If you peruse photography websites, as I’m sure you do, you’ll find plenty of resources on developing your photography skills on both the shooting and the editing side. This is the kind of thing that the internet is good at — technical training. You need a setting on your camera, we’ve got it. Want a dodge and burn tutorial, we’ve got that too. Here’s 5 tips on improving your exposure, done. Unfortunately, the web is a virtual wasteland for getting to the heart of almost anything. A million life hacks will not make your life worth living if there’s not something more meaningful that drives you. Similarly, your photography needs soul, and that will require some photography carpe diem.
The Big Secret
Photography training is, for the most part, a sham. That’s not to say that there’s not a few useful things to be picked up from your favorite sites, there certainly are, but what they are selling is a fraud. If you see a headline to the effect of “10 steps to becoming a pro photographer” I hope you turn and run before your waste your time on their nonsense. They are not telling you how to become a pro, they’re trying to collect the currency of the internet — clicks! I want you to spend your time on more fruitful endeavors that will lead you to the promised land of photography. I want you to seize the day.
If you followed pro basketball in the early 2000’s, you probably know a player named Rip Hamilton. Rip played for the Detroit Pistons that stole Kobe’s 4th ring right off his finger. Shortly after the Pistons beat the Lakers in what was considered a major upset. Hamilton appeared in a commercial which I think summed up the (non)secret to professional success. He said if you wanted to play like him, you needed to take 1000 jump-shots a day for 20 years. He was a workhorse and the Pistons beat a highly favored Lakers team by following his lead and grinding them down. Took the series in five games.
If you want to be an exceptional photographer, you need to find the photography equivalent of 1000 jump-shots a day. It’s not flashy or sexy, it doesn’t garner millions of clicks, but it is the truth. Every day is an opportunity to get closer to your goals — are you taking it? Do you find some way to have a camera on you when you might have opportunity to get some reps in or do you spend most of your time staring at that one good photo you took that one time? You need to be a photography workhorse if you want to be amazing at what you do.
Be a Photography Workhorse
We live in a society that dwells overwhelmingly on appearances. People tend to be visual creatures and so we make judgement based on what we see. Depending on what industry you work in you’re probably expected to dress a certain way to convey the image your company wants to portray. It’s important to learn to separate how things appear and how they really are. Artists want their work to appear effortless. It’s part of the image they want to convey. It adds mystery and intrigue to their work, or so they think. If you’re a budding photographer, it’s easy to get caught up in how easy photography might seem to someone we admire.
Photography is hard, really hard. No one is born with a camera in their hand. Realize that, for better or for worse, photographers will try to hide the difficulty of what they do behind a facade of confidence and ease. You may try to do this as well. I’m not here to tell you it’s right or wrong. I will tell you that if someone is an exceptional photographer, there’s usually a photography workhorse underneath that facade. Having interviewed many amazing photographers over the years, I can tell you that they are all obsessive about their craft and their art doesn’t come easy. Learn to make your photography part of your daily routine and you will reap the benefits.
Find a Photography Buddy
Not a week goes by that I don’t see someone looking for a “reliable” workout buddy to help them get more regular at the gym. I’m sure for some folks it’s just nice to have company. The bigger reason most people do better with a partner is because they are then accountable to someone else. If you skip a day at the gym, you’ve let someone besides yourself down and that’s a big deal. It’s also a big deal to let yourself down, but we tend to be more sensitive to the former as a rule.
It’s important when you’re looking for someone to shoot with that you have similar goals and are on a similar trajectory. Don’t look for people who are far above or beneath your level as this type of collaboration doesn’t tend to be mutually beneficial. Go to some events and try to meet folks that are serious about their photography and looking to improve. You don’t have to shoot with the same person all the time, just look to network with folks that are compatible with what you’re trying to accomplish and you’ll have a support group to help you along. Don’t forget to be support for others in the group as well. Give and take.
Enjoy the Process
If there’s one common thread among the best photographers I know, it’s that they are junkies when it comes to the creative process. The finished product doesn’t keep their attention for too long. The discovery and creation of photography — the work — is what they have learned to thrive on. I say “learned” because the creative process is initially foreign to most of us. It’s hard to explain to someone who has not experienced it and it takes a helping hand to understand it. Once you’ve gotten a taste of what’s possible, you realize that there’s no time to waste.
photo credit: Jordan McQueen