Joey Phoenix Media
Photographer • Videographer


Salem, MA Portrait and Event Photographer

5 Lessons from 5 Great Photographers

Ansel Adams and Camera
Ansel Adams and Camera

Originally Published February 12, 2014 on Photography Tricks.

You choose your own limitations – Man Ray

“Of course, there will always be those who look only at technique, who ask ‘how’, while others of a more curious nature will ask ‘why’. Personally, I have always preferred inspiration to information.” ― Man Ray

One of the most creative hybrid artist/photographers in human history, Man Ray was someone who constantly pushed the boundaries of the art world and challenged the aesthetic values of society during his lifetime. Although born of the arguably wretched but historically necessary Dada movement of the early twentieth century, Ray eventually grew out of the style and would progress to more complicated and transformative styles as time went on.

As a photographer, you’re the one who gets to decide what the final result of your image will be, and your ability to grow and develop and create is entirely dependent on how far you’re willing to go. Man Ray’s propensity to challenge himself and the thinking of those around him gave him a special place in the history books. He established his own limitations, and you can do the same. What you will accomplish is up to you.

Don’t be afraid to make a statement – Simon Norfolk

“A picture that is ghostly and silent can be more eloquent and less clichéd than a ‘noisier’ photo-journalistic approach and I have attempted to make pictures that whilst they are not ‘documentary’ in the traditional sense, they are still documents, like forensic traces.” ― Simon Norfolk

Although not the most popular of photographers, Simon Norfolk has garnered the recognition of an international audience for producing images that are honest and straightforward, often to the point where they are uncomfortable to look at. One of the main focuses of his work is the theme “battlefield,” and through it he attempts to shift contemporary understandings of the term by demonstrating it in all of its forms. He has photographed everything from “genocide landscapes” to supercomputers, all of which tell a poignant truth of the state of our world.

Like Warhol, like Ray, like Norfolk, you can’t be afraid to take risks with your art. You have to be willing to push the envelope a little, and take the photographs that tell their own stories. Photographs can speak volumes if they are allowed to; don’t be afraid to let them.

Photograph what you love – Ansel Adams

“A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed.”― Ansel Adams

There are few photographers who have captured the hearts of people like Ansel Adams has. His work in the National Parks is some of the most widely-recognized in the United States. His images transport the viewer to scenic landscapes and extraordinary views, and there’s a depth and design to them that in many respects remains unmatched.

Adams had a passion for the subjects he photographed, and this emotion is evident in his body of work. He would wait for several hours for the light to fall perfectly on a cliff face, he would spend nights in the darkroom laboring over the contrast in the upper right hand corner of an image, he would wander long afternoons through Yosemite in search of all that was extraordinary. If he didn’t like what he saw, he moved on.

If you’re working as a photographer, you’ve already managed to escape the 9-5 grind at some cubicle. Don’t create another one for yourself by photographing things which fail to inspire you. It is possible to excel in a field that you love, so you should do that. Don’t settle for less.

Understand the importance of a brand – Andy Warhol

If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There’s nothing behind it.” ― Andy Warhol

People tend to fall into two camps regarding Andy Warhol: there are the ones who think he was a genius, and those who think he created mediocre works of art. Regardless of how you feel about his work, there is a universal agreement that the man knew how to market himself. During his lifetime, he became the brand, and it captivated the world.

Many photographers make the mistake of thinking that their brand is simply the work they create, and they try desperately to sell their work or market their services as standalone entities. Unfortunately, in the art world, if you want your work to sell, people have to believe in it. In the words of the profound Simon Sinek, people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

This doesn’t just apply to fine art photographers, but to every genre of photography. Building a loyal following and having a successful business requires a brand people can recognize, respect, and stand behind.

Excellence lies in the details – Annie Liebovitz

“A very subtle difference can make the picture or not.”  ― Annie Leibovitz

Known worldwide for creating out-of-the-box and often zany portraits of celebrities, former Rolling Stone photographer Annie Liebovitz has redefined the way the modern world views people in the limelight. She has transformed Steve Martin into a painting, tied up Clint Eastwood, and made it possible for Russell Brand to live out a lifelong dream of being a pirate. An inventor of worlds, her photographs continue to capture the attention of critics and admirers alike, and her portfolio will continue to inspire rising photographers for generations to come.

But there’s a secret to her genius that she employs in every portrait shoot. She pays attention to the details.

The best photographers don’t just take pictures, they create them. Except in rare circumstances, images that look spur-of-the-moment often involve hours of preparation and patience to create. It is the subtleties that can make or break a photograph—the details. Don’t ever ignore the details