How Patience and Self-Restraint are Valuable to Photographers

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Photographers love to show off their work. Yes, it’s sometimes self-serving, a bit of a “hey, look what I made” sort of thing. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But photographers also share their work for other reasons — to inspire others, to have it critiqued, or simply to participate in and contribute to the community of photographers. Regardless of the particular motivating factors that compel photographers to share their work, they all want to put their best stuff on display. This doesn’t always happen, however. There could be dozens of reasons why, but one particularly overlooked reason is impatience. Or, the need for instant gratification, if you prefer.

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Photo by Luc Legay

I know, you’re itching to get your newest pictures up on Flickr, Instagram, Facebook, whichever social media platform you prefer. You can’t wait until all the likes and faves and comments come flooding in. It’s a lot of fun and immensely gratifying. But while this approach may cement your presence among your followers, you have to wonder if that’s all you’re doing. Sure, your online friends can count on you to post on a daily basis, but what about the quality of your work? This isn’t so much about exposure and composition as it is about giving your work time to “grow.”

It’s easy to think you’ve got an incredible photo the day you capture and process it. So, naturally you want to share it. But ask yourself how many times you have excitedly posted an image just to decide four days later that you don’t like it as much as you originally thought. I am sure this has happened to most, if not all of us. And this is precisely the scenario that should teach any earnest photographer the critical role that patience plays in the editing process. I suppose it’s a bit easier when you are working a larger project containing a series of images intended to be presented all at once — you’re much more likely to spend several days or weeks in the editing phase: selecting which images fit your theme, paring those images down to the very best, applying a uniform look in post-processing, and so forth. The situation sort of forces you to be patient.

Well, I would argue that similar patience should be exercised with individual photos also.

Your initial reaction to a shot or the way you have processed a shot could change over time and you may regret having ever posted it in its current state. Of course, you can always delete it, fix it, and repost it, but why subject yourself to such tortuous practices? It is wiser to keep that image in your back pocket, so to speak; after your first round of work on it, put it away for a day or two (or longer), then pull it out have another look at it. If you’re still happy with what you’ve got, by all means post it! But if there’s any doubt in your mind, sit on it a little longer. Make a few changes. Then revisit it again some time later. Repeat this process until you’re looking at exactly the image you want to see and want everyone else to see.

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Photo by Thomas Leuthard

To be sure, this doesn’t apply exclusively to one’s presence on the Web. Should you ever decide to put together a book or portfolio or show your work in a gallery, your abilities as an editor will be just as much on display as your abilities as a photographer.

I realize this all may come off as being a bit obtuse to some, but the importance of diligent editing shouldn’t be undervalued. At its most basic level, editing is really about respecting your own work. Rather than being known simply as someone who posts photos consistently, you should strive to be known as someone who posts consistently good photos, which I would think is far more meaningful than just being popular. A little self-restraint can work wonders for your craft.

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Jason Little is a photographer, author and stock shooter. You can see Jason’s photography on his Website or his Instagram feed.

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