These days virtually anyone can pick up a camera, you probably have at least two to ten laying around yourself. Some people will get lucky, and have some good captures, and unique photos once in a while. However, few will have re-creatable skills, and some will have a passion that burns through to the viewers of their finished work. Within a few moments of scanning their portfolio, seeing what they believe is their best work, you’ll quickly get a feel for their style, ability, consistency, and whether it fits with your expectations.

Photography, like paintings, is often a subjective choice of the viewer. While the artists style is usually consistent, as a client you want quality, beauty, and finished work you are proud to show off, hang on your wall, and have others see. ESPECIALLY when you (or someone you care about) are part of that photograph!

Most people don’t want a photo with a background that looks like it’s on an angle, when it really wasn’t. Climbing up or down a grassy flat hill… or falling out of the frame, when it’s obvious that camera was just tilted or the photographer angled the finished work in some nonsensical way. There is a time and place for creativity, and for reality. Playing with shadows, colors, and improving the look of the subject, or the perspective, should be the photographers job; making it look like the subject is going to slide out or fall off of the photo (when they obviously aren’t) is something that novices attempt when they otherwise lack creativity, and honest ability behind the lens. Do you want a ‘snapographer’ or a ‘photographer’?

There are certain undeniable components of good to great photography:

1) The PHOTOGRAPHER – above all, like any manufacturer, builder, or creator this person’s vision and ability is key to the finished product that can be enjoyed and appreciated for decades to come.

2) The ANGLES & BACKGROUNDS (Composition) – necessary to distinguish the difference between ‘photographs’ and ‘snapshots.’ The depth, lines, movement, motion, perspective, angles, leading edges, focal points, distractions, etc. There’s more to a photograph than just snapping a picture that is in focus.

3) The LIGHTING (and shadows) – creates mood, separates the subject from or encases them within the background. They can also be distracting, and make or break a photo. DOF (Depth of Field) are key elements in a photographers brain box of tools.

4) POST PROCESSING (Technical Aspects) – every real photographer spends time tweaking the images they shoot after the fact, same as the old school film photographer’s work was in the darkroom, the modern photographer finalizes their magic in post processing on their computer. Just because colors are enhanced, shadows sharpened, or noise reduced… it doesn’t mean the image was ‘photoshopped’ but rather enhanced. Just like that darkroom exposure, working with RAW images require post processing.

5) SUBJECTIVITY vs objectivity – the professional photographer focuses on the subject, the event, the story… and leads the viewers, not there, through the moments & memories they captured in such a way as to create heirlooms that can last and be enjoyed for generations to come.

6) PLANNING – the best photographers ask questions, create check lists, scout the scene, and come prepared. They know their limitations, plan around the time of the day, and work to meet & exceed your goals, as both their client and their future representative. Happy clients brag to others, unhappy clients cost business.

7) EQUIPMENT – while some incredible music can be played on a garbage can & milk jug, most people can’t accomplish that. In photography, the make and model of the body matters much less than the above factors, but the photographers intimate knowledge of THE SETTINGS, ABILITY, and LIMITATIONS of their equipment is vital to quality finished work. It should show, and their work should be improving over time, regardless how good to great it might have been a year or two, or ten, ago… the best photographers are constantly learning, improving, enhancing both their equipment and skills with said equipment. Those that stagnant, well, tend to stink.

8) STORYTELLING – In addition to the obvious (exposure & composure), the best photographs capture emotion, tell stories, and say something about the life of the subject… or they spark the mind to wander and wonder. The best images spark some emotion… FEELING & THOUGHT!

9) HUMBLE BEGINNINGS – Any person that claims they are ‘the only game’ in town, or even the best, is ultimately ignorant, arrogant, & egotistical. There will always be the personal appeal of completely emotional viewers and subtle differences in the styles and quality of work; most always other options, competition, interpretations, eyes, and ability. Ego tends to get in the way for most creative types. Much like the differences between Leonardo da Vinci and Edgar Degas, or Pablo Picasso vs Norman Rockwell, Ansel Adams vs Georgia O’Keeffe artists, and photographers are different. Their skills, equipment, style, and eye are different. Look through their portfolio, get a feel for their ability… and how it matches what you want, need, and expect. Ask questions… ask to see things along the lines of the type of shoot you want done.

Truly great photographs are mostly taken by people that have a lot of good photographs, and are ready for the rare great image, and knows what it looks like before the shutter is pressed. They know it before the image hits their computer, and before they enhance the quality in post processing. True professionals capture moments, and create magic! Let’s face it, photography isn’t really that technically complicated… in automatic mode or with basic settings, and prime conditions, anyone can get lucky and take a good photo once in a while. It’s the ratio of good to bad photos that matters. It’s the ability to not miss key moments, and to position oneself at the right angles to get the best images. That’s something that takes practice, experience, and thousands of clicks.

Ego aside, I could teach virtually anyone, with the desire and dedication, how to use a camera and improve their pictures; even the more advanced techniques. However, you can’t teach a person to visualize the finished shot before they push the shutter. You can’t give them ‘the eye’ for details, angles, or magic. Sadly, anyone can snap pictures, but it takes time & experience to create photographs. Ultimately, it comes down to RESPECT… for the art, the equipment, the client, and most of all the viewer of the images. The Professional Photographer is driven to find and create good to great photographs, to continue learning and improving; doing so consistently they build their reputation, and increase their following of admirers of their work.

I leave you with this thought: It only takes seconds to snap a photo, but usually hours to create a high quality, emotion sparking, story telling photograph… after tens of thousands of clicks for practice and experience before that person with a camera ever pointed a camera in your direction and CONSISTENTLY CAPTURE & CREATE PHOTOGRAPHS.

Yeppers, calling a person with a camera a ‘photographer’ is akin to thinking someone holding a small paint brush is a ‘painter’ or ‘artist.’ However, it is easy to ‘judge’ or peg hole someone once you see their past work. Passion and ability go along way, and the average ‘friend with a camera’ (these days, especially) doesn’t equate to skill or real ability. And ‘real photographers,’ particularly professional photographers, can’t afford to work for free. Assumptions about people that have a camera, are sorta like assuming that all tall people can play basket ball. Take a look at some of my work, my top shots, and consider the lighting and control over the shoot I had (or didn’t have, but was able to work with & around).

With nearly a million nature & animal images, over 1 million sports action images (mostly basketball, track & field, swimming, and equine events), and pushing 500,000 shutter clicks of artists performing in live concerts… I do believe my body of work speaks for itself. You’ll either appreciate it, or not. You’ll either want to purchase downloads, prints, or license it… or not. If you’ve read this far, clearly I’ve captured your attention. I hope my words, and work, have inspired someone to do more… and better.


Terry Mercer

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