Do You Need Talent to be a Great Photographer

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Do you need talent to become a great photographer? That’s a question I heard from a video by Manny Ortiz on YouTube, so this is our addition to the conversation Manny started.

Why Do You Need Talent to Become a Great Photographer?

Here’s the video that started this discussion.

The first words on the video should ease your mind.

Lee and I discussed this on the podcast and we agree. However, we had a slightly different take on the subject.

In Manny’s video, he explains his own lack of natural talent and then gives some ideas of how we can overcome our limitations. Yes, it can seem like an unfair deal at times. There are some folks who can pick up a camera, learn the rudimentary fundamentals of exposure and then start making great photos.

Why are they so naturally gifted and we aren’t?

Nobody is a Born Photographer

Some of us are born with gifts that others have to work harder to achieve. However, I’ve yet to hear of a baby born with a camera in hand. I pity any mother who passes a DSLR along with her child.

That just ain’t right.

Yet it seems that some of us are more artsy than others. Some are more athletic than others. I was jealous of those who are more academically adept than I was in school, at least until I got to college.

For the majority of my life, I thought I just didn’t get math. Then as an adult student, I came into an advanced mathematics course ready to see my perfect GPA take a plunge.

It turns out that didn’t happen at all.

I was fortunate enough to come across a teacher who not only knew math inside-out, she could also explain it. Before I knew it, I solved advanced mathematical computations and I truly understood why. I wasn’t an idiot. I was good at math!

My problems with math weren’t due to some deficiencies inside of me. I sucked at math because my previous instructors sucked at teaching!

I found photography to have a similar result. Some people do a really great job of sharing their knowledge, and some don’t. While I may be a slow learner, I’m still advancing and improving my photography.

Do You Like Your First Photos?

I’ve never been a talented artist, but I still enjoy having a creative outlet. With the drive, passion and determination to improve, it’s very possible to earn your talent. However, there is a bit of an issue when you start.

We tend to enjoy doing things that we do well. If you start off taking some nice photos, it’s much easier to convince yourself to keep going.

If you get off to a rocky start, then it’s easy to convince yourself that you aren’t good at photography and give it up.

So how do you react to your early photos, and does that make a difference as to whether you become a talented photographer?

Lee is one of those people who doesn’t like being told that she can’t do something. It just drives her harder to show that she can succeed. We aren’t all born with that instinct, though. For some, it’s easier to quit than persevere.

My first photos were mostly horrible, but I had a few that seemed good enough to prompt me forward. A photo I took on a camping trip ended up winning a local photography contest, and that prompted me to keep taking photos.

You don’t have to like all of your first photos. Instead, you need to decide what’s wrong with those photos and work to improve some small thing on the next photo. It’s important to see your potential and work toward it. That may take a year for some people or ten years for others, but we can each get to our potential at our own pace.

How to Encourage the Talent Within You

Talent often needs a nudge or some encouragement. That comes from a good coach or teacher. It comes from hanging around good friends who are perhaps a step or two ahead of you.You can get some encouragement from realizing that you are making progress.

If you think about talent, it’s really a sum of your experiences.

Maybe you saw someone pick up a camera and start taking beautiful shots, but what experience did that talented person have before picking up the camera? Both Lee and our daughter have an art background. They can pick up a pencil and draw whatever comes to their mind.

I can’t draw a stick.

We aren’t going to progress at the same pace in photography because we have different experiences. My background has far more to do with technical and logical orientation that creative intuition. Lee and I approach our photography from very different directions.

My brother Don is just a masterful musician. He can play piano, saxophone, flute and now he’s playing steel drums. You would think that music was in his soul from birth.

It wasn’t.

Developing Talent at a Young Age

Neither of our parents could carry a tune in a bucket and I sucked at piano. The difference is that Don started at 5 years of age, and I started around 11 or 12.

There is a world of difference between those ages when it comes to learning.

At five, you’re a sponge. Not only that, but you’re a sponge who doesn’t have any concerns about failure. Somewhere over the next five or six years, you develop a sense of self-awareness that causes you to worry about mistakes or other issues.

That beautiful bliss of being five years old and learning piano without any fear of failure lead my brother into a lifetime of talent as a musician.

My own self-doubt about playing at a later age caused me to quit. I eventually picked up guitar many years later, but I’ll never be as good as my brother is at any musical endeavor. He earned his talent. It wasn’t a gift at birth.

Developing Talent at an Older Age

I learned to be a fair guitar player in my 20’s, but I was never great. The reason I chose guitar was a bit of sibling rivalry. I needed to pick an instrument that Don couldn’t play, so it was something of my own. It wasn’t truly my passion, though.

Photography is my creative passion. I love it, and I’ve stuck with it over the years. While it’s sometimes painful to go look at my images from years ago, it’s also nice to see that i’ve grown.

Now I have a better understanding of all the pieces that go into a great photograph. It’s not that my camera drips out golden photos, but I understand the technical and creative aspects that change photography from documentation into art.

All of that came within the last 14 years.

Like I said, I’m a slow learner. Yet I learn. My photos aren’t getting better because I was born with talent. Instead, I’m improving my photos because I’m developing talent at an older age.

Learning to be Fearless

The biggest hindrance to developing your talent is worrying about what someone else thinks. It’s easier to dwell upon the negative, or even potential for negative results.

We have to learn how to do what we want, create what we want, without regard for anyone else’s opinion.

Some people thrive upon accolades from others, but I think that the self-satisfaction you earn as you improve your photography is the best reward. Nothing drives my desire more than wanting to do better than I did on a previous photo session. I’m not in competition with anyone else.

I love photography as its own reward.

That sense of isolation for my sense of accomplishment is the very thing that helps develop my talent. No one else has power over my creative journey.

If you can get to that point, then you can find your own path to creative talent.

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