I took this image with my iPhone which got me thinking about the idea of practicing photography. After all, I was just practicing with this shot. It is not a shot I will do anything with but I felt good about it because I SAW it!
How do I practice? How do I approach practicing emotionally, spiritually, physically, mentally. If we think about the music we love, we can easily imagine our favorite musician and the time they put into becoming as good as they are. The same for our favorite dancer, singer or athlete. My sense, however, is that many don’t see photography as an art form that requires the same kind of practice. I was listening to an interview of a prominent photographer recently. He was speaking about being frustrated with his current job and thought, I’ll become a photographer, it can’t be that hard right? Of course he said it with a chuckle in the interview, fully realizing now, how hard it is. In my lectures, I speak about wanting to learn to play guitar. So you go out, make the purchase and commit to practicing at least an hour a month. Everyone laughs and then I add, why is it with photography many do just this? They spend a lot of money on equipment and essentially practice a few times a year and wonder why they don’t get better?
My thinking shifted to that of developing vision and craft. How do we do this without lots of practice? This is a lifelong pursuit and there is no arrival point.
In my minds eye, I can see Dewitt Jones standing in front of a thistle in the Palouse a few years ago. He stood there for about two hours working to get it just right. Most of his practicing that night, was with his digital sketch pad, the iPhone.
I remember with a bit of embarrassment, visiting my mentor Nancy Rotenberg at her home. It was the first time I had been invited into her office. There I found a large custom built light table, full of slides. I asked if I could turn it on and take a look. I was shocked to see so many, dare I say, average images. Then, I noticed next to her table was a wastebasket full of slides. I asked very seriously, “you take bad pictures?” I honestly thought she only made “keepers” and had mastered her craft so well, every shot was great! The look of shock on her face was memorable! She then explained photography was a process. Essentially Nancy was saying she needed to practice and for her, practicing was to take a lot of pictures which helped her refine her composition and ultimately achieve her vision.
Don’t think that practice is all about photographic technique. Oh no, it is also practicing being still and quiet and practicing being a better person. Jay Maisel when asked, “How do I make more interesting photographs?” responded by saying, “Become a more interesting person!” We also need to practice our post processing skills so we can better translate our vision to the final image/print.
If you’re like me, you go through times of self doubt and wonder if you have “it.” I believe sometimes we are just not going to produce a “winner” and that is okay. Ask any songwriter and they will tell you of the difficult times where they can’t write a thing! The same for a writer who gets “writers block.” Why would it be any different for a photographer? For me, during times of “block” I have learned to be okay with it. I can’t force good images to happen. But, what I can do is practice more. I have learned to lower my expectations, to stop chasing the perfect photograph and be well with where I am right now.
As always, I’m interested in your thoughts. How do you practice your photography?