Sunday, June 29, 2014

The fastest way to being a great photographer

Fuji X-E2, 18-55mm, ISO 200, ƒ/13, 1/180
The fastest way to become successful is to study the masters. There are a few things involved in studying the masters and it is not just being aware of their work.

Don Rutledge
Don Rutledge my mentor and friend for so many years until he passed away last year knew more about other photographers than anyone else I have ever known. I found out about a scrapbook he put together early in his career and continued to add too for many years.

Don clipped magazines for many years and studied those photos that moved him and this was in the early 1950's. Back then the magazines like LIFE and LOOK was on almost everyone's coffee tables across America. He also was looking at magazines like Mirror, National Geographic Magazine, and Sepia to add a few more names.

Don was studying psychology at the time and used many of the skills that he learned about observation and things like body language to analyze the styles of those early photojournalists.

Don was creating sections on different photographers like Eugene Smith and Robert Capa. He noticed many of these photographers had credit lines that showed Black Star a photo agency based in New York City represented them.

Read more about my mentor Don Rutledge here on my blog post about mentors.

Fuji X-E2, 18-55mm, ISO 200, ƒ/13, 1/180
My collection of photographer's work grew and continues to grow even today. My personal library of photographers is larger than most any library I have been.

Don and I would talk for hours about the styles of the masters and how they were able to consistently shoot a certain style and why it resonated so well with the audience.

Inside the Artic Circle, Alaska, an Eskimo family waits for visitors to arrive at their home. My most favorite picture by Don. (photo by: Don Rutledge)
Here are a few tips that I think will help you start your own scrapbook of the masters.
  • Find those photographers that are recognized historically as greats in the industry.
    • Read their biographies
    • Buy books of their work
    • Study their composition and figure out how this is so compelling
  • Look at those current photographers work that is in fad right now
    • Why is their work considered great today?
    • Read reviews by critics
    • Go hear them speak in person & if you are lucky ask them questions
    • Buy their books
  • Copy their work. I don't mean to go and copy their work and then try and fraudulently try to sell it as if it was their work. I think unless you can pull off their style or approach, then you may not just understand what they are doing.
  • Buy prints of the masters and hang them in your home. This will remind you of what you are setting the bar for your work to match.
  • Learn to be a good critic yourself. Learn how to articulate each of the master's styles and distinguish their work from each other.
  • Remember even the masters' shoot some crap. Learn to distinguish an artist's own pieces of work from other pieces they produce. Be very careful not to think just because they are a big name that everything they shoot is great. This skill will take many years to perfect for you. 
  • Get together with other photographers and discuss the masters. Ask people to share their thoughts.
You see the quickest way to success is to stand on the shoulders of those who went before you.