that I am now interested in learning the science of my passion and art.


  • patrick February 18, 2011 03:32 am

    Amazing topic, considering there are many people with digital cameras that refer to themselves as a photographer. i believe knowing how to drive a car is important if you want to drive, similarly if you have a camera you should know something about it, the more you know the more you can do! however once you reach that technical level, then it is important that you connect to people, whether you are doing a product or building or a baby, knowing how to relate to people is one of the fundamental parts of being a photographer. Depending on what level you are at in this artistic field, i believe the success of creating an image lies in the personality, mood, state of mind and character of the photographer itself. What we feel we project and certainly you can pretend to be happy in order to achieve a happy photo, but it works much better when you actually feel happy.

    Living in a state of well being allows one to project onto others hence resulting in great images.

  • Kelly Carmichael February 17, 2011 08:24 pm

    I do know of a few Great Photographers and they all have average days or shoots. When asked whom they look up to for knowledge or as a mentor, every one of them had a name to give. We are all better than someone and not as good as the next person so a Great Photographer will always look up to another for advice, leadership and knowledge.


    "When nobody around you seems to measure up, it's time to check your yardstick.
    —Bill Lemley'

  • Graciousness February 17, 2011 10:12 am


    Picasso was a master of his art and his greatness is hardly challenge because, as you have used the term "reinvent" in regards to photography, Picasso did exactly that and more - reinvent, redefined and challenged the way we look at art. In his time, abstract is a very new style in art and he gave viewers new "eyes" in looking at images. It is his vision and the way that he looked at life and the way he expressed that gave him his greatness. Not only that, but he was a master technician with his mediums. His style is very difficult to do - I know - I paint. One needs a very good, thorough knowledge of his tools and techniques in order to have conveyed the vision of his work.

    So in interpreting that in photography, there is a slight variance as far as vision. Take a couple or a few photographers and give them the same image in front of them - the vision exists right before their eyes. However, how each individual photographer captures that image, frames it, uses his technical skills to imprint that vision on to a photograph will vary. Who is going to put that single image and breath into it life and maybe, even some form of silent meaning?

    A great photographer can.

  • Timboson February 17, 2011 10:02 am

    There are a few posts in here about how can photos tell a story. Google "Best Press Photograph" and ask yourself what story it tells? For more practical advice check Darrens latest ebook, as he gives a few pointers here. In addition (not quite photography but worth a look) check out Ron English and see how he uses images to tell a story. Although I guess you'd need a good day pp'ing to get any of your images like his :o)

    I think story telling is the most important aspect of photography, the other 2 points are second and third.

    1st - story / message. Why is this interesting? Why do you remember this picture? What makes Nick Ut's Vietnam war picture from 1972 a Pulitzer prize winner (You will never forget it once you've seen it? It sums up war? You immediately feel a strong emotion on seeing it? All of the above? However, is it well composed?)
    2nd. - Artistic flare creativity. Timing. What makes the picture stand out?
    3rd. - Technical skill. well lit, in focus, etc.

    Off course, with your technical skills these days there are super high shutter speeds catching exploding fruit, super slow shutter (1 hr) speed catching an artist drawing pictures with light!
    And everything in between.

  • Paul February 17, 2011 09:48 am

    i agree 100%...but i would also like to add ....a great photographer is someone that can reinvent themselves ...not afraid to try new things ...im learning something new every chance i get ...push the limits a bit at a time ...i am not a pro ....but i do ok for an amateur ....learn something new everyday and you will see how fast you move up ....ive known photographers that took courses and still stay with the same settings ...fallow the rules of thirds all the time ...i find it very boring ....so i think a great photographer is like a painting artist ...some will love your work ...some will hate it ...it depends on the person looking at your pictures ...also ...i dont like Picasso the painter ....but people still pay millions for his work and i dont understand why ?

  • Luc Juteau February 17, 2011 08:41 am

    So very true.. Look at one the famous picture from Yousuf Karsh http://dimackey.com/blog/single/yousuf-karsh-photographer he capture the real men behind Sir Winston Churchill . He was good at the technical stuff but also the people side. This picture was intense that it change the course of hystory.....

  • Robert February 17, 2011 07:15 am

    That's a big question to answer. After spending many years mastering the technical aspects I find myself still struggling to learn the human "artistic" aspect of photography. Even with a very good working knowledge of how to use my equipment and the fundamentals of art/design I find that luck is still an important factor in whether I get a good shot or not. I would like to get to the point where I can recognize a good composition quickly enough to not miss the shot and so that more of my keepers are skilled captures rather than lucky ones. In more practical terms it would also be nice to remove the hay from the needles - sifting through 1000+ shots for 10 frame worthy keepers is an itch I'd like to scratch out altogether.

  • Ricky February 17, 2011 04:03 am

    I love topics like this! I think a great photographer have to have a decent if not exceptional technical skills. As we all know, anyone can pickup a camera, and we all see the results all over the place like Facebook, but what I've learn is "great photographers" are in the eyes of the beholder. I've seen, what appear to me to be avg shoots, with poor technique just to find that a "great photographer" had taking the shots. I've even taking shots that I was a bit ashamed oh just to find out that people liked it more then me. There just isn't a black and white answer to that question, but it's sure fun talking about it. :)


  • Gary Dodson February 17, 2011 02:53 am

    By the way, I totally agree with Jason - With the exception of journalism, I can't see what establishing a narrative has to do with anything with regards to most "great" photographs - I would think, if anything, a narrative is something one would want to avoid. Most so called great photo's that come to mind defy narration and strike us with their own particular visual presence.

  • Gary Dodson February 17, 2011 02:40 am

    Great Photographers sometimes make great photographs. All great photographs (I can think of off hand) have a few things in common - they transcend the medium and join the ranks of art, where images regardless of their means of production (or reproduction) are transcendent and at least imply profundity. Of coarse when you start talking about art, there are always exceptions, and perhaps that's when things get even more interesting. Sometimes photographs might seem "great" when they acquire an iconic status, because of artistic reasons or their ability to capture the times, too often, just as service to the on going commercial spectacle. Sorry - Don't mean to come off so snotty, but when I hear the word "great" - that's where I go -

  • Brian Haferkamp February 17, 2011 02:00 am

    I've been trying to write a response to this post all day. It turned out to be way too long for a comment so I turned it into a post of my own. Please check it out here.

    We shouldn't only consider things like the technical and artistic abilities of a photographer in trying to go from good to great. There are other special ingredients that exist outside of the photographer's control that will determine if you are considered a great photographer. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of great photographers who will never be known by more than a handful of people.

    I think the more interesting conversation is, "What are the special ingredients that make a photographer great -- the things outside his control?" Hopefully, we can pick up that conversation over at the blog post above.

  • Jason February 17, 2011 01:32 am

    What got me about your video was the comments on telling a story. I think I'm good at catching moments like you talked about, and have decent enough technical skills, but I am hearing that phrase a lot lately, and am not sure quite what it means. Does telling a story with photographs mean setting up characters, setting, plot, pro/antagonist relationships, conflicts, resolutions, climaxes and conclusions? Or does it mean getting enough of those "great" shots by combining captured moments with good technique to convey those response-inducing emotions everyone is talking about? Or is it subjective, so that it could be either depending on the circumstances?

    Another question along these lines is: does it even matter? Maybe my photos tell a story already, and I just haven't thought about it so critically to define them as doing so. And what if they don't? Does it make me less of a photographer? Would my clients be happier if they perceived my photos as doing so? Do they already, whether they recognize it or not, and that's why they are happy with them at all?

    I apologize for getting so existential, but these are my thoughts on my perceived increase of the use of the phrase "story telling" in photographic culture.


  • vanessa February 17, 2011 12:42 am

    I agree with what you have said, but all the technical knowledge and emotion in the world is not going to give you great images if you dont have an understanding of art, and if you dont know how to interpret scenes creatively...that creativity is what sets the truly great apart from the merely proficient!

  • David G February 16, 2011 11:04 pm

    For this discussion, and one that has no correct answer, I choose to use some of the other creative arts to illustrate my thoughts. For me, the photograph becomes "great" or memorable or a term that might be closer to you goal - a timeless image when it goes beyond all of the techniques and rules. Yes a great photograph can be tack sharp in terms of focus, it can also be blurry. Properly balanced with color and light, or dark and overbearing. Consider jazz music, modern dance, or abstract painting. The strongest examples of these art forms are rooted in classical techniques. Artist who find the foundation in the basic physics and optics of photography push beyond into composition, emotion and approach magic. And we can't forget a random click of the shutter can produce a great photograph, even if we find it hard to admit.

    My point is that great photography is not an equation, series of repeatable steps, or a process of subject, scene, shooter, shutter and software. Its all of those and none of those. It simply is. Emotional connections, only those the viewer brings to the image, the photographer's emotions are just like people's often hidden, never fully revealed, constantly changing. Does a great photograph have to tell a story? Or can it simply attempt to capture an event from a perspective the viewer may never have imagined.

    And as our former Supreme Court Justice so aptly put it (in a slightly different context) I propose that I can't define great photography except to say it's like porn, I know it when I see it.

  • Cat February 16, 2011 09:04 pm

    I find my favorite photographers are the ones who seem to have the most passion for what they are doing, and the knowledge to pull it off beautifully. I agree there needs to be a balance between the two for great photos to happen, although I have no technical knowledge, I've been known to get the "lucky" shot in :D.

  • Graciousness February 16, 2011 03:06 pm

    I am a complete newbie who has had the luck of having had inherited such fantastic gears (40D, 24-105 L, 100-400L, etc). For the past 4 years, I had struggled trying to understand the technicalities of photography and have only recently taken a couple of classes that finally got me off using P mode to AV and TV mode.

    I inherited the gears from my father who started his love of photography from the yonder years of film, and now gives me equipment everytime he upgrades his. Naturally, you can assume that he has the technical abilities to shoot a decent photograph given his experience.

    However. I had been told that I was a better photographer than my experienced father. Whilst this was a most welcome compliment that titilated my created endeavors, I wondered why my photos were apparently better.

    I think it came down to simply this - perhaps, I have more natural ability (the "eye) for composition and candidly capturing moments. I love capturing moments and giving it immortality of that image through photography, as oppose to my father who loves capturing a photo as evidence of their existence in time and place. Is there an emotional difference in our passion? I guess.

    Everyone can learn techniques and some learn them better than others. Furthermore, there is the minute some who venture to break the convention of technicality and give fresh approach to their art, heightening their knowledge and style to greatness. They can take a picture of a very simple subject, a flag for example, and breathe into it life through light, or lack of it, movement, and composition.

    I'm not one of these people and may never be. But I can aspire to this.

    And then there are those who are naturally born to have the eye for the art. Through proper training, perseverance and passion, technique can be acquired. In this, the eye sees the life around and the opportunity of moments that can never be repeated. The beholder of these eyes has sensitivity to people and environment that he or she perceives that special corner of the earth, or a significant moment of one's life and captures them at the right time. The right place. It's the life around them that gives them passion and photography gives them the means for expression.

    Give the viewer a reason to smile, laugh, cry, evoke awe over your photographs and you know that you've accomplished greatness in your art. Do this over and over again, consistently, and this is what makes one a great photographer.

  • fortunato_uno February 16, 2011 01:42 pm

    Thanks Darren for posing a great question to ponder.

    I just happen to have a conversation today where a "photographer" told me he was better then most. I didn't refute him so as to not create a air of superiority on my part. I as of yet haven't seen his work so as far as I know he could be one of the best in the world (which I doubt due to his situation in life and the lack of employment). I will pose the question to him.

    As far as my answer to your question, "the viewer". If the viewer is drawn in, returns, and/or is moved by the images, then that is a great image. the ability to recreate the effect on the viewer will determine greatness of the photographer.

  • Diana Mikaels February 16, 2011 01:35 pm

    I liked what somebody said about a musician who plays with emotion. :)

    I'd rather think though that a Master photographer would be more of a COMPOSER.

    A pioneer.

    An artist. A genius maybe.

    One whose work becomes timeless.

    Original. Unconventional.

  • Lisa Nakamura February 16, 2011 12:34 pm

    I am a beginner..... excited photographing family, friends, city I live and capture something that makes you wanna come back to again and again and again...
    I have had several great coincidence or accidents to capture those beautiful moments, and had urge to be better at it....
    It is fun to learn what you love, because I love photography... but i had several comments that made me thought of.... I had more goose-bumps-all-over-shots than now...
    I see through the frame and think too much....
    I had more passions and love .......
    I want to have that passion back and feel the goose-bumps-moment again...
    not just technically beautiful photograph but more feeling to it just like the beautiful coincidences that I had before.
    So i decided to be more shameless and fearless and passionate like I was before!

  • April February 16, 2011 12:31 pm

    I have had similar conversations with friends. I think that indeed, the meeting in the middle might just be the happy place. For me I am more aware of the technicality of the process than I was when I started, but have been enjoying capturing the people and the life they lead on my way there. If I waited to understand and accomplish only the technical aspect, I might miss some very amazing moments. Someday it would be great to be able to have both abilities...until then, I am just going to keep on going and hope to be that "great photographer".

  • Henno February 16, 2011 11:48 am

    I agree very much with what's been said here, regarding the two types of 'skill' involved. I struggle with the creative part mostly. Technical is all good, and as another one commented, it's mostly standard once you get the hang of it

  • sigfried baterina February 16, 2011 11:23 am

    great photographers are indeed those who've mastered the technical aspects of the art(or their equipments) and has the eye to capture the perfect moment(or produce them). combination of talent and interest! interest can make anyone a good photographer(or artist) while talent without "the" interest will produce nothing. but in order to be good or great photographer, you gotta love the what your doing(or the art) first.

  • Matthew Dutile February 16, 2011 11:13 am

    A great photographer arises only at the intersection of a few key abilities: 1) a technical mastery over their camera and lighting such that they can create any photo they envision; 2) a natural born and years trained creative eye; 3) a personal style and vision; 4) the ability to create and capture a moment. Lack any and you can be very good, but it takes all to be great.

  • Shane February 16, 2011 09:50 am

    What makes a great photographer? Apart from the technical and emotional sides, there is the post processing...I think all photographers do a little something with their images, even if it is just cropping. I believe that knowing the software you use is part of the equation as well. There is also, like others have pointed out above, Marketing.

  • Phil February 16, 2011 09:46 am

    But, we still need a story to tell. The discovery of voice, in your photography, to me is what transits a good photographer to great.

    Those great images, you who took them.

  • Bruce February 16, 2011 08:54 am

    For me personally, I simply need to be focussed on being technically spot-on for every shot, every sequence. Hope like hell I can make the shot based on passion, desire, emotion and of course timing. then cross my fingers and HOPE.

  • Ana February 16, 2011 08:17 am

    Interesting topic, despite being an amateur, or enthusiast, or a photography lover (I don´t know what to call myself), I never had this conversation but here at home I think there´s this issue. My boyfriend has all that pro gear, knows all that techniques but takes few photos, he is very demanding with his own photos and others. We doesn´t like many types of photography and he admits that...In the other side myself a beginner who tries to put some life in my trivial photos and trying to improve the technique, knowing that I make mistakes all the time but I don´t mind sharing it to learn more... So I must say that I prefer having the sensibility and love for shooting and then walk towards the more technical knowledge... and even if I´m not succeed on that I'll keep the emotional side and that´s what makes me shoot...

  • Mandeno Moments February 16, 2011 07:59 am

    dafydd: captions for the deaf are available but I could not access them for this video. Darren, perhaps you could change a setting on You Tube and make captions available.

    See http://tinyurl.com/ydpcm2z

  • Marylin February 16, 2011 07:53 am

    I think for me, like your friend Ian (or is it Iain?), a great photographer is one who is technically skilled AND knows how to capture those moments that are priceless.
    Personally I think I'm more on the "emotional" side of that spectrum at the moment, though I'm doing my best to learn more and more of the technical side with the hopes that one day I'll feel competent enough to capture those moments with the technical knowledge to provide some wonderful shots for any clients I may have.

  • Colin G. February 16, 2011 07:52 am

    i am a people person and very observant of how people are interacting WITHOUT my camera. AS SOON AS i get my camera i get technical.

  • John from South Dakota February 16, 2011 07:40 am

    Intriguing question!

    I personally believe it is a combination of the technical skill and the desire to fulfill a creative vision. Somebody can both be great with people and have great technical skills, but still not create good photos if they don't have the desire to do so. I was one of these people for a long time, but feeding your creative desire pays off in several ways.

    Have a great day!

  • Honario February 16, 2011 07:25 am

    Spot on Darren!

    As others have mentioned your conversation & video were directed towards portraiture. Though everything you've said applies to all the other sorts of photography. Someone above mentioned architecture and commented about trying to achieve empathy with it. Well, yes. Why does that building look the way it does? Is it an old building that survives among a modern urban landscape? Etc. Or as Mr. Sundseth succinctly points out the purpose of your taking a particular photo determines the needed, applicable skills.

    I am not a professional photographer, have never been paid for a photograph (Uh oh, wait. I sold a calendar through a website this year and netted $4.62 USD.) My technical skills have been built through 40 years taking shots, reading, looking at other photographers shots (the ones that didn't come out or weren't selected for prominence were more instructive than the 'great' ones.) I'm poor and have never been able to spend like I'd like to on equipment. Consequently, my technical skills got stretched in trying to achieve the results I wanted with inferior or broken equipment.

    The Digital Age has been a marvel for me. Early on I was taught, told, read that to learn photography you have to shoot, shoot, shoot and then shoot some more. Same subject many different settings, angles, times of day, etc. I wasn't able to do that as much as I would have like to in the days of film. I can now with a purely digital camera. My skills at both ends of the spectrum under discussion have flourished (imho). I have never owned top notch cutting edge equipment. Uh ... wait: When my sister was an Admin Asst to a Sales V.P. for Pentax I was able to purchase a SF-1 when they first came out. And through her I was able to access the 'demo' inventory of lenses on weekends. Other than that I've always had equipment that wasn't quite up to snuff. Yet I've taken tens of thousands of shots. A few hundred of which I absolutely love and have gotten great feedback on.

    So, the ultimate answer to these questions is 'It depends.' For me I do it purely for fun & love.

  • Sarah February 16, 2011 07:24 am

    Wow- all your articles seem to be so timely!! I have been thinking about this so much recently. I am being asked to shoot more and more weddings every week. Why? I think it's not so much my technical ability, but my genuine, heart felt passion for the occasion and the people involved. The images then translate that feeling into something more tangible. Being genuine and passionate is priceless. Thanks for another great article.

  • Henry Lee February 16, 2011 07:16 am

    Darren, thank you for creating and posting your thoughts in the video.

    As a scientist by training, I'm more attracted to the technical issues, as I find that I learn about "A occurs if B is set; but C happens because I chose D." I tend to tinker with settings to see what kind of photos I get. Because I'm constantly experimenting with my camera as a laboratory instrument, I'm constantly failing, but I always get a good photo or two to finalize that "Eureka" moment of learning.

    On the other hand, I'm constantly asking myself about what it is I see in landscapes, cityscapes, or architecture, and whether I can "translate" that vision onto a photograph. Knowing something about the technical issues helps, of course, because pinpointing the right vision for me requires the right choice of lens, aperture, exposure time, ISO, etc.

    It is the intersection of these two worlds which I'm trying to *broaden* in my own photography.

  • nordsee173 February 16, 2011 07:09 am

    First of all, thanks for this great video and thoughts about this highly interesting subject. For me, the magic lies within the connection of both - technique and capturing the right moment.
    I have started with "just taking pictures". Then I discovered that I am able to focus on the "right" object and that people liked my photos. I spent money in better equipment, specialized literature and attended workshops. Thus, bit by bit I learned more about how to make the best use of my camera, how to watch out for good light, how to "compose" a picture and so on. Now, I am a passionate nature photographer. And I became a serious amateur photographer through the vast beauty of nature.
    Lately, I have been told that there is more to my pictures than a nice composition. That my pictures create emotions in the viewer. That one would like to step out into that photographed nature. Honestly, I cannot tell how I do this. And I am very conscious of not to lose this ability or intuition for the sake of a technically perfect picture. In my opinion, it is the photographer's own choice what kind of photographer he or she wants to be. And of course, if you have to earn your living being a photographer. You could apply the general marketing claim "be different or better" to great photographers leaving aside their focus (nature, people, architecture etc.). Somebody who is "great" is different or better than others no matter what profession or free time activity. And last but not least: it is the viewer who will decide whether he or she likes a picture or not. And I am pretty sure that we all like pictures best which touch us emotionally in one way or the other.

  • Buck Shreck February 16, 2011 07:00 am

    I really think your correct in just about everything you just talked about ..... I'm a wildlife photographer and I photograph mostly bears and when I'm in the bush, I'm not really looking for the tech. side of photography ..... I'm looking for the closeness with the animal .... be it bears or what animal it might be .... But the question I have for you is "Can anyone really tell who is great and who is not" just by looking at photographs .... for I believe it takes very little Tech ..... I think that is something that you learn over the years practice and use of your equipment .... but the one thing people can't seem to really catch a hold of is how to connect to the subject for that image that one is really looking for. I think if you look at my work at http://www.buckswildlifephotography.com I think you'll agree, for that is how I photograph ........ little technique ... more connecting to subject .....

  • Ryan February 16, 2011 06:53 am

    If I can add a little nuance to the answer, I think we should not aim to settle in the middle between feeling and technique, but rather reach to capture as much of both as we can. Great photos are consistently made when great technique and an eye for beauty are combined and brought together. Getting there is the hard part. But in the pursuit of great photography I shouldn't seek to be less technical or less aesthetically minded, but master both aspects of photography so that I am not held captive be either.

    By the way, I liked the video post today. Nice change.

  • Canon February 16, 2011 06:23 am

    I certainly have a long way to go until I've mastered any technical abilities. I think one of the difficulties of photography (or any creative endeavor) is keeping that creative spark and that spontaneous feeling of inspiration while striving for technical excellence. And also the sheer amount of technical information and diversity of equipment can be even intimidating to someone (like me!) who just wants to go out there and take pretty pictures.

    That's certainly what I've struggled with and am probably slow learning, but with guidance, I think I've begun to integrate that technical information naturally into my shooting process. So I think for anyone wanting to beef up their skills in either side of the spectrum, a good mentor or place of learning (like DPS!) is really vital! And of course, not to give up haha.

    Now, if I could only take my own advice....! :)

  • Gene February 16, 2011 06:09 am

    As I see things, it is indeed a combination of technical expertise, creativity, and engaging (directing, relating to, interacting with) the subject. Those who become great at all three are destined to be great photographers.

  • Thomas February 16, 2011 05:54 am

    Marketing. There are many, many great photographers out in the world, photographers no one has ever heard. On the other hand there are many less great (great nonetheless) who can market themselves incredibly well. If people know you, know your name and work, people get to hire you a lot more often than if no one has ever heard of you or has ever seen your work.
    I know a couple of photographers who know this from themselves. They started out as a good photographer. They knew people who could do the same job a lot better, yet those people did not get the job. Why? Because of marketing. Sell yourself and your work will follow.

  • Mister McC February 16, 2011 05:06 am

    I think greatness isn't measured in how equally artistic and scientific you are. Any photographer may have a small collection of photographs that are technically good and emotionally captivating. Maybe greatness comes when you can consistently create images that have both components. Greatness may be in the whole body of work of a photographer and their improvement throughout their career.

    Since music is a common analogy in this thread, when I think of great composers, I think of multiple pieces they have written, not just a one hit wonder. Most painters don't become famous for one painting only. I think greatness is connected to our dedication to the craft and the impact we make over time.

  • Through the Lens of Kimberly Gauthier, Kimberly Gauthier Photography February 16, 2011 05:03 am

    I just have fun. The photographs that get the most compliments, that I love the most, are when I'm just having fun with my camera. The photographers that I love are the ones who love photography.

    Technical stuff is important, but I hate getting bogged down in what someone else thinks I should be doing. Whenever I listen to people who have a set list of how it should be done, I fail miserably and my photographs are crap.

    So now I do what I want and what feels right to me.

  • Aspen Wedding Photographer February 16, 2011 04:59 am

    I like to feel I am good, but still working on all ends of the photographic triangle; technique, composition and being able to work with people. It's an ongoing process that never ends. Thanks for posting

  • pax February 16, 2011 04:51 am

    I feel it is like a, lot of things, a gift . Like in golf practice as much as you want if you are not cut out for it you wont become a pro. You could play a good game but sadly no money. The bird y now and then maybe eagle
    mostly frustration.

  • Tim O'B February 16, 2011 04:19 am

    This is something I think about quite a bit. First off I think mastering the technical aspect of photography is essential in being able to capture that moment or feeling you are trying to convey. Every picture has a feeling, whether it a portait or a landscape. So often we are presented with a great opportunity but can seem to capture it the way it felt to us. One thing I always tell budding photographers who wish they "knew" how to take great pictures is try to visualize just what it is about a scene that makes it special and then figure out how to capture that. Having mastered the technical part just makes the creative part that much easier.

    Another thing that really sets a great photographer apart from a good one is being able to go outside the box. where I live there are a few landmarks that all aspiring photographers take pictures of sooner or later. Seeing the same lighthouse shot from the same angle, framed the same way all the time; for example, really gets boring. I find it interesting to see the differences in how everyone goes about taking a picture of the same subject. The great photographer can take a picture of the same subject and make theirs stand out.

  • Jean-Pierre February 16, 2011 04:13 am

    I would say I am more on the non-technical side. I know the photo I want to take and make it, but would have a hard time duplicating that end result. I shoot natural light though, so that might be part of it.

  • Phil February 16, 2011 04:04 am

    Great topic. I agree it's a mix of both. The technical part can and should be learned rather easily these days. The emotional part is personal and much tougher for me to demonstrate.

  • Andy February 16, 2011 04:01 am


    I don't have a whole lot to comment on regarding the question that you put to the community on your post - It sounds to me like you framed the issue very well. I don't consider myself anywhere near a great -or even good-photographer, but I do think that as you implied, there is a balance between technical skill and passion. I think it is Malcolm Gladwell who has restated the axiom in his "Outliers" book about the 10,000 hour rule - meaning that one becomes an expert once they've performed a skill or task for that length of time (maybe some sooner than others...). But it's the passion I believe that serves as the engine behind technical mastery. Like in musicianship, the instrument essentially becomes an extension of the person's mind, but their passion is what drives the discipline to commit to technical mastery.

    But I digress - the real reason for posting this comment is to compliment you on the use of video - yourself standing directly in front of a camera and having a conversation with us in the DPS audience. I think the format works very well, and you have a natural presentation style. So I encourage you to expand the use of this particular medium in communicating future technical tips in addition to provoking comments and discussion. Thanks for stewarding such a great & helpful website!

  • AndyComberPhoto February 16, 2011 03:59 am

    I think that the main thing that separates "great" from "Good" photographers is consistency.

    Photographers of all levels are often capable of taking great shots, however these may be few and far between, or perhaps a little harder to come by. To be called a truly great photographer for me must show a firm grasp of all the important principles discussed already but be able to consistently hit the ball out of the park, more often than not.

    Thats not to say that you must be perfect to be a great photographer, you must have precision and good technical ability, but the flexibility to adapt to the shoot as it flows.

    A good photographer can describe any level of photographer that can occasionally make some great images but may lack the ability to do this reliably.

    A great photographer will instinctively apply their mastery of technique and will produce less "binners" than Keepers every shoot.

    Attaining any kind of "status" as a photographer or artist of any kind is not as important as enjoying your art, we shouldn't get hung up of technicalities but enjoy what we do, like our own images and learn gradually those tools to improve Gradually

    Thats just my opinion.

  • Merle February 16, 2011 03:54 am

    I agree that it is a combination, but which takes preference?
    I'm a musician that plays by ear. So I play with more feel. I've seen musicians who are excellent technicians, but can't capture the feel of a song no matter how hard they try.
    I am taking classes to learn more of the technical side of photography, but I like my pictures to capture a moment or emotion or tell a story. That's what draws me to a picture.
    Now if I can combine that with being technically correct, I'll be a happy guy lol.

  • Iliana February 16, 2011 03:50 am

    After watching this video I'd have to say I'm more of a "lucky" photographer. Although to clarify, I do take photos on purpose but the lucky comes in the creativity of some my shots. I have no where near the right amount of technical skills I need to take shots on purpose from a technical point. I wish I did. I do have a knack, however, of capturing people, places, things, etc. and telling a story. My photos would be a whole lot better if I could grasp the concepts of lighting and have a better understanding of my camera as well as being able to retain much of that information. I don't like taking posed shots of people, I like capturing their moment in time, the feeling, a thought perhaps. No one can teach you that. Either you have it or you don't. Technical skills make for technically brilliant and amazing photos. But, I think you really need to have both sides to be a great photographer.

  • karina February 16, 2011 03:33 am

    I love all the technical info. i'm one who see's the moment, but is very lacking in the techy realm, so keep it coming! . But the technical aspect is easier to teach than the "eye." so that's where teacheres tend to lean.

  • Jim February 16, 2011 03:18 am

    Before being introduced to my class, the Canon sales rep explained the same thing only referred to it as right vs left brain shooters. Some people or more technical (left brain) while others are more creative (right brain). I was a bit surprised when he told the audience I was one of those individuals that was both. The balance of being skilled technically so you can move quickly, analyze light and choose settings and the ability connection with your subject or composition is both a goal and brings great satisfaction.

    It's much like a musician. One can play a song that is technically perfect while leaving it emotionally void. Others take technical liberties yet stir deep emotions in those who experience the moment. Those who can do both perform at Carnegie Hall.

  • Doug Sundseth February 16, 2011 03:16 am

    The photography I get paid for is manufacturing process photography and marketing photography, which are a bit different from the sort you're talking about, but similar issues arise.

    For process work, I need to be able to connect with the person showing me the process so I can elicit the critical points and make sure to capture and explain them correctly. This requires people skills, but they're different from those required for good portrait work.

    For marketing work, I need to be able to connect with the client -- to understand what story the client wants the picture to tell. (And also to be able to decipher how to fix, "I don't like that; I want it better", which is always a frustrating conversation.) Again, related, but different.

    The photos I take for myself (the sort I show in my Flickr photostream) are mostly nature/landscape subjects. There, the big, non-technical skill (IMO) is being able to see the shot before I take it or to see the shot before the light or the subject disappears.

    I have plenty of room for improvement in all of those skills, of course.

  • Dafydd February 16, 2011 03:10 am


    Any chance this could be subtitled?

    I am Deaf and cannot watch this video :-(

  • Mish February 16, 2011 03:00 am

    I agree with your comments. A great photographer has mastered both aspects - people and technical skills.

    I see myself a lot stronger with people skills - capturing the moment, the look, the feeling. And much LESS strong with technical skills - lighting, exposure, etc. Although everytime I pick up my camera, I look at it as another learning experience, and I hope to be able to balance things out eventually. :)

    I truly believe you can never master photography. Those who think they have, or can.....well.....I don't know what to say about that. I just feel that you always can learn and improve.

  • Sheila February 16, 2011 02:56 am

    What a great discussion. I have to say that it would be my opinion as well that great photographers are able to master the technical with the timing of the perfect moment. It's something I strive for with every session and wedding that I shoot.

    I think that a great portrait photographer has to have ease with people and has to be able to emotionally connect with their subjects. They need to be able to feel and see the moments to successfully capture them. Without that emotional connection, the photos can look flat.

    A kiss can be just that, a kiss, but to be able to find that moment where the love and desire of two people came together and to capture it in a way that makes the viewer want to really look and think about the story, that's perfection! But you also need to know about the technical. If that kiss happens and the subjects are poorly lit, the photo can also lose some of it's magic.

    I feel like some people just have that natural ability to connect with their subjects. Whether you have that connection or not, you still need to understand the technical side. I've studied photography for years, so I feel like I'm knowledgeable when it comes to light, camera settings, exposure, composition, etc., but at the same time I feel like it's important to always strive to learn more. There's always more you can learn about this craft!

  • valerie February 16, 2011 02:52 am

    To add to bob's comment- me too. I hesitated then decided I was curious anyway. But it means I have to turn off my music (that interferes) for one. I prefer reading as well.

  • Robert C Mazza February 16, 2011 02:51 am

    I recently joined Flickr ( I know how you feel about Flickr) and was drawn to the previous days 500 most interesting photographs. In fact I sit and have my coffee in the morning and view them. I noticed that some photographers are on another level, as you mention not so much with the story about people, but about things around us. I found one photographer who does very interesting work that I aspire to. I was trying to explain to my wife who is not a photographer.

    I told her that if i was with this person and we were both looking at an old building I would get a pretty good shot of the building. He would take a shot of the door knobs, get a brilliant shot and tell the story better than I ever could.

    The problem as I see it, is when to take the shot of the door knob.

  • Xebor February 16, 2011 02:38 am

    A great photographer will most probably get a great image whatever equipment he uses - I believe an eye for composition and being able to tell a story with images is way more important than technical skills.

  • Kolya Lynne Smith February 16, 2011 02:35 am

    Thanks for that. I'm an empath, so I definitely connect to emotions. And I'm still learning about the technical sides of things, thanks to DPS. :)

  • Bob February 16, 2011 02:35 am

    Each picture should have a purpose. The good photographer adeptly uses all the technicals in order to achieve exactly that purpose.

    Of course there are lots of different purposes, for different times, places, etc. But if you can't put your finger on the purpose of this shot, take more time to find it.

    Once you have the purpose, use all the technical skills you have to "shed the light you want:" to convey your point and leave no un-intentioned distractions.

    (Off topic: would much rather read posts than watch a video)

  • John Richardson February 16, 2011 02:31 am

    That is a good question, so upon reflection I am a little of both ... but a master of neither.

    So I guess I am still a student. But I really don't want to get to heavy into the technical (I was an Electronics Engineer), because I see that as a barrier to creativity. A Gear Head spends too much time comparing minor technological upgrades, and make no mistake, they are at this point minor upgrades, and less time actually taking creative photos. Often they are shots of some hill or bird and then submitted to forums and endless discussions about this and that.

    I would rather just go out and take what I see and then have fun in PP, total creative control is much more fun than comparing tiny bits of data. But then, that's me.

  • Wayfaring Wanderer February 16, 2011 02:30 am

    I like to think that I reside somewhere in the middle. That, along the way I have learned how to achieve a happy medium by balancing the technical part with the other end. Just as important as being able to connect with people is having a unique eye to compose an interesting photo. Having an eye is innate, at least in my opinion. You may start out not really knowing the technical end, but you develop quickly because you're a natural.

    If set in front of the same exact scene, I know each photographer would capture something entirely different because they don't see the scene in the same way. The fact that we all have a different point of view is what makes us unique as photographers.

    I follow a lot of photographers because I love to preview how other people capture subjects, especially portrait photographers— I am new to that type of photography and I'm learning. You can tell who might be more technically skilled by what they produce. Some people just knock your freaking socks off because everything is perfect.

    Great conversation started! It definitely got me thinking :D


  • Erik Kerstenbeck February 16, 2011 02:25 am


    This was a great video! Being an Engineer I am naturally drawn to the Technical end of the photographic spectrum. I need to know what my camera is doing, know the light, detailed composition, etc. However, being a Photographer I feel that the most important thing now (since being a solid technical photographer is no longer good enough in the digital world) is to be able to convey a mood, emotion or a story. The viewer needs to be immediately engaged with the shot, even without a long explaination attached. This is the challenge for me.

    I think I achieved this with this shot of Jessie in Condemned Bride : http://t.co/I1hbrcL

    Regards, Erik
    Kerstenbeck Photographic Art

  • doodles February 16, 2011 02:25 am

    knowledge, creativity, and timing. But I sure would like to be in the shoes of Peter Souza.

  • ~ifer February 16, 2011 02:24 am

    I don't take pictures of people, so for me it isn't about connecting to the people. But there still is that perfect moment to take a picture. When the sunlight just breaks through the trees, or when the wind is at the perfect speed. A moment when you can capture emotion, even out of the inanimate.
    As far as technique vs. emotion (for lack of a better term), I do think you need to have a fair balance. If I had to pick which of the two were more important, I would say capturing the picture with the story you want to tell. I would rather look at a picture that tells a story, even if technically imperfect, than a perfect technical picture that leaves me no feeling.
    I liken it to watching a musician play a piece. Even if they are technically perfect, if there is no feeling in it, it leaves me hollow. But you do have to have some technique as well, to do justice to the feelings.

  • Sarah February 16, 2011 02:20 am

    Great thoughts. As many others have said this is somethig I have been trying to work On as well. I can honestly say my personality has sold far more than my photography. But I am inevitably always frightened that I cannot technically perform as well as I should. It is the easier of the two I think; learning the technical part. Art is not always teachable-technique is teachable. I am hoping to continue to have the opportunity to study more on technique so that when I tell their story I can feel good about the details of the image.

  • Zibri February 16, 2011 02:08 am

    Most importantly it's marketing and opportunity.
    If I do a very good photograph of 2 people kissing, it's a good photo.
    If I do the same photo after an important event as the end of world war II then it's like a landmark.

    There is no praticular reason why some famous photos are better than others.
    It's just the timing, and the use a newspaper (or a campaign) made of them.

  • Jerod February 16, 2011 02:04 am

    Great video! I struggle with the balance of technical vs creative. There's so much to consider when going into a different shooting situations that I can find myself in a state of "analysis paralysis" and not giving the creative aspect enough attention. I don't consider myself a great photographer (yet) so I suppose striking that balance is what great photographers do.

    Thanks again for the video!

  • Jim Crotty February 16, 2011 01:55 am

    Excellent topic and points made that support the need to maintain balance between the craft and art of photography. Although the primary focus (no pun intended) in this particular video is on portrait photography, much of what is said also holds true for other subject areas as well. Connecting on a personal level with the portrait subject can also apply to connecting on a personal level with nature, landscapes, interiors, macro subjects, etc. Naturally there's not the "drawing-out" and fluid interaction between photographer and subject, but there's still passion for the subject and the need to tell the story of the moment.

    Perhaps the difference between the great photographer and the good photographer, as it applies for non-portrait subjects, has more to do with the great ones achieving the successful connection by flowing outward that which lies within? Light, camera and being in the moment are the keys that unlock the door. Great images result. From my experience the best portrait and wedding photographers tend to be natural extroverts. Nature and landscape photographers tend to be the opposite. But there's no doubt the great ones in all areas of photography know full well the value of making the "connection."

  • Steve Wildlife Encounters February 16, 2011 01:50 am

    I think that everything that you have said here is true. Whilst your video implies connectivity to people it also applies to wildlife. I believe that is why great wildlife photographers have an in depth understanding of their subject (many who photograph African wildlife are or have been field guides for example). To be great you have to be technically good and also have a flair for artistry and a knack for capturing the right moment. This can be even more challenging with wildlife as you have to anticipate their next move as well as being in the right place at the right time. I have to admit that I am only just putting all this together but love the challenge it presents.

  • Hayley Johnson February 16, 2011 01:49 am

    Wow, this was fantastic, thank you! You have given me much to think about!

    To be perfectly honest, I think there is always going to be something we can improve upon, but I do believe I am aware of the teachnical attributes with every single shot... light, white balance, composition etc. and I also feel quite happy with my creatvity.
    I suppose the area I need most improvement would have to be in communicating ideas and poses to my clients - I often find it difficult to relay what it is I want my clients to do which can be confusing and embarrassing!

  • Alanna St Laurent February 16, 2011 01:44 am

    I agree with what you are saying Darren, but I think there is one other element that comes into play in our day and age, a trifecta if you will: technical skills, emotional connection and an entrepreneurial spirit. You can see how important it is to be able for most successful photographers to run their own business, market themselves, be a whiz with social media. If you are not working on a payroll as a photographer (and most probably are not), then these are imperative skills to have (or at least, surround yourself with those who do). This is the area I struggle with because it doesn't come natural, and I don't particularly enjoy it. Any suggestions on resources for those of us who love photography but don't like business would be appreciated!

  • Sumeet February 16, 2011 01:44 am

    I think it's a pretty obvious fact that a photograph isn't the best capture of that instant of time if it hasn't been clicked with the right settings and using the right 'technique'... and at the same time, a photograph clicked with the perfect set of settings (if there is such a thing) apt for the scene's light and subjects, is still incomplete without that bit of emotion or story or perspective in it!

    I think as newbies(every pro was a newbie once), most of us start out as photographers who are driven by emotions, subjects which tell a story, and by perspectives to things around us, and in the process of growing as a photographer and learning the 'technique' , some of us get lost in the technical part of photography, and lose the purpose behind clicking itself- to capture something valuable- an emotion, a character, a story, an angle to life, etc... We get so obsessed with the apertures and the shutter speeds and the mettering modes that the moment is lost while we're busy dialling-in the settings on our professional cameras! It's the same reason why a lot of shots arnd the Internet, which- technically- are FAR from perfect, still evoke many more emotions in a viewer than those 'perfectly captured' (again, is tht possible?) poses of the subjects...

    I'd ideally say - it's somewhere in the middle, but i'm gonna risk being me- the emotionally driven photographer- and say it's a li'l offset towards the moment being captured, kinda 65%- moment and perspective; and 35%- technique that makesa photographer's work stand out!

    just a personal opinion...

  • Kim Conway February 16, 2011 01:43 am

    I think what's sets apart a good photographer from a really great photographer is this...a great photographer creates photo's out of a desire and quite often a need to make beautiful images. A great photographer would create these images regardless of whether they would get paid for doing so. It is a love and a passion for the craft of photography that is their main incentive for being a photographer. Whereas we have lots of good photographers who make a living from their work but who are lacking dedication to photography as a way of being. They see photography as a means to make money, to pay the bills.
    That's not saying that a great photographer doesn't make money, but you get my drift.

  • Brian February 16, 2011 01:43 am

    A great photographer is a person that knows all of his equipments. what you can do with your equipment and an eye of creativity. I give creativity a higher value because that is what a composition is all about. The technical stuff is mostly standard.

  • Glenn Buzbee February 16, 2011 01:41 am

    For me it is the ability to capture the moment that can over-ride the technical expertise and make for a great photograph. However, doing this consistently is what makes the photographer great. Unless they are gross problems, any basic technical deficiencies can usually be fixed in post-processing in any given photo - but the moment cannot be recaptured if the original didn't catch it.

  • Michelle Miano February 16, 2011 01:36 am

    I definitely need more help with the technological side. I think I have a really good connection when photographing people. The people I have photographed have always said that I make them feel really comfortable. What are some good ways to learn more of the technological side of photography?

  • Supriyanto Suwarno February 16, 2011 01:32 am

    The great photographer for me is like a best actor and actress on the movie. They have to be able to bring the character of the movie and role they played. So the Great Photographer able to put their knowledge on the technique to gift a character of their work on story that photographer want to tell through their work/photo.
    And I am still far a way for this.... :D

  • Elizabeth Lovelace February 16, 2011 01:26 am

    Absolutely!! When it comes to events, there must be a human/emotional element to your pictures. Otherwise they're just snapshots of the event. A great photograph tells a story, shows emotion, and is technically correct or at least has some good technical aspects.
    For portrait photographers it's similar, in that we need to capture personality as well as making sure we have the correct focus.
    Here's a link to a recent event I photographed. I received many comments as to the emotion of the pictures. Not all pictures are great, but I do think there are a few. : )
    I would love your comments!

  • Scapevision February 16, 2011 01:25 am

    Actually, it's breathtaking, inspiring results. That's what I think separates the two.

  • Pam February 16, 2011 01:25 am

    I think having both is important...but it's really hard to be taught how to connect with a subject. It's something I think you're either naturally good at or will struggle with. But of course, both can be achieved if you really have passion for photography.

  • pierre February 16, 2011 01:24 am

    The main point is to create a feeling in the observer. To do this you need to have a "total" control of your image to show what you want to show your sentimet, there the technical skills are mandatory.

  • valerie February 16, 2011 01:23 am

    Interesting. I agree with your points- you need both. But it's so focussed on photographing people. There's more to focus on than just people.

    What about a photographer who mainly does architecture, for example? You can still speak of 'the right moment' in many ways and say you need to empathize with the architect, knowing what he wanted the building to be like, how it has to be captured.. Hm, maybe that's just it then. I don't know, I haven't thought this through yet :)

    Well ok then, let's say you're a nature photographer. What separates you from the good ones and makes you great at it, apart from the technical stuff and 'clicking on the right moment'? Or is there a certain amount of 'getting in your subject's skin' there as well? But what about landscapes?

    I don't have the answer, but I'm interested in exchanging thoughts. I haven't really figured this one out myself.

  • dana February 16, 2011 01:22 am

    This is what I have been thinking about the past months actually. I am struggling very hard to learn more about the techniques, and more about settings etc. It got to a piont where I lost my "first love" for photography. So I´m trying to embrace more of my need to tell a story in my pictures as well as learning more. It´s a balance, and sometimes I got to "take turns" between the two.

  • Mei Teng February 16, 2011 01:07 am

    I believe it's a combination of technique and an eye for creativity (and also the ability to draw emotions out of your subjects).