Photo: Overturned canoes
Gear: Canon EOS Rebel T2i, EF-S17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM lens, ƒ14@13 sec., ISO 100
When people ask me what advice I have about becoming a better photographer, my answer is always the same: “Practise, practise, practise…and then practise some more.” Just as you can’t become a good musician by reading musical scores, you can’t become a good photographer until you spend some time with camera in hand actually making images. In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell summarized the “10,000 Hour Rule,” which states simply that to be world-class in your field, you need to put in 10,000 hours of practise. All the top violinists, chess players, painters and athletes have one thing in common: they’ve paid their dues in time spent working their craft, and the magic amount of time required was consistently in the 10,000 hour range. So advising someone to practise and put in time is an easy tip. But what’s not so obvious is that not all practice time is equal.
To take an obvious example, if we held down the shutter buttons on our cameras for eight hours a day for 1,250 days (three and a half years) we’d put in our 10,000 hours. Are we experts? Hardly. Rote, mechanical repetition does not equate to quality practice. Imagine a guitarist practising scales for eight hours a day for three and a half years. Would we expect a world-class musician to emerge? Probably not. My point is simple: practice is important, but time spent practising must be directed toward real artistic growth. There comes a time when it’s appropriate to stop practising scales and to start making music. Surprisingly, this is often the time to put away the instrument.
Photo: Canola harvest near Trochu, AB
Gear: Canon EOS Rebel T2i, f/2.8 70-200mm lens, ƒ16@2 sec., ISO 100
In a relatively short period of time (far less than 10,000 hours) most photographers master the mechanics of the camera and “craft” part of photography. To progress, they need to do more than simply practise scales. It’s at this point that it’s time to put away the camera. My friend Bob Bowhay calls this incubation period “processing time.” In other words, you need to set aside the camera and all you have learned so that you can mentally “process” your hours of practice. One way to do this is to go on camera-less outings to practise “seeing.” You’re looking for images, but you don’t have a camera with you to record them. It’s incredibly surprising how you’ll “see” so much more without a camera than you’ll see when you have a camera slung around your neck! The presence of the camera creates pre-conceived expectations, habitual methods of working and constraints on our ability to see. If I don’t give myself enough processing time (time to visualize without gear), then when I do grab the gear, I’ll often return to just making scales and not music!
So if your work is stagnant, and you feel you’re just repeating the same song over and over, then maybe it’s time to put away your camera. Give yourself a sabbatical from scales and honour the time you need for mental processing. Being bold enough to put away the camera to facilitate “internal processing” is just as important as getting the technical aspects, or “muscle memory” of photography. After deliberate time away from rote photography, I bet you are more creative in the field. Happy shooting (or processing) as the case may be!
To read more great tips from our pros please pick up the October issue of OPC today!