I’m not a master photographer (yet). These are some lessons on how you can become a master photographer:
What is a master?
A master is the opposite of a slave. A master has control over themself. A master dictates their own direction for themselves, and a master judges their photographs for themselves.
A master puts a very high standard for themselves — and seeks to make perfect art works.
1. 30 years
My buddy Heraclitus said something interesting about the number 30– he called it a “generation”. Which is interesting — 30 days in a month. Or we can consider a human an adult once they reach 30 years old.
So this is my basic idea:
Devote 30 years to your craft.
Assuming that you started your craft at around age 20, by the time you’re 50 years old, you should become a master.
For example in the rap game, the masters I consider are Dr. Dre and JAY Z, who have been rapping and making music for about 30+ years.
It is my thought that once you devote 30 years to your craft, you build your own style. You create your own vision. You’ve understood the intricacies of your craft. You’ve created a culture in yourself, for yourself.
All the master photographers have been shooting for a long time. Of course, the dead ones have all probably shot for 30+ years.
Look at the photos towards the end of a photographer’s life to judge their work.
This is my theory:
When a photographer is towards the end of their life, their later works tend to be more authentic — really for themselves.
For example Richard Avedon photographing death. Also he said that his “In the American West” was his dearest work, which he wish he could shoot for the rest of his life.
2. Fly solo
“Eagles don’t fly in company — leave that to the pigeons” – Fernandinho Galiani
Collectives and groups don’t really last — individuals do.
Consider all the great artists of history. They were pillars unto themselves.
The problem with collectives and groups — sooner or later they all dissolve.
The problem with collectives— too much energy wasted on internal politics.
Thus, the solution:
Focus on yourself; be an individual; fly solo.
I think collaborations are good. Yet, no collaboration should be permanent.
Strive to build yourself up for 30 years — how can you not become a master if you focus on yourself for that long?
3. Seek to jump over the past masters
“Yeezy yeezy yeezy just jumped over jumpman (Michael Jordan)” – Kanye West
The past masters of photographers weren’t demigods. They just worked hard, and shot for a long time.
To me, the only real way to judge a master:
How much longevity do they, or will they have?
Generally speaking, the longer a photographer lasts, the greater their work. Read Nassim Taleb’s concept of the “lindy effect” for more elaboration on the concept.
Too often, we seek to get famous fast. Yet the problem is that if we focus on short-term fame, our fire won’t last. Seek to be prolific as a photographer until you die at age 120.
Look at the past masters for inspiration, but have greater ambitions — seek to become better than them.
4. Have massive ambition
It is my personal ambition to become a better photographer than Henri Cartier-Bresson, and to create a longer lasting body of work than him. I also seek to make better photos than Josef Koudelka’s “Exiles” book (which I consider a masterpiece). Who knows, maybe one day I can shoot even more epic portraits than Richard Avedon.
This is my thought:
Better to have massive ambitions and fail, than to have moderate ambitions and succeed.
For example, currently it is my ambition to deadlift 500+ pounds. When you set the bar higher, you will achieve more in life.
5. Go legend
With your photography, seek to make the most epic photos that anyone has ever seen. This means, this will take time. No need to look at your contemporaries. Focus on yourself. Zen focus, zen zone on yourself — and never stop hustling to take your photography to the next level!
Timeless wisdom from the masters of street photography.
“He without a past has no future.”
- Why Study the Masters of Photography?
- Great Female Master Photographers
- Cheat Sheet of the Masters of Photography
- 100 Lessons From the Masters of Street Photography
- Beginner’s Guide to the Masters of Street Photography
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The Masters of Photography
Classics never die:
- Akira Kurosawa
- Alexander Rodchenko
- Alfred Stieglitz
- Alec Soth
- Alex Webb
- Alexey Brodovitch
- Anders Petersen
- Andre Kertesz
- Ansel Adams
- Blake Andrews
- Bruce Davidson
- Bruce Gilden
- Constantine Manos
- Daido Moriyama
- Dan Winters
- David Alan Harvey
- David Hurn
- Diane Arbus
- Dorothea Lange
- Edward Weston
- Elliott Erwitt
- Ernst Haas
- Eugene Atget
- Eugene Smith
- Fan Ho
- Garry Winogrand
- Gilles Peress
- Gordon Parks
- Helen Levitt
- Henri Cartier-Bresson
- Inge Morath
- Irving Penn
- Jacob Aue Sobol
- Jeff Mermelstein
- Joel Meyerowitz
- Joel Sternfeld
- Josef Koudelka / Part 2
- Josh White
- László Moholy-Nagy
- Lee Friedlander
- Lewis Hine
- Lisette Model
- Mario Giacomelli
- Magnum Contact Sheets
- Magnum Photographers
- Mark Cohen
- Martin Parr
- Martine Franck
- Mary Ellen Mark
- Nan Goldin
- Philip Jones Griffiths
- Rene Burri
- Richard Avedon
- Richard Kalvar
- Robert Capa
- Robert Frank
- Saul Leiter
- Sergio Larrain
- Sebastião Salgado
- Shomei Tomatsu
- Stephen Shore
- Steve McCurry
- The History of Street Photography
- Todd Hido
- Tony Ray-Jones
- Trent Parke
- Vivian Maier
- Walker Evans
- Werner Bischof
- William Eggleston
- William Klein
- Zoe Strauss
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