If you meet a photographer, what questions should you ask them? What questions about photography will help you understand what they do? How can you use their knowledge to improve your own photography?
I’ve spent a lot of time interviewing photographers, and I’ve developed a list of essential questions for photographers that I highly recommend you commit to memory. These are the types of questions that will give you the best, most useful advice, and they’ll also help you understand how the photographer approaches their own photography.
That way, the next time you run into a photographer you admire or you simply engage with a photographer on a website or forum, you know how to come away with the most helpful information.
Let’s get started with my first question:
1. What is the one thing you wish you knew when you started taking photos?
Every photographer struggles when they start out – and improves as they gain experience. Which means that every photographer has one, or two, or even dozens of things they wished they had known at the beginning.
Advice you receive might include:
So it’s a great question to ask a photographer right off the bat. Plus, it’s very open ended, so it can lead to lots of interesting tips and conversation.
2. How did you get good at photography?
No matter how skilled a photographer might be, they didn’t begin as a photographic genius. Camera settings, composition, light, post-processing; it all takes effort to master, which means that every photographer has experienced some journey.
So ask them about it. Ask them how they went from beginner status to professional (or skilled amateur, semi-professional, etc.). What did they do that helped them most? Was it reading books about photography? Photography courses? Viewing photography? Practicing? Some type of magic bean?
(Bonus: Plenty of photographers love this question, because it’s clearly flattering! So you’re likely to get a good, long, helpful answer.)
3. What gear do you use?
I don’t recommend you start off with this question, because it comes off as a bit superficial; after all, it’s the photographer, not the gear, that makes great photos.
That said, gear does make a difference, and understanding a photographer’s setup can help you in two key ways:
- It’ll offer recommendations for your own kit (after all, if a photographer you admire shoots with a certain lens and achieves tack-sharp images, the lens is undoubtedly capable glass!).
- It’ll give you an understanding of the necessary equipment for different photography genres. For instance, a panoramic landscape photographer will need a certain type of tripod – but if you’ve never shot panoramas, you may not know this. Same with a macro photographer who uses a focusing rail, a long exposure photographer with a 10-stop neutral density filter, etc.
By the way, when you question a professional photographer about gear, don’t limit yourself to cameras and lenses. Accessories are often amazingly helpful and less well known, so I highly recommend you discuss tripods, tripod heads, filters, flashes, camera bags, and even rain covers.
4. Which lens is your favorite? Why?
This question about photography continues on the gear theme, except it attempts to understand why a photographer uses the lenses that they do – and what makes certain lenses better than others. Again, it’s worth emphasizing here that a great photographer can make images with any lens, but focal length, maximum aperture, autofocusing speed, and more can all affect your photos (potentially a lot more than you think!).
By the way, when it comes to choosing from among high-level lenses, it’s not so much about determining which lens is the sharpest. Instead, it’s about determining which lens fits your particular preferences and requirements, so that you can achieve the shots you’re after. Make sense?
5. When you go out to shoot, do you take any essential items other than a camera and lens?
Most photographers have an interesting accessory or two they can’t live without, like a cleaning kit, a portable charger, or even certain hiking boots.
And these items vary from photographer to photographer, depending on their shooting genre and style.
It can be a lot of fun to ask a photographer about their essentials. Be sure to find out why they carry the items that they do. And pretty soon, you’ll have a handful of items to add to your own gear wish list!
6. Among the photography gear that you’ve purchased, is there something you wish you hadn’t bought? Why?
It’s not a question that often comes up, which is part of what makes it interesting. As a photographer, what wouldn’t you buy?
You’ll get plenty of different answers here, and that’s great – encourage the photographer to be as broad or specific as they want. Photographers might talk about lenses that sit in their camera bag getting dusty, tripods that shake on windless days, lights that broke after five uses, or something else entirely.
Note each item, but don’t let it stop you from buying the equipment yourself; what works for one person might not work for another!
7. What are your favorite settings?
I recommend you leave this question open ended, because you don’t want to know the precise settings that a photographer uses every now and again; instead, you want to know the best settings for specific occasions, as well as the can’t-live-without settings a photographer always needs.
These settings might include:
- Shutter speed
- White balance
- Focusing modes
- AF area modes
- Image formats (RAW vs JPEG)
- Image aspect ratio (3:2 vs 1:1 vs 4:3)
- Image style (do they shoot in black and white or do they convert later?)
- Button customizations
Some photographers are very particular about their settings, whereas others tend to leave things on Auto and focus on lighting, composition, and processing. So don’t push the photographer if they don’t give you much (and don’t restrict the photographer if they talk about settings for hours!).
8. What kind of tools do you use for post-processing? What’s your workflow like?
Post-processing is very unique to individual photographers, plus it can be daunting for beginners – so if you struggle in that area, it’s a key question to ask.
You might start by determining the software the photographer uses, but then dig deeper. Ask about specific tools and techniques. (Do they color grade? Do they have any favorite sliders? Do they dodge and burn?) And if they seem open to it, ask about their workflow. In other words, how do they go from start to finish on an image? What does the process look like?
Be sure to listen carefully; the key to a photographer’s style is sometimes hidden in the smallest of details!
9. Out of all your photos, which one is your favorite? Why?
Photographers generally love talking about their own work, so this is a great icebreaker question and a great way to get even the shyest of photographers talking.
It’s not a useless question, either; if you ask a photographer about their favorite work, they’ll often explain how they approached the composition, why they like the shot, and potentially even the techniques they used to create it. It’s an information goldmine!
10. Whose work has influenced you most?
Out of all the questions to ask photographers on this list, the “influence” question is the most difficult to answer – but if you have the time and the photographer is willing, it can lead to outstanding insights into their work.
See, all photographers have influences. And while most work is original to some extent, by understanding how a photographer developed, you can nail down certain aspects of their thought process, such as:
- What they’re trying to say with their photography
- How they approach composition
- How they think about light
And asking about influences will often give you a few new photographers to follow!
Questions to ask a photographer: final words
Well, there you have it:
10 questions about photography to improve your knowledge, skills, and more. So the next time you come upon a photographer, don’t be shy! Ask them a question (or 10!), and see what advice you get.