What skills do photographers need to have: Beyond cameras and lenses

what skills do photographers need

Learning and developing yourself into a professional photographer or successful creative can be difficult when you don’t start on a good foundation.

People rush to learn technical camera skills all the techniques behind taking photos, but what about the skills that you’ll need that take you beyond the camera?

What skills do photographers need to have

In order to be a successful photographer or creative professional you’ll need to develop soft skills that take time and experience. These key skills for photographers include:

  • Building self-confidence
  • Collaboration skills
  • Communication skills
  • Reading body language
  • Social skills
  • Listening and understanding
  • Negotiation
  • Problem solving
  • Showing appreciation
  • Taking constructive feedback

These skills will help with photography, collaborations, business negotiations, and so much more but you have to be open to developing them. Taking your talent and turning it into a business will require dedication and patience as you grow your network.

I’ve been a creative professional for almost 20 years working with companies of all different sizes. I’ve done freelance for a majority of that timeframe and here are the best skills you can develop to get your best foot forward.

Photographers need self confidence and creativity
Photographers need self confidence and creativity | Image via Pexels.com

What skills do photographers need

Take the time to study your strengths, but learn to develop your weaknesses just as much. I have watched countless videos and courses on self-development and here are the top skills that nobody is talking about for photographers.

  1. Photographers need to build self-confidence

Your self-confidence should be the first skill you develop. Now it’s not going to happen overnight. Learning to trust yourself and your gut instincts will help guide you to learning other skills and making progress with your work.

Appreciate your work and the things you accomplish, even when others around you don’t. Celebrate your victories and most importantly, learn from your mistakes. Believe in yourself and know you’re worthy of creating and developing your art and style.

Building your self confidence will play a crucial role in your future collaborations and portrait shoots.

  1. Collaboration skills

Working to develop collaboration skills are always a difficult task for introverts. You may prefer to work alone, but you’ll find a whole new world of opportunities when you reach out and collaborate with small teams and other creatives.

Collaboration means listening and contributing your ideas to a project. Don’t sit back and stay silent during crucial parts of a project. Learn to be seen and be heard and realize your ideas are an important part of a creative project.

This goes for portrait shoots when you’re the main photographer. Others will be looking to you for guidance and also feedback so be open to talking about what’s on your mind.

  1. Verbal communication

Learning to express your ideas and thoughts with words is not always as easy as it sounds. People can’t read your mind so you’ll need to learn to communicate through your messaging.

I struggled with this as a young creative professional but I learned to listen and quickly engaged in more conversations within my industry. These conversations were online and in person.

Having a clear mind and a clear vision is key to a great photoshoot. Pre-planning and post production are just as important but your communication through the whole process is vital for making the whole process run smoothly.

Consider listening to great public speakers and learning how they take big ideas and convey them into easily managed actions.

  1. Reading body language

Just as important as verbal skills, there are non-verbal skills you should develop.

Learning to read and understand body language is a big part of the creative process. Learn to use body language to direct your subjects into poses and positions and learn to read their reactions.

Be confident in your requests and be willing to show your subjects poses and movements. Using your body to convey emotions and ideas is just as powerful as words.

It will show on camera when you have models not comfortable or confident in a shot. Be sure to communicate and learn what you can do to put their minds at ease before you ever raise your camera and start shooting.

  1. Social Skills

Being social in today’s society has a whole new meaning. Just because you post on someone’s Facebook wall or comment on an Instagram post does not make you social. An example of a social skill is being able to hold a conversation with a complete stranger you just met.

Small group settings will happen when collaborating so be ready to talk and mingle with others. Be ready to share ideas and collaborate on the fly.

If you don’t know anyone in the group or your surrounding area, be confident and able to walk up to someone new and introduce yourself. Learn to shake hands and communicate clearly when in person.

The art of in-person communication will always set you apart. People love being around others that make them feel comfortable and that can engage in a conversation.

  1. Listening skills

If you’re used to talking the most in your group, then you may want to practice listening next.

Listening is a skill few develop. We rush to get our ideas across and sometimes never let the other person finish. Learn to listen and take in all aspects of the story before you speak and give suggestions.

Articulate your words carefully based on what you just heard. Being engaged in a conversation doesn’t always mean you are the only one talking. Taking it a step further and giving someone a chance to talk gives you a better position when communicating or negotiating.

What you don’t say is just as important as what you do. Keep that in mind when you are working on listening to others talk.

what skills do photographers need to be successful
what skills do photographers need to be successful | image via pexels.com
  1. Negotiation Skills

Negotiation is an art form that everyone should learn. Having the ability to compromise and talk through any negotiation is an important tool.

Now, I’m not talking about taking advantage of other people when in a negotiation. I’m simply suggestion to learn the value of compromising and getting others on board with your ideas.

Businesses are built on negotiations and having this skill will be crucial to making your business successful.

  1. Problem-solving Skills

You’ll be faced with small and large problems when shooting portraits or any other type of photography.

Learning to adapt and accept the changes will help you solve problems. How you react to any given problem will show others how you handle stress and unforeseen issues.

When working in a team and a problem arises, many others will be looking to you for help and support so it is vital you learn to develop your problem-solving skills and control your emotions. Don’t panic and look at each problem as a learning experience.

  1. Showing Appreciation

Always be thankful for the people around you helping on a photography shoot. From assistants, MUAs, and models, you want to show your appreciation and your willingness to acknowledge efforts.

This can have big gains for you in the future when looking for people within your network to collaborate with. Others will want to keep coming back to you because they understand you value them and the work that they do.

Showing appreciation can be as simple as acknowledging the efforts of those around you and saying thank you for their time.

  1. Taking Constructive Feedback

Not everyone will be nice about feedback, but learning to take constructive criticism is a cornerstone skill every creative should learn.

Don’t take feedback personally, and learn to adapt to harsh client requests and styles. Not everyone will like your work, but you have to learn to grow as an artist and this means taking feedback and using it to learn and grow.

How do these skills help me grow?

Like with any profession, you need to go beyond the tangible technical skills and into the soft people skills. People skills will always help carry across the finish line and into new business territory.

There is no limit to the development of these interpersonal skills, but you need to evaluate each one and understand where you’re starting from.

Ask for feedback

If you don’t ask, you’ll never know. Be up front with the teams around you and ask for honest feedback. Remember that skill about listening. Learn to read between the lines and feel the emotions that are coming across from the person giving you feedback.

Ask questions about their experience and ask how you can improve the next time. It’s not always about being perfect on every collaboration. It is about learning and getting better than the last one.

Give feedback

When asked for your input, this is the time to give your honest feedback. This is also when communication skills and articulating your thoughts comes in handy.

Others will try to grow and they’ll need your critiques along the way. Help them by observing closely and taking notes so you can provide positive or constructive feedback at the end of a project.

This is a big part of collaborations and the best chance you have to contribute to the photography community.

Photographers need to ask for feedback

Where to start learning

One of the nest places to start learning is online. If you love to watch videos, you might just like online learning. There are places like Creativelive.com that offer many types of classes for photographers or other creatives.

Learn everything from business skills to learning how to organize your life and get moving forward. Don’t let anything get in your way of learning new skills.

If you don’t like that style of learning, then pick up a book and start reading more. Visit your local library and pick up books on motivation and self-help. There is literally no end to the number of sources you have available to you.

Biggest lesson learned

I hope the biggest lesson you can learn from reading this list is to concentrate on yourself just as much as you do on your craft.

It is important to take these collaborations and life experiences and share with others. But in order to do that, you will need to be open to communicating and being social.

It’s not always about being behind the camera or behind your computer editing photos. The creative process is just one part of the industry. The community is another and you need to learn to be apart of it so you can network and grow.

What about creativity as a skill

Don’t worry, I skipped this skill for a few reasons. Mainly because I believe art and design are subjective. A portrait or photograph will have different meanings to different people.

This does not mean to forget about developing your creativity as skill. I simply wanted to concentrate on the other soft skills that people tend to forget when thinking about developing their creative passions from hobbies to professions.

Getting to know yourself

These skills are not taught by sitting in a classroom or browsing social media. You’ll need to take yourself out of your comfort zone and learn to grow.

You’ll run into barriers along the way, but don’t be afraid to reach out to your friends and network for support.

Keeping a good social awareness will help you stay humble and give you more confidence in your photography collaborations.


I’m certain there are more interpersonal skills to develop as a photographer, but start with these and grow with each new skill. Be determined to get out there and show the world your creative talents.

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