If you’ve spent any time in the photography world you’ll no doubt have come across Joe McNally. He’s one of the photographers that I find most inspiring. So I wanted to share some of the lessons I’ve learned that are essential to be a good photographer.
One of his quotes I find both challenging and encouraging is:
Do not be afraid of mistakes. They will be with you always, every time you put a camera to your eye. [If you] shoot safe, and don't at least occasionally court disaster, you are not trying. Time to hang up the camera.
As a way of continually striving to improve and never resting on your laurels.
One thing that attracts me to his work is his creative use of speedlights. Using small flashes so imaginatively to produce amazing lighting effects.
I’d highly recommend the following books:
Both are filled with wisdom and stories that have inspired and educated me.
Lessons To Be A Good Photographer
This is the number one quality I’ve learned on how to be a good photographer. And it’s one that I’ve noticed all successful people, not just photographers, possess.
Tenacity is the ability to be able to persist with achieving your goals. Once a photographer has an image in mind they’ll continually work at bringing that vision to life.
They’ll spend hours preparing and then be on location getting the scene just right. And they’ll just persist until they get the shot they’re after.
I've retaken shots over and over to get the exposure just the way I want it. It's a great way to continually stretch your skills to be a good photographer.
The quality of tenacity also extends beyond the photo. For example, there’s one story in The Hot Shoe Diaries where Joe McNally talks about wanting to photograph James Brown. What struck me about this story was how persistent he was in contacting James Brown to make that photo opportunity happen.
There’s been plenty of times when I’ve wanted to take a photo but been too shy to do it. So this quality really speaks into the struggles that I have. It’s something I’ve taken on board and pushed myself out of my comfort zone.
This might seem pretty obvious to be a good photographer. Creativity, in this sense, is the ability to see things in a way others can’t and turn mundane scenes into something magical.
There’s a photo Joe McNally took of someone changing a light bulb. Somehow he made such a simple task take on a different perspective to become something people hadn’t seen before.
It’s that sort of creativity that sets great photos apart from run-of-the-mill photos.
This encourages me to take photos in different ways such as breaking rules of composition to show people something that they wouldn’t normally see. To be honest, I often fail at it and many of these photos turn out nothing like what I imagined.
It’s frustrating but it goes back to the first quality I wrote about – tenacity.
It really inspires me to see the photos Joe McNally creates using speedlights and small flashes.
He also uses everyday objects to modify light. Things like bedsheets, cloths, or window blinds become photographic tools.
One of the lighting ‘accessories’ he uses is a painter’s pole with an attachment to mount speedlights. This allows him to get lights in places that you wouldn’t normally be able to get them using regular light stands. Places where the sun don’t shine.
Share Your Top Lessons
There you have it! Three qualities essential to be a good photographer. Remember, these are just my top three I’ve learned so far. There’s tons more to learn from all the other world class photographers out there.
Who are some of your favorite photographers and what have you learned from them? I’m interested to learn from your experiences.
Until next time, keep taking those awesome portraits!
To your photography success,
Keith Lai – Dad, husband, photographer & all-round nice guy