Forums > Photography Talk > A Great Photographer

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Natalia_Taffarel

Posts: 7665

Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires, Argentina

https://scontent-a-lga.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-prn1/l/t1/1601000_10152116959181107_1287915071_n.jpg

What's a Great Photographer for you?

Mar 05 14 09:33 am Link

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Giacomo Cirrincioni

Posts: 21384

New York, New York, US

I agree with all of that, but to me, it is the baseline.  What I mean by this is that if all of the above is meant, then you will have good to really good photographs and the photographer is a really good photographer.  Most really well done commercial images fall into this category (imo).

But you said "great".

To me a great photograph tells a story, but not the the whole story.  If you look at the photo and and in one viewing can take everything away from it that you need to, then it might have great bones, but not enough meat on them.  A GREAT photo should have you coming back, time and again, to try and glean more and more of the story.

So then what makes a great photographer?  Someone who consistently uses all of what you posted to create images with a compelling narrative that keeps you coming back.  Of course, and I forget who said it, if you can, over the course of your entire life's body of work, create 20 great photographs - you have had a spectacularly successful life. 

We all are spending our days weaving, but, as skilled as the greatest photographer may be, they/we are not always weaving with gold.  Part of the journey toward greatness (or just competence) is learning to see that.

Mar 05 14 09:41 am Link

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Natalia_Taffarel

Posts: 7665

Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Giacomo Cirrincioni wrote:
tells a story

convey something = tell a story (among other things)

Mar 05 14 09:52 am Link

Photographer

Laura Bello

Posts: 1626

Rochester, New York, US

I'm kinda just gonna add on to what you just said.  I really think it's important for photographers or really any artist to appreciate and study other forms of art.  Not only can you get inspiration but I feel like it helps you understand the basics of art that isn't touched on as much in photography.  Especially looking at other good photographs and thinking 'why does this image work, why doesn't it?' will help you understand what will and won't work in your own art.

I also feel like a great photographer is always pushing forward.  It sounds bad but the moment you think 'This image is the best, I'll never do any better and I can't find anything wrong with it' is when you stop growing.  You should always be looking at what you can improve and work on for the next photograph. 

That and I feel like you shouldn't limit yourself.  Like, currently I don't wanna shoot with men, that limits me and is bad and if I wanna improve then I'm going to have to get over that.  I know I've seen other photographers that refuse to use photoshop or shoot with artificial light.  That's limiting them from growing and improving.

I also think you just have to have a really strong passion for it and actually enjoy it.  Heck I DREAM about photoshoots and photography ideas it's on my mind that much :p

Mar 05 14 09:52 am Link

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Giacomo Cirrincioni

Posts: 21384

New York, New York, US

Giacomo Cirrincioni wrote:
tells a story

Natalia_Taffarel wrote:
convey something = tell a story (among other things)

Yes, but as you see, I expanded on it.  There are many forms that narrative can take.  I can tell you story that resolves fully and simply and, once you've heard it, you're done with the story.  I can tell you a story that leaves you wanting more, that keeps you intrigued, has you asking questions, and has you keep going back to it.

It's like the difference between reading, say, Tom Clancey and David Foster Wallace.  The former might entertain you, but the latter will challenge you and stay with you - it may even change you.

Mar 05 14 09:58 am Link

Photographer

Leonard Gee Photography

Posts: 16423

Sacramento, California, US

One who shows us something, gives us a perspective, makes us realize something new and unexpected.

Mar 05 14 09:59 am Link

Photographer

still-photography

Posts: 1363

Bothell, Washington, US

Giacomo Cirrincioni wrote:
Tom Clancey and David Foster Wallace.  The former might entertain you, but the latter will challenge you and stay with you - it may even change you.

Perfect examples of what I saw when I read the original quote.  What stood out was the phrasing, "a great photographer is...  one who CAN...  one who HAS...  one who CARES".    It doesn't say it's one who made X-hundred thousand dollars or studied under >insert appropriate name-dropping biggie here< or shot for impressive client or any other result that may or may not have to do with greatness as much as it might be luck or connections or support not available to other more talented individuals!

By superficial standards (sales, movies, name recognition) Tom Clancy has achieved greatness.  However, after reading most of Wallace's work I can say confidently (and not in jest) that he is an infinitely greater writer than Clancy.

Mar 05 14 10:23 am Link

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Natalia_Taffarel

Posts: 7665

Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires, Argentina

still-photography wrote:
as much as it might be luck or connections or support not available to other more talented individuals!

Bullshit

or in more polite words, we can agree to disagree.

Mar 05 14 10:25 am Link

Photographer

Darryl Varner

Posts: 725

San Jacinto, California, US

Actually, I don't believe a 'great' photographer can be defined by his/her contemporaries. We can certainly pick artists whom we admire, would like to emulate, etc. but history judges greatness.

Mar 05 14 10:25 am Link

Photographer

still-photography

Posts: 1363

Bothell, Washington, US

still-photography wrote:
as much as it might be luck or connections or support not available to other more talented individuals!

Natalia_Taffarel wrote:
Bullshit

or in more polite words, we can agree to disagree.

Please don't "agree to disagree".  Aside from the fact I think that's a trite little cliche, it doesn't serve to further the discussion.

I'd like to hear why you think that section of what I wrote is bullshit.  I appreciate an honest challenge to my point of view.  Otherwise it just sounds like you're being snotty and maybe a bit spoiled, but I'm sure that's not really the case.

::edit::  In case it's a question of comprehension, I rewrote that section.  Try this...

What stood out was the phrasing, "a great photographer is...  one who CAN...  one who HAS...  one who CARES".    The quote doesn't say that a great photographer is one who made X-hundred thousand dollars or studied under >insert appropriate name-dropping biggie here< or shot for impressive client.

I agree with that quote, and feel that it's definition of greatness has more to do with those attributes than with success that might be due to luck, connections or support not available to other more talented individuals!

Mar 05 14 10:43 am Link

Photographer

Mike Collins

Posts: 1924

Orlando, Florida, US

I'd agree with most of that.  Except the last part.  I've known and worked for a few "great" photographers who didn't devote their whole life to it.  In fact a few of them left the field to pursue other interests.  They were still great photographers.

Mar 05 14 10:44 am Link

Photographer

Don Garrett

Posts: 4449

Escondido, California, US

I pretty much agree with the statement you have provided. I will add, that there is a small, easy to read book about composition - "Composition in Art", by Henry Rankin Poore, that everyone who creates art should read. Another statement that applies, is the one that says, a "good photographer is one who devotes his/her whole life to it". I would just say, has the desire and eye for excellence, and proceeds accordingly.
-Don

Mar 05 14 10:55 am Link

Photographer

4 R D

Posts: 1058

Mexico City, Distrito Federal, Mexico

Natalia_Taffarel wrote:
What's a Great Photographer for you?

Your quoted definition leans a little too much on the technical aspect. I would say that almost every great photographer has flawless technique, but not every photographer with flawless technique is great.

For me it is all about depicting strong content, or having a singular and personal voice, or saying something interesting about anything.

Mar 05 14 10:59 am Link

Photographer

Natural Body Photo

Posts: 303

Indianapolis, Indiana, US

People who we view as great live for a thousand years thru the lives of the people they touch; they move not only mountains, but the entire cultural continent for the better or worse: Washington, Lincoln, Hitler, Dr. King, Mandela, Babe Ruth, M. Jordan, The Beatles...Norman Rockwell, Hugh Hefner.

Mar 05 14 11:11 am Link

Photographer

London Fog

Posts: 6770

London, England, United Kingdom

A great photographer to me is someone who can convey their thoughts, their ideas, even their dreams into a living, breathing image! Also, someone who understands the interplay between light, shape, form and shadow!

Mar 05 14 11:43 am Link

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Giacomo Cirrincioni

Posts: 21384

New York, New York, US

still-photography wrote:
However, after reading most of Wallace's work I can say confidently (and not in jest) that he is an infinitely greater writer than Clancy.

I see what you did there....

Mar 05 14 12:23 pm Link

Photographer

WIP

Posts: 15544

Cheltenham, England, United Kingdom

Nature be it wild life.... right place right time and a degree of luck.

Mar 05 14 12:42 pm Link

Photographer

S W I N S K E Y

Posts: 24315

Saint Petersburg, Florida, US

great photographers give us new ways to look at familiar things...

Mar 05 14 12:45 pm Link

Photographer

BlueMoonPics

Posts: 4437

New York, New York, US

To me a great photographer would be one that not only has great technical skills but can also convey a mood or emotion through his/her photography consistently.  Someone that captures beauty also.  A great photographer is not necessarily a famous photographer and vice versa.

That's all I can think of for now.

Mar 05 14 01:06 pm Link

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Giacomo Cirrincioni

Posts: 21384

New York, New York, US

I like Swinsky's answer as well.

I think you're also going to have a variety of answers based on an individual's background.  If, like myself, they come from an academic/art background, they will probably read images differently than someone who comes from a purely commercial background.  Having said that, there are certain "truths" if you will that seem to remain constants.

I would highly recommend the following books to anyone who really has an interest in the subject:

Camera Lucida
By Roland Barthes

On Art and Artists
By Aldous Huxley

On Photography
By Susan Sontag

The Contest of Meaning: Critical Histories of Photography
By Richard Bolton

"A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you the less you know."
~ Diane Arbus

Mar 05 14 01:07 pm Link

Photographer

Fred Greissing

Posts: 6412

Los Angeles, California, US

One that does not need a retoucher wink

Just kidding!

Mar 05 14 01:22 pm Link

Photographer

Fred Greissing

Posts: 6412

Los Angeles, California, US

Natalia_Taffarel wrote:
Bullshit

or in more polite words, we can agree to disagree.

Natalia....

I think he made a valid point.

There are many great photographers. There are more great photographers then there
is work for them or places to be exposed.

Luck does play a part, but the more you do the more you give luck a chance to do it's magic.

Mar 05 14 01:24 pm Link

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GPS Studio Services

Posts: 36350

San Francisco, California, US

Thank you for sharing.

Mar 05 14 01:27 pm Link

Photographer

Fred Greissing

Posts: 6412

Los Angeles, California, US

Natalia_Taffarel wrote:
https://scontent-a-lga.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-prn1/l/t1/1601000_10152116959181107_1287915071_n.jpg

What's a Great Photographer for you?

I disagree with most of this.

The rules are academic and the easy way out.
While they should be appreciated they are mostly broken
in most of the nicest work out there.

IF it were all run by rules all the great photographers would be the same, but the
huge variety out there is evidence that creativity, Style and beauty go far beyond restrictive rules.

As for dedicating their whole life to photography.... that is quit e sad. We only get one life, there is much more to life than only one thing. I have had the pleasure of meeting quite a few great photographers and there was/is much more to their life than photography.

Mar 05 14 01:28 pm Link

Photographer

WIP

Posts: 15544

Cheltenham, England, United Kingdom

I think Natalia is looking for some sorts of formula for what makes great photographer.

Mar 05 14 02:11 pm Link

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Giacomo Cirrincioni

Posts: 21384

New York, New York, US

Fred Greissing wrote:
I disagree with most of this.

The rules are academic and the easy way out.
While they should be appreciated they are mostly broken
in most of the nicest work out there.

IF it were all run by rules all the great photographers would be the same, but the
huge variety out there is evidence that creativity, Style and beauty go far beyond restrictive rules.

I think I might have to...  wait for it... disagree with you Fred.  SHOCKED I KNOW!!

LMAO!  But honestly, this is just an example of how different photographers with different backgrounds can see the same subject from a different perspective.

Ten years ago, I would have completely agreed with you.  I find, as I get older, that even when the "rules" are broken, it is only on the most fundamental levels, and usually they are simply applying a more sophisticated vocabulary and grammar.  More often than not (way more often than not) when I see a great image, I see all of the things that Natalia posted.  She did not (or perhaps better stated, whomever made the graphic did not) state specific photo 101 rules that had to be adhered to; but rather indicated that an intimate knowledge of such factors, along with a thorough, if visceral, understanding of how that vocabulary effects an image, is what, when combined with compelling content, makes a great image.

I have to agree with that.

"Rules" doesn't mean "Sears Portrait Studio".

Mar 05 14 03:01 pm Link

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Giacomo Cirrincioni

Posts: 21384

New York, New York, US

The Something Guy wrote:
I think Natalia is looking for some sorts of formula for what makes great photographer.

No, I don't think so.  I think Natalia is a woman who is, to her credit, singularly focused on her craft.  It is her life.  I can both understand and relate to that.  I'm sure she feels that those same principals apply to her work as well, and is curious as to how others, specifically others on this site, approach their work.

Mar 05 14 03:02 pm Link

Photographer

Ronald N. Tan

Posts: 2746

Los Angeles, California, US

A great photographer is someone, who understand when to take the picture and what settings and parameters are required to have the image in the mind's eye a reality.

When I think about about this question, I think about the analogy about a character being hired. The person hired charged cheap for doing a a manual labor, while charging and arm and a leg (relative to his first fee) for knowing what bolt to unscrew.

If I am asked to further expound, I think words like "experience" come into play. The great portraits like Irving Berlin, or Yousuf Karsh (for example), they know what what settings to use in their cameras. BUT . . . they also have the skills to invoke an expression or something to engage with their subjects. Mr. Karsh took that funny portrait of Dr. Einstein with his tongue sticking out.

Academics are prim and proper. I would have loved to see what Mr. Karsh said to Dr. Einstein to invoke that funny and timeless portrait of one of the best minds of physics.

Mar 05 14 03:12 pm Link

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Giacomo Cirrincioni

Posts: 21384

New York, New York, US

Ronald N. Tan wrote:
A great photographer is someone, who understand when to take the picture and what settings and parameters are required to have the image in the mind's eye a reality.

And what if the image in their mind's eye is banal and vapid?

Mar 05 14 03:18 pm Link

Photographer

Select Models

Posts: 36228

Upland, California, US

Natalia_Taffarel wrote:
https://scontent-a-lga.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-prn1/l/t1/1601000_10152116959181107_1287915071_n.jpg

Sorry... these look something like rules and guidelines... and all I wanna do is break'm.  Besides... I've gotta life too big to devote to just one medium... wink

Mar 05 14 03:26 pm Link

Photographer

WIP

Posts: 15544

Cheltenham, England, United Kingdom

Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.

A complex of photographers studios in London called ' Perseverance Works' aptly named.


'What Picasso showed me in an instant was there are no rules'.
David Bailey.

Mar 05 14 03:29 pm Link

Photographer

Art Silva

Posts: 9457

Santa Barbara, California, US

A Great Photographer is an Artist...
Different from a skilled photographer. There are many skilled photographers but great photographers are ones that inspire you and moves you to think on how to create and how to see compositions.

Mar 05 14 03:33 pm Link

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Natalia_Taffarel

Posts: 7665

Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Giacomo Cirrincioni wrote:
I find, as I get older, that even when the "rules" are broken, it is only on the most fundamental levels, and usually they are simply applying a more sophisticated vocabulary and grammar

Pretty much smile

Mar 05 14 03:39 pm Link

Photographer

Phillip Ritchie

Posts: 961

Costa Mesa, California, US

A great photographer is one that does it more than once, and continually does it ,

there is no formula ,

Mar 05 14 03:55 pm Link

Photographer

Leighthenubian

Posts: 2967

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Romantic thought but very outdated.

Once the world was thought to be flat, there would never be a black president...etc etc etc...now here we are.

Mar 05 14 03:59 pm Link

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Giacomo Cirrincioni

Posts: 21384

New York, New York, US

Leighthenubian wrote:
Romantic thought but very outdated.

Once the world was thought to be flat, there would never be a black president...etc etc etc...now here we are.

Care to expand upon or defend that position?

Mar 05 14 04:04 pm Link

Photographer

London Fog

Posts: 6770

London, England, United Kingdom

I have a question for Natalia? is there some reason why you have blocked me?

To the best of my knowledge I have never contacted you, or run into any dispute or argument with you on the forums here?

Pray do tell...?

Mar 05 14 04:08 pm Link

Photographer

Fred Greissing

Posts: 6412

Los Angeles, California, US

The Something Guy wrote:
'What Picasso showed me in an instant was there are no rules'.
David Bailey.

+1

Mar 05 14 04:09 pm Link

Photographer

Ronald N. Tan

Posts: 2746

Los Angeles, California, US

That's getting subjective. In this scene and setup, who are you criticize banality and vapidness?

In my answer, I have already taken into consideration and several assumptions filtering out that the "great photographer" will not create boring pictures.

Giacomo Cirrincioni wrote:

And what if the image in their mind's eye is banal and vapid?

Mar 05 14 04:24 pm Link

Photographer

Jose Deida

Posts: 1174

BLANDON, Pennsylvania, US

Elicit emotion.

Mar 05 14 04:35 pm Link