In a recent post, I listed curiosity as one of three characteristics that all good photographers possess. Among those characteristics — with courage and commitment rounding out the list — I wouldn’t say that any one characteristic is more important or valuable than the others. But curiosity certainly is the most…curious.
I think the most pertinent question one might ask in relation to this particular characteristic is: “How can I become a more curious photographer?”
Well, I have a few ideas about that.
Here are 6 ways to be a more curious photographer.
1. Ask A Lot Of Questions
It makes sense to start with the obvious. If you’re curious about something or someone, all you’ve got to do is ask questions.
You can ask about cameras, techniques, places or processes. The answers you get may be just the inspiration you need to try your hand at a different style of shooting or to visit a location you’ve always wondered about.
Perhaps the most important person you can ask questions of is yourself. A bit of self-reflection will answer a lot of questions about your relationship to your chosen craft, but it will also raise more questions in the process.
Which will force you to seek out more answers. This question/answer loop is vital to creative growth.
2. Be An Observer
One effective method of satisfying (or cultivating) curiosity is to simply watch the world move around you.
There are always novel situations, fascinating faces and intriguing places that present valuable learning opportunities. Sometimes it’s easier to take a step back and be a quiet observer before jumping into a new photographic situation.
Watching allows you to take in the subtleties of a subject so that you can create a more intimate, more nuanced photo.
3. Break The Rules
Sure, rules exist for a reason; they supposedly keep everything and everyone in line. But in art, working inside the lines doesn’t always lead to something interesting.
The Rule of Thirds is great, but there are times when the more visually striking approach is to center the subject. Side lighting looks good, but a backlit subject may have more dramatic impact.
A curious photographer wants to know how it looks to break the rules.
Simply, try something new. Experimentation is the ultimate adventure. Whether it’s trying a new style or combining different techniques or shooting in lighting you wouldn’t normally dare, you’re reaching beyond what you’re accustomed to.
You can never know exactly what the end result will be but your curiosity will be the motivating factor that propels you to see your experiment through. Regardless of whether you determine the experiment to be a success or a failure, you will have learned something in the process.
5. Eschew Perfection
Perfection is the enemy of progress. Curiosity is, by some measure, messy — it leads you down an unpredictable path toward an unpredictable destination. The best way (the only way) to navigate curiosity is to let it take you where it may.
The quest for perfection, on the other hand, ensnares you in obsession over ultimately inconsequential details and slows your creative growth. There are elements of a photograph that matter more than a perfectly shaped histogram.
What are those elements?
Curiosity will lead you to the answers.
6. Learn From Others
You will do plenty of learning from your own mistakes when you experiment, but your unquenchable curiosity should also prompt you to learn from others.
It’s always helpful to look to those who have already been where you are in your development as a photographer. They’ve wondered about similar things and embarked on their own experiments.
There’s a community of photographers, both online and in the real world, ready and willing to share ideas and give advice to others who are looking for answers.
Photographer Larry Fink shares his intuition on the topic: “Photography is a marvelous way to empower people’s curiosity. It’s the critical instrument of the curious.”
Stay curious and keep shooting.