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example of a professional photographer planning ahead. On one side we can see a sketch and on the other, the final image Insights & Thoughts

Great Photographers Create Photos, Amateurs Take Them | Which Are You?

By Max Bridge on October 12th 2016

What are the qualities of a great photographer? What is it that accomplished, experienced, and talented photographers do which amateurs do not? The full answer would be an exceptionally lengthy one, book worthy even, but here I’ll be covering a few characteristics of the amateur as well as what I believe to be one key attribute of every great photographer.

Characteristics Of Amateur Photographers

When you pick up that camera for the first time, perhaps even the first few years, your focus is on settings or some other equally pointless topic, and instead of thinking about the image itself, you’re focusing on everything else. The result of this incorrect mentality is that you “take photos”.

Amateurs believe there’s a secret combination of gear (which only pro’s own of course) that allows one to craft fantastic imagery. Not true. Great photographers, ones far better than myself, can create amazing imagery with some of the most basic things. I’m not saying that skill is a requirement to being “great” but it certainly proves the “I need this piece of gear” mentality to be incorrect.

Amateurs think that photography stops once your finger releases the shutter, but some images require only a small amount of post production, whereas some may warrant a couple days worth. The point is, your work is by no means complete when the photo is taken. For many, it’s only the beginning. In the image below, forinstance, I knew I’d be combining multiple shots to get the final image I desired.


great Photographers Create Photos, Amateurs Take Photos, Which Are You?

Create, Don’t Take

So to be clear, amateurs take photos, professionals create them. What the hell do I mean by that? A pro will envision the final image before they even pick up the camera; perhaps not always, but certainly where possible.

One of the most important factors to creating images comes far before you even go near your camera. A professional (or accomplished photographic artist if you prefer) will plan ahead, research around their vision, create lighting diagrams, sketches, storyboards, assess all possible variables and so on. The importance of this stage, especially for the less experienced, is huge. Even if your plans are loose (or badly done like my Photoshop mock-up below) they will help guide you toward your goal.

My final tip for creating rather than taking photos concerns what comes after the photo has been captured. Ensure that you take full advantage of this stage. Whether it be 15 minutes or 2 days, give your photos the attention they deserve during post production. And, don’t shy away from spending long periods manipulating your images; photographers have been doing that for decades.


a mock up created by a professional photographer depicting a red background with bright spot and two parts of a lip gloss tube

I’m Not A Product Photographer, This Doesn’t Apply To Me

Yes, many of the images throughout this article are product photos. That’s what I do. However, if you then think this doesn’t apply to you, how wrong you are. It’s a given that certain situations will allow you less time to prepare but that doesn’t mean you can’t. If you shoot weddings, location scout, envision your images days before the event, consider your lighting, and what you’ll do in post. The same can be said for any form of portrait photography. Planning ahead is a vital step in creating photos.

What about nature photographers? They definitely can’t envision their shot, can they? They have zero control over the behavior of the animals they photograph. True. Sort of. However, on the other hand, nature photographers need to plan more than any other genre. They need to know where their subject will be, when, and in what mood. They have to coincide that knowledge with the weather, the position of the sun, fog and so on. One key to success, no matter what the genre, is preparation.


One of the hard parts for amateurs when attempting to plan ahead is a lack of knowledge. You don’t know answers to the hundreds of questions that require them. To resolve this, I suggest two things. The first and most obvious is to get out there and practice. Take failure as a learning experience and continue to research and plan in an attempt to execute your vision. The more you practice, the easier that will be.

After that, you’ll also find that education will play an important role. Make sure you look over everything in the SLR Lounge Store to see if we have something which could be good for you, click here. If you like the photo below, be sure to check out the new Panoramic stitching course here.

two people stand, center frame, surrounded by water and mountains in a stitched panorama


Creating photos, rather than taking them, is the beauty of photography. Anyone can and they do take a photo, as most of us have access to cameras on our phones but if you want to separate yourself from those that take, and elevate your photography to new levels, strive to bring your creative vision to life and create photos.


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Max began his career within the film industry. He’s worked on everything from a banned horror film to multi-million-pound commercials crewed by top industry professionals. After suffering a back injury, Max left the film industry and is now using his knowledge to pursue a career within photography.

Website: SquareMountain 
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Q&A Discussions

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  1. Mohammed Faisal

    Great article i learn a  lot i believe in this if you going to shot product photography make the rough sketch idea for setup(lighting, and bring add  more item try to shoot with different lighting.

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  2. Thorsten Merz

    You’ve written some great articles; alas this isn’t one of them. Distinguishing between amateurs and professionals as photo takers and photo makers doesn’t make sense. There are many amateurs out there that produce infinitely better work than many professionals and it’s obvious from the work they put in that they didn’t just turn up and push a shutter button.

    I agree with the general thrust of what you are saying, but you’re distinction between amateur and professional is flawed, IMHO.

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    • Max Bridge

      Hey Thorsten. Thanks for the comment.

      The response this article received was not as positive as I would have liked and I blame myself for that. The idea I still feel is solid, having a plan prior to setting out (in whatever genre) is a better way to produce quality work. That said, I think I failed at getting my thoughts down perfectly.

      I completely agree that many amateurs produce outstanding work which far surpasses pros. I certainly did not intend for this to be seen as the only way one determines the two. In fact, I should have completely omitted the word pro and stuck with the term “great photographers”.

      Thanks again for your honest assessment.

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  3. Warren Antiola

    This is stupid. A photographer defining photography for the masses. It may be for you but it does not define me and my work. Good for you . . .not for me. Thanks for the interesting article.

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