Every photographer is different: we all have our own personalities and values. Even with all our differences, there are five key traits that every photographer needs to have no matter what they do.
This is the most important value every photographer needs. If you don’t know who you actually are, you can’t teach yourself where you need to develop. And unless you have someone in your life who can actually tell you what’s good and what’s bad, you’re going to go through, continuously creating work that isn’t good, thinking you’re the best.
The Dunning-Kruger effect is real. People will tell you your work is great, and to them, it might be. But to other photographers and people who know more, it might be terrible. Most normal people don’t know what makes a good photo. You really need to be aware of your actual skills and where you stand on the ladder to be able to properly tell yourself what’s wrong and what needs to be fixed.
How to Know if You’re Self-Aware
This is really tough; it’s like trying to test if we’re in a simulation. It’s up to you and your ability to understand who you truly are. Here are a few things you do well when you’re self-aware. If you have a track record of doing these, then chances are, you’re self-aware.
- You can take criticism.
- You’re able to acknowledge when you’re wrong.
- You understand how to work well with others.
These are all very important when it comes to photography. Being able to take criticism and understand when you’re wrong are important for growing. If you can’t take critique on your own work or see what your actual value is, you can’t find what’s wrong to eventually fix the problem. It also makes you a pretty crappy person to work with.
Honesty Towards Yourself
If you can’t be honest with yourself, you can’t grow. Acknowledging your faults and not hiding from them is the first step towards growth. When you know what’s wrong, you know what to fix.
Honesty Towards Others
Trust is the most important value when it comes to building a team. Being able to trust the person you’re working with is incredibly vital, as is giving your team a reason to trust you. And trust is built off being honest with those around you. When I work with a team, I always try and make sure I’m honest with them when it comes to their work. I don’t try and sugar-coat things, because I don’t want to lie to them (I also try and not be a jackass about it).
My favorite makeup artist and I trust each other’s opinions, and I can’t say that about everyone I’ve worked with. It took some time to build up that honesty, but now, we’re able to critique each other’s work and help each other stay on the right path. I ask for her opinion while coming up with ideas and casting models, and I know she is being honest with me when she gives her opinion.
Having someone (or multiple people) like that is important to growing your work. Constantly working with people you can’t trust, that can’t trust you, only means your work will suffer. Building up a rapport with different team members helps build a connection that leads to team success. And that all starts with honesty. Telling a makeup artist you don't agree with an idea might make you sound like you're being a jerk, but if you don't think something will work (with real reasons why), then it's best to not lie and wait until after a shoot is finished to regret not saying something before.
I can’t tell you how many times a makeup artist or model lied to me. Every single time, it led to bad photos and bad relationships going forward, whether it was the model canceling right before a shoot or a makeup artist adding to or changing a look without saying anything. Finding people you can trust and be honest with only adds to better work down the line.
If you don’t know this yet, you will. You’re going to get told no a lot. A lot. People are going to lie to you. People are going to tell you that you suck, and there’s nothing you can do, but accept it and use it to grow.
Without thick skin, without the ability to keep working through adversity, you won’t last long. The struggling and tough times are a part of the journey of success. This adversity can come in many ways; all that matters is that you don’t let it affect you and take you down.
I’ve talked about this before: perspective is incredibly important for a photographer. Perspective gives you the ability to understand those around you. That means knowing their wants and needs. That information is important when working with a client; being able to understand exactly what they need is important to giving them the best work possible.
Sometimes, I work with new models with perfect commercial looks who are looking to build their portfolio, but all they want to shoot is edgy fashion editorials. I try to convince them from the perspective of a casting director that going a more commercial route is better for their book. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
When it comes to growing as a photographer and being an entrepreneur, there’s a lot to keep you from staying on your path. Sometimes, the only thing that keeps you moving forward is your optimism and the idea that it’ll get better and you’ll get better. Sometimes, that’s what you need to get through a tough time. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt lost and just kept shooting and working knowing I’d figure out whatever was wrong.These traits are the basic necessities to growth and teamwork. You probably should have these already, but it's always good to check yourself and see if you have any blind spots. If you notice you might be lacking in any of these areas, that doesn't mean you're going to fail, just that you need to grow more, not just with photography, but emotionally. A large part of photography happens off camera through networking and connections. If you don't have enough emotional maturity to be self-aware or honest, your connections will know that very quickly.