On Competence…


I’ve been thinking and reading a lot lately about the idea of competence as it relates to photography. From my point of view, photographic competency is a 3-legged stool…with a 4th leg added on if you want to pursue photography for a living. In this post I’ll give a broad overview of what I consider the required elements or disciplines of competency, and will follow up with blog posts that dive deeper into each area.

First is technical competency. This is knowing how the dials, levers and options work for your equipment. In this category I include not only your camera, but things like on/off camera flashes, tripods, mics (if you’re shooting video), etc. In my personal experience, there are few things more frustrating than fumbling with the settings on your camera while trying in vain to capture a fleeting sunset. Technical competency helps you avoid this pain.

Second, there’s artistic competency. I define this as the ability to make a photograph out of a scene or an event. It’s things like knowing the rules of composition (and when to break them), knowing how to tell a story through the lens, and generally being able to maximize the emotional impact of your photographs upon the viewer. 

The third discipline is processing competency. Back in the days when film was all we had, this was pretty simple for most photographers…take your photos to the nearest super-store, and you’d get prints in 3-5 days. But with the advent of digital, things get a lot more complicated. You have to know how to intelligently organize, catalog and tag your photos so you can find them. You need to know the basics (and maybe even more advanced features) of post-processing software like Adobe Lightroom or Adobe Photoshop.

If you’re an amateur photographer with a day job, you can probably stop there. But if you want to make a living from photography, the fourth and final discipline is business competency. Many professional photographers these days will tell you that shooting is only a small part of what they do – maybe 10%-15% of the total time they devote to their business. Business competency means you know what it takes to run a small business, you are savvy when it comes to social media, and that you know how to market yourself effectively.

More to come on all these disciplines in future blog posts.

Image showing definition of “competence” at the top of this post comes from Merriam-Webster.com.
This entry was published on January 28, 2016 at 9:51 pm. It’s filed under blog and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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