Why Learning from Great Photographers is Important

Bailey King was broken by a lifetime of poverty and dawn-to-dark labor when Don Rutledge came to spend several weeks with him and his family. Doctors claimed it was meningitis and a stroke. “It weren’t that,” a friend said. “His body just plumb wore out.” But King’s mind was keen — and his lifelong belief in accepting others and sharing what little he had shone through. Rutledge’s photographs found the windows onto his soul in the lines and ridges of King’s weathered face, in the light and shadows of his sagging clapboard house. [photo by Don Rutledge]

Learning from the greats in photography can be incredibly beneficial to aspiring photographers. It not only helps in developing an understanding of why certain photographers are considered significant, but it can also inspire one to find their unique style.

Soon after joining the Home (now North American) Mission Board, Don Rutledge spent weeks covering the daily lives of Alaskan Eskimos above the Arctic Circle. Here, a family waits for visitors to arrive at their home. [photo by Don Rutledge]

Studying the Masters

When one is interested in photography, it is essential to study the work of great photographers. By studying their work, one can better understand what makes their work stand out and how they created their masterpieces. This can be as simple as visiting an art museum or a local art gallery to examine their work in person.

A Witch Doctor at his home in Togo, West Africa

Understanding the Art

To truly understand the art, one must look at the lighting, composition, and the moment captured in the photograph. Examining these elements allows one to gain insight into the artist’s vision and inspiration. For example, understanding the lighting in a portrait can help one learn how to replicate the mood and feel in their photographs.

Developing a Style

By studying the work of great photographers, one can develop their style. It is important not to worry too much about creating a kind but rather to let it happen naturally. One day someone may notice a photographer’s unique style, and that is when they know they have found it.

Lighting, Composition, and the Moment

The style we see in others’ work is usually apparent in how they handle lighting, composition, and the moment captured. Lighting can create mood and add depth to a photograph. Understanding composition can help determine what to include and exclude from a photo. Capturing the decisive moment can be challenging but can be learned with practice and experience.

Learning from the Masters

Some great photographers to study include James Nachtwey, William Albert Allard, Sebastião Salgado, Dave Black, Eugene Smith, Carolyn Cole, Joanna Pinneo, and Don Rutledge. By studying their work, one can gain a deeper understanding of the art of photography and learn how to create their unique style.

In conclusion, learning from great photographers can be an exhilarating adventure for those interested in photography. One can better understand the art and develop their unique style by studying their work. Of course, it takes time and practice to master the elements of lighting, composition, and the decisive moment, but with dedication, anyone can become a great photographer.