Some of the things that you need to remember as a photographer that will separate you from everyone else out there who are taking pictures are knowing your equipment, shoot for the feeling or emotion, pre-visualize your work before you take it, focus on the techniques that are needed to capture the image, and do your own thing. Let me go into each of these.
The first thing is to know your equipment, the settings, and how to take good pictures. You don’t want to be fumbling around for the manual trying to figure something out while you have someone waiting. You also don’t want to be chimping your images or machine gun shooting in front of a model or subject. Nothing screams unprofessional more than doing either of these. You should know your equipment well enough to change settings with just a quick glance. You shouldn’t be looking at every image you shoot in front of your subject.
The next thing is to shoot to capture the feeling or emotion of the instance. With everyone out there, most will only shoot to capture the people or place… but if you can capture an image with the emotion of the instance, you now have jumped in front of everyone else. This may mean telling a story, showing a feeling, or even evoking a response from the viewer. This gives your images meanings. Several photographers create stories to go along with their images as a way to create this feeling. Don’t just take a snapshot of a car, capture something that tells you something about it… like the wings from 1967 that made it a rocket, or that coke bottle fender that made it modern and futuristic sports car or even that interesting grill on the front that took several years to become what it was. The feeling has so much more than just a snapshot of an object.
You should also pre-visualize what you want to shoot and have a solid idea of what you are capturing before you pull out your camera to capture it. For instance, I often have a chicken scratch cheat sheet with me of everything I want to capture and work to complete those images. I don’t have to stick to just those images (although, in film days, I did). The key is having some idea of what you want to shoot before you get there – once you are there isn’t the time to decide. It isn’t a simple – let’s shoot. It is knowing many of the things you want to capture before you get there to capture it. Another thing I often do is go to new locations and capture pre-shoot images prior to shooting people there. My focus is to capture lighting, things, environments, and anything special about the location. This allows me to plan out some or all of the shoot. If you don’t plan something out, you are playing the lottery of capturing something worthwhile Planning it out prior to the shoot, you are no longer playing the lottery.
Another thing to do is to focus on the techniques to capture your image. This means playing with your equipment before anyone or anything goes in front of your equipment. This could be simple adjustment of lights and their modifiers or flags, or it can be fairly complex where you need to develop specialized equipment like something that will rear curtain sync your studio strobes. The point is that you work on the techniques to capture the images you want through practice, practice, and more practice. You will also find that stuffed animals are your best models when you do (or anything else that doesn’t move around). Always stretch your knowledge and grow – don’t become stagnant in your technique.
Finally, remember to do your own thing. You are the artist and the creator of your images. You need to forge your own path as you learn your craft. If you follow someone else’s footsteps you will become another them. This may mean you need to ignore some criticism. It may mean going somewhere no one else has been. The key is to produce work you are happy with producing and that you have fun doing. If you don’t, you will tire and get suckered into something that you no longer have fun creating, and your creative style will disappear. Remember, you are the artist. You aren’t supposed to be like everyone else.