Photography is an art form that requires both skill and dedication to master. Some people can pick up the basics in as little as six months, but it usually takes two to three years to acquire the necessary skills. To reach a level of mastery, you'll likely need to study for ten to twelve years. It took me about three years to take decent images, and then another six months to a year of practice until I felt confident in my work.
In total, it took me between three and four years from being a beginner to having “learned” photography. Photography is an ongoing cycle of learning and failure. People often ask me how long it takes to become good at photography and how they can achieve it. When I ask them how long they've been practicing, they often tell me two or three years. It's hard to know how hard they've been working during that time.
In this article, I'll review my theory on how long it takes to reach various levels of photography and analyze the amount of work required for each stage. It's important to keep in mind that the work isn't just about doing things a thousand times, but also about learning why and when behind what is being done. Hard work doesn't necessarily equate to smart work, which is why some people take longer (and why many never realize it). Talent is a real thing for perhaps the 1% of people who are successful in their craft, but the rest just get to work. I improved a lot when digital cameras appeared, because I could immediately see the result of a photo I was taking and also because I took so many more photos, since I didn't have to buy a film or pay to process it. The turning point was when I realized that I had developed the ability to determine which shots were bad and why. When was the last time you heard someone famous for a particular skill answer a question with "because I have tons of talent that no one else has"? Nobody says that; everyone says they worked hard, because they did.
People just don't want to hear that answer because it ruins their view of the world that they could be just as successful if only they had talent. It's an excuse, not a reason. Some people can pick up musical instruments and learn to play them; others can draw or paint without training or cooking, etc. However, instead of the ability to memorize lines, let's say you have a pretty good voice (or even a great voice) without having to think too much about it. Does that automatically make you a great or successful musician? No, not even close.
You still have to learn the rhythm and time, at least some theory, a good amount of equipment (both for playing and for recording), etc. Do you want to write your own music? Songwriting is a completely different skill than playing, and that's just music. Do you also write your own lyrics? Once again, another skill set. Playing live for more than just a handful of people at the local school? Different skill set. And all this is just scratching the surface. You can't get to a professional level by outsourcing absolutely everything related to being a musician other than your natural voice.
Of course, you still hire producers, sound engineers, other musicians, managers, roadies, etc., but if nothing else, you have to do a lot of that yourself at some point because you don't start out with enough money to pay other people to fill those functions. So yes, with the same amount of effort over time, a talented person will become good or excellent in a shorter period of time. But the question of being an expert, being the best at your craft or succeeding takes much longer and some people never get there and others take longer. If someone wants to start showcasing their work or selling their talent as a photographer, then they need specialized equipment, post-processing skills, etc. But not all photographs can be taken under controlled circumstances; some require knowledge of natural light and composition as well as an understanding of what makes an image interesting. I suspect that many people focus on photographing what they like seeing and doing and eventually realize that they're good enough at it to make money out of it. Look: the question is how long does it take TO BE GOOD? So if you have talent and put in the same amount of effort over time as someone without talent, you'll reach your goal faster.
But being an expert or succeeding takes much longer.