"Photographs are created, not taken."  

With the masses of photographs created every day by automatic point-and-shoot cameras taken by unskilled photographers, for the purpose of academic understanding and appreciation it is necessary for us to redefine what a quality photograph is, and more so to redefine what it means to be a photographer in the twenty-first century, most cameras are fully automatic, and most people own cameras. But that does not mean anyone taking a photograph is skilled. With current advances in technology, people often rely on the "skill" of the camera and are themselves only responsible for deciding on the subject matter and the moment to release the shutter. The camera is therefore used as a recording device, and not as an artistic tool to create art. What we can conclude is that there is a significant difference between someone who uses a camera to take a photographic record and someone who is skilled at using a camera to create an artistic photographic image.

Photographic Technical Skill

Camera skill is one of the important technical skills. Technical skill also applies to knowledge of how to use all photographic equipment, including lighting equipment, development and printing equipment, and so forth. Skilled use of your equipment means that you know how to use your equipment properly to be able to create sophisticated images.

Perceptual Skill

Perceptual skill is important because it references the ability to see and interpret what is in front of the camera.  Perception relates to receptivity of the senses. In photography, perception is most applicable to the sense of sight and in application identifies how well we are able to mentally transpose a scene into a photograph. Learning to see photographically is an art in and of itself.

A photograph is, in essence, simply a recording of light. Seeing photographically relates not just to the perception of space, but also to the ability to see and interpret light -- not as our brains interpret light, but as a camera might interpret light.

Aesthetic Skill

Traditionally the term aesthetics relates to the philosophical and artistic exploration of "beauty." Aesthetics, however, is not absolute; it is a dynamic, individual sensorial experience, received through sense of vision and perception, and is determined through a sense of personal taste or distaste for an object or a piece of art. When you look at a photograph, ask yourself: It is beautiful? Is it pleasing? Does the art create a sense of visual enjoyment?

There are some aspects of aesthetics, however, that are broadly agreed upon, and this generally relates to the composition of a piece of art. Some rules of composition have been proven to create pleasure for many people, regardless of history. These "rules" of geometry are not strict rules, yet with heightened awareness of the knowledge of what creates visual interest, the photographer is able to more effectively engage the viewer through imagery that is more compelling and therefore more memorable. By being aware of attributes such as color, pattern, texture, line, shape, scale, balance, and so forth, you will be able to consciously create photographs with a sense of intentional aesthetics in mind.

Conceptual Skill

Thus far we can conclude that technical skill, perceptual skill & aesthetic skill are all important to the photographer.  Yet a photographer can create an image with technical perfection & with heightened perceptive & aesthetic awareness & the photograph can still remain shallow, lacking in substance.

The fourth skill necessary for the advanced photographer is conceptual skill. This skill relates to the purpose and meaning of a photograph. This answers why the image is made, and what the overall intent is in making it.

To evaluate the concept of a photograph, we must know the intent of the photographer. This means looking past the surface. It means assessing not just what the image is of and how it was created, but also assessing why a photograph is made. Conceptual skill is often what distinguishes a mediocre photographer from a successful photographer.

Creative Skill

Creative skill is not to be taken for granted. It should not be assumed. Creativity must be nurtured. It is a habit more so than a gift. Creativity as a photographer means taking risks. Try what you have never tried before. Don't be satisfied too quickly with your work. Keep taking your imagery to the next level. When you have a photograph that you really like, study it well. Then ask yourself: Is there anything that could make it even better? What might that be? Then challenge yourself to go try it.

What to think about as you grow as a photographer

When a photographer uses technical, perceptual, aesthetic, conceptual, and creative skill to create photographs, then the photographer rises beyond the definition of a photographic technician, and instead becomes a photographic artist.

"The cliché comes not in what you shoot, but how you shoot it"