talent or hard work or…??

i was just sitting down to write a piece about the relationship between raw  talent and hard work….i have my views based on personal experience, looking at many photographers develop over the years, and just having seen the daily work of 17 students over the last two weeks who have varying degrees of "natural ability"..

i will write this piece ….but first, let me get your opinions….so, what do you think is more important.. "talent" or "hard work" or "networking" or something else???

38 Responses to “talent or hard work or…??”

  • Hey David,

    Looking forward to your thoughts. I think from what i have seen takes talent backed by hard work mixed in with some fun to and in this day and age networking can be a huge key to getting the jobs you want or that pay the bills. Give me a shout when you are back in the City was great hanging out after the Slide Luck Pot Show we need to do it more often.

    Michael Courvoisier

  • Sometimes I believe more in “hard work” because it’s what develops “criterio”…

    that “criterio” comes with years of experience, shooting everyday, looking at others people work,looking at images, books, attending exhibitions, workshops..etc…then with that developed “criterio” you make the right creative decissions and you get better…more and more “talented”

    On the other side we all Know stories about the guy that found a trumpet and became “Louis Armstrong” or the guy that use to play baseball with a paper ball because he was very poor and became Fernando Valenzuela….I guess some people comes with the right “chip” integrated to become Ray Charles…others works harder…and others are just “lucky”.



  • The late Jeff Porcaro, famed studio and Toto drummer, once said he “stole” a little from everbody. He tried emulating John Bonham, Jim Keltner, Bernard Purdie and a few others. His thought was that after a while–and much hard work!–your own style would emerge. You can’t really BE those people so you study them and try out a few of their chops and integrate what you learn and discover into your own art and you become what you become.

    David, I’ve read and heard you say that studying the Masters of classical art is essential for serious photographers. Not just HCB and other great photographers, but Picasso, Rembrandt and Degas, etc. I think this is right on. Study, hard work, practice.

    As far as “natural” talent? I think people who gravitate to the arts, the folks that really want to DO art want to do art because they are somehow predisposed to do art. (Hope that made sense!) I think that’s where the “natural” part of it comes in. A natural passion for it.



  • I think talent and hard work or codependent.

    Natural talent alone will rarely if ever result in growth and success in the absence of hard work.

    But sometimes a persistently hard worker clearly lacks the necessary natural affinity, and you’d be doing that person a favor by gently redirecting them to some other more suitable endeavor rather than let him/her continue to pound away at a dead end.

    Whether or not he/she listens (or should listen) is a separate issue. Perhaps his/her raw talent is just not yet apparent and sticking it out may pay off in the long run.

  • I have thought about this many, many times and had many conversations about it. There are obviously people who are “naturally talented”. They “see” differently. Not only in photography but in music, painting, poetry, mathematics. They naturally process the data presented to them in a different way. I have tried to play the piano and spent countless hours practicing jazz pieces. But deep down inside, I feel, that no matter how much I practice, I will never be really good. Sure I’ll be able to play, some songs, but I will never really have the relationship with the piano that really talented people have. That relationship where the instrument is almost an organic being that they know intimately.

    Hard work takes you only so far. Talent takes you only so far. To be truly great you need both.

    Keep it moving,


  • I think the harder you work, the more talented you become. An old friend of mine left his staff job at a competing newspaper where he did solid work, never won POY or World Press, and moved to another state to begin a freelance career. I accompanied him on a story he shot for Skiing magazine in Vermont. He was up at 3:30 in the morning to head out for locations while I slept til 6:00 a.m. thinking I was getting up early.

    The rest of that day he spent on the mountain, shooting hundreds of frames from countless locations. He literally never stopped working. He was anxious at night when everyone had gone to sleep and there was nothing left to shoot. The brief glimpse I had of his work ethic rattled me. I thought I was doing enough with my work habits to develop my skills to go places.

    He has since gone on to shoot several pieces for National Geographic and Smithsonian, and did a trek following Marco Polo’s path across Asia which had him uploading images every day for access by a network of schools following his trip.

    We always think of him fondly in our photo department, remembering that the work he did at his paper was just as good as ours, but he always outworked us. Now he shoots around the world and we still cover little league.

    It must have been his networking prowess!


  • I believe it’s not simply a question of either/or…in the end you need some talent, and you can build on top of that by hard work. The question is: ‘Why does one work hard at something ?’ and here we get to the crux of matter…to me it has always seemed that if you _really_ want to do photography, if you _really_ need to express your views through our medium, you will work very hard (the good news is that it won’t feel like work) and succeed. Talent, while certainly necessary, is only one part of the equation – the desire to do photography is at least as important. It would be really interesting to understand what drives people to photography…I’m hard pressed to express in words what drives me, but drive it does…


  • I don’t think photography is a pure talent thing. Most bands that I like, their first album is the best, maybe the next one or two are OK then they go down hill. I don’t know many 19 year old photographers that I think that’s stunning. Even with talent I think taking good pictures something developes over time. I think the work ethic is a must for good photos-you need to put in the time to take pictures that stand out. Its nice to be doing something that you can still be at the peek of your game when you 65, still getting better still learning.

  • talent not- gift

    hard work not- character

    and piece of luck

    But it generalizing


  • You can’t be successful if you don’t work hard not matter how talented you are. You may have to work harder when you think you are not talented enough. For myself, I am told that I was talented but feeling a long way to go to achieve my goals. Have to improve on networking and creating my own lucks.

  • You can’t be successful if you don’t work hard not matter how talented you are. You may have to work harder when you think you are not talented enough. For myself, I am told that I was talented but feeling a long way to go to achieve my goals. Have to improve on networking and creating my own lucks.

  • Talent. I mean it has to be. Hard work is important but anyone can work hard. Not everyone has that SOMETHING, and no amount of hard work can make up for it. Hard work wont make someone the new HCB, that ahs to be there already. hard work can polish that diamond. And CONNECTIONS or luck may play the largest role of all;)

  • without talent, hark work means nothing.

  • david Wilson Burnham

    -KARMA- is the key to find a match for the work each one of us individually shoots. One may shoot for magazines, where as an other may shoot for one’s self. Both may be very talented however one may have a better match for there work to their buyer… which will in turn make the wheels turn for the $$$, its all in the creative process!

    -DRIVE- is the real question, as you noted in your “Movine On” Blog post from April 16, 2007.

    See you in MAY!

  • It is ‘talent’ at the first place.. but all are interlinked… only talent won’t reach to the top without hard work… but only hard work does not make genius,it can make a person perfect but not genius… and above all, networking… this is something, in this internet world, very important … showcasing a talent again needs a good network , i feel…

    …it is not a single quality to be chosen out of three, but all are interlinked.

    Regards, Sandip

  • I mean just thinking about people like HCB for instance, that sort of level cant be achieved through hard work. In current toime guys like Webb or Salgado, they were born with what they can do. Not to say they dont work damn hard but looking at their work theres more there. It has to be an instinct, wouldnt you agree? I would say thats so with most of the guys at Magnum. The hard work is there but there has to be more than just that.

  • They just can’t be separated can they? One is useless without the other, so it’s usually the combination of both what produces interesting results.

    Nonetheless, as an art student and as someone who has grown among artists, I have always been told “it is 1% talent and 99% sweat”.

  • Hi David

    How about this?

    100% talent+no work=lazy photographer

    0% talent+100% hardwork=frustrated photographer

    50% talent+50% hardwork=good photographer

    50% good photographer+ 50% network/business person=succesful photographer



  • Oh this is fun. Without a doubt hard work.

    Photography is the most democratic art form ever invented.

    And what about failure? Failure is as much the result of hard work as success. It takes a willingness to work hard and a willingness to embrace failure.

    What does talent have to do with it — really?


  • Photographers do have varying degrees of talent and hard work. There are so many other variables thrown in with those traits: drive, personality, networking, etc. For me, when I was much younger, I had notions of what general direction I wanted to go, what I wanted to achieve. Heading on one’s own basic course sets a sequence of events that are unpredictable, but I think can eventually lead to a photographer’s comfort zone. Hope this rambling makes some sense.


  • David- here’s a relevant and enlightening quote from Harry Callahan:

    “…To be a photographer, one must photograph. No amount of book learning, no checklist of seminars attended, can substitute for the simple act of making pictures. Experience is the best teacher of all. And for that, there are no guarantees that one will become an artist. Only the journey matters…”


  • Definately both – talent + hard work

    i will add to this things also:

    – good luck which is also important

    – knowledge (than you can associate facts and make your pictures more valuable)

    – huge curiosity of the world and people

    (to be sociable and open for another person and things which brings traveling and meeting new people)

    – know people who motivate you to work more and harder (firend, family…)

    – patience :)

    – to have some idea what you really want to shoot – not only taking pictures to hear the sound of shooter ;)

    hmm.. i think many things… i would like to know what more… than i can be better photographer :)

  • I think that you need to have talent and then work hard to develop the skills that you have. In my case I am trying harder because I think that I didn’t get the gift.

  • I think that you need to have talent and work, work and work very hard.

    “When inspiration comes, I hope she finds me working.” Pablo Picasso.

  • 20% talent, 70% hard work (business), and %10 luck…

    I have seen, and know, many mediocre photographers who are very business savvy, work hard, and make a great living. I also know many brilliant photographers who stink at business and go almost nowhere. I am ashamed to say, but I have been finding myself lately in the latter category… Know any good reps?

    -patrick cavan brown :: ShadowDetails.com

  • Talent is a given because without an eye for the photo and an ability to operate the camera you mostly depend upon the lucky catch. Hard work is also a must; I find myself being lazy at times when I could be really advancing my craft. However, outside of those two things passion, by my experience, is the most important ingredient to producing work that excites and triggers the imagination of the public. Without passion you only have the work and work without passion can be really boring. So in answer to your query, David, I say passion is the most important ingredient to producing work that excites the eye of the beholder. AND it keeps me interested in doing the hard work and continuing to acquire the talent and skills necessary to survive in this field.

  • When I was first starting to study photography I thought talent was everything.

    After a a couple of years of professional shooting, I believe hard work is 85% of a success. Luck constitutes 5% and talent 10%. But you still need full 100% to get to the top.

  • talent without hard work is a waste.

  • talent without hard work is a waste.

  • hard work is most important for success, talent will indeed raise your abilities to succeed at higher levels as will networking or getting a break, but essentially luck (getting a break) is truely only an opportunity if you are prepared for it…many people with talent get bored and move on so perhaps a little talent mixed with lots of hard work is the key for success…as the saying goes the harder you work the luckier you get ; )

    great blog!

    thank you for all your time and energy that you put into it.


  • hey michael….yes, see you soonest when i return new york…..i think we will meet the second week of may……in the meantime, all good cheer….david

  • There is no such thing as luck. Life is yours to create!

    The most important factor in life is love. If you have love for your work, yourself, and others, you will shoot well and you will be happy.

    Raw talent is important, but more important are hard work and networking — both of which will be fueled by one’s love for photography.

    It’s true!


    David Ryder

  • i really believe in hard work because i dont have talent. that s my way.

  • I would like to opine here…

    Though i know its late…

    Hard work sounds more like something that one does coz they “have to do it”…

    Working hard.. doesnt pay off… and simply talent doesnt work either…

    Its smartness and self awareness and the blend of all the things above that is well needed.

    You have the talent, you know you can do it, and you work at it… make it better, improve daily….. accept that you’re not there but want to get there.. and are willing to put in all that’s necessary to get there… that’s what’s needed.

    I’ve seen people waste a whole lifetime working very hard and not getting anywhere and I’ve seen a lot of people having a lot of talent and not doing much about it because of lack of self motivation.

  • Hello David,

    i’ve been knowing and loving photography since a couple of times ago. and this thought “hard work or talent” has haunted me every time i see other people’s pictures too.

    well, you have your views based on your experiences :)…so have i. uhhm, i think

    1. talent is very important, because sometimes the way someone facing and observing the reality is not the same with others. i believe that the picture is the way they see. i knew a friend, well she is not so beautiful for me. and i’ve never made a more beautiful photo than her husband has.

    2. but talent is not enough. it means nothing if a talented person were also a very lazy one.

    3. and for me there is a third factor too… LUCK. that’s the only one people can’t change. I think everyone has their own faith since they were born. well, it’s just my humble opinion.

    i’m looking forward for your next opinion/counter opinion..what do you think?


  • well, i’ve missed a post about luck.

    to David Ryder: well, i’m sorry. i’m not a racist, but sometimes i think that being born as a european or american or as other rich country citizen is already a luck in comparation than someone born in a poor country. or being born as a man is in some cultures a better luck than being born as a woman. how can you manage network if you don’t have luck to have good and enough resources to manage your network? by the way, have you heard.

    anyway, it’s a luck for me to have a friend who has a camera i could sometimes borrow to make pictures. and it’s a luck to if you were born with talent. :)

    my humble opinion.

    best regards


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