3 Ways that Separate Good Photographers from Great

How can you recognize your talents and your weaknesses and take the next step?

3 types of good photographers.

Some good photographers are strong technical camera operators, some are good at recognizing great art, and some are good at creating any look in post.

The distinction between paid or hobbyist isn’t too important here. When I say good I don’t mean successful. That requires more than I won’t discuss here; marketing, branding, pricing structure, having a strong platform, customer relationships, etc…

Camera Operator

You pick up the technical operation of your camera very quickly. You know what every button and dial does. You can see a shot in print or online and tell the camera’s settings immediately.

Think of a pianist who can pick up a sheet of music and just play technically accurate without practice.

Make up for other faults by looking at great art and mimicking it. Copy someones style. Get a formula and try it. Slowly you’ll see patterns in these styles and develop a sense of your own.

Art Director

You know what great art is when you see it. Good art is a grandkid portrait that makes the grandparent cry with recognition and joy. Great art is showing that same picture to a stranger and having them have the same tears. It’s about seeing stories in frames and knowing when they will connect with people.

Think of the scene from White Men Can’t Jump, “Look man, you can listen to Jimi but you can’t hear him. There’s a difference man.”

You can make up for technical weaknesses by just shooting a lot and taking extra time to sift through your shots to find the gem in the rough. You  have a hard time working in any time sensitive manner, like high-end wedding or maybe just any non family member.

You can use your sense of great art to teach yourself how to visualize the final outcome through the lens. See it and try to connect it slowly with camera control. Use it as a drive to learn the gear good enough to capture that beauty. It gives you focus and direction in post.

Post Processing Expert

You just have a knack for learning computer applications like Lightroom. You know how to apply recipes that yield good results. You can rescue any kind of picture just by molding the histogram.

Think of yourself as the guy in the sound booth during recording, mixing it up.

You can learn to shoot to help them get those results in post. If editing skin tones takes you too much time and lowers the end quality, then you learn tricks to capture skins in the right exposure. Look at highly acclaimed photographs and think from the perspective of a post processor how you would need to shot it.

So what now?

Step up and dream big

If I were you, especially if you are just starting out, I’d learn which of these talents is your strong point and lean on it.

You can learn art as a camera technician or a post processor. There are rules artists have used since the Renaissance. Here’s a video resource of them. They are ALWAYS followed or broken purposely for one reason, to emphasize a story. It’s a formula you can learn to apply and slowly learn when to break.

Are you the artist? Every piece of technology can be understood with the right teacher. The camera and editing software is logically built with one goal in mind, to put the buttons and dials in the easiest way for you to make great art. My pages have these basics explained. Here’s a couple of the best free tools to learn camera basics, this one iOS, and this one web-based.

For post processing you can spend hours sifting through blogs like mine or You Tube videos but it’s worth it to invest in services like Lynda.

There is though, a formula to have a chance to be a great artist.

A Great Photographer

A great photographer lives all three of these worlds in a unified way. This follows the formula from Ansel Adams back in film days to those big names doing well now in digitally. Is it possible to excel so much in one area and become a great photographer? Absolutely, but my advice would be to build all three with a final goal in mind, unification.

When great photographers is set up a shot they are thinking how to make the most final impact and already know what parts will be done with post processing. When they are applying a technique for posing a couple and getting the camera setting technically perfect they are watching for something magical to happen in a pose or breaking light that they didn’t plan on. They don’t ignore the technical side of post and just study art (i.e. making a story). They are making a story while they develop in post. It’s all unified. It’s the right and left side communicating fluidly. As a side note the female’s brain is physiologically predisposed to be better than the male’s at communicating concepts between creative and technical.

So if you want to be a great photographer don’t ignore any of these aspects, in fact find how they connect. If you find one is weak take a proactive role to develop it. Here’s one place to start.

This site is dedicated to all these talents in a balanced way. Share this article with those you think have one of these abilities. Share with email



  1. I liked this article and it made sense. Right now I am not good at all three, but am better with the camera and the post-processing. The post processing is where I am spending a lot of pure learning and experimentation time for now because I am going through my huge Lightroom catalog and picking photos from the past to try new tricks on. Photoshop is still overwhelming and I need to do that.

    As far as the camera, I spend most pf my time in Aperture Priority, but I do know Manual. I do tend to spray and pray, and then eliminate the bad on import and learn the lessons of the bad ones from there.

    Thanks for the article. It was a good read.


    1. I appreciate the nice feedback. I was sure exactly were you were not that long ago. Ill try to get done good videos out explaining manual mode in a way that will make it seem more down to earth. My article,”Manual Mode is Cheating” is a start.
      My advice about post would be to focus on a workflow in LR like what they teach at SLR Lounge. For OS don’t bother learning it. It’s enough to learn what it’s capable of and then googling what ever the specific need is. Like, “how do I use content aware move in PS CS6.” Unless you are in fashion photography then I’d recommend Scott Kelby 7 steps in PS.
      Biggest thing is learn what art is. It REALLY gives a kick in the pants to shooting and to post. Check out the video series link in my article. That guy is my photography-as-art hero.
      Stay tuned though because the plan is to put out products and services that meet each one of those needs you described.


  2. a photographer came to my high school when i was young and told me, “The difference between good photographers and bad photographers is that good photographers show you their good pictures. Bad photographers show you ALL their pictures.”
    i live by that. its why i no longer post everything i do. gotta weed out the best stuff first.


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