Are you Really as Talented as you Think you Are?

Photography: jaysk

If you wanted to name the biggest complaint of professional photographers in the digital age, you’d have a lot to choose from. Demand is falling. Prices are dropping. Photography schools are growing just as jobs are disappearing. If it was always difficult to make a living taking pictures, it’s safe to say that times are particularly hard now.

All of those are good reasons to grumble but there’s one complaint that stands out above all the others:

Everyone thinks they’re a photographer now.

It’s the inevitable result of cameras that are cleverer than the people who sell them and editing software that was once only found on the desks of professional graphic designers now available for free online.

Give anyone a decent digital camera and a good view, and after an hour or two, almost inevitably, you’ll end up with a selection of attractive images and someone who thinks they’re Annie Leibovitz.

That doesn’t mean they aren’t though.

Talent is spread unevenly and not everyone discovers their abilities early. There are plenty of amateurs who could have made successful professionals had they picked up a camera earlier, chosen a different career path or who weren’t enjoying what they’re doing full-time now.

But there’s a difference between an attractive image and an exceptional one, and the wrong person to ask about the quality of an image is always the person who took it. So how can you tell if your photography really is as good as you think it is?

“Nice capture”… not!
What you shouldn’t do is trust what you read under your photos on Flickr. The photo-sharing site has no shortage of mediocre images with long pages of positive comments. That’s because offering a compliment is a good way of receiving one, and contributing is a powerful form of Flickr marketing.

Better then to join a group and ask for constructive criticism. That might be harder to take – it’s likely to be less complimentary – but it should show you how close you came to shooting a perfect picture, and the advice will help you to get even closer next time.

Better still, because group members are selective there’s a greater chance that the people offering the comments will actually understand what they’re looking at. Choose a group used by both professionals and amateurs, and your viewers will be able to see where you want wrong, understand how you made the mistake, tell you how to put it right… and appreciate all things that you did so well.

A compliment is always worth more when it comes from someone who really can tell a bad image from a good one.

Take a Prize
You could also try submitting one of your images to a competition. There are plenty of these on the Internet these days, so you have to choose carefully. A weekly contest held by a site with 30 users a month might not be worth winning. Getting your pictures shown on the BBC’s website might not deliver any prizes but it is free to enter, highly competitive and a good sign that you’re better than average.

You could also try submitting your photos to a peer-reviewed photography publication like JPG Magazine. Although the final choice won’t be solely down to other photography lovers – the editors have the last word – being chosen is still a good sign that you have something that most people don’t.

Return to the Stone Age
A tougher test of your talent though would be to strip down. Ditch all the hi-tech wizardry that makes shooting easy, turn off the camera’s automatic features, deny yourself the benefits of post-production and see how you do with nothing but the bare camera essentials.

It’s how photographers used to learn their trade, and it would be a good test of how much you know as well how much you can do. You don’t have to go analog – do photographers still need darkroom skills? – but photography talent isn’t just about framing and composition. It also involves an understanding of light, shadow, focus and depth. How much do your images owe to your talent and how much to your camera’s features?

Ultimately though, the biggest test of your talent is also the most satisfying. When someone is prepared to pay for one of your pictures, you know you’ve got something valuable.

8 comments for this post.

  1. Sam Said:

    Funny thing, I sold a few pictures, and still I would not say I'm a really good fotografer - I'm just learning, and having enough luck to sell a few lucky images along the road.

  2. MissD Said:

    I found this really useful, thanks. Have been a hobbyist for ages, then won a national photography competition where the prize was a digital SLR - it's the best thing that could have happened for me, as I now have all the tools to get into photography more seriously.
    I have started a RedBubble profile and also submitted a few images to JPG mag which is helping me to get gage a reaction on images I think are good. Not expecting anyone to buy anything yet, but when it happens I'll be over the moon!

  3. Helmut Said:

    Spot on article but I would have liked to see one thing added. Photographers, especially in smaller cities or areas have a clientel/community around them that know very little. For them sometimes even average photos are good. Main example is wedding photographers, I do design and some photography for people but I am not pro by any means, yet my photos are much better than most of my competition. The clients of the photographers in my area have the monopoly purely because their clients don't know the difference. (When I say mine are better I mean technically better)

  4. chris Said:

    I find that every time I 'think' of myself as a photographer, my work gets worse. Best to think of yourself as mediocre and in need of being better, but stripping out the need for validation from others.

  5. chris Said:

    One more thing to add:
    if you want a dose of reality, get critiqued here:

    There's no shortage of highly critical photographers.

  6. charlotte Said:

    i think if you love somthing so much than you should go for it no matter what. dont listen to people who dont belive in you belive in yourself i am only 11 and i am in aldin panto and people did not belive me but i found a website and i belived just like that and it made a drmatic change to my life and i dont regreat it

  7. charlotte Said:

    so you people out there belive in yourself and dont listen to others who dont

  8. Curry Said:

    BLAH BLAH BLAH... leave it all behind and go back to the beginning? There is no going back..

    I do not care how many automatic settings there are and how many people can point and shoot. There will always be "the camera owner" and "The Photographer" There will always be a distinction and that will come down to "OPINION" who is good and who is not good, who is worth of selling and who can get there stuff up on a wall somewhere.

    It is and always will be "TALENT" plus "Personality" plus "Who do you know" and unfortunately it goes in the order of "who you know" then "personality" then Talent. Surprisingly Talent is LAST!

    But I stand by.. and say... I don't care who can buy a camera, I don't care who can operate a camera, The proof is . .. what does this person see? what are they focused on? what is their story? Do i feel something when looking at their work? A camera owner is not necessarily a Photographer.

    Nuff Said,

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