Photography is tech-reliant. With cameras coming out so often, it’s easy to get lost in constantly upgrading your camera, lens, light, and so on. However, there is one thing that I am always upgrading as a professional photographer.
Knowledge and skill. If I were to single out one thing that’s holding me back constantly, it would have to be that. Although I consider myself a professional photographer, there is always something to learn, something to try out. This is both beauty and pain in photography, and learning never stops. If it does, you’re either dead or only started. However, one must be careful about what one leans. There is a lot of useless information out there that photographers shouldn't care about. I will break down the things you should focus on upgrading when it comes to your knowledge as a photographer, and things that you shouldn’t perhaps pay any attention to at all.
Knowledge That Matters
The best way to determine if knowledge matters to you are by asking if knowing it will make you money. Although knowledge may not translate directly into making money, it can perhaps become useful when working on an assignment. Me knowing how to recreate the sun doesn’t make me money while I sleep; it does, however, make me money when a client picks me because I can do it. Here are some ideas on the knowledge that should matter to you when you’re trying to upgrade your skillset.
I can’t stress thing enough. Photography, in literal translation, means painting with light. This is probably the core definition that people must understand when they are trying to take a picture. No light — no picture, it’s as simple as that. Investing in resources that help you understand how light reflects, bounces, shapes, and sculps surfaces, and so on, which will ultimately make you a much better photographer with niche knowledge. Even if you are a landscape photographer and technically can't control the sun, knowing that harsh sunlight will bring out detail in the mountains, while a cloudy sky will conceal that detail can help a great deal in taking that perfect picture.
I strongly believe that knowing the theory of post-production and being able to do basic processing is important. Even if you outsource it to a retoucher, it is vital to know what’s possible and what’s not. This will end up making you a photographer that is much more skilled in estimating for a job.
As uncreative as it sounds, being able to conduct business and not be reckless with the money you make can go a long way to helping you get the next campaign, major test shoot, and more. One of the things that I focused heavily on learning in the past year is how to conduct business and keep track of all business-related finances and make sure that my purchases are relevant to the business. This ended up enabling me to do more test shots and make purchases that drove my photography to the next level. Basic legal, economics, and marketing knowledge is vital to being profitable.
The Knowledge That Doesn’t Matter
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think there hasn’t been a month without a camera release for the past few years. With the rate technology advances, there are literally thousands of products being released for various purposes in photography and art. One pitfall many photographers fall into is reading irrelevant reviews. While this may sound hypocritical coming from someone writing for Fstoppers, I don’t think it is. Simply reading an EOS R5 review and arguing over the overheating problems in the comments if you don’t own one or don’t even shoot Canon is pointless. Knowing camera spec is only helpful when you are a camera salesman and that knowledge translates into you being able to do your job.
Lens A versus lens B, light A versus light B. Which one is better for blah blah blah. It sometimes seems to me that one of the biggest questions photographers have is if they should buy one brand or the other. Knowing how much purple fringing a Canon EF 35mm f/1.4 has if you will never buy or need one doesn’t help you at all in becoming a better photographer. Sure, I know some specs the lenses I own have, but I don’t know them by heart. It’s vital to understand that unless you need to urgently buy something, camera reviews and comparisons do nothing beyond give you useless information that you don’t need. And yes, I’ve written both camera reviews and comparisons.
Where to Look for Knowledge?
There are a lot of educational resources on the internet, from full online tutorials to books. There has never been so much choice as there is now. One great resource is the tutorial section of Fstoppers, as it offers a variety of different useful tutorials for a reasonable price.
There are countless books from which you can learn. If you fancy learning about studio lighting, Light: Science & Magic is a great comprehensive guide that gets to the bottom of how light works and behaves. There are books on virtually anything that you may want to learn about. I strongly suggest reading reviews first, though.
Many photographers, such as Andrea Belluso, host private coaching sessions that strive to inspire creators to learn further. Clay Cook also has a private coaching platform that helps many photographers improve their business. Most photographers, including myself, with a public presence offer private coaching, and if they don’t, it’s always possible to shoot an email and ask for help.
What to upgrade next is a popular topic that often ends up giving a no-answer along the lines of "whatever piece of gear you need most." However, that answer is not good enough, because the thing you should upgrade first is yourself. Only when you know exactly why the better piece of gear will help you create can you upgrade something that’s not your knowledge. I have shot huge jobs on a 5D Mark II in 2019, and no one batted an eyelid. I have shot huge jobs on a 5D Mark IV, and no one noticed a difference. However, I’ve shot for the same client two years ago and recently, and there was a significant difference in the quality of my work. That’s why you should upgrade yourself.