Beyond any of the lessons I’ve learned from my mentors and fellow pixel freaks, and all the “quotable quotes” regarding photography, there are a few thoughts that have come together in my head over the past few years. Each started as a subconscious whisper but have collectively become some of my guiding principles – personal truths, if you will. If they also work for you, that’s great.
Enjoy them with my best wishes.
1. A photograph is not art by virtue of it being a photograph alone.
Yes, photography is an art form, but a snapshot is just a snapshot. For that picture to be ART (queue the sunbeams and singing angels) there has to be some deliberate, artistic design. Think of it as the difference between the family vehicle and a race car. Both have four tires and a steering wheel, but that Honda Civic isn’t going to the Grand Prix. Not without something … more.
2. Learn the technical until it’s second nature, until you simply feel it. You’ll then be free to think about the art.
People get these two confused all the time. They see the technical as something cerebral and the art as an emotional process. I couldn’t disagree more. In the beginning, learning the technical IS an act of brain power but, over time, that becomes almost instinctual. Again, a car analogy: after years of driving, you no longer think through every little part of the process – you just get in the car and drive. The same goes for photography. Once the technical elements are old hat, you’re free to make conscious choices about how you can art the hell out of your pictures.
3. Art is a journey. If you feel that you’ve already reached your destination, you’re likely missing the point.
Simply put: never stop learning, never stop experimenting, never stop creating. There is no finish line.
4. Acknowledge your achievements and celebrate your victories, but never rest on your laurels. No one and nothing is above improvement.
This one pairs well with #3 because it ain’t over ’till it’s over. You went from flopping around like a fish out-of-water to crawling, and you probably had that Cheshire Cat grin on your face when you did it, too. Then you learned to stand, then walk … and the victory dance followed. After that is was running, then … you get the picture. Enjoy each victory as it comes but don’t stop, never stop. There is always another hill to climb. Go climb it.
5. When receiving critique, take your ego out of your ears. When giving critique, take your ego out of your mouth.
I can’t stress this one enough. Good critique is one of the most effective roads to improvement. It’s not meant to hurt your feelings or shatter your dreams, it’s valuable insight into the things you’ve missed, might not be considering or have gotten straight-up wrong. Objectively separate those invested emotions from your beloved creation with an honest desire to better your craft. In other words: shut your mouth, open your ears and apply what you’ve heard. The flip side to that coin is when someone values your opinion enough to ask for your thoughts on their work. Don’t be a dick. Think about helping them improve, not treating yourself to an inappropriate ego boost.
6. There are those who believe it’s all been done before and there’s no room for something new, and then there are artists.
I hear it all the time: “there are no original photographs anymore, it’s all been done before”. Bull squirt. Imagination and desire prove that wrong day in and day out.
7. You can experience something or photograph it, not both.
This might be different for you but, for me, my focus is absolute when I’m shooting. Years ago, I was shooting Canada Day fireworks and, once it was over, my friend beside me asked “did you see that big display?” I had to scroll through the captures to find the one she was talking about. I was observing but not really seeing what was in front of me (very much like the difference between hearing and actually listening). Conversely, when my wife and I spend the day together, we’re “in the moment”. The cameras and phones stay packed away.
As always, I’m open to your thoughts in the comment section below. Feel free to share the lessons you’ve learned.