This article was published a few years ago on my original website, — it’s not one of my favorite articles although it proved to be one of my more popular ones. The reason why I didn’t care for it is because of the gimmicky title which was designed to get clicks — something I later decided I won’t do again because article content is more important then the title of the article. I’m republishing it here because I think the content is excellent, despite the title.

The “Secret” To Becoming a Great Photographer

Often people meet me for the first time and say one of two things, “Man, I’m a big fan. You take great shots! I wish I knew your secret.”

If they don’t say that, they’ll say, “Wow, great images. I wish I had your camera!”

I’m here to answer both of those questions. I’ll take the second questions first:

My camera is a Nikon D800e and no, you can’t have it.

I’ll come back to the camera issue in a minute but first, I’ll answer the second question and let you in on the secret:

Are you ready?

Umm, there isn’t any secret…. There are no secrets…. I’m not hiding anything from you and most professional photographers aren’t guarding any mystical magical “secret”.

I didn’t have to climb a mountain to search for the mystic shaman who guided me to three doors of which I had to choose one – the only one – that held the power of excellent photography beyond it’s threshold.

Nor did I find a lamp with a genie….

Ok, I won’t keep that up. Just believe me, there aren’t any secrets and your camera and equipment, for the most part, do not matter either.

What I can do is tell you what separates the GREAT photographers from the decent photographers.

  1. Great Photographers Work At It. Meaning, they practice. They go out and take shots – thousands of shots – even tens of thousands of shots. They’re not just scatter shooting either. They look at a scene and shoot it different ways. Different f/stops, shutter speeds and ISO’s. Different angles, perspectives and focal lengths. Most importantly after they do that, they make note of the differences and how each change is reflected in the image they’ve captured. They shoot to learn while they’re learning to shoot.
  2. Great Photographers Know Light. They may come upon a scene that isn’t particularly spectacular but with one glance they’ll know that if the light were perhaps slightly different, the scene would be stunning. Perhaps the scene would look better if it were backlit, or with warmer light… maybe cooler light. Great photographers not only see the scene as it’s currently lit before them, but can effectively imagine how that scene will look at various times of the day, different seasons and varying weather conditions. Learning light will help you tremendously.
  3. Great Photographers Know Their Camera. Great photographers know every setting on their camera – where the settings are located on the body and/or within the menu system and what those settings do. Believe it or not, great photographers can change their camera settings while blindfolded in the dark. You should spend more time with your camera and learn to operate it without looking at it.
  4. Great Photographers Are Relentless. If the light isn’t right today for a scene, they’ll come back tomorrow, or next week or next year. The great Ansel Adams would return to a scene over and over through several years until he felt he had the light and scene just right. This isn’t meant for only landscape photographers either. Great portrait and glamour photographers don’t settle for mediocre poses, makeup or lighting. They’ll keep changing things until everything clicks (pun not intended – unless you think it was cute – in that case, the pun was carefully planned and intended).
  5. Great Photographers Never Stop Learning. They are always learning new techniques and new equipment. They’re inquisitive of another photographer’s work and wonder, “How’d they do that” then they commence to find out. With that said, rest assured they’re not afraid to try new things either. They relish the opportunity to try new techniques, be it in camera techniques or post processing ideas.
  6. Great Photographers Aren’t Afraid Of Manual. Well, they aren’t. They’re also not afraid of any other setting or modes on their camera. Why? Because they’ve learned when it’s appropriate and advantageous to use what mode or setting when. They gained that knowledge by doing number 1 on this list. They’ve practiced shots in all the different modes with varying settings and know when to use what, when.
  7. Great Photographers Don’t Rush. All to often I see photographers get to a scene or get a group to shoot and start racing around like they’re double parked in a tow-away zone. Great photographers take their time. They have a written or mental checklist that helps them remember everything that they deemed to be important for the shoot and they make sure that all is in order before the shutter button is pressed.
  8. Great Photographers Love Photography. This might seem like a no brainer but I’ve seen so many photographers complain, moan and groan about anything and everything. If you’re not thoroughly, completely enjoying yourself, you’ll never be a great photographer. Never. Do something else.
  9. Great Photographers Look To Others For Inspiration. They aren’t afraid to call another photographer great and they have no problem praising another’s images. If a great photographer is ever lacking inspiration or in a creative rut, they’ll often go to 500px or anywhere where great photographs can be found and they’ll look. They’ll look and marvel and think of how they can take similar shots…. Similar but different — make it their own. Perhaps even create images that are better.
  10. Great Photographers Are Confident. They know they can do just about anything and for that which they can’t do, they have no problem learning how to do it and what’s even better, they enjoy learning how. They’ve taken tens of thousands of images and know their camera front and back, inside and out. Knowledge breeds confidence.


That’s the secret to becoming a great photographer.

Now you know. Please don’t tell anyone that I told you.


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