What’s the formula for world-class photography?

Above: Image by Gina Milicia
Credit: Andy Lee photographed for Nine Network Australia

What separates world-class photographers from average photographers?

Most new photographers get sucked into the camera manufacturers’ hype about gear. It’s not the gear. Cameras don’t take great photos. Photographers take good photos.

The technique is important. But technically perfect images that are inauthentic are not world-class. It’s more than technique. 

So what sets great photographers apart from the average photographers?

Those of you that listen to the podcast know I’m completely obsessed with the Olympics. I love watching high-class athletes compete on the world stage. 

This week the Australian Olympic swim team won nine gold medals. This is the most gold medals the Aussies have won at an Olympic event.

This is a big deal and stays with us. We, as photographers, can learn a lot from how they achieved this amazing medal haul!

To be an elite athlete requires lots of training and lots of sacrifices. Early mornings. Strict diets. Weight training. Repetition.

This hard work and dedication will get the athlete into the heat and hopefully a chance at the finals. But what separates the gold medal winners from the runners up?

The Aussie swimming coach taught his young and inexperienced team members about how to be match ready and develop resilience.

He woke them all at 3.30am, drove them to a packed swimming arena and made them compete with a roaring crowd and fireworks going off.

Now this may feel like it’s a bit extreme but being match ready-made all the difference and the team ended up with a record haul of medals.

As photographers, we need to train repeatedly to be match fit. It’s no good to drag the camera out once every few months. You get rusty.

Being a pro means that you can work in extreme environments and STILL achieve outstanding results.

There is NO such thing as a leisurely shoot. They are all under time pressure. Models can be prickly or difficult (not like photographing your best friend and having a laugh). The weather doesn’t always play nice. Be prepared for this.

Here are the most common things that happen when you shoot under pressure:

  • your heart will race/adrenaline runs through your body
  • you forget all the poses you spent ages researching
  • everything will become harder, including critical thinking.

Many people abandon complicated lighting and end up shooting daylight because it’s all too difficult.

The good news is there are ways you can get yourself match ready and in doing so overcome nerves and brain freeze that can be incredibly debilitating for many new photographers. 

This is my top tip to get you match ready:

Shoot a lot.

When I first started shooting I used to sweat and shake and pace before each shoot. I’m a shy introvert. I was so nervous before a new shoot. The nerves impacted my confidence. This made it really easy for my clients, stylists, publicists, and make up artists to hijack the shoot and dictate how to shoot.

I was just a button pusher.

Now after 1000s of high-pressure shoots, I feel 100% in control. I’m confident about my lighting and settings and my final vision. I can collaborate with clients without feeling like they are taking over and dominating the direction of the shoot.

Once you become match fit some pretty amazing things happen.

  • Time slows down.
  • You can think critically.
  • You don’t feel overwhelmed.
  • Your voice is confident.
  • You will be able to create the images you always dreamed of. 

It took me 5 years to rack up enough shoots to overcome my nerves. 

Here are some drills you can do each day that will fast track your journey and will make a huge difference to your shooting experience in a matter of months not years!

1. The new location challenge 

Give yourself 30 mins to walk into a new and strange location and light it/direct and pose a model.

Do this with as many new locations as possible. Also, invite a friend to heckle you while you shoot or to pretend they are a difficult client. I’m serious! There is no such thing as a shoot without hecklers such as:

  • drunk uncle at weddings
  • random strangers in the park
  • stage mothers
  • difficult clients.

 2. Fast focus challenge

Head to a park and practise shooting birds, runners, dogs. This will give you more confidence in changing focus points and reacting under pressure.  Give yourself 5 minutes and see how many keepers you can get.

3. Start a personal project

Some of us need a project to inspire us to get out and shoot. A personal project is a perfect way to do this. A 30-day challenge is a great way to get started and many of my Gold members have had great success working on personal projects that have forced them out of their comfort zone. It doesn’t matter what you shoot. What’s important is that the subject is meaningful to you. 

4.  Challenge yourself

Many photographers starting out love working with models. It’s a no brainer and you’ll be rewarded with tons of lines on your Insta page. Photographing thin and beautiful people is like shooting fish in a barrel. It’s impossible to take a bad shot of a beautiful model.

You. Learn. Nothing

Look for models of all different shapes and sizes, ages and skin tones. These people make up about 97% of the population. These people are the entrepreneurs, writers, actors, artists who will pay you the big bucks to make them look amazing.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to watching the Olympic gymnastics!


Get your copy of Gina’s guide “The Shot” FREE when you sign up to her newsletter. You’ll also receive FREE Lightroom presets every month.

How to direct and pose like a pro


Want Gina Milicia as your mentor?

About Gina

About Gina

Gina Milicia is one of the most widely known and respected photographers in Australia. She is the master of capturing that ‘magical moment’... READ MORE

instagram Instagram