Talent in Photography

Every month I get hundreds of promos and emails from photographers who have this business nailed down tight. It used to be really easy to spot the bad photographers with their lame promos and weak portfolios filled with blah subjects horribly lit in god-awful locations. Now, I get slick vibrant promos, leather bound portfolios brimming with beautiful prints, websites loaded with perfectly lit photographs of interesting looking people (celebrities even) in fascinating locations. On top of that; the pleasant and personal follow-up phone calls, thank-you cards, Christmas cards, prompt returning of emails and phone calls and a smart peppy studio manager on call 24/7 to handle any request.

Problem is, I can’t recall a single one of them, they all look the same to me. Perfectly executed photographs that make me want to take a nap.

In the digital age where taking a picture requires very little effort and all the professional secrets are laid bare any advantage photographers had from marketing and execution is now evaporating before us.

Professionalism will get you far in this business and even quite profitable but talent always trumps everything. You’re either born with it or you work very hard for many years to develop it. There will never be a shortcut.

I still call the photographer who dropped a memory card off a cliff (only half the shoot) and the one who sent me receipts from Russia stuffed in an envelope with no explanation (it’s very difficult to tell a dinner receipt from a midnight massage) and the one who doesn’t have a website (to busy shooting conflict) and the one who doesn’t return my calls for weeks on end (don’t think he likes me or my magazine much) because when I send them out on assignment they bring back images I could never have imagined.

Sometimes photographers take an “I could have done that” attitude when it comes to talent in this industry, but honestly, you can’t.

There Are 84 Comments On This Article.

  1. Perhaps the photographer has that talent, but it is “wrong” for the magazine, even any magazine, perhaps he would be better served by a book.
    Brodovitch pushed photographer to their limits (some of them say so), and it showed, is it like that nowadays, or that time is gone ?
    It’s the “safe” route against the “adventurous” route ?

    • @Mário, it’s so true, I was pushed by my former employer whom is very talented but places too much emphasis on quantity rather than quality…relies too much on a retoucher than make more glorious images himself!

      wtf! atleast I can’t say I didn’t learn anything from the man!

      And yeah, it sucks that I had to start 7 years ago with him shooting 4×5 film and polariod only now in the negligence and low budgets of mags and advertisers to stick us Photographers with the short end of the stick….Manipulating images sometimes doesn’t cut it!

      put some effort into what you sell.

  2. “Sometimes photographers take an “I could have done that” attitude when it comes to talent in this industry, but honestly, you can’t.”

    WORD UP!

  3. I disagree, #5, or at least it goes against this spirit of this post. Lots and lots of photographers don’t suck, but often talent is having rough edges and following them to create images that actually make you stop and think about them, even if you’ve been looking at good pictures all day. I have no illusions about my own work — it’s so good, so technically clean, that there’s little great there — but I’m working on it.

  4. I’m not sure if it is because I’ve only been doing this for a few years but most of my clients want safe safe safe. I try to push them a little more each time, but I don’t want to loose them. Maybe they just arn’t the right clients.

  5. Every photographer is the best photographer somebody knows.

    Don’t we all get stirred by different content and approach? Perhaps what you call talent are those rare individuals who touch everyone, but I’m not sure that counts out all those who put some to sleep.

    Often I see new talent that gets raves by many on this site but make me scratch my head and go – huh? It’s not that they aren’t talented, it’s that I don’t get it.

  6. William Robler

    Great post. Every day, when I read this blog, I get nearer and nearer to reaching for the razor blade. I’ve been thinking this very thing that he writes about today — this search for “perfection” — and sometimes, “perfection” might be a plastic lens, or a drug store print, or a 669 Polaroid. All this effort, (and all this money), thrown toward “a digital solution” that renders perfection, and yet, is that the way to stand out? I see images like that Nadine R image of the girl on the car, and it moves me so much:


    Yet, my issue is, there are relatively few clients out there with as much vision as a guy like A.P.E., but he bears little budget, and for every A.P.E., there are ten ad agencies that want “perfection”. Out of a hundred jobs from an agency, how many would have the vision of the Nadine R image, or the Pantall images? Don’t answer that.

    Thus, the rub.

  7. # Another anon – Talent is when you don’t suck on a regular basis.

    No. That is only “being professional”.

    Talent means that you are able to shoot like nobody else.

  8. APE – exactly right. They meet if they’re very accomplished and choose to work in both. I think this is a perfect illustration that “talent” is slippery. Professionals are hired to please their viewer consistently. That in itself is a huge talent when done well.

  9. It doesn’t always meet, even at the top.

    Big photographers still do cash-in-hand jobs for Asian clients and many of their ads look nothing like their editorial work.

    Funny thing is (and I’m not naming names but I think you can all draw your own conclusions) many times when I click on one of the websites linked from the comments on this blog, the pix are boooooooooooooooooo-ring, IMHO. Too much blah and not much personal vision or differentiation from all the stock and flickr and so on.

    I’m curious if PE has “discovered” a single photographer from these links. It comes across to me as a heavy handed attempt at “buzz” marketing yourself.

    I think if you put your work out there in ANY way and if it’s remarkable, you will get work – with our without the slick promos.

  10. I think the idea that either you are born with talent or you are not is a false one. Photography is one of the few professions left that require a long apprenticeship period to learn the craft. The exception is the student who comes right out of photo school ready to shoot professionally. It is more common that it take 5, 10 , or 15 years (20 in mine) to make a photograph.

    If I had to choose between hard work and talent I would choose hard work every time. It is rare that I look at a students work and say I wish I had shot at least one image in the portfolio. The difference most of the time is the student has not figured out how hard they need to work order make it.

    I saw Sally Mann speak years ago. She showed an amazing photograph of her boy in the water. It is super well known and has been shown around the world. Then she showed the eight other times she shot him in the same location that did not quite work. She hadn’t quite worked out the composition in some , the light wasn’t right or the boy wasn’t right. She kept plugging away at it until she got it right. Talent got her most of the way but hard work made her great.

  11. Seems like talent in this instance is very very subjective, not to say it’s a bad thing, but is surely something very hard to be objective about…

    “Thousands of geniuses live and die undiscovered – either by themselves or by others.” — Mark Twain

  12. All SO true: I developed a “mental rolodex” of shooters I wanted to work with on certain projects as an Art Director (Hell, I even invented campaigns around certain shooters’ work–wouldn’t you love THAT?) and have just expanded that now as I run a magazine. Equipment and cameras are nothing more than tools and TALENT RULES. Hey, that rhymes. So it should be easy to remember…

  13. great post.

    steven meisel started as an illustrator and took photos of some random models for their lookbook. the rest is history.

  14. Thomas, talent and hard work are not mutually exclusive. The point is, that if you want to be great and exceptional (best in the class), you need both.

    Hard work alone can allow you to be “very good” or “professional”. But not great. That is what I believe APE wanted to express.

  15. @15: Reread APE’s post. “You’re either born with it or you work very hard for many years to develop it. There will never be a shortcut.” APE meant you are either born with talent, or you develop it.

    Re: Professionalism vs. Talent

    Not that this should be taken literally, but I think every hour spent on professionalism is an hour *not* spent on creative thinking. And vice versa. I think there should always be a balance, though maybe not necessarily 50/50.

  16. @14: What I mean about meeting at the top is that advertisers will hire you because of your editorial style and furthermore they will hire you to shoot a dumbed down version of it. When Dillards hires Peggy
    Sirota it’s not because she has lame catalog photos in her book.

    @19: Yes. When I see young talented photographers turn in a shoot there are brilliant images mixed in with bad material and so I suppose it could take less time to develop but I have no idea since I’m not a photographer.

  17. “Perfectly executed photographs that make me want to take a nap”

    @APE: Nice! So…how much freedom do you have in your position to go with the inspired work versus the cold stuff? I ask because I see much more of the “perfect” shots all over the magazines (fashion, specifically). I assume this is primarily to satisfy the advertisers more so than the readers, right? I find most of the well-executed lifeless stuff to be a bit insulting, kind of like a cheesy action movie or something like that. It shows that the magazine thinks its readers are stupid or tasteless. Or maybe I’m just a bit reactionary today. It happens.

  18. APE, thanks for all the informative brutal posts.

    A lot of my peers work in editorial hoping that the exposure will get them work in advertising but as you said , “@9: Advertising and editorial operate in two separate worlds that only meet at the top. Everyone should have an advertising book and an editorial book.”

    From your experience with the photographers you work with, would you give us readers here more feedback on how effectively editorial work actually led to advertising jobs?

    Also, an insight into the limitations placed upon you by higher up forces regarding editorial content would be highly enlightening. It’s always interesting to learn why certain photos are chosen for a spread

  19. “In the digital age where taking a picture requires very little effort and all the professional secrets are laid bare any advantage photographers had from marketing and execution is now evaporating before us”

    So do you think this means that tasteless buyers will enjoy their new herd of inexpensive shitty “photographers”, or will it force the cream to rise? Will it help to weed out and replace the tasteless buyers, or is tastelessness so ubiquitous that we are all just screwed?

  20. Chris George

    To Jing Q posting at 24- what a brilliant an incisive question. Not sure if APE could answer but I’d love to hear photographers who are established in advertising but were given commissions in advertising as a direct result of editorial exposure (who are not fashion photographers)

  21. talent is what YOU do and do not compromise.
    If you’re LUCKY, someone will dig your style and contact you (which is how I snagged a big client). Do your thing. No one elses. Unfortunatly, the highest paid photogs seem to be the least original (I mean tha fact that Russell JAmes has a million covers under his belt makes him no more original) and that’s the market.

  22. I want to make a strong second to:
    “Bruce DeBoer wrote: Every photographer is the best photographer somebody knows. Don’t we all get stirred by different content and approach?”

    Like Bruce I am constantly looking at the acclaimed photographers images or a single acclaimed image and find myself working hard to find something, anything there that makes the photo worthy of such praise in my eyes. In the end I think ‘strikingshots’ has it right when he says that talent is not something that fits well with supposedly objective descriptions.

    That said, after 5 years of shooting professionally I really do think I’m developing a better sense of what ‘I’ think is a good image. And I can edit my own work a little easier because I have a clearer idea of what images I want to be known for. Does this mean talent? I think it’s more just a finely developed taste.

    Some people would say I’m deleting my best images, the ones that show the most talent, but that’s their idea of talent, not mine so screw it. I didn’t get into this business to make photographs that someone will look at and say it represents talent. I’m doing this because I love taking photos and I’m going to keep taking more of the kind of photos that I love looking at. Then I just wait for people with a taste like me to find my images. Not because they are objectively great, but because they fit our taste.

    The struggle here is that if one of use starts down the road of imitating the successful images our imagery takes on that look and we attract those clients and pretty soon we are that kind of photographer. And then our ideas of a ‘good’ image become distorted by our constantly comparing them to successful images. It gradually gets harder and harder to snap out of that perception and get back to what we really think looks good without the mental filter. This is especially an issue shooting stock photos. And business wise, imitation might work very well, but did any of us become photographers because we thought it was going to be good money?

    There’s my rant, I like the comments here, I hope someone can set me straight . . .

  23. @Scott:

    “I have a clearer idea of what images I want to be known for. Does this mean talent? I think it’s more just a finely developed taste”

    I think that is a huge component of photographic talent. Photography is by its nature interpretive of the outside world, so taste goes a long way towards defining your visual identity. When developed, it also offers you unflagging confidence in your own work, despite what others may think.

    Image selection is crucial. Your comment rocks!

  24. @ 25: = the million dollar question.

    @27: There will always be faster easier ways to make money in photography. To appeal to the masses you must aim for the middle.

  25. Two questions.

    1. Isn’t this a profession, rather than an industry?

    2. Doesn’t vision always trump talent?

    And if #2 is true, shouldn’t we stop obsessing over talent and concentrate more on the vision thing?

    Personally, I like the posts pointing us to photographers with a vision. The posts about talent… not so much.

  26. Eugenio Garcia

    Love it! big smack on the face to pseudo photographers. Unfortunately i am one of those… he he he.


  27. Christopher, What I’m suggesting is the idea of talent isn’t nearly as specific (or important) to the matter at hand as having a vision.

    And by extension, developing a vision is something that all of us wannabes wanna here more about…:)

  28. The vision vs. talent discussion is a semantic red-herring. From here on, when referring to someone with “talent” it should mean they also have vision.

    If you want to refer to someone who has technical skill, but no vision, let’s call that a craftsman. Actually, even a craftsman can have vision. Anyone without vision is just a sheep who follows others blindly.

    @25: I think the answer is already happening right before our eyes. The real question is where do *you* want to be in the midst of all of this? Fighting an uphill battle against “shitty” photographers, or find a better route/technique so you won’t have to?

  29. @Sean: I’m with Red – I think we mostly think they are the same thing. The craftsman distinction he makes is important. As far as learning to develop vision, I can only give my insight so far (I’m really just starting out, so take it with a grain of salt). Vision emerges on its own – you can’t think it into existence. If you shoot and edit honestly from the gut, it will start to show itself. At least, I think that’s working for me. Maybe I’m really just getting worse!

    @Red: I’d like to think that I will be chosen to do work based on what I do differently from others, so hopefully it will be a non-issue. Hopefully.

  30. #5 “Talent is when you don’t suck on a regular basis.”

    Wow, I like that, a lot. Cant really say why other than its to the point :-)

  31. @Christopher: Thanks! I understand what it is your saying and I think we can agree to disagree.

    @Red: There is a difference. Someone with talent is someone recognized as having it. Someone with vision is recognized by no one except themselves. I prefer the latter. (Perhaps because I have no talent:)

    Although, I think I’ve been shooting long enough to know that ‘talent’ is a really meaningless word. And it’s one I would never use to categorize photographers.

    So let’s get down to a more meaningful way to distinguish each other.

    Honestly though, I’m a fish out of water here. (I’ve never been to NYC nor have I bothered to send in any slick promotionals to anyone)

    My apologies for stepping in…

  32. >I think the idea that either you are born with >talent or you are not is a false one. Photography >is one of the few professions left that require a >long apprenticeship period to learn the craft.

    You can learn craft, but you can’t learn talent.
    People with talent (and some polish and practice of that talent) do what they do because it comes from within them. They pick up a camera or a brush or open their mouth and it comes out, while others execute a tightly practiced maneuver. People with talent make what is difficult for the less talented, look easy.

    People with less or no talent, but great craft produce work as a result of years of practice and extensive knowledge of the nuts and bolts of their trade. But their work rarely or never has the passion, spontaneity or brilliance of someone with real talent.

    You can have all the gear in the world, and practice till your fingers bleed, but that’s not going to turn you into Eugene Smith.

    Salieri was a great musician, but Mozart was talented. And people like Salieri know this.

  33. a photo expert

    IMO, if you call yourself a photographer DO NOT edit and/or sequence your own work for portfolios, promos, proposals, books, websites and agency submissions (except to take out the extra 150 views of the same frigging polar bears). If you consider yourself a pro then act like one and pay for pro advice from people who will tell you what sucks because you have no idea when it comes to your own egos. This is a big success tip but even if you have heard it before you ignore it because you are cheap or you think you know better.

    P.S. My name is withheld because I don’t want to advertise my services on this blog for the above-mentioned help to make you look good, unlike some here who add a link with every post. After looking at just one awful website, you can bet most of us on the other side of photography don’t click through anymore. Have pity on APE as she trudges through the snoring masses of carp and thank her for giving you such valuable career clues for free. I don’t know why she does it, honestly, but it’s so very amusing to read your ruffled-feather reactions!

    • @a photo expert, have to give you credit for this brazen attempt to write yourself into the equation. Question: how many of those slick photographer/marketers that seem to bore APE to death are you responsible for?

  34. dean moriarty

    talent is coming back from russia with good enough pictures you can give APE the reciept from an all night massage, DONT have to pass it off as a meal, but what it is..a nice little taste of RUSSIA. Then of course getting hired the following month for a J O B in buenos aires.

  35. A photographer said to me when I was starting out that anyone who can earn a living doing something they want & enjoy can consider themselves a success.
    Where you go with it then, what you decide to do, what direction you take with the work you produce is your choice, the main thing is you’ve still got to earn enough to pay the bills & eat. The debates about how creative your own work gets are academic if you can’t afford to eat, or of course a camera to shoot with.
    Actually on that note I’m going to eat at last, as it heads towards midnight, its been a long day working over here. And I’m in danger of rambling, I’m sure I had a point when I started this post…… thats what lack of food and sleep does for me :)
    But respect goes out to everyone living off their own work.

  36. Talent is when you shoot what only you can shoot and no one else. It is also having the balls to do the work that you know is good and authentic to who you are. And not just giving the photo editor another perfectly boring professionally done stock photo that they’ve seen 1000 times in the past hour. Talent sticks in your head.

  37. 41-A photo expert:oh please oh please – look at my site … please!?!??!?!

    No – that’s not why I include a link to my site. I think that even though I’m not an editorial guy, I still thoroughly enjoy the interchange with those who are. However, I also think that giving access to my images and my background help to qualify my comments. Everyone knows where I’m coming from – even if they snore through it.

  38. Even APE is here promoting the romantic notion that given talent and hard work, it’ll all work out well. I haven’t heard that sort of beguiling idealism for years except on microstock forums, but they’re delusional so don’t count.

    Maybe things haven’t yet slid so far in the USA, but in UK I can point to any number of talented pro photographers who are, without exaggeration, struggling to survive on incomes that a school leaver would sneer at.

    What they have in common is an inability to deal with a business culture that increasingly takes its benchmarks from Flickr and MySpace because it only employs cheap young graduates as designers and art editors to work in its publishing sweatshops.

    Their history horizon is Digital Year Zero, their milieu one that assigns no value – artistic or financial – to photographs. It’s all just disposable eye candy. Novelty and shock are prized above vision or talent (or god forbid, saying something meaningful) in this photography 2.0 world.

    In this reality, once you are over 35 you are in decline, and >40 is an unpensionable offence. Ageing photographers also tend to become more expensive as they acquire families to support. Unfortunately, aside from the odd savant, it takes about 10-20 years to get to be any good as a photographer… so the industry more or less writes you off just as you mature.

    You see what always did matter in this business was and is, above all else, who you know. And you’d better hope it is someone who believes in you and sees some merit in working with and sustaining photographers instead of just using them until the novelty wears off when you start whingeing about the invoice still being outstanding a couple of months after publication…

    The equitable ongoing creative partnership of ideas is nowadays excruciatingly rare. Accountants simply won’t indulge that much budget or autonomy at the vast majority of clients. It’s a buyers market for 99% of clients and 99% of photographers, and that boils down to using the cheapest of 3 quotes and a mandatory copyright grab. Talent is largely inimical to this specification. It’s expensive to nurture and banale flavour of the month is more cost effective.

    I love this blog though, it suggests there is a better world somewhere beyond the rainbow, where photography still counts for something.

  39. Not sure if any of you managed to catch the Genius of Photography series that Jackanory mentioned a little while back, but there’s a quote from Chuck Close in the first episode that really captures the essence of APE’s post..

    “Here’s the dilemma and the strength of photography. It’s the easiest medium in which to be competent. But, it’s the hardest medium in which to have personal vision that is readily identifiable…

    There is no physicality to a photograph, there’s nothing there. Some silver that got tarnished in the development process, some dyes from the colour print, there’s no physicality. There’s nothing you can point to and say this is the work of that artist’s hand.

    …So, how do you make a photograph that everybody immediately knows is the work of a particular artist? Well that’s a very difficult and complicated thing to come up with. And when someone really ends up nailing down a particular kind of vision to such an extent that they own that vision, then they’ve really done something.”

  40. Every once in a while I take a great photograph . . . and then I realize it sucks. But the girl down the street says it’s amazing and I know that it was amazing when I took it, but now that all is said and done, the photograph is simply pretty, with nothing beyond that simple fact. So I try to build a story into each image and voilà, I make the most amazing photo ever . . . and then I realize it sucks. It looks like that cool photo posted on that one blog that someone said was just an absolute pure work of art. I thought it was great because it looked like a photo that someone said was fantastic, but deep in my gut I know that it’s not really what I like.

    Do I have talent? I don’t know, but on that rare occasion when everything comes together, I am blessed to have a moment where I feel talented, maybe even admired. And it usually happens at the most unexpected of times. Maybe we’re all trying a little too hard.

  41. @Mr./Ms Freaking Photo Expert
    For a “photo expert” you seem to have a rather large hate on and disrespect for photographers. Why don’t you have the guts to say who you are? It seems that photographer’s are the current whipping boy’s and girl’s of the day. At least I can put my name to my comments.

  42. I think the ease of digital perfection, is why work like Colin Pantall’s looks so fresh there’s nothing slick about it, just straight forward natural light docu images, but not newsy. The unfortunate reality is that it’s pretty hard to make a living hoping for good natural light, clients want the reassuring feeling that they will get the perfect shot not the arty shot. When I’m shooting I try if given time to do the straight and the arty shot I send both to the client and guess which one almost always gets picked, yep the straighter shot. It’s because the client is looking over the art directors shoulders while they pick images. It is getting harder all the time to stand out from the crowd, now that everything gets fixed in post, I started out in the days when everyone shot transparency and you couldn’t make mistakes. The key to success is personal relationships I could probably trace every job I have ever shot to 2-3 designers who gave me jobs when I was starting out and spread my name, every dollar I’ve spent on advertising myself seems a waste yet for some reason I still do it, I guess I like to see my work in print.

    BTW I include my real name and link because it seems like a more honest way to comment I don’t have dreams of being discovered from this board, I do very few editorial jobs over the course of a year I pretty much do corp shooting. Although each link to my site should help my google ranking right?

  43. To Robert Karpa @49:
    I agree with you. But sorry I can’t put my name on either… I think some photo editors are just some self-important people, you know they never think outside the box, they always pick the shitty pictures… and they don’t really know much about talent as they think they do. That’s why they only send jobs to the same photographers over and over and over again. They can only see what’s in front of them.

  44. when i read these comments, i can begin to feel a giant, unified sense of panic and fear amongst photographers here somehow, that they now fear that they don’t have vision or talent. you can just feel it, like the air is being knocked out of us.

    what I suggest is: In the Great Plan, (and their is a Great Plan), the Holy One had divvied up the pie, and he created just enough SuperTalented Fashion Photographers, and just enough corporate photographers, and just enough newspaper photographers, to cover the needs. not everyone can turn out to be a Steven Meisel, or a Chuck Close, or a Philip LorcaMacorchiaGorcia. If they did, then Steven Meisel would just be another run of the mill fashion guy in a velvet hat.

    have you ever pondered the fact that maybe it’s predetermined, from the start, that the highest you’ll ever be on the Food Chain is “a food shooter in san francisco, with a nice family”? what is wrong with that? absolutely nothing. not everyone is going to shoot a job in london and ride the Concorde back home at night.

    i do love AVS’s Chuck Close comment. love it.

    but my point is: for everyone matt mahurin of the world, there’s got to be another hundred “average photographers”, who’s job in life it is , to get up out of bed and shoot a catalogue, or shoot boring (but adequately paying) ad jobs.

    somehow, i just want to say that out loud, publicly, so everyone can exhale. (or maybe me).

  45. Thomas Broening said this in his wonderful blog (thanks Thomas)

    “This week I photographed a guy who used to be the editor of a major daily newspaper. He still reads four papers a day even though he retired 10 years ago. We were talking and both agreed that the idea of printing information on a piece of paper and then delivering it to someone by hand was a pretty primitive way to communicate. Newspapers and magazines are struggling and a smart person might find another way to make a living than making pictures that go in them”
    I now see a trend for people to realize their abilities and talents outside the traditional realms of commercial photography such as advertising and editorial. Talented photographers such as Simon Roberts of “Motherland’ fame are finding new ways to do very good work without having to get commissioned. Some of them are making very good livings as well!
    Photo Directors of magazines will become far less relevant in identifying and nurturing talent.

  46. All the photo editor story touches me very much. It’s a very nice american plot in a really american dream, like Sabrina or A star is born. And why talent in photojournalism? We often – and photo editors too – forget that phographer are not self-centred stars but it would be enough if we were honest craftsmen. The problem is that photography is now considered a visual art and among visual arts is the easiest one to make and anyone want to do it and digital camera companies want too because they have to sell cameras. See the last Canon advertising now! Any time I put a stand in a public corner there is someone who suggest me the best way to take a picture, all the time. But the essential difference between a photojournalist and a brilliant photographer is to know how to make a reportage, which sequence of photos the writer need to make the article, to tell a story.

  47. dude 14, photo expert 41: like bruce 45 said – there are some who dont even want to compete for a job here. you dont believe me, do you?
    we just like the ongoing thoughts, but we offer a little background to our posts – the PE talks about her background every time.
    and since post41 calls itself an expert..
    sorry, but titles like expert are given from ranks above you or from people not on your payroll.

  48. People are confusing talent and hard work. Taking twenty photos of the same subject until you finally have the right shot doesn’t have anything to do with talent, that’s just hard work (or maybe you wanna say someone has a talent to work hard). Needless to say, even if you have talent you still have to work hard.

  49. Stupid Photographer

    This is all too smart for me. All I know is that institutional memory loss is problem number one. People that hired me leave thier positions, take their rolodex with them and greenhorn replacements never heard of stupid photographers like me. Problem number two is that the greenhorns can’t tell talent from a hole in the ground, so pushing talent on them is way too smart. Problem number three is that the greenhorns have not a clue as to what rates for talent used to be, so offer a fraction of the past rate, which would not feed a rat, let alone a talented photographer. Talent. Stupidly useless word, in a world of buck per image rates, or less. Grab your phonecam and go for it, talented photographer. Let us know how it shakes out.

  50. A problem that pops up when a forum or blog becomes popular is the need for people to use it as a bully pulpit for their own agenda. I saw that from a career consultant a few weeks ago, when the first words were written that talked about her thirty-years in the business. Again, another “Photo Expert” is using this blog to push their expertise.

    This is a well written, researched and thought out blog. It has become popular for its real world insight into editorial. It is my first stop on my daily trawl through the internet.

    The danger, as I see it, is if it becomes too popular, than the value starts to diminish because of the “experts” prattling on in order to get business or raise their stature.

    I love this forum and its insights.

  51. @ Dolly Lomma
    Nice summary, and realistic. And yes, Chuck Close has it nailed.

    Photography was like that. Most of us were content with busking and knew we were never going to get to be rock stars. Indeed many never even had that ambition, and there’s a whole debate there – about the loose correlation of commercial success and creative success, and which matters personally. Neither implies the other necessarily or at all. Some of the best photographers have always been amateurs. Pro doesn’t mean good, it merely means ‘does it for a living’.

    What drove a lot of people into becoming pro’s was that, beyond a certain point, the cmmittment and cost and time was untenable as an amateur. This probably hasn’t changed, but what’s vanishing is the whole ecology that allowed investment and experience and progression.

    Those low-end and mid-market clients nowadays avoid commissioning pro’s wherever ‘good enough’ can be got some other cheaper way. The base of the pyramid has been eaten away by stock, by part-timers who have day jobs, by rich kids playing at pro on parents’ money, by agencies and wires who only offer work for hire, by tiers of middlemen who aggregate and distribute and extract profit. What remains is so over-contended that prices and terms are untenable for almost anyone who isn’t still living at home with their mum.

    All of which has handed a lot of photography to amateurs and pro-ams, thanks to the distributive efficiencies of the web.

    The pro high end is still there, but it’s like 10,000 photographers trying to clamber onto the same small slippery rock. The pro babies can never make it across the beach, let alone swim and feed and grow wise and strong.

    So I think pro photography is – except for a small minority of established stars, specialists and niche players – approaching an end game. Maybe the death of the commercial ecology that nurtured pro’s is why APE is now seeing largely unmemorable work? There simply isn’t the security or the surplus income at lower levels to foster personal work, playfulness and risk-taking anymore.

  52. Nothing but good can come from aiming for the top.

    The bottom seems to have dropped out of this industry so everyone needs to quickly take a step up a notch.

  53. This thread has multiple, interesting questions, and concepts. I think the question about talent is obviously a difficult one as it can’t even be agreed upon by the relatively small number of people posting on this blog.

    Even Webster’s is ambiguous on the definition. The one that fits best is: “a special often creative or artistic aptitude.”

    I would argue that, “talent is what YOU do and do not compromise” is not talent, but stubbornness or persistence, or something along those lines, but not really talent. I think talent is about as easy to define as art.

    Each person will have their own definition. I think that any of the creative fields are filled with a lot of b.s. and a lot of pretension. That’s my personal opinion, and I have plenty of friends and family that look at my work, or the collection of “art” books I have and think I’ve got a few loose screws. They just don’t get it. Just as I don’t get a lot of the supposedly great, visionary art that I see.

    I think a talent for photography, and a talent for being a great photographer are two different though connected and, hopefully, equally important aspects in the business of photography. After all, I’m in the business of photography. It’s not only something I love and feel passionate about, it’s also how I make a living.

    Being a good or great photographer may require great photography (though it may not), but it certainly requires being a good or great photographer (yes, I know it’s redundant and circular in it’s logic.)

    Copying others is a business tactic that is used successfully by businesses around the world. It’s also used by successful photographers, designers, and other artists around the world as well. Does achieving success in your field, by copying the work of others mean that you are more or less talented? I think you need to determine what you want to judge the person (or yourself) on. I would say it’s possible to be talented in making photos, but not be a talented photographer. And vice versa. But, then again, what’s talent?

    The other interesting topic, at least for me, is the question of editorial vs. advertising. I’ve never had any shoots for any of the big magazines out there, but I have had plenty of editorial shoots, and none have ever led to advertising shoots. On the other hand I’ve had commercial shoots that have led to calls from magazines. I personally struggle a lot with organizing my work, and separating and structuring things so that my personal, editorial, and commercial work can coexist without having to create multiple persona’s.

  54. Stupid Photographer

    A boatload of bad has come from aiming for the top, smart photo editor.
    The bottom has dropped out of this industry so everyone needs to quickly take a step back from the corpse.

  55. “You’re either born with it or you work very hard for many years to develop it. There will never be a shortcut.”


    Gospel is spoken.


  56. Four talented photographers you’ve probably never heard of because they don’t give a shit if 99% of the world has heard of them..

    1. Terren Gomez – Utah / Co / Cali, Snowboarding
    2. Heather McGrath – Boston, MA, Portraits
    3. Matt Clark – East Coast, Surf
    4. Mat Couture – Canada, Snowboard

    Google them.

  57. I don’t see photos that are well lit and photoshoped together as talent. For me it takes more then that to build a solid photograph. I pride myself on thinking outside the box, to not go where other photographers are going and to create photographs that are not “safe.”

    I stated off shooting for me and I will continue to shoot for me. I shoot because I love the creation process in designing a photograph. My style is not that of following trends like so many others it’s simply my style.

    I got so fed up with clients saying they want something edgy but latter find out that they really wanted something safe that I had to show what edgy really is and made a series of portraits taken while the subject is mid orgasm. Now clients don’t ask for edgy ’cause they already know they’re gonna get it.

  58. Talent needs hard work to come out.
    Without the knowledge of rules you can’t break them to sort out wonderful exeptions that confirm them.

  59. Crap…so I’m guessing I should just end my photo journalistic quest in school and tear apart my bedroom looking for that Trucking School phone number…?

    man… I absolutely hate chewing tobacco kisses from lot lizards!