Back in January, I listed five things that I wish I had learned when I first learned photography. I wish I could say that there were only five things. There’s many more, and so I would like to revisit the topic. The truth is that while I had two formal classes early in my photographer’s life, I spent most the last eighteen years teaching myself. It started with experimentation, then led into books and now the internet. There’s so many resources out there, it’s easy to go off on some tangential direction and miss the big picture. The big picture, of course, isn’t really in the books, nor is it on the websites; not even this one, as much as we strive to paint that picture. It all comes from experience. Of course when I describe these things I wish I knew, it’s not as simple as me telling you what I wish I knew. One has to live it. But in me sharing my perspective, I’m hoping to at least show you what you need to experience. This iteration is more focused on such experiences, and so I hope it helps you acquire your own experiences.
Prepare To Be Humiliated
Whether you’re a street photographer, an architectural photographer, or even a portrait photographer in a studio, you need to be confident. But confidence is built on top of humiliation. Whether you’re laying on the ground in a public space or trying to act crazy goofy for a child’s portrait, you’re going to find yourself doing some goofy, crazy and sometimes downright awful things. But if it gets you the perfect photo, you shouldn’t really care. Sadly, no one gets to see behind the camera when they look upon your photo, and that’s the crowd you really should care about. They’re the one who will sing you praise, not the crowd who grumbles under their breath or challenges you while you’re out in public. So do your best to ignore them and face the facts: A moment of humiliation is worth the photo that will come out the other end.
Only You Know Where You Want To Go
Everyone is a critic. Post a photo on Flickr, and you’re bound to get your fair share of praise. You’re also bound to get some harsh criticism as well. In this digital world, we really get to see the best and worst in people, thanks to the anonymity factor. But any comment, good or bad, could steer you in the wrong direction. Criticism, and even praise, could find you working towards a goal you may later find out you have no interest in pursuing. Don’t let that happen. Truth is, even your best friend can’t fully understand and appreciate where you have been artistically, nor can he see your true destination. That’s part of being human…our minds and our personalities are so rooted in our own experiences that even top mathematicians couldn’t trace all of our influences. So snap out of it every once in a while and do what you want, frame how you want and process how you want. Because if you’ve made yourself happy, artistic acclaim will one day follow.
Never miss an opportunity to witness another photographer at work
I love to watch Joe McNally at work. I’ve only seen him at work a handful of times – and to be fair, a few were educational sessions led by him – but to see him at work is pretty inspiring. You really get to see how his mind works. More importantly, you can pick up subtle details about his process. If he’s working tethered, you even get to see where he’s critical of his in-camera work and you’ll learn what elements he’ll save for post-processing. How Joe McNally is certainly one of the greats, but you can learn just as much from any of your peers. The benefit is not the technique – that part you can learn in books. What you’re really seeing is the human approach to a puzzle. Everyone will be shooting with a different goal in mind, and so their process will be slightly different than your own. To witness such a process, you cannot help but to be influenced the next time you’re behind the camera.
When you’re in the moment, the moment disappears
Once you’re in your moment, once you have surrendered your mind and spirit to your art, you lose track of everything else. Time becomes background noise, and you will lose track. Thinking through a complex photo setup, hours feel like moments and your memory card will quickly fill with hundreds of photos. Case and point, the last time I spent a day at my favorite photography playground – Eastern State Penitentiary – I was there a full 9 hours. I came out of there with close to 600 photos, a few dozen portfolio-quality shots and a refreshed love for photography. Oh, and I forgot to eat my lunch, so maybe I lost some weight as well. I point this out for two important reasons: 1) Photography (or any art) is a great way to pass the time. 2) if you have a schedule to adhere to, you best set an alarm for yourself.
Never take the inexperienced for granted
It’s easy for us to fall into the notion that those with experience are our best influences. They are, after all, the ones who really know what they’re doing and they truly understand this art. It would stand to reason that they are the ones we should aspire to be. Personally, I want to be like a rookie again. I want to have fresh eyes and new ideas and unfounded confidence. These are all traits that someone might look down upon, but I personally find the rookies to be among the most inspiring when it comes to my own work. Their work falls into and supports my own philosophy about rules. If you’re new to Shutter Photo, here’s the long and short of it: Rules cloud our natural affinity for the art. So without rules, many of the inexperienced photographers seem to naturally happen upon a great composition. They know it as soon as they snapped the shot…they just don’t know why. So when I’m stuck with my works, I do my best to forget everything I already know and try to look at the shot from a rookie’s perspective. In the end, a rookie would simply try something. If it works, awesome. If not…oh well.