Top 10 Talents Photographers Don’t Know They Have

Sometimes the phone rings and someone asks you to go photograph a floor.  Sometimes they will even agree to pay you a pretty decent chunk of change to go do it.

No models, no makeup, no wardrobe, no lighting – just a floor.

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My first reaction is usually something like “I’m not a floor photographer.”

But then I remember that people who own big buildings with floors often have money, and I figure income is better than no income, so I agree to go photograph a floor.

Which brings me to the question: Why would anyone go out of their way to find a floor photographer and pay them a healthy sum of money to go out and take what I consider to be natural light snapshots of a floor?

The answer is that as photographers, we have developed some considerable talents that many of us take for granted on a regular basis.

Top 10 Talents Photographers Don’t Know They Have

Talent is what creates value from professional photography, especially in a world where everyone is a “photographer”.

1.  We See Light

Have you ever been driving down the road and you see this amazing light and you just have to stop the car and get out and create a photograph?  Or do you catch yourself out walking the dog at dusk making comments like “Whoaaaaaa, look at that light Daisy”?

If you do, you have learned to see light.  The thing is, until you learn to see light, the qualities of light are completely invisible.

Yes, non-photographers can appreciate a nice sunset, or beams of light shining through mist – but then these same people go out and snap a photo of a flower at 12:00 noon in July.

2.  We Are Artistic

I am going to go ahead and say that if you consider yourself a photographer – you are artistic – and you are probably artistic without even knowing you are being artistic.

Most people are not artistic.  Most people could not produce something creative if their life depended on it.

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Is this the most and artistic photo of a floor anyone in the world has ever created?  Well, no.

But I do consider it to be creative.  The symmetry is not an accident.  I saw this woman approaching to go up the stairs and I waited until just the right moment to snap this photo.

Could a non-photographer take this photo? Well, yes.

But, the point is: I knew exactly what I wanted this image to look like before I captured it – I just knew it would look good.

3.  We See Details

Attention to detail is one of the hallmarks of a professional photographer – and it is something that only comes with practice.

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Ohhhh wow, look a wide angle natural light shot of a floor.

Right, but do you know what you don’t see in this photo?

The cleaning guy’s mop cart and “Wet Floor” cones that I pushed out of the way.  The cleaning guy who I paid to go take a coffee break.  The giant bra ad that was behind the railing at the top of the stairs.  The pink bubble gum that I scraped off the grey tile circle.

What about all the people?  They were not there at 7:00 am, three hours before the mall opened.

If you are a photographer, I’ll bet you start re-arranging furniture at other peoples birthday parties before you take a photo of them blowing out the candles.  I’ll bet you re-arrange the food on the table behind you before you take a selfie at a restaurant.  I’ll bet you would never ever take a photo of your kid with a dirty face.

And, I’ll bet you do it without even knowing you’re doing it.

4.  We Understand How To Use a Camera

Really – have you ever tried to teach a non-photographer friend how to actually use a camera?  Its like trying to teach your mother-in-law how to learn “the computer”.

Sure, everyone knows how to take pictures.  Some people even know how to use a camera.

But very very few actually understand how to use a camera.

There is a very big difference between trying to figure out how to trick your camera to automatically take the photo you want by adjusting metering modes, exposure adjustment settings etc. versus just knowing what settings to use and understanding why to use them.

5.  We Know The Difference Between Good and Bad Photos

You would think it should be obvious – but non-photographers have no idea what specifically makes a photograph good or bad.

Of course, they have a reaction to photography and can point to a photo that they like better than another – but when asked why – they are stumped.

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Is this a good floor photo?

Its not a great floor photo, but I like it well enough.

Technically it is good.  It is in focus.  The white balance is good.  The lighting is good.  Yay for me.

But there is something else – there is just something a little bit more interesting than a gray faux-leather bench and gray floor tile.

The composition makes this photo good (click here to find out why composition is so damn important).

In fact, I took this photo from four or five slightly different angles, and this is the only one that I would consider good….you know, as far as photos of floors go.

6.  We Have Better Cameras

Ok, Ok – we all know that its not the camera that takes the picture, but the reality is that having the right photography gear does influence the quality of the final images.

Ask any mechanic and they will tell you that you need to use the right tool for the job.  Well, we have the tools – the right camera body, the right lens, the right lights, the right light modifiers etc.

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Is there anything special about the tools that I used to take this photo?

At first glance it probably doesn’t look like it – I mean to me its still just a natural light snapshot.  But again, that is taking talent for granted.

I took this photo very early on a very dim and foggy morning.  I needed a fast lens and a camera body capable of shooting at ISO 3200 without noticeable noise (or a tripod I suppose).

What you might not also notice right away is although this scene is lit by outdoor cloudy ambient light, the ambient blends perfectly with the tungsten balanced overhead artificial lighting.  That was not a coincidence, and I needed a camera that had customizable white balance and RAW to make it work.

7.  We Understand that a Camera Sees Differently than a Human

Speaking of blending cloudy daylight ambient light with artificial tungsten balanced fixtures, to a human eye they look the same – but there sure is a difference to the camera.

The same can be said for a whole range of variables that photographers make a conscious decision to manipulate.

For example: depth of field, white balance, lens flare, long exposure, dynamic range etc. are all ways photographers use their cameras to interpret the world differently than it is normally viewed.

8.  We Know How To Edit

Post production is not adding a one tap cell phone filter.

Editing and post production is making conscious decisions to selectively apply adjustments to enhance what should already be a good photograph.

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Can you tell what post production was done on this amazingly awesome photograph of a floor?

They’re pretty minor and all done in Lightroom, but critical to produce a polished finished image.

Here are the recipe ingredients in the order they were applied: lens profile correction, exposure adjustment, + contrast, – blacks, + shadows, + clarity, + vibrance, crop, -1.0 exposure gradient from the bottom, + shadows, – blacks, spot removal, export sharpening.

9.  We Are Efficient

Non-photographers snap a million photos of the same thing.  Professional photographers photograph specific things.  Non-photographers never really know if they took a good picture.  Professional photographers shoot until they know they have nailed the shot, then move on.

When I started getting paid to take pictures, I used to snap thousands of photos for relatively simple gigs.  Whats even worse, I would actually deliver thousands of photos to my clients, because I couldn’t tell the good from the bad – even if they were almost all the same shot.

Now, I don’t even bother taking a photo unless there is a purpose.  I have to see the finished photograph in my mind and know – yes – this is an image I should create.

That is not to say that every photo I take turns out exactly as I plan.  There is still a huge amount of experimentation and a high ratio of rejects to picks – but the more I shoot the more efficient I get.

10.  We Are Reliable

Reliability is probably the most important reason anyone will pay you money to take photos.

This is especially true today when pretty much anyone thinks that they can photography pretty much anything.

Only they can’t.

Yes, most people can take decent photos of easy things – but without items 1 to 9 – they are hit an miss.

But ANYBODY Could Take Those Floor Photos!

I know right!?  I mean, there’s nothing wrong with them – they look pretty good to me, as far as floors go.

Maybe they suck compared so someone else’ floor photos – but someone else didn’t get paid to take them.

Maybe they are a waste of money compared to the free photos the site foreman would have taken with her cell phone – but my client was not willing to take that risk.

Talent Is Valuable!

In the end, the point that I wanted to make is that talent is valuable.

And because we accumulate talent over a long period of time, it is very easy to take talent as a photographer for granted.

The fact that ads for every new consumer camera and every new cell phone app tell us that talent is no longer relevant doesn’t help.

But the truth is that no matter how sophisticated cameras and editing software can get – talent will always be valuable because talent is the human touch.

Now go out there and make money from your talent!

What Talents Do You Take For Granted?

Is there anything you do on a regular basis that you just assume everyone does?

Have you undervalued your work because you take your talent for granted?

Have clients ever challenged the value of your talent as a negotiating tactic?

Leave a comment and let us know!

  • Stefan

    You are a very good Floor-Photographer :-)
    Love the article!

    • JP Danko

      Ha – maybe I’ve found my niche!

  • Dave Crosby

    It’s a good list but hopefully we do know this already. Nice to see it written down.

  • stewart norton

    Cool article, for me it’s definitely seeing light and detail. I find myself almost constantly noticing great light afters years of taking pictures and past mistakes have taught me to check details… I find it frustrating when im shooting a wedding and I see a guest taking a picture at noon with the subject looking into the sun standing in front of a porta-loo :-)

  • ScorpionGeorge

    I really think everything you stated is something everyday people should understand. Taking a good picture isn’t just about clicking a button. That’s why professionals use DSLRs and non-photographers use “point & shoot” cameras. They’re point & shoot cameras for a reason and they’re used by non-photographers for that same reason. We expect people to pay us for the talent and knowledge we’ve acquired as professionals, not to click a button.

    The talents you pointed out can definitely go unnoticed. I acquired all this knowledge and talent that I never even thought about until I started going into the realm of professional photography. Then I realized that not just anyone can take good quality photos.

    • Amaryllis

      This isn’t about DSLRs though, right? I have a point&shoot (advanced point&shoot, but still point&shoot) camera and it does a good job in my everyday life, when I can’t afford to carry around a DSLR with me.

      • ScorpionGeorge

        I also do the same thing with my iPhone rather than carry my DSLR. In fact, I started photography with my iPhone. As much as a good photographer should be able to create a good picture with whatever camera he/she has, a point & shoot can only go so far. That is why DSLRs are used by professionals.

        It’s not necessarily about the gear, but I did bring it up since JP talked about photographers knowing how to manipulate the camera settings in order to get the results wanted or needed.

  • Ken Tam

    You must have a BIG camera 😉

    • Jim Johnson

      Hilarious, but kind of true.

      I started keeping a battery grip on all my cameras just because I could sense the difference in how my clients reacted when I pulled it out of my bag.

  • Lee

    “We are modest”

    • Cedric

      Those that insert a huge signature on their pictures and post them on Facebook are everything but modest :-)

  • Bob Simmons

    Your well-written article reminded me of my venture into the Ronald Reagan Building in DC. It was in 2008 and my camera was a Canon point and shoot. I’ve continued shooting, upgraded my equipment, and continue striving to become a better photographer.

  • Jim Johnson

    “Anyone could do it” or more likely “It can’t be that special if I can do it”

    I hear myself do this all the time— sometimes inside my head and sometimes out loud. It leads to undervaluing ourselves. No, not everyone can do it, if for no other reason than you have invested the time into training yourself to have the skills mentioned above when they have invested their time elsewhere.

  • Brian

    Is this limeridge mall in Hamilton, by chance? or do all Canadian malls just have that ‘look’?

  • SmartGÖÖner

    I know that I get told by others that I’m undervaluing my work all the time, I feel like it’s an incredible difference between feeling like a real pro and feeling like you are still an amateur trying to be a pro! But maybe it isn’t, maybe it’s all really down to experience. I think that the “floor shot” is a great example, you can be the best model photog in the world and never take a “floor shot”. I think that with experience comes confidence.

  • Amaryllis

    Floor photos for the win! (no, seriously, I would’ve had the same reaction as you xD).

    Number 3 is the ONE talent I always forget about. It’s obvious to me that when shooting portrait, you don’t want a random garbage can behind the person, or a tree shooting out of his/her head, so I move around, change things when I can, until I find the perfect spot and I have no distraction in the background. But I’ve recently been reminded that not everyone see details. I let my friend (who’s an artist, but not a photographer) take a shot of me just for fun, and I had a garbage can shooting out of my head as well as colorful stuff in the background distracting the viewer…

    Number 1 also happens to me a lot. I’m just getting up, looking out the window, and then I stare. I just stare, because the light looks so pretty, and it makes the trees in front of my window shine, and the leaves go translucent.

    Anyway, amazing article! Definitely saving this in my favorites X3

  • Esteban Villarreal

    very nice to see it written down.

  • Taryn

    I like your floor pictures a lot, but I didn’t like how you disparaged “the floor.” People made that tile and laid down that floor and they take pride in their work just like you do. The client obviously valued the floor enough to hire a professional to document it, rather than just snapping an image on their iPhone. I am a marketer and I know the value of just the right image, and I say that dismissing the job as “just a floor” devalues your work too. Your article has great points, but your bashing the subject (and by extension, the client) was not well-done.

    • Breakneck74

      I think the author is using the “Floor” as an example, he saw how important it was to the client and did his level best to show it’s finer points. The point of the article seems to be that a real photographer can take ANY subject and make it work, even those that, on first light, appear unphotogenic. We go too far sometimes at being politically correct, the god’s honest truth is that a floor is one of those tricky items to take good photos of, and I believe the author is correct in identifying this as a singular subject that would separate the wheat from the chaff.

  • Gilad Benari

    Great points. Very true

  • Lanthus Clark

    The low-down on floor photography… 😉

    Nice article, thanks!

  • catlett

    More like the 10 things photographers know that Instagram filter faux photographers don’t.

  • Sohail Alam

    Hey! I’m a budding photographer, and I have a facebook page up but I havent bought a DSLR yet, would you have any advice on how to step my photography up a notch when I do get a dslr + What Dslr would you suggest for a first buy?

  • Lori

    What an incredible article, and so inspiring.

  • Jatin Baghel

    Hello sir .. .. This article inspires me .. .. Will you plz tell me if i wanna show my photographs to a professional photographer like you .. .. Who can judge me .. . .whether I’m good or bad in this .. .. Because i love this job .. .. I want to M i really doing good or just I’m wasting my time and career