Key Advice from Acclaimed Photographers

Every photographer has dreams of making it big and becoming the next Ansel Adams or Annie Leibovitz.  Not all of us will be lucky enough reach the level of fame that some professions experience, however we can all learn something from them.

Know Your Subject

One of the biggest pieces of advice given across the board is to get to know your subject, your craft, and yourselfAnnie Leibovitz, most well-known for her portrait shots commonly featured in Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone magazine, tries to communicate something about the life of the model.  If you don’t feel a connection with your subject and are not intimate with what you are photographing then your resulting images will just appear to be lifeless and ordinary.  Annie has said about her own photography, “A thing that you see in my pictures is that I was not afraid to fall in love with these people.” 

Pick a theme and work it to exhaustion…the subject must be something you truly love or truly hate.
Dorothea Lange, an American photojournalist who shot images of the Great Depression and 1940s internment camps, did not jump around from subject to subject.  She tirelessly shot one theme and would dedicate all her time to that subject before moving on to her next project.  If you dedicate yourself to one subject for a long period of time, your emotions about it will show through.  The main message to take away is that if you do not know your subject or connect with them, then neither will your audience.

Miley Cyrus by Annie Liebovitz and The Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange


All famous photographers seem to agree that your pictures must reveal something about the subject and reveal what you feel.  One of the most famous photographers and recognizable by name is Ansel Adams.  Ansel Adams is known for his black and white landscapes and how he intensifies the contrast.  Adams teaches the importance of visualization.  As a photographer you must see your photograph in your mind’s eye, when you actually capture the image you are trying to show the audience what you saw and felt.

Reveal Something about Your Subject

Albert Einstein by Yousuf Karsh

Yousuf Karsh, best known for his intimate black and white portraits, has been quoted as saying “Within every man and woman a secret is hidden, and as a photographer it is my task to reveal it if I can. The revelation, if it comes at all, will come in a small fraction of a second with an unconscious gesture, a gleam of the eye, a brief lifting of the mask that all humans wear to conceal their innermost selves from the world. In that fleeting interval of opportunity the photographer must act or lose his prize.”  He believed all photographs should say something about the person you are capturing.

Get Close to Your Subject

Along with trying to get close to your subject in the figurative or emotional sense, Robert Capa believed it was also important to get close to your subject in the literal sense.  Capa said, “if your picture isn’t good enough, you’re not close enough.”  Capa was a combat photographer and would get down in the trenches with the soldiers, as opposed to other photographers who would try to capture the wars from afar. For those interested in photojournalism it is important to get close to the action to truly capture the story and mood.

The Falling Soldier by Robert Capa

Enjoy Photography and Be Yourself!

Photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, famous for his photojournalistic style, gave up on his photography almost 30 years before he died.  He became bored with photography and locked his camera away.  The message to take away from Cartier-Bresson’s story is to not let the same happen to you; if you are not doing photography because you enjoy it, you will quickly become bored.  One should not get into photography strictly for business; great photographers have a passion for their work. Cartier-Bresson and Robert Capa also founded a photography community called Magnum photos.  Magnum photographers Lise Sarfati, Harry Gruyaert, Larry Towell, and Peter Marlow, among many  others, give the advice to be yourself and not copy anybody.  If you trust yourself and stay true to what you feel and connect with, good photography will follow.

Juvisy, France by Herni Cartier-Bresson

Have any other successful photographers influenced you with their advice? Please share in the comments!

Featured Image: Papion Silva