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Photographers Strengths And Weaknesses

It’s About Ability, Not Inability

I just returned from another successful photography workshop in the Virgin Islands, and like all previous 600-plus photo workshops I’ve conducted in the past 14 years, I see many photographers getting caught up in their gear. Contrary to all the marketing hype that slaps consumers in the face on a daily basis, it’s not the equipment that shapes the photographer. It’s a photographer’s strengths and weaknesses—their abilities and inabilities.

Model in pool, headshot

Photo of Jenni during recent Virgin Islands workshop was created with teamwork.

As a personal example, when Nike Air Jordan shoes were first introduced, I bought a pair. Great shoes! Stopped my knees from hurting back when I ran 25 miles per week as an active-duty, U.S. Army soldier. In fact, I’m pretty good at shooting baskets, but at almost 5-foot 8-inches tall, I still can’t dunk on an NBA regulation goal nor would any NBA team consider me for contract—at least not as a player.

While I love basketball, and I’m happy the San Antonio Spurs spanked the Los Angeles Lakers in game three of the first round of the 2013 NBA playoffs, 120 to 89, at the end of the game, there was a team of winners and a group of millionaire losers. Which leads me to another point, no matter how much money you make and how much “top gear” you posses, it still doesn’t make you a winner at what you do.

That’s right, even if you make the team, you can still lose the game if you don’t maintain your composure, don’t keep your focus, and don’t communicate with your teammates as was evidenced by the losing Lakers. So you see, even if you think you have everything, equipment, financial ability, and experience, not to mention talent, it doesn’t mean you’ll make the goal. Even millionaire NBA basketball players miss shots at one time or another. As with shooting baskets, shooting photos has a failure rate too, even for professionals.

Photographers miss great shots, even when it’s all there. But if you want to improve your photography or become great in photography, you still have to take the shots, even if it’s just for practice. All professional sports teams practice between games. Practice doesn’t make perfect, practice builds proficiency in what you do, so as Nike says, “Just do it!”

Team of assistants shooting model photo

This is just part of the team of assistants that helped me create nice photos of Jenni.

In the case of photography, doing it means get it right in the camera, and getting it right in the camera isn’t just understanding the fundamentals, concepts and principals of photography, but knowing how to treat your talent, as in my case when photographing women. Like an NBA coach that creates a positive environment, it’s up to you, the photographer, to do the same. Be conducive.

You’ve got to have the right equipment for the intended goal, which hopefully is to create the best possible photos with what you have on hand. It’s not about using the best and most expensive camera equipment money can buy, it’s about knowing how to use that equipment properly, before you even unpack it from its protective cases.

Model and Rolando discuss photography and photos

Jenni and I discuss the progress of the photo shoot in the Virgin Islands.

Possessing equipment is just part of the game plan. You need your stars too, however, great photographs aren’t guaranteed just because you have the best make-up artist on hand and the greatest model in front of your camera. Your team has to respect you and respect, along with rapport, starts with great communication skills on your part, both verbal and non-verbal. It’s about having your subject confident so you can photograph “the look” a relaxed face provides. Without the face, you have nothing.

The camera doesn’t relax your subject, your communication abilities do. The camera doesn’t take great photos, your comprehension abilities do. The camera doesn’t ensure masterpieces on a photo shoot, your creative abilities do. The camera doesn’t provide a positive morale environment for your team, your people skill abilities do. Treat your team better than you treat yourself. That leads to great morale amongst your team that will help you get it done.

Pretty in Pink Model Photo

Pretty in pink, model Candice Marie poses for the camera.

Like the Army teaches all its leaders, bad morale amongst the troops is a recipe for failure. Feed them good, respect them, talk to them, not at them, and trust in their abilities. Again, treat your team players better than you treat yourself. There are times you must recognize you are the water boy, as well as the times you’re the coach. And whatever you do, don’t act like a CEO or general manager. In fact, most people don’t even know the name of the “GM” of their NBA basketball team—though sometimes we’re reminded during sportscaster chitchat during lulls in a game—which means we’re usually taking a urine break.

As an example, last November while conducting a “high-end” photography workshop in the Virgin Islands, we stayed in a beautiful mansion in the Botany Bay area. I put all the models and attending workshop photographers in nice rooms—I slept on the couch. Though many offered me their rooms, I refused and put them first.

This was a luxury property that cost me almost $9,000 to rent for the week. The couch did the job, I got my sleep, but my customers and team got the comfort. I could have just as easily asked my models or my make-up artist to sleep on the couch, and they would have, though it would have impacted their morale. I’ve seen so many photographers fail, not because of their abilities to use their photography gear, but at their inability to deal with people. People skills are just as important as the camera—if you lack them, you have nothing in the end except mediocre photos.

Though I will admit, my people skills never got me signed on an NBA team, but my communication skills and my photography experience did get me NBA photo credentials for five straight years. This included playoff credentials, which not every NBA credentialed photographer receives at the end of the regular season. So please remember, it’s not your gear that makes you a professional photographer. It’s the sum of all your abilities.

Model reviews photo in camera

Candice reviews one of the photos during our shoot, notice her smile. This type of interaction is important when working with models.

Though I do remember wearing my Nike shoes while photographing most of the NBA playoff games during those five years, nothing compared to how proud I stood as a military veteran when the National Anthem was played before tip-off.

Well the coach has spoken, so with that I close by saying let’s not forget the patriotic men and women in our armed services that protect our freedoms. Ultimately their friends, family and themselves make many sacrifices—and it’s no game. God bless them all! Rolando

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One Comment

  1. Great article and I completely agree with the putting the models and crew first. Very considerate and a sign of a true leader.

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