Do You Need To Be the Best at Photography?

Do You Need To Be the Best at Photography?

It’s probably fair to say that we would all like to improve our photography, perhaps in a small specific way or maybe a whole new aspect, such as off-camera flash or wedding photography. Having a desire to improve is why we do things like buying lots of expensive new equipment in the hope it will improve our images or spend hours taking photos and editing them, much to the annoyance of our family and partners.

If we’re very brave, we might even join a photography group on social media, there’s plenty to choose from; from massive international general photography groups to local niche photography groups, there’s a group for everyone. As with all things on the internet, most of us know to be careful when posting personal information or arranging to meet up in real life, but not everyone is prepared for the unrealistically high standards to which they will be held in some groups.

There are some beautiful captures that are shared daily by "amateur" photographers online. I’ve seen amazing images that I could only dream of producing. Access to digital cameras and editing software has allowed anyone with enough time and determination to become a competent photographer. It’s an amazing time to get into photography!

The Internet Is a Positive Resource, Right?

It pains me to admit that I’m old enough to remember the good old days of dial-up internet and message boards. As an angst-ridden teenager, I even wrote a lengthy blog post about “Disposable Friends” the first time a girl deleted me from her IM contacts, and I remember well the embarrassing disappointment felt when someone from school pretended to be a stranger getting to know me online way before anyone heard the phrase “Catfish.” I’m very familiar with the anonymity that the internet brings and the bad side of humans that can come with that anonymity.

I’m also old enough to have been a member of a real-life camera club, where an independent judge would stand and critique our images as they were projected one by one. This was occasionally upsetting when an image I was proud of was torn apart, but it was always an opportunity to learn as it was always constructive. I mention these things to demonstrate that I am old enough to accept constructive criticism without feeling attacked and thick-skinned enough not to be upset by every nasty person on the internet.

This brings me back to the innocent desire to improve that every new photographer feels and the easy access to social media photography groups. I am a member of a number of photography groups across a number of platforms. Sometimes, I will like an image; if I happen to like it, sometimes, I’ll comment if I feel that I can add value to the conversation or offer advice that hasn’t already been given. Sometimes, I even read the comments section, though I often regret it when I do.

Online Photography Groups

I’ve noticed in a number of large groups, there will always be those whose parents never taught them “if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all.” I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve seen someone trying to improve their photography by posting an image and asking for feedback, then getting torn to pieces by strangers on the internet. These are people who are into the same thing that we are into, these are people who want to improve, and they can often be put off photography by trolling and a lack of constructive feedback. Some of the people being unkind are competent photographers who could offer useful advice, though I suspect that some rarely even take photos and are just there for the trolling.

Back to the original question posed in the title: do you need to be the best at photography? This is a question that only you can answer. Do you enjoy photography as a hobby and like to simply take photos for yourself? If so, that’s great! Do you want to be a professional wedding photographer? If so, you’ll need to work hard at your photography, as it’s a very competitive field and you will need to strive to be the best in order to stand out and to charge a premium for your work.

What Do You Want From Your Photography?

It might seem like an obvious statement, but it’s easy to forget that we all hold ourselves to different standards. The guy posting a cool sunset photo from his vacation because he likes the colors and wanted to share it, doesn’t need to be held to the same standard as the professional photojournalist who is asking which photograph she should pitch to an international travel agent for their brochure cover. Personally, I have no interest in landscape photography; as such, I am not very good at taking landscapes. I do still appreciate interesting or technically competent landscape photography when I see it. I will continue to work hard on sports photography and portraiture, as these are areas in which I make an income. These are important, and I will ask for brutally honest criticism.

Conversely, I love the night sky and I am trying to practice my astrophotography wherever I can. This is purely for personal reasons; therefore, I don’t need to produce highly polished images. I just like looking at the night sky and playing with different long exposure techniques. 

We Should All Want to Improve

As I mentioned earlier, we all want to improve our photography, I’m not suggesting that someone shouldn’t get honest feedback or tips on improving simply because they’re not a working professional. I am just suggesting that if you’re in a photography group, then it’s important to be kind as well as honest and to know your audience and the level of feedback that’s appropriate.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that some people aren’t always honest and their “amazing” images may not even be theirs. My advice to a newcomer looking for honest feedback to improve their photography, join small, niche, or local online photography groups to start with. In my experience, a small community will tend to know each other better and provide better answers. If possible, join a local camera club in real life, meet people with a shared interest, and get constructive feedback from those with a proven track record of competent photography. It’s good to always strive to be better; it’s not good to take your self-worth from the feedback of strangers on the internet.

I’ll now post this article and will absolutely take it personally when the Fstoppers editors criticize my spelling and grammar. But I promise I am trying to be better.

Brad Wendes's picture

Brad Wendes is a British photographer and travel lover.
He began photographing parkour and acrobatics in 2010 and has since taken to portraiture and fitness photography.
Brad is a self-confessed geek, Star Wars fan, tech enthusiast, cat lover and recently converted Apple Fanboy.

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In terms of the headline, I always go back to the Ralph Waldo Emerson saying, "it's not the destination. It's the journey."

I think you’re right. Learning and playing with new ideas is fun

Thanks for your article, I really liked it! Thanks for sharing!
Personally, I like listening to other people's opinions and suggestions. And I have learned a lot of new and useful things here at Fstoppers. If someone is of the opinion that I am doing something wrong, I will reconsider my methods to become even better.
However, with digital technology, photography has changed to become more of an achievement instead of personal communication. People like to forget the person and just stare at the technical end result. But what is today considered a failure can be something very valuable tomorrow!
So I continue to have fun instead of being the best in the world.
Kind regards from me here in Finland

Thanks Brad, one of the better article i read the last month here on FS. In the anonymity of the internet you find many trolls. I support your advice, find a small local group, with honest people.

Glad you liked it. I guess it’s a shame that some people need to be reminded to not be rude to strangers on the internet. I look forward to seeing the comments section on Facebook when this gets posted there!

How do we measure what is ‘the best’? I prefer more vintage ‘character’ rendering lenses over modern corrected lenses and some niche character lenses that others may turn their noses up at. I often like shots I’ve taken that aren’t sharp. Everyone’s idea of a great image, technical qualities of lenses aside, differs and it is very subjective. Getting out there regularly and often and learning to get better at seeing the shot before you take it and to be comfortable with your camera and lens focal length(s) you use are what I consider most important.

You’re absolutely right. Photography is so subjective, who’s to say what it’s “supposed” to look like?
If the image is for sale or for a client, they will dictate the requirements. If the hoot is for your own purposes and you like it, then it’s a good shot 👍

Thank you for the article! I have been a member for about a day or so and I have already seen what can happen in a post thread. I am grateful that there are those out there who care about newbies and our growth. I will do my part to learn from the best and disregard the rest!

What are the criteria for the "need" and "being best"? In order to make a living or thrive it seem good enough is enough. So in a way the need is seem purely subjective. Since it is sometimes easier to improve images than to improve upon them.

There are still thousands of real life photography clubs that meet in person on a regular basis, all across the United States. Maybe this is a thing of the past in other parts of the world, but here in North America our photo clubs still have monthly face-to-face meetings. COVID restrictions have mostly been lifted and we're all meeting in person. I thought it was this way all over the world, and was surprised to see the author speak of real life photo clubs as if they're from a bygone era.

Glad to hear that real life photography groups are still very popular in the USA. Here in the UK there are still a number of photography clubs who are active, in my experience, and in my local area, clubs are struggling for membership as younger people turn to the internet for feedback.

In the 70s and 80s, I made a full-time living as a photographer. Of course, that was on film with all of its constraints and gifts. In this new digital age – phase two with mirrorless — I have chosen to work for myself. I know how to take great photos, but the marketing and promotion are not my cup of tea (I prefer Earl Grey, hot, two sugars, and no cream).

This article correctly points out there are great photographers out there, amateurs, former pros, and just people having fun. The limits on creative inventive photography are unlimited. Not everyone needs to make a living and no one is the best any longer. Ansel and his kind broke the ground we all tread.

Enjoy taking photos. Strive to be the best for you, and let those on YouTube, Instagram, and others do what they do. Photography is an endeavor where learning is constant. Some are gear junkies, let them be. Some are technical to the point of obsession, allow it. There is no best, only the best you can do for yourself (even if there is a client.)