A couple of years ago I was doing a project for PDN. My assignment was to do a short interview with Kirk Voclain about what makes great senior portraits. He's one of the top senior photographers in the country and does some amazing work with high school seniors. These kids love their first real experience with a professional photographer and he does everything in his power to make it memorable.
I remember hanging up the phone and thinking about the qualities that make great photographers, in addition to a sense of humor! I've worked with hundreds of different photographers in my career, including the recent SCU Summer Session Faculty and there are some powerful common denominators.
We already know how clients define satisfaction and being happy with their photographer, but what about from the industry side? How do we as photographers, manufacturers, advertisers and vendors define a great photographer?
- Enthusiasm and Passion: It has to be virtually unmatched. Spend five minutes talking to Kirk and you know he sets the standard.
- Willingness to Share: There can be no secrets. Think about the best workshops/programs you've attended. The speakers all shared their "secrets", presenting ideas that have worked to elevate their work and business. The old expression of secrets to success are never held back and openly given to you for your own application and use.
- A Thorough Understanding of Photography: When Kirk picks up his camera there's no hesitation in knowing the results. It's all thanks to his foundation in film. And for those of you that think film is a four letter word, right up there with the "F-bomb" you're missing the point. Kirk gets the shot the first time and his images look great, right out the can! He's not spending hours cleaning up his images. I've heard him talk about teaching and taping up the back of the cameras so his students can't "chimp". Once their panic subsides, they're able to pay attention to their subjects and focus on the expressions not the exposures.
- Confidence: I was blown away by the fact that Kirk only takes six images in each outfit. SIX! Not a couple hundred variations of the same smile - but six images in 3-4 wardrobe changes, with a presentation of 18-30 final images! And every image is different - not a series of slight variations on a quest for the ultimate smile. He knows he's got the shot the minute he clicks the shutter. In those moments when he knows he missed it, because of a blink or maybe his exposure was off, he'll re-shoot it.
- The Ability to Communicate: In one 15 minute call I got everything I needed to write my assignment, because there wasn't one second of hesitation with any of the questions I asked.
So, go back to thinking about your favorite presentations and the photographers who you love to listen to. They were passionate. They were confident. They understood photography, the topic they were presenting and they could communicate. Most important of all they were willing to share what they've learned to help you. No secret ingredients - just a bunch of great people who believe in giving back.
I've often said I'm the luckiest guy in the photo industry. I've worked with some amazing photographers and have an incredible network of talented friends and consider Kirk one of them. Check out his faculty page here on SCU and follow the link to his site to see more great images.
Jim Collins, business author and theorist said it best:
"The kind of commitment I find among the best performers across virtually every field is a single-minded passion for what they do, an unwavering desire for excellence in the way they think and the way they work. Genuine confidence is what launches you out of bed in the morning, and through your day with a spring in your step."