5 Ways Photography Makes Us Better Leaders

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I like the emotion a great photograph can communicate. The right photo can express joy or sorrow, happiness or pain, success or struggle. A great photograph communicates. It tells a story without speaking, makes you laugh without telling a joke or gives you compassion without telling it’s plight.

Capturing a picture that shows energy, expression and emotion isn’t easy. It takes time, patience and yes, it takes skill. Time and patience are the easiest of the three to understand. Skill, that's the tough one. It's the practice of our knowledge and understanding that give us the skill we need to take better pictures and become better leaders.

There are 5 things we must understand if we want to be a good photographer or a good leader. Simply looking through the viewfinder on $7000.00 camera/lens package and pushing the shutter button won’t make your picture look better. Neither will reading the next book on leadership will make you any more skillful as a leader unless you put what you learned into practice.

Great photographers understand and practice the following five things. If we understand and practice these same five things we will become better leaders as well.

1. Angle
Great photographers know that by changing their angle they change their image. Turn the camera when you look through the lens. Look up, look down. Get up on a ladder and look down. Get down on your knees and look up. Great photographers know that when they change their angle they change their perspective. Shooting flat and along the horizon is like choosing vanilla at 31 flavors.

The same is true in leadership. Change your angle, change your perspective. Change your thinking, change your leadership. Trying looking at a problem from a different angle or try and see the perspective of someone who has an opposite opinion than you.

2. Aperture
What is aperture? Aperture, in it’s most basic sense, controls the amount of light that goes through your lens. Think of it this way. Have you ever looked at a picture and the main subject is in clear focus but everything around it appears blurry or out of focus? That’s the work of aperture in the lens and is called Depth of Field. The larger the aperture the less depth of field you have. The smaller the aperture the more depth of field you have (and you will pay twice as much for the lens!) (Here is a picture I took of a street sign showing a narrow depth of field. The sign is in focus but the trees to the left are blurry.)

As leaders we need to control our depth of field. Sometimes we want everything to be in focus so we can see the big picture. There are other times when we need focus on one thing and mentally or emotionally put out of focus things that can be distracting. A leader with a wide range of aperture will be able to use the light coming through their lens to focus on what’s most important at the right time.

3. Approach
With cameras built into our smart phone we rarely think about our approach. We simply pull out our phone camera and start clicking and move on. A great photographer knows the importance of approach. Do you want to take a picture of a bird? Then you either need a long telephoto lens that will allow you to stand far enough away so you don’t startle the bird (that type of lens will set you back $15,000-$20,000) or, you can change your approach so you move into a position that will allow you to take a great picture and not startle your subject, the bird. (Here is a picture I took of a Bald Eagle with a short lens and long approach)

As a leader there are times when we must change our approach. Sometimes sitting quietly and listening, other times speaking up and giving our opinion. Changing our approach to fit the situation is always the best option. I have never needed to sneak up on a bridge or a building, they aren’t easily startled. However, I still need to figure out my approach to get the best picture possible. The same is true for leaders.

4. Attachments
In addition to your camera and lens there are other attachments available that can and will make you a better photographer. Two attachments that come to mind are a tripod and flash. A tripod is simply a stand you can put your camera on that will help you stabilize your shot. A flash gives you the ability to add more light to your subject or accent a certain part of your picture.

In leadership it’s helpful to have tripod people. People who can hold us up, keep us stable and consistently accountable. Tripod people keep us steady in our leadership picture. As leaders we also need more light on occasion. When making a difficult decision or processing a difficult change it always helps to shed more light on the subject.

5. Action
Action is movement and you can control movement in your photos with shutter speed. Most of us who use a phone as our main source for taking pictures won’t find this option available. Shutter speed tells the sensor in the camera how long to stay open and when to close. If the shutter stays open to long on a subject that is moving the picture will show a blur emphasizing movement. If the shutter opens and closes quickly it will “freeze” the subject that’s moving. One is not better than the other. The first picture will show the action and give you a sense of movement. The second picture will not. (Here is a picture I took of the same Bald Eagle landing in a tree with a fast shutter speed "freezing" the birds motion)

Occasionally, as leaders, we need to show action and sense movement. There are also times when we need to “freeze” and let things happen. Action is always required of a great leader but we must understand that “freezing” or stopping the “action” doesn’t mean we have stopped our movement. In fact, one of the hardest actions for a leader to do is stop.

There are several other thoughts that are running through my mind when it comes to photography and leadership but I will focus on these five for now. I hope the ideas challenge your leadership and give you a healthy picture of what a great leader can become.

Here’s a question. Which one of the five areas is easiest for you to practice as a leader?

Photo Credit: From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository