Being the best at something is an integral component of American society and culture. Like winning first place, being the best is essential. The best is most often associated with items and services. Thanks to internet searches, nowadays whole lists of the best can be just a click away (taking care of the curious fact that people just have an obsession with lists of anything, particularly if enhanced by "magic" numbers, like 10). Sadly, having the best of anything (or everything) doesn't make a photographer the best at what he or she does - make photographs.
There is no argument that photographic equipment plays a role in this pursuit of the best; however, skill, craft, artistic sense, and occasional good luck (or preparedness) will always outperform equipment. Ironically, photographers put more time and effort into researching the best equipment than they invest in their personal development. Purchasing a new camera, lens, filter, tripod, or camera bag is fast and convenient (and oh, so satisfying, all on it's own. Let's face it, we all love our "stuff" and with every purchase comes the dream of what the new gadget may enable us to do). The truth of the matter is that while all of these items are essential, it takes far longer to learn how to make the best use of the gear. Learning from a knowledgeable photographer who enjoys teaching will cost far less than that shiny new camera that many struggling photographers have been dreaming about (and that may sit on the shelf until the next shiny new generation emerges).
While an inexpensive Learning How to use Your New Camera class can be helpful, it's likely to be limited in improving skills and understanding over a few hours. The path from understanding to knowing is more significant than a 10,000 hour down payment. The journey is far more important than the destination; each photographer's journey is a personal quest of self discovery. I am confident that this process only happens over time and usually when you least suspect it.
As I look back on my photography, now spanning several decades, I can see both the similarity of my early and my current work and the undeniable improvement over time. I can say with certainty that the improvement has been as much mistake driven as it is the result of attempting new approaches. The curve of change from where you are to where you want to be has never been a smooth, straight line.
If you want to be the best, I would suggest that you shoot what you can't help but shoot, ignore 95% of what you see or read on social media, continue reading everything you can written by knowledgeable photographers, find a photography instructor you enjoy working with, take any opportunity to travel, print your photographs yourself, and, above all, stay inspired.
Photographers frequently talk of inspiration. Sometimes, they mention a lack of inspiration - an emotional and spiritual drain hole into which their inspiration seems to have disappeared. I totally get that. Seeing your images printed on paper is a constant inspiration. That is the power of printing.
It is the journey, not the destination. I look forward to meeting you along the way.
See ya next week,