The Only Thing You Need To Do To Become a Better Photographer

There is nothing I love more than when someone takes the gloves off and drops a serious dose of truth. Especially about getting better as a photographer, and even more so in the age of "I'll fix it in post." In this video from 30-year veteran documentary photographer John Free offers some great advice for becoming a better street photographer, and absolutely perfect advice on becoming a better photographer overall. That's right, the big secret to getting better that nobody wants to talk about is right here. Care to take a guess?

I'm on the fence about giving you the big reveal because you really need to listen to what John has to say...but here it comes.


Yeah, I know. Pretty simple right?

Do you?

Answer that honestly. Do you really, truly practice your craft? While you're thinking about that one let's squash a few rationalizations that are going to come up. Trying a new lighting technique once doesn't count. Dissecting the setup on a couple images isn't enough. Watching a new processing method and racing through an image with it doesn't mean you've mastered it. We have to repeat a process numerous times to become proficient at it, there is no real instant mastery. Every professional athlete on Earth has had to practice to reach the level of skill they have so, as John points out, why would a professional photographer be any different? Let's put it in a different perspective. You are most likely a better photographer than your siblings or parents. Why is that? Well, unless they are actively engaged in photography too, you probably take exponentially more photos in a month than they do. If the idea that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become a master at something then you are way closer to that than they are just by virtue of your day to day activities.

Just today I had a client say this to me while looking through images on my walk-around camera: "Dude, I don't know what it is that you do but my photos never look like this." Now aside from this being a really nice compliment it also supports the message, especially when you consider that his point-and-shoot and mine really aren't all that different. The difference is that I hit the shutter 100,000 times a year and he might reach one-tenth of that if he really tried.

We are going to amend the headline though and say that there are really two things to you need to do, and the second is study. By reading articles on sites like Fstoppers and watching tutorials you are studying and expanding your arsenal of techniques that will help you express your vision. In order to reap the full benefits of that knowledge however, you need to practice what you learn until you could easily teach it to someone else. Do that and there won't be many photographic situations that you can't handle with ease.

Video via Reddit

Posted In: 
Log in or register to post comments


This guys awesome.

Ivan Hudacek's picture

perfect :)

Michael Bullock's picture

It doesn't hurt that he looks exactly like Tommy Lee Jones. Love it.

Go back to September 1981 Ryerson U Toronto, day 1, class 1.... Prof steps in the room, looks at us all like crazy uncle Sal.... Stares into all of our eyes... And unleashes a tirade (almost verbatim :-) ) of what John lets go here.. It was pretty shocking and... life changing. The Asian kids almost cried.

Anyway, good piece... I can relate to buddy on more levels than could be described.

Nick Viton's picture

(Ryerson was not a university in 1981)

I know that.. It was a polytechnical... But for point of reference and ease of spelling, I just use U. My apologies

Excellent, spot on.

Dude sounds just like me when I get passionate about my photography

" need to practice what you learn until you could easily teach it to someone else." Spot on! The perfect criterion! Couldn't have said it better myself! :-)

Good advice. Reminds me of an old guitar teacher I know. :)

Please, calm down, sir.

I love hearing old dudes share their experiences. No BS. No time for it. They just lay it on the line. Awesome.