The Four Key Skills of a Successful Photographer | Transcription
When we started Lin & Jirsa Photography, seven years ago, we grew it to a studio where today, we have nearly 40 associate photographers and staff that are in the studio on a daily basis working with us. What we realized throughout this entire course was, during the hiring and training and so forth process, is that more often these soft skills were actually much more difficult to train than the hard skills. Meaning that those that came into the studio, we could teach them hard skills in a very short period of time, about three to six, maybe 12 months to teach them how to be photographers.
But it took years to train those without soft skills how to communicate and how to, basically, understand clients. As far as what was more important when dealing with clients, we place more emphasis on the communication and understanding or on the soft skills. 75%, in fact, of being a successful photographer was based around the soft skills. Whereas, what we have basically gauged is that 25% was around the hard skills and we saw this reflected in our industry. When we created SLR Lounge, we had a chance to meet incredible photographers from all around the world who run very successful studios. We’ve also had a chance to meet incredible artists who have trouble creating a successful studio, successful product, and great client experience.
Once again, we realized that those that were the most successful weren’t necessarily the best artists. They were fantastic at communication and understanding and they were also good with the technical and artistic to varying degrees, some stronger than others. Those that had these soft skills in spades were incredibly successful and their degrees of technical and artistic hard skills could vary. What we realized was that when we were hiring, when we were bringing people into the studio, it was actually more important that somebody had communication and understanding to begin with because we could give them the technical and artistic components over a short period of time.
Breaking It Down: Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills
I’m going to show you exactly why the numbers are this way. The technical and artistic, the hard skills, we refer to as internal skills because you can improve on these skills internally by simply studying and practicing on your own. These are very important but they’re not the sole means to success. With every one of these areas, we’re going to give you tips and also tell you that for each of these areas we do have other educational products that if you’d like to look into and they can help you with these specific topics.
On the technical side, we have camera, composition and exposure control. This is all Photography 101 course content. We have mastery of lighting and light modification from our Lighting 101, 201 and 301 courses. We have post production skills where we’ve created three entire courses on Lightroom editing in the Lightroom Workshop Collection. We have posing skills and posing is one part hard skill, one part soft skill. But for the technical side, we have the Natural Light Couples Photography. We have also posing and directing with Caroline Tran and our own Foundation Posing workshop, both of which will be coming soon.
On the artistic side, we have artistic camera, composition and exposure control which is again discussed in all of the courses listed above. Technical and artistic are two very different hard skills. This is how you can know this. Think about some of the photographers that you know. You can even think about yourself. Would you classify yourself as a technical photographer or as an artistic photographer? I know so many incredible photographers who are absolutely amazing in artistic. They can create images that are breath taking yet they don’t really know much about the technical components of really what they’re doing. They’re kind of shooting by feel, you could say.
On the flip side, I know photographers that are incredibly technical. They know their lighting ratios. They know everything there is to know about apertures, about maximum dynamic range, about optimal shutter speeds, about everything. Yet they couldn’t take an artistic photo to save their lives. They are technical photographers. Then there’s also those that have kind of a balance. Generally, most of us are going to have a balance between these two but it might be weighted on one side. You might be 80% artistic and 20% technical or 80% technical and 20% artistic.
I would encourage you to strive to fall in the middle where you can be half and half on each side and have a good balance. This is going to help you to create images that, regardless of the technical know how, you understand how to do it and you’ve also honed your artistic skills and abilities. Don’t worry, being artistic is a skill and ability. It’s something that’s learned, it’s not something that you are inherently just born with. These two components make up what we call the skilled photographer, not the successful photographer.
Communication & Understanding
Communication involves building a relationship. This is your spoken abilities to be able to discuss their interest, to talk about their background, to talk about anything other than photography. It involves smiling, being genuine and being interested. You’d be surprised how much this could do for you. Use positive and reinforcing words. What that means is basically using words like “when” instead of “if”. If a client asks you if you can do something, rather than saying no, say “I would love to do that, how about this?” This response gives positive solutions and shaping the conversation in a positive way.
Posing communication is that second part of posing that we talked about. We have the technical side and understanding what makes a pose good and what makes a pose not work. Those are technical components but the communication part is how you guide and direct clients into those poses. Believe me, I’ve seen people that understand posing from a technical side but again, they can’t communicate and guide their clients into a pose without basically barking commands.
As for the understanding part, asking targeted questions are pieces of communication but understanding is a little bit different than communicating. Communication is involving your words and how you speak and how you communicate your vision to your clients. Understanding is involving asking targeted questions, talking less, and listening more. Understanding their wants and needs and their concerns as well as being able to resolve them will show you as being present and in the moment and remembering the details. This is the understanding component of communication.
When you put these two skill sets together, you have nothing relating to being a photographer. What you have is an empathetic communicator. What that means is that you’re able to communicate with understanding and communicate with vision. You’re able to help a client to get to their goal and to their vision of what they’re hiring you for.
External “Soft Skills” vs. Internal “Hard Skills”
Internal skills are the ones we can work with ourselves and be completely good. External means that there is a component of self development but you’re going to need to practice this with other people to actually get better. When you put these two things together on each side, the technical and artistic with the communication and understanding, this is what makes a successful photographer.
EXTERNAL “SOFT SKILLS” & INTERNAL “HARD SKILLS” in correlation to the mission
Once again, we go back to our overall mission that we talked about earlier to create consistently incredible imagery. . From understanding the vision to tailoring our expectations to proper planning to shoot execution to exceeding expectations. External soft skills, I’ve labeled with that blue color. In the process, everything that’s an external soft skill, that’s communication, that’s understanding related, is in blue. Do you notice how in understanding the vision, it’s all blue? Tailoring expectations, it’s all blue. Proper planning, this is all blue. Only when you get to the shoot day execution, this is grayed out because the shoot day execution actually incorporates both green internal hard skills and blue external soft skills.
For the gear check list and pre shoot scouting, you might say those are hard skills, those are technical based skills. For technique and artistry with the actual photography itself and photography problem solving, those are again, technical internal hard skills. Photography related. Even from the team meetings and the way that you communicate with your team to identifying concerns on the day of the shoot to resolving concerns on the day of the shoot. Those are once again soft skills.
Exceeding expectations with the presence, with communication. Showing images, one again, this falls into internal hard skills but everything else in that communication process is a soft skill. You can see that in the process of creating consistently incredible images with every single client, the vast majority of our interaction and the process itself relies on our soft skills and our ability to communicate and understand versus our ability to be great photographers.
This is not to say that if you go on a shoot, let’s say that you’re the most amazing communicator whatsoever, you can communicate you can understand you can do all that, but you deliver bad quality images, you’re clients are not going to be happy. That’s not to say that if you’re missing the hard skills, it doesn’t mean that you’re going to be successful just because you have the soft skills. You need both. I can think of so many photographers who are incredible in their business, their marketing, their success, who are basically 80% soft skills people and 20% photographers.
I also know people that are 50% soft skill and 50% photographers that are very successful. But, if you can balance these two skill sets, you’re going to be far more successful. The great thing to know is that if you have the soft skills which this entire is about the soft skills, if you have those things, learning the hard skills actually can be done within a year. Practicing the soft skills, you’re always going to become a better and better photographer over time. You can get the basics in six months, 12 months and so forth but soft skills are developed over years. We’re going to help you develop that in this course and I want you all to practice as you go forward because these tips, these techniques are going to help you to achieve your vision in being an incredible photographer, an incredible business person and delivering consistently amazing images.