I was invited to give a talk recently at a local nature photography club. I asked what topics they were most interested in, as well as suggesting what I thought would be most beneficial. My experience has been that talks on a philosophy and approach to photography provide greater lasting benefit than any specific technique or how-to. Maybe that’s just my opinion, but it’s what I believe.
“What we’d really like is a talk on how to take a mundane photograph and turn it into a great one,” the clubs president said. “How would you process an image to achieve this? You know, we don’t always get the perfect conditions, so how can we ‘enhance’ the image to really make it really spectacular?”
My initial excitement about the invitation quickly faded. “Uh, that’s a tough one…I’m…um…not actually sure I qualify to talk about that,” I said, half astonished yet not surprised. “Maybe I’m old school, but I think it’s far better to get a great shot in camera. Then you’ve got something you can really interpret afterwards. You know the old saying, garbage in, garbage out.”
He looked at me somewhat disappointed and said, “Sure but there’s so much you can do now in the computer, and many members have been asking for techniques to make their average shots look great. If you can, let me know and we’ll schedule you in.”
“Ok” I said, “ uh…thanks for the offer and trust, I’ll let you know if I come up with something.”
Of course I knew it would be highly unlikely I would. That’s not how I approach photography, or any other creative act for that matter. In fact it’s just not how I approach life in general. Shortcuts, quick and instant gratification, and a false premise about goals that leaves out the most important question. Why?
“Art is best done all in, as if everything is on the line. When the little hairs on the back of your neck stand up, you know you’ve commited to whatever it is you make.”
– Seth Godin
Why do you photograph? If it’s to take a mundane image and turn into a great one using software, then I suggest you re-evaluate your motivations. Otherwise, you may not be able to stay inspired long enough to enjoy the true benefits and rewards of photography. Landscape photography is hard, difficult to make progress beyond the initial stages when you realize it all looks the same, and takes almost superhuman amounts of patience and perseverance.
I haven’t even mentioned the word “master.” Perhaps there’s no need to. Once you “master” something where else is there to go? It’s the process of doing that makes us wise, not the achievement of anything spectacular.
Don’t look for shortcuts, learn to be ok with who you are and where you are.
“If you are not afraid of the voices inside you, you will not fear the critics outside you.” – Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones
As always, thanks for reading, and I’d love to get your feedback and perspective.