Stopping Time: How to Create Powerful Photography

In the digital age, anyone with a smartphone or a mediocre DSLR can take a decent picture—even striking images with lovely composition, content, and exposure. It seems that everyone is a photographer these days, and the ever-increasing number of photographers producing competitive content leaves many photographers wondering how in the world they could ever set themselves and their work apart.

In this video, 24 National Geographic photographers reveal the difference between that ceaseless flood of average pictures and those standout photographs that deeply move the viewer and ignite powerful change in their wake:

Besides knowing one’s own camera inside and out, these distinguished photographers identify the following three principles for aspiring greats to follow in their work. 

1. Find interesting subjects. If a particular subject doesn’t enthrall and grip the photographer with the desire to understand, why would it intrigue a viewer? Find those things worth shooting.

“If you want to be a better photographer, stand in front of more interesting stuff.” — Jim Richardson

“The goal for me is to pull in the reader and to have them ask questions.” — Lynsey Addario

“I photograph to understand.” — Gerd Ludwig

national geographic lynn johnson

Lynn Johnson, National Geographic.

2. Practice with patience. It’s the photographer who has spent years behind lenses honing his or her technical skills and artistic vision that will succeed.

“It takes years of working to hone your vision.” — Lynsey Addario

“Everyone can take a good picture, especially now, but to take great photographs you need time, you need patience.” — Stephanie Sinclair

William Albert Allard photographer you have to care

William Albert Allard, National Geographic.

3. Care about your subjects. It’s that old adage: “Do what you love.” As with all art, photographers’ emotions bleed into their photographs, even if they can’t be explained outright. And so, a dispassionate photographer will produce bland photographs—the kind that just sit there, fading.

“You really have to care… you cannot do superior work if you’re indifferent.” — William Albert Allard

“If you want to be a photographer, particularly a photojournalist, you want to learn about the world and you want to learn about yourself and you want to find things that you genuinely care about, cause that would be the source of the greatest work you’ll do.” — Ed Kashi

“It is an addiction to be in the presence of powerful human emotions, to see the incredible beauty and desperate circumstances that people are able to survive in, to see the heroic nature of humanity.” — Lynn Johnson

Michael Nichols jane goodall chimpanzee

Michael Nichols, National Geographic.

The photographer who incorporates all three of these principles into his or her work, in addition to mastering all of the technical details of the craft, can produce photographs of similar or higher caliber as these 24 National Geographic photographers who spend their days creating powerful images and changing the world one photograph at a time.

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