Seven Questions You Should Ask Every Accomplished Photographer


I have been taking photographs for almost four decades—mostly for money and always for myself. Over those forty years, I have slowly figured out what I wanted to ask the many photographers I encountered along the way.  I have distilled this down to a list of questions that I would ask any photographer, knowing that the answers will help any photographer.








While these questions are important ones to ask any accomplished photographer you meet, they are also good questions to consider when thinking about a photographer whose work you are interested in, even if you might never meet them. The answers to these questions will teach you a great deal about what it is that makes a master photographer just such a master.

So let me explain the questions, and give you my answers:

1. How do you get the person, place or thing that is in front of the camera onto the film, chip or paper in just the way you want?

Every photographer develops their own shooting strategy in their own unique way, be that interning, apprenticing, assisting, graduate school, on the job training, etc. Understanding how each photographer develops their particular style is important in figuring out your own approach to photographing.

As for me, I refer to the joke about getting to Carnegie Hall by “practice, practice, practice!” I have refined my skill as a photographer by taking thousands and thousands of pictures (possibly millions) over the years. I have developed my eye for making and critiquing images by listening to the frequently-critical input of the many talented photographers I have worked with over the decades. I also strive to photograph only those things I know I can photograph well, and those things I am interested in photographing.

I have blogged about this here and here.

2. Which photographers influenced you, and how did they influence your thinking, photographing, and career path?

Photography has a long and fascinating history. Most photographers happily admit which of their predecessors influenced them and their work. Be suspicious of any photographer who denies that they were influenced by photographers who preceded them.

As for me, W. Eugene Smith, Harry Callahan and David Burnett shaped my work (as well as the entire history of photography since that is what I studied in college). Looking at the work of others is the second best way, after shooting and critiquing, to become a better photographer.

I have blogged about this here and here

3. Exactly what it is you want to say with your photographs, and how do you actually get your photographs to do that?

Different photographers have different end goals for their work. The most successful ones are those who can consistently get their work to say what it is they want, even if they cannot articulate what that is or how that happens.

As for me, much of my work is stock photography and mainstream magazine photography, but in the best of all worlds, I create photo essays, which are sets of images that tell a story from my own distinct point of view. Some explore political ideas, like my project on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Others are more celebrations of special places, like my “light study” on Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station.

I have blogged about this here and here

4. What was your career path? How did you get from being an aspiring photographer to actually doing it full time, for a living?

Photographers are not born fully formed. They start out as unskilled wannabes, and they reach their goals through luck, education, networking, perseverance, etc. There is no single route that guarantees success, though far too many educational institutions sell themselves as doing just that.

As for me, I started out as a fine-art photographer in college, studying the history of photography. Needing to make a living, I became a newspaper photographer, then a magazine photographer, and ended up doing in-depth photo essays. When that market disappeared, I started doing stock photography.  Most recently, I have been doing a mix of multi-media, stock, assignment and teaching. Since the market is continually changing, I am evolving too.

I have blogged about this here.

5. What technology/software/camera gear do you use to keep focused on what you do best, as you photograph?

The photo-gear industry is built on selling the latest technology/software/cameras, which is not inherently a bad thing. The competitive nature of that market keeps driving incredible technological changes. It also pushes prices ever lower for things like hard drive space. The question to ask a master photographer is not what brand of gear they use, but why they use the particular gear they use to solve their unique set of problems.

As for me, I use Olympus PEN cameras, Media One image-browsing software, and Adobe Lightroom, to capture, organize and make the final digital images that are at the core of my photographic process. The PEN cameras and the Media One software are something of outliers compared to their mainstream competitors, but they solve my problems more effectively and efficiently than any other technology out there.

I have blogged about this here and here

6. How do you get paid to do what you want to do with your photography?

This is the dirty little secret of professional photography.  Most people do not like to talk about this, but if you learn how the pro that you admire actually makes their daily income, you can appraise them and their work more clearly. Today, the more revenue streams you have as a photographer, the more likely you are to make it in the ever-more-competitive marketplace.

As for me, I do some assignment work, though less than I used to. Multi-media is also a small component of the assignment work that I am doing. Stock photography is still my biggest source of income, though that is an ever-more-difficult market. I am doing more and more teaching, in workshops and privately. Blogging and writing articles for publications/sites is a growing part of my work. I do occasionally get grants or fellowships, which enable me to do projects. I sell some work in the fine-art market, but that is the smallest of my revenue streams.

I have blogged about this here and here

7. What motivates you to continue taking pictures economically, politically, intellectually or emotionally?

This is an important question for ANY photographer to consider.  Even if you do not take photographs for money, clarifying why you do it, what you get out of it, and what bothers you about it is enormously important. Most successful photographers have answered this question, whether implicitly or explicitly. They have built their careers on playing to their strengths.

As for me, I photograph for two reasons. My more political work allows me to research and explore issues that interest me, and then share what I find with others. I produce my light studies because my favorite thing to do as a photographer is to get up early, go somewhere new, watch the light unfold, and have little “adventures.” Though I get paid for my photography, the money just enables me to do these other two things, which are what I care about the most.

I have blogged about this here and here

Not all of the answers to all of these questions can be applied to every photographer’s particular situation. Still, you should seek out the answers to these questions with a clear, even analytical mind when considering the work and life of an accomplished photographer. Knowing their answers, and then looking at your own answers, will go a long way in getting from where you are to where you want to be as a photographer.


I am really wanting to get started in photography! My daughter plays softball and my son plays football. I am really wanting to get action shots of them on the field. What would be the best camera and lens for what I am trying to achieve?

Hi Jessica,

A good starting point in a camera for shooting sports would be the Nikon D7500 DSLR Camera (Body Only), BH # NID7500.  This camera would offer more than enough resolution for web or print as well as a fast continuous shooting rate and fast autofocus. You can pair it up with a lens such as the Sigma APO 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Lens for Nikon F, BH # SI7020028NI, which offers a 105-300mm equivalent focal length range and built in stabilization to prevent blurring in your image when hand holding the camera.


this is the dumbest thing ive ever heard

One question: 

How do you know that the person that you are asking the questions of IS an accomplished photographer?

I would like an answer, thank you.

Hi David, thanks so much for writing in. Since I'm tasked with moderating comments to this blog, I'm responding on behalf of the article's author. If you'd like a response from David H. Wells directly, please feel free to reach out to him via his Website,

Photography, like every other art, is an extremely subjective undertaking, and the assessment of what makes someone "accomplished" can, and does, vary widely. That said, the vast scope of resources now available via the Internet make it relatively easy to research an individual's background and accomplishments, and to get a sense of their technical aptitude and aesthetic leanings, all of which should offer a valid assessment that person's level of accomplishment. Beyond this, it can also be helpful to search for testimonials or recommendations that an individual has received for their work, or ask for an unbiased opinion from others in the field.

I hope this helps and thanks again for reading Explora!

Hi Adam, thanks for writing in with this question for David. In this article, he mentions the following about the cameras he uses:

As for me, I use Olympus PEN cameras, Media One image-browsing software, and Adobe Lightroom, to capture, organize and make the final digital images that are at the core of my photographic process. The PEN cameras and the Media One software are something of outliers compared to their mainstream competitors, but they solve my problems more effectively and efficiently than any other technology out there.

If you'd like more specific details about this, I'd suggest you contact him directly through the links to his blog that are included in the piece. Hope this helps and thanks again for reading Explora!

Do newspapers, magazines, and TV show still photographs in NEW order, with North at the top and South at the bottom, except for effect? Is there any consistency on the internet? What about pictures of valleys that run W to SE, for instance?

North East South West -- Autocorrect won that one.

Darn! Another one. Northwest to southeast.

Are you asking about maps? Aerial photos/overviews? Just general photos?  If you are referring to a map (or an aerial overview taking the place of a map), they are typically oriented with north at the top.  As for photos in general, they wouldn’t follow any rule for directionality based on compass settings. They would be displayed based on the perspective of the photographer.  Looking at a portrait, or a street scene, or exterior shot of a building, there would be no way to know which direction was north.  Even with aerial photography (thinking of the recent proliferation of consumer level drones/aerial imaging platforms) the orientation would depend on the photographer’s perspective, especially if the image isn’t looking directly down on the landscape, but is somewhat angled. 

Does any one know the voltage for flashbulbs synchro flashbulbs #5 and # 11? Edison screw base. Thank you. L V.

Unfortunately, I’m not finding any information listed about what voltage battery/power source would be needed to trigger those flashbulbs. 

If you go to an event and take photos, and the organiser asks you for a copy - can you charge them?

You could ask the organizer to purchase the photos, yes.  You would simply license the images for certain types of usage.

I am very much a newbie to photography.   I purchased a Nikon SLR D3300 as a bundle.   I would like to update the standard 18-55 mm lens that came in the bundle.  Where can I go to discuss this?

There are many excellent options for lenses that are compatible with the D3300.  If you would like to discuss options, you could contact us directly either over the phone, via email, or through the Live Chat feature on our site (which can be found towards the bottom of any page on our site).  Or, if you are in the NYC area, you might visit our SuperStore.

800.606.6969 or 212.444.6615

[email protected]

As an aspiring photographer this article helped me understand what exactly i need to know about myself before I start up. I'm going to use these questions to find my own answers to them. I thank you and look forward to reading more of your post.

Is setting image area as DX on a FX camera the same as using a DX len on a FX camera?

Yes it is.  It just happens to be the difference between manually setting it, vs. the camera automatically setting it when mounting a DX lens to the body. 

Thank you, David.  As an aspiring photographer, this enlightened me greatly.  I appreciate your simplicity, yet depth in this article. Blessings to you in all your continued captures.   

You actually make it seem really easy together with your presentation but I in finding this matter to be really something that I feel I would by no means understand. It sort of feels too complex and extremely broad for me. I'm looking forward for your next publish, Ill try to get the cling of it! kfeceeadacfg

As an amateur photographer I appreciate these questions and will continue to ask them to myself everyday. 

This is very helpful. I am a new model meeting with a photographer for the first time tomorrow. I now have some questions in mind.

Thank you.