Hey photographers, did you know that not every single photo you make has to be special?
I know, it’s an idea that goes totally against the grain of how most photographers perceive their relationship to their craft. What’s the point of picking up the camera if you’re not going to squeeze your best possible work out of it, right?
It's a valid question to ask oneself — no one wants to feel as if they aren’t reaching their full potential. But the crusade for artistic fulfillment (regardless of precisely what that fulfillment may entail) can easily become a stressful distraction. If you go out everyday intent on making nothing but “perfect” photos, you will eventually forget how to simply enjoy photography.
There are plenty of unpleasant or mundane routine daily activities that we all have to tackle. Those items aside, why bother doing anything if you’re not enjoying it? It seems that too many photographers are so eager to fall into the self-created pit of becoming a “pro” and taking on the disposition, expectations, and responsibilities presumed to be part and parcel of the job that they lose sight of what photography meant to them in the beginning.
For many, photography meant joy and there’s no reason it shouldn’t continue to mean that.
The More You Know
There was a time when you didn’t know better — you didn’t have a firm grasp of composition, exposure, and depth of field. You had no idea what dynamic range was.
You didn’t care about the difference between professional grade and consumer grade lenses. Bit depth? What is that? You didn’t care about any of that stuff because what brought you joy was clicking the shutter and seeing the resulting image. As long as it made you happy, nothing else mattered. Ignorance was indeed bliss.
Now, as a seasoned veteran, you’re quite familiar with the technical minutiae of photography; you’ve perhaps been made jaded and cynical by the often toxic and superficial constitution of the online photography community, and you own more than enough cameras and lenses…and bags to carry those cameras and lenses.
Now, as a seasoned veteran, you’re always on the hunt for the perfect shot because you know what such a shot consists of. You’ve seen it on Instagram or, (hopefully) more likely, in the pages of a book by your favorite photographer. You too want to create epic images, so you become singularly focused on trying to produce world-class work. This is a problematic approach.
Gaining Some Perspective
Henri Cartier-Bresson suggested that “your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” Whether or not you take that adage in its most literal interpretation isn’t the point (you’re sure to find a few really good shots amongst those initial 10,000). The point is patience.
It takes time to really settle into your craft and find yourself in a place where you can easily crank out one brilliant photo after another. Even then, you’re going to make a few (or many) duds. It happens to everyone.
Since you know that mastery is an extended journey, I say enjoy the ride. Take the pressure off of yourself and enjoy every photo you make. Yes, it’s a lot easier to do that with the special ones, but if you allow yourself the freedom you will also find value in the not so special ones.
Maybe you have a folder full of photos that are hardly book-worthy, yet they make you smile when you see them because of the memories you have attached to them. That’s all you really need to keep the joy in your photography alive. There’s a beautiful honesty about doing something for no other reason than you like doing it.
Happy Is As Happy Does
Clients and gear, likes and followers will come and go. Whatever value you place on those things is up to you. Indeed, when you are doing client work, you’re fulfilling someone else’s desires and needs — desires and needs that may not align with your own.
Understood from this perspective, I think it’s pretty easy to see how taking the time to simply shoot what makes you happy is so important. By all means, do whatever you need to do to sustain your professional aspirations, but bear in mind that it’s all a bit easier to navigate when you keep your happiness in focus.
Jason, thank you for sharing these wise thoughts.