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What is the secret to taking great pictures? - part 1 of 1 2 3 4

by Damian McGillicuddy Published 01/10/2016

In an industry where we donít have infinite choices of cameras, lenses, light sources and modifiers, what is it that makes the difference? Whatís the secret to generating award-winning photography, taking pictures that the client wants to purchase or running a business that - SHOCK HORROR! - makes a sustainable profit?

In essence, weíre all working with the same pieces. Weíre all building with the same set of Lego bricks. Therefore itís all in how you think about them, assemble them, how you conceptualise what youíre building and then fit the pieces together to achieve that concept. Itís the difference between being a picture maker - someone who conceives and builds an image piece by piece - and merely being a picture taker.

I wish Iíd had a formalised, guided path to follow in the beginning of my career. If I did, I could easily have knocked 10 years off getting to where I am now. And not that I wish anyone would have done things for me; just to show me the path, so I can follow it, but also step slightly to one side in order to widen it. Because great photography isnít just about having the vision, itís about having learned the right skills and techniques to realise it.

People say that you canít teach somebody to have an eye, but guidance can definitely help somebody develop an eye. Thatís why at Team McGillicuddy weíre redoubling our efforts for every level of photographer, whether youíre a beginner or a time-served pro, because we believe that by helping everybody we strengthen the industry - which ultimately is better for us all.

The keys to success are simple: value for money, a cool product and great customer service. Cutting prices, knocking down somebody elseís skyscraper - these are negatives that just donít work long-term.

Itís all about learning to tap your own creative vision, which multiplied by salient skills taught in the proper way can equal something quite impressive. And I feel thatís evidenced by the success rate of our Mentor Me On Steroids programme, which in eight years of operation has produced 16 Photographer of the Year awards. So again, it all comes down to this: do you want to take pictures or make pictures?


To illustrate, hereís an insight into a recent shoot. I wanted to create something with a jilted love, faded beauty, Miss Havisham-type mood.

Therefore itís not as easy as just rocking up somewhere and snapping away randomly - as a picture maker, thatís no way to build my end product. After all, down the road from me is the Jaguar-Ford factory and Iím fairly certain that they donít just run around the alloy wheel bin, the body panel bin and the seat bin and then randomly build a car!

So it all starts with discussions with my team, talking about hair, makeup, props and styling to fit the mood. And this is exactly the same process for a conceptual advertising piece as it is for a one-year-oldís cake smash. Is it a boy or a girl? What colour palette will you use? Do you want simple or elaborate props? What colour cake do you want?

How squishy do you want it to be? How are you going to light it?... itís exactly the same set of building blocks. So we talk through the concept, then we come up with storyboards.

Contact Damian McGillicuddy

1st Published 01/10/2016
last update 20/07/2022 13:53:41

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