13 Ways To Take Better Photographs: Look at Great Photography

I am not going to show you any pictures in this installment, because, at the end of it, that might seem presumptuous.

Today is about great photography. Not merely good photography, not photography that makes you say “Oh, that’s nice.” Not just a photograph of someone you like, or of something that is already beautiful.

If you want your photography to excel, then you need to also be looking at photography that excels. Otherwise, you will struggle to reinvent what makes for fantastic images. We are in a lucky time, being awash in imagery. Much of that imagery is just everyday stuff, but when you are awash, then you also are awash in great stuff as well. And great photography is easy to find.

You could start at the obvious places such as National Geographic and Vogue, or you could hit up your local library for books of photographers’ works. Who to look at is largely a matter of taste, and you can get a sense of who you will like by flipping through a history of photography.

In one of my many journals, I keep a list of “Photographers to Know and Admire.” Some are there only because of their historical importance. Others are there because I love their work aesthetically and can count them as primary influences. Over time, you will find certain photographers’ work sticks with you, and you will start to see their influence crop up in your own pictures.

So what kind of pictures do you want to make? Wall-worthy family portraits? Search online for family photographers. Great candids? Look up some well-known snapshot or street photographers. Amazing landscapes? Don’t limit yourself to Ansel Adams; he’s just the tip of a large and wonderful iceberg.

So that’s it. If you want to be pushed to get better, then study the work of the best. Look at great photography, and you will end up wanting your own to be better.

For the record, here are some names on my list. You are under no obligation to know or admire them, and I cannot guarantee the work-safeness of the sites:

Henri Cartier-Bresson

Richard Avedon

Joe McNally

Steve McCurry

Mary Ellen Mark

Dorothea Lange

Walker Evans

Andreas Gursky

Arnold Newman

Thomas Struth

Annie Leibovitz

Elliot Erwitt

Philippe Halsman

Jay Maisel

Irving Penn

Chema Madoz

Joel Meyerowitz

Yousef Karsh

Clyde Butcher

Ryan Muirhead

Zalmy Berkowitz

Gregory Crewdson

Michael Kolster

Uta Barth

Candida Hofer

William Klein

Edward Burtynsky

Vivian Maier

Sally Mann

Norman Jean Roy

Noah Addis

Eric Mencher

Bruce Davidson

Nathan Benn

James Nachtwey

Homework: Hit the Google. Get inspired. Shoot.


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