Iconic photographer Rankin shares 3 tips for creative success

David M. Benett via Getty Images
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Nowadays, everyone is a creator, equipped with a pro-level camera in the form of their smartphone, and social media. So how do the real pros stand out in the digital space? We recently watched iconic photographer Rankin give his advice.

"Five years ago, most people's pictures were pretty s***," Rankin said. But a new normal is emerging. Images are getting more sophisticated thanks to technology and a more performative society– in which people are used to becoming and creating content. "Amateurs are professionalising, one TikTok at a time – it's a cultural land grab," he asserted. 

Since the image is king in the modern age, this isn't only a problem for photographers. Influencers can create campaigns in line with creative studios, and hobbyists can mirror pro artists. As Rankin puts it, our jobs have got a lot more complicated (partly thanks best camera phones). And, according to Rankin, creatives can compete by "doubling down on the power of the image". Here are three ways he suggests you hack the "new normal".

01. Do not underestimate the audience

The consumers, or audience as Rankin advises you call them, are not stupid so don't underestimate them. In fact, most consumers are so sophisticated they have reached "near genius levels of interpretative understanding of image-based media and storytelling". They are "addicted" to putting in the hours to dissect masses of information and process endless images.

Creative professionals can respond to this need by getting closer to the audience's interests and obsessions. "Images need to connect with the audience on their level," Rankin suggests. Understand the audience and give them more of what they want to see.

02. Make sure your image works in a millisecond

Your content has to work in a millisecond. That's how everyone consumes everything now, says Rankin. Whether scrolling on a smartphone or flashing up on a billboard, a millisecond is how long your audience has to connect with your image. But how do you make that happen?

"Professionals make photographs, we don't take them," says Rankin. Don't expect to just take a photo without making it or you're not getting all you can out of the person you're commissioning. "Great photographers make you feel something and think something – that's the holy grail of image-making," Rankin says. If the audience isn't getting something real out of it, your work isn't working.

03. If you can't describe it, it doesn't work

"The two-line pitch" is key for working out if an image actually works. It sounds basic, Rankin says, but if you can't describe your image in two lines then it's too complicated and doesn't work. 

Trying this out may sounds like a generative AI prompt, but it's a great exercise in working out how digestible your image is. "Older lady who's proud to be British with an unexpected grin" describes Rankin's photo of Queen Elizabeth, for example. 

So, if you're worried about keeping your image-based media at the top of the creative game, these are three things you can consider right now. Check out Rankin's work on his website, and check out these surprisingly helpful iPhone camera tips.

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Georgia Coggan

Georgia is lucky enough to be Creative Bloq's Editor. She has been working for Creative Bloq since 2018, starting out as a freelancer writing about all things branding, design, art, tech and creativity – as well as sniffing out genuinely good deals on creative technology. Since becoming Editor, she has been managing the site on a day-to-day basis, helping to shape the diverse content streams CB is known for and leading the team in their own creativity.