Natural Talent Is a Made-Up Excuse to Not Move Forward

Natural talent is something often attributed left and right to people. Talent is quite mysterious; no one can put their finger on what it is. If it’s there, you can make it, but if it’s not, you cant. But is it all a made-up excuse? It might be.

It’s easy to say that someone else is more talented than you. Talent seems to be a mystical factor that makes some photographers more successful than others. Yet, is natural talent even a thing? To what degree can someone be born an artist or an entrepreneur? What is this natural gift that some photographers seem to have while others don’t? 

No One Is Born Talented

People are not born talented. No one can ever look at a baby and say: “oh, 40 years down the road, they will be the greatest at something.” Which factors would you base your opinion on? Beyond looks and family background, nothing. Yet, those are very inaccurate at best. Both of my parents are far from the arts, yet I’ve got a decade of classical piano and half a decade of photography behind me. I love all art and absorb it like a sponge; there is never enough of it. I fail to understand where it came from exactly, but probably from what I experienced growing up. 

Being born talented is out of the question. Gaining passive experience through childhood and early adulthood can do wonders to what you are, though. Kids absorb a lot of information, so someone who was constantly bombarded with arts is more likely to develop sensitivity to art. Talent for arts is then nurtured. However, I’d not refer to talent at all; I would refer to it as a nurtured sensitivity to a particular area of interest.  

You don’t necessarily have to be a child to become sensitive to something. Sensitivity is like a seed from which you can grow a garden. Applied to photography, that seed can be something as simple as reading this article. From here, a journey starts, fueled by curiosity. Perhaps the most important quality of any photographer is curiosity. Being a curious human being nurtures your interest in the subject matter. 

Effort and Curiosity Create Talent

Mere curiosity won’t do, however; you will have to put in the effort. Luckily, being driven to do something makes putting effort extremely easy. For me, that is learning fashion. I’m curious about it, so I am happy to put in the hours to learn it. It fuels my creativity as well as professional expertise. What is important is fun. Fun and curiosity often coexist. You can’t make someone curious artificially; it has to be coming from the inside. Constantly reflecting on what you’re curious about can help you progress and have more fun with it. Ultimately, the end result will be people saying you have a talent for the thing you’re good at. Only now, you know it’s not talent, not at all. It’s curiosity and hard work.  

Are You Giving Yourself Excuses?

Talent is an excuse to not be curious or work. But you know already that talent is a made-up concept. “Talented” people simply love what they do and do it. Do it extremely well. 

Fixating on the fact that other photographers have more talent is a downward spiral you don’t want to be in. It’s better to sit and do nothing than to spend your time thinking how much better the other people are. This is unhealthy competition, especially when what they are better at is simply being curious and working. 

Not every photographer is popular, that’s fine. We come from different walks of life. A growth mindset will put you on the right track, however. Admitting that you’re not good at something is not failure. Failure is closing off and not trying to be better. Accepting the fact that you don’t know everything will not only open your mind but also nurture curiosity. Some of the most open-minded people I met were curious and brave to try new things: both creatively and personally.  

Your “talent” will grow as a result of this. Again, it’s only perceived talent. Perceived by other people. You know that it’s your mind that is actually growing. Watching your mind expand is a beautiful thing.   

Does Having Talent Constitute Success?

Talent is almost always attributed to successful people. Run from someone who tells you there is a recipe for success. They probably don’t know the first thing about recipes for success: they don’t exist. What makes each photographer unique is the journey they take, regardless of their genre. In the simplest terms, each journey is a collection of choices we create for ourselves. I am a strong believer that we create everything in our lives, so the path to success in photography is our unique creation. Motivation is above all important in that path, not talent, per se.

Obstacles are a natural part of any path. Overcoming them with optimism and fun is what makes the journey to success great. Where is the role of talent in this path? 

Suppose talent was an accelerator that made the journey faster or somehow removed the obstacles along the way. Would it be as fun? I don’t think so. It would make the journey too easy and boring, you would quickly quit. 

So, we established that talent doesn’t make the journey to success easier. What does is having fun. I wrote about what success is for photographers here.                    

Closing Thoughts 

People are not born talented, people become talented. Curiosity breeds work and deep connection. Being open to every influence will help you become a well-rounded photographer. Nonetheless, be considerate of the influences that you have, reflect on their effect, and be mindful of what you take on. Perhaps one of the things you read most in my articles: photography is supposed to be fun for you. Photography should create something greater in your life. If it becomes a burden, create a solution where it isn’t. Treat talent as a generic word for curiosity, hard work, and fun. It doesn’t breed success, and you can’t get it for free when you’re born. Natural talent doesn’t exist. 

Lead Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels.

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6 Comments
Leon Kolenda's picture

The only difference between having Natural talent and not having it is, Someone with it will learn the nuances of photography faster and build a portfolio of successful work faster. I'm someone who took a while to learn the basics of photography. This past Year under Covid, I decided to take some very good training and tutoring, with Joel Grimes. Best thing I have ever done in my carrier, period. Joel came from a long developed carrier with a great body of work.

That is now the path I am on! At 75, I'm stoked to be doing what I'm doing now! So, hard work, building a Good body of work, and taking training from someone you look up to, because they worked so hard at it also, can be a great motivator to be just as good as one that is Naturally Talented.

J. H.'s picture

They didn't know it by themselves. Mozart was very early, Cartier-Bresson was not, Einstein was not. Mozart was exposed to music at a very early age, his father was musician. Cartier-Bresson was born rich, visited an art school and got expensive photographic equipment as a teenager. Einstein grew up in a relatively wealthy family. He was not recognized as extremely talented although he performed very well in science at school. His career in school was somehow complicated. He became a teacher and worked at the patent's office in Berne, Switzerland (my home town) before revolutionising physical knowledge.

J. H.'s picture

People ARE born talented, but they are not born educated. Yes, no one can really see talent, whether in a newborn or an older person. It is an old, unresolved debate where talent comes from, but it seems to be part of genes and part of (good) education and environment. It may very well be, and it is probably often the case, that a not so talented person with a good education does better work or art than a talented person without much education.

Justin Sharp's picture

I’ve been teaching college for several years. Working with mostly undergraduate students, ages 18-20, in the beginning of their college careers, there are a few observations. First, there are in fact students that are more talented than others. I’m not sure how it is cultivated or where it originated, but at some point between birth and their entrance into college, talent has been developed. Second, talent is very dangerous. I don’t acknowledge it among my students and I don’t let them even use the word. Success is dependent on hard work and self discipline, not talent. I have seen so many talented students fail. Before college, they often were able to rely on their talent and see success without the need for work and self-discipline. Once they start college, talent alone is not enough and they have not developed good work habits. I’ve lost count of the number of extremely talented students that did not finish their degree. Lastly, the best students have self-discipline, willingness to work, and some degree of talent. Whenever I can identify those students, I know it is someone with a high probability for achieving success.

Mike Ditz's picture

"Natural talent doesn't exist" That's a pretty bold claim, I don't think that is true.

I think there is something else, some sort of extra 5-10% that makes someone a top level, goat photographer, athlete, actor, scientist, entrepreneur etc. Call it a knack, aptitude, savvy, aptness, flair, gift, etc. Maybe their brains work to process info differently?
Some folks are good at some things and not other (left brain / right brain)
I have talked to an art buyer producer at a top agency, a semi well known actor, and a college baseball coach about this topic. They have all said that in some way some people are just "born with it".
I think that most people can learn how to do most things well. Malcolm Gladwell said it takes 10,000 hours of work to learn a skill to perform at a very high level. That is probably true.
Curiosity and putting in hard work will get you further than curiosity and not so much hard work. For most things 90-95% of "perfect" is way beyond most people, but the last 5-10% is what puts some people over the top.

But it's is always a fun debate. Environment or Heredity is a topic that even the Three Stooges did a film about.

Tom Reichner's picture

I do believe that there is natural talent, that it's a real thing. But even those who are gifted with natural talent need to work really hard to further develop that talent if they are to succeed at the highest level.

I'm not so sure about natural talent being used as an excuse not to work hard. But the opposite is true - some people use the LACK OF natural talent as an excuse not to work.

There are some things that I have very poor / nonexistent natural abilities at, but that lack of natural talent causes me to push myself harder than usual in those areas, to compensate for the fact that I have very little natural abilities. So for me, the lack of natural talent does the opposite of what this article suggests - it causes me to push myself harder in the areas I am weak at.