4 Stages of Learning – Stages 3 and 4

Following on from the previous post about 4 stage of learning to be a photographer, we come to stage 3;

Four phases of learning


Is someone who is consciously competent and knows how much they know.


This is someone who understands how most photographs are taken. They recognise lighting, compositional techniques and often where post-processing has been used. This person shoots Raw most of the time and certainly never shoot in auto or program – more than likely they are shooting in full manual but certainly aperture or shutter priority (as the scene demands) and probably exposure compensation too.

Owner of a range of lenses and beginning to hone a style or area of photography as their niche, whilst still taking other pictures as the opportunity arises.

Images are almost always right straight out of camera and require only minor contrast/ sharpness/ white balance corrections. Unless of course you are going in for fine art prints or complex compositing where many hours might be spent layering images, masking, dodging and burning.

With a reasonably large library of images, this person has probably entered a number of competitions or exhibitions, has maybe sold some pictures or shot a wedding or other event for money (or at least some recognition).

Most printed magazines and online learning is now a bit beneath their skill level but the study of famous photographers in their niche (either living or dead) is the way to learn. This person will also offer advice and help to others – whether it is with equipment or technique.

At this point you probably own some of the best kit available – maybe not the Pro level, but the next best – possible even a couple of DSLR bodies. But as with the intermediate, it is more and more the person that makes the shot not the kit.


The jump from Semi-Pro to Pro is the smallest, and is wholly down to the person – in fact it’s less about the skillset and more about the ability of the Pro to put themselves out there and market their services.

Often an opportunity arises that allows you to make that jump, or you may find yourself at a dead end at work and decide to break out into a new career. Perhaps your blog or Instagram or competition photo suddenly ‘goes viral’ and you can monetize this successfully.


The Pro is someone who is unconsciously competent, they don’t even realise how much they know as it is second nature.  Projects are well planned in advance and the final images more-or-less agreed before a shot is taken and a pro photographer is almost always known for a particular style or niche. The Pro can often have assistants, especially shooting outdoors, to hold lights, reflectors etc.

Equipment is usually the highest quality, simply because it is used all day every day and needs to withstand that kind of level of use reliably. People at this level can attract “sponsorship” or tie-ups with equipment manufacturers or sellers and promote specific goods or services. They will certainly have a strong following on social media too.

Take a few minutes to think about where you fit in the 4 stages and whether you are happy with that level or want to do more and go further.

Of course you can apply the same 4 stages to just about anything with a progression such as your own full-time career (if you’re not a pro-tog).

Whatever level you are at right now, and whatever level you aspire to be; photography is a wonderfully enriching and rewarding hobby.

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