With a multitude of components making up a successful photographer, what sort of role does "talent" play, and how important is it?
I recently wrote an article on the importance of passion to a professional photographer. This question remained at the back of my mind for some time, and today it combined an area I research regularly. I love to learn about people who are at the top of their field, and that truly can be any field. I'll read about everything from top basketballers and bankers, through to engineers and entrepreneurs. I'm obsessed with what it takes for a person to achieve greatness in whatever it is they do. My current book by a sports psychologist discusses what it takes for (but not only) top athletes to achieve what they set out to, with a particular focus on golfers and NBA stars. Working hard and working smart are large and crucial parts of this equation. Joining them, the right mindset, positivity, and belief hold substantial value too. But the third aspect the author almost begrudgingly admits, is talent.
Talent is a broad term that can be broken down in to many constituent parts of its own, but I believe if we focus the discussion on photography, the complications of physical attributes become so infinitesimally small, they are — for all intents and purposes — irrelevant. What you're left with is, for the most part, mental talent. The term "talent" still requires some unpacking, but as I am unwilling to roll out an Oxford English dictionary definition as that's always fruitless, I'll summarize it roughly: it's an aptitude for a particular task. That is, in this case, a person either starts as above average at photography, or learns much quicker than most. This is also often referred to as "having an eye for photography."
So what sort of weight does this "eye" have? I — as I'm sure most of you have too — have seen terrible beginners blossom in to great photographers, and decent photographers stagnate indefinitely. It's difficult to really narrow down a metric, but perhaps the difference-maker is not the body of work the photographer creates at all; I'll expand. When I started out, my images were technically poor and compositionally poor, at least I believe so, looking back. However, the images from other photographers that I loved back then, I still love today; they've barely changed at all. The gaping chasm that lay between the photography I liked and the photography I created was a lack of experience, technical skill, and theories of color and composition. That is, they were all teachable skills. So is talent in photography in fact identifiable as recognizing great work, even if you lack the skill-set to create it?
If this were the case — and I'm not certain it is — then what sort of part does that play in the development of one's skills? Is it another skill hobbyists should learn? If a footballer can identify a fantastic player, that doesn't predict their own merit as a footballer, but rather as a scout. However, that brings physicality in to the equation, where as our discussion is purely mental. I would presume that being able to instantly pick out great photography when you are not technically proficient enough to create anything of that standard, would at least give the photographer a direction to becoming a talented photographer themselves. But then comes the looming question: can you teach yourself what is and isn't good photography?
In honesty, I am on the fence about the importance of the role that talent plays in photography, which is why I've opened the question to the floor rather than given a lecture on the answer. I've always been creative and seen pictures worth capturing, long before I owned a camera, but I have never considered myself to be naturally talented. Photography to me has always been a skill that I have worked on; if there was a style of image I wanted to create but didn't know how, I'd learn what it takes and practice.
What role do you believe talent has in photography? Is it important, or can you be a great photographer through work ethic and learning alone?