People enjoy photography I think because it is a challenge. If it was easy to produce an exceptional photograph every time you pressed the shutter, no one would be interested in it.
There are mysteries. There are problems to solve. There are unknowns. There is luck and there is error.
But what separates good photographers from poor ones is effort. Good photographers are the ones who are always working. They are the ones who are possessed. They are the ones who go to bed at night thinking about the next image, and thinking about how they need to change themselves to get to where they want to be.
And there is this zen in photography where you just see. You notice things that others don’t. You are often overwhelmed with imagery…with light…with shadows and contrast and colour and form. You are consumed with geometry and finding a poetic order to something without it being any where near perfect.
Yet even with all these things that are enough to drive you mad, a camera in the hand can set you free. It can release you from self awareness. It can unburden you from rule and restraint.
And the mind of an artist is a very strange thing. We think we’re starting to grasp something until we come to terms with knowing nothing. For every question, there is another question. And just like for every thing we think is true, the opposite is often also true.
The ultimate zen though is being free – free from too much thought…free from technology…free from constraint…free from worry about what others may think…and free from needing any acknowledgement that what you’re doing is valid. That’s when art happens.
Be free. And and enjoy the art of the image. That’s all that matters.
Taking a photograph for the sake of taking a photograph rarely leads to producing something worthwhile. It can by luck, but more times than not, it’s just an image of nothing.
As you scroll through the barrage of photos that come to us by way of social media, you will notice a great many that seem like they were taken just for the sake of taking some kind of image to post. And although they may be visually appealing, I’ve come to realize something very important: really good images are rare even for seasoned photographers.
Photography history has taught us that compelling images are indeed something that may only come along a few times in a lifetime. And many of the great photographers have said you’re doing well if you get ten good images in a year.
So this brings us to then ask, “Just what constitutes a good image?”
There are many images that are well done. There are many images that may appeal to us one way or another. And after all, this is art. It’s subjective. What one person likes another dislikes. But a compelling image has to possess a quality that the others don’t: that is, it has to be significant.
Significance at least in my mind, means that the image must have something to say.
Ask yourself these questions:
Is the image poetic in some way? Does it represent a commonality of a shared experience?
Does the image contain irony or humour or something that makes us actually want to stop and consider what’s going on?
Does the image describe a place and a time? And if so, does it do so without error or false representation?
Does the image say something about human nature?
Is the image something more than technically proficient, or visually appealing?
Understanding that it is the very nature of still photography to leave you with questions when you look at a photograph, it would help then to try to take photographs that have something to say, and that can describe a time and place, but not quite explain everything that may be happening.
A photograph is only a very brief moment of time that is still, has been frozen, or has been extruded from our life lines. And this is why it is so hard to make a photograph that is not only visually appealing, but also has something to say that is worth saying.
Make your images significant.
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in photography is to make sure you have a clear set of goals and you know exactly where you stand as far as your abilities go.
On a daily basis I think about the realization that it is the photographer not the camera who is the instrument. And that more than anything else, I want to continue to develop my vision. I want to produce photographs that are not only unique, but are somehow useful. They must carry some weight or possess some poetry. I have no desire to make photographs that are the same as someone else’s. I have no desire to make photographs that are useless and totally devoid of any kind of reason for existing.
I have learned that nobody including myself, cares about photographs that exist purely to demonstrate a level of skill. And nobody cares about photographs that are perfectly composed or executed.
If I can look back on my year and be proud of all the things I’ve learned and some of the images I’ve taken, then I’m ok with that. If I can be proud of having a vision that is my own, or if I’ve overcome obstacles that stood in my way, then I’ve achieved something.
Especially important is to realize that if you’re a somewhat average photographer, and by that I mean someone who perhaps lives in a small town, someone who works full time doing something other than photography, or runs a small business, or doesn’t have any corporate backing, or someone who doesn’t have people promoting them or working for them, someone who doesn’t get invitations to do presentations or guest blog posts etc. that you should know who you’re really working for.
Your real boss is you. I’ll repeat that. Your real boss is you. And the only person that really cares about your work is you. You need to measure your progress against all you’ve learned and done in the past year or two. If you’re happy that your photography and your vision is progressing, then you can and should consider yourself to be success!
Do not make the mistake of falling into the social media trap being someone who measures their worth based on Facebook or Instagram likes. They mean nothing. Many on social media who like your images do so only to get a like back for themselves. It is a reflection of the times we live in. It’s the way of the world.
I can upload what I consider to be the best image I’ve ever done to Facebook and be lucky if it gets 5 or 10 likes. In fact, most people simply don’t care about what you’re doing as much as they care about what’s going on in their own private worlds. It’s a fact of life. And that is completely normal. I recently self published a 132 page book of black and white images with important writings on some of the most valuable concepts I’ve learned being a photographer. Now, if I was a young photographer looking to learn something that would certainly make them better, it’s a no-brainer to get a copy of the book. It has the potential to take years off one’s uphill climb to seeing. Do you want to know the reality of the situation? Not a single copy has been sold (even at zero profit margin) to any friends, any local photographers, or any family members for that matter. Did I push the book? Other than a single blog post and about a half dozen posts to Facebook, not really. But the truth of the matter is that nobody is as interested in what you’re doing or trying to accomplish as you yourself are.
Understand that the reason you do what you do is is for you! It’s for your memories in twenty or thirty years from now. It’s for your kids. It simply doesn’t matter if you spent 2 years or 4 years putting together a project of your greatest efforts. Nobody cares unless you put an enormous amount of time and effort into promoting the product. And even then, it will likely be only about 2% of the masses that are even remotely interested in giving it a look. It’s a fact. And it’s certainly not a problem unless you expect something to be any different. That’s normal.
I strongly encourage any photographer to print their images and archive them into an album. Put your completed photo books in a library for your kids to enjoy someday. After you’re gone, your husband or wife may really enjoy looking back over all the memories and the special way you saw the world.
These should be your most important goals as a photographer.
Don’t ever fool yourself.
Do it for you. Do it for you.
Happy shooting as always. And this Christmas give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done. You damn well deserve it.
I saw this cartoon somewhere on the net yesterday. The author is unknown, but it was too good not to share. I can only imagine this is how many artists/photographers/musicians/writers feel these days…
Likes don’t pay the bills. Support the arts.