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I’m often asked what are some of the things I practice in order to improve my photography. There are many as you might imagine, but one that I’m constantly working on is patience. In fact, one of the things I see most often when I’m teaching workshops is a lack of patience.

A recent blog post by Art Wolfe brought this into sharp focus for me as he described his approach to photographing a tree he found captivating:

“Cold and damp, and hidden by spreading boughs from passersby, I spent a couple of hours working the angles.”

When was the last time you spent two hours at one time photographing one subject in nature? Regardless of your answer, there is still a great deal to learn and appreciate from this bit of behind the scenes information.

As an aside, that’s one reason I don’t believe in “timed” workshop shoots. We’re done when every student is finished working, and not before. I don’t believe in interrupting the creative flow, after all, that’s what we’re all there for…

The art of photography is all about simplifying an idea until we arrive at the very essence of what that idea is. A painter starts with a blank canvas—simplicity defined—but we start with chaos, and must reduce it down to something that can communicate our ideas to the viewer effectively.

But that only comes with contemplation, refinement, and most of all patience.

When approaching a subject, think about what’s most interesting about it. How many possibilities are there for an interesting composition? If you get stuck, put the camera down and just hang out for a while. What does it feel like? Does getting out from behind the camera give you a different sense of perspective? How does that interruption in your thinking affect your vision when you pick the camera up again?

When you put the camera down, you release yourself from the burden of making images, and thinking about the the practice of photography. You become more aware of your surroundings, your emotions, and why it is that you’re even there. The possibility of making a connection is greatly improved, and your photography will benefit from it.

I’ve done this repeatedly over the years, and I can tell you it not only helps the creative muse, it cultivates patience. This can often make the difference between a good photograph and a great one.

You’ll notice how the light changes ever so slightly over time, and how that affects your composition, or creates a new one you hadn’t visualized before. Each of these need to be not only seen, but felt as well.

“Anything you do to make your image more specific, helps to make the photograph more powerful.” – Jay Maisel

Patience fosters curiosity, and that’s the key to everything in nature photography.

I’d love your feedback and opinions – thanks for reading!

RR Jr

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This Post Has 12 Comments
  1. An excellent post, Robert. This is an absolutely essential step for landscape photography. Unfortunately, as you mention, newer photographers today, and the whole society in general, is speeding faster and faster. Studies show, and you don’t need a study to see, that the internet encourages a short attention span and little patience. Since this is where most people learn photography now, it results in a shallow perspective in image making. I like what you say about putting the camera down and just hanging out for a while to get the feel of a place or subject. Makes a big difference in the results.

    1. Thanks for the feedback David – appreciate your perspective, and also adding how this maybe a symptom of our high-speed society in general. Excellent point, and it certainly trickles down to photographers feeling like they have to keep up with the onslaught of imagery being produced every single day. I for one enjoy “disconnecting” every so often just to slow down and appreciate the slower pace of life, if just for a little while.

      RR

  2. Yes! You made many good points. Another thing I have found over my fifty forty plus years of taking pictures is that some of the time there is a great picture just waiting to be taken, but people are in too much of a hurry to stop for the shot or they don’t appreciate that the shot is “just there” for the taking.

    A number of times, I have gotten positive remarks about a photograph I captured and it wasn’t hard, it was just that I stopped to take it! I think this might be a corollary to one of your points above.

    1. Thanks for the feedback Jeff. Yes you are right, sometimes patience is not necessarily time based, but rather being patient about the process of creativity, and knowing when to press the shutter and when to wait. That’s the reward for taking time to learn the craft.

      RR

  3. Robert, thank you for the posts on your blog. I enjoy them very much. Recently I told a friend that if anyone could persuade me to concentrate on landscape photography, it would be you.
    I do want to call one small matter to your attention in case you are not aware of it. I subscribe to your blog through an RSS feed to my email program, Apple’s Mail. When I use my desktop 24″ iMac, which is about 4 yrs. old, the font accompanying your post comes through as very, very tiny and difficult to read. My display is set at 1920 x 1200. I do not run into this problem reading your blog directly on line or with other RSS feeds. Just thought you’d like to know.
    Thanks again for what you do.
    Ivars

    1. Hi Ivar – thanks for the feedback and for the kind words. Please don’t let me convince you to photograph landscapes – this should be something you “feel” for yourself. Whatever it is that makes you excited or you find interesting, that’s what you should focus on. I write for those who enjoy photography first and their chosen subject matter is really not that important. I hope the concepts can be applied to any subject. I’ll look into the font problem, but I suspect it has something to do with the email service.

      RR

  4. Truly, this is one of the best photography blog posts I’ve ever read, if not *the* best. I’m grateful for it. What you said is so true and insightful, and we’re in need of being reminded! I’m printing it and putting it in my 3-ring binder of maps (photographic destinations).

    Thanks a lot for this blog.
    Best regards,
    John

    1. Hi John, thanks so much for that, I appreciate the generous feedback. I’m glad it was useful for you and hope it helps you become a better photographer – we’re all constantly learning, and I’m certainly a life time student.

      Be well, RR

  5. A great post and so true! I enjoy your blog/thoughts/ teaching because you address what I feel is the most important aspect of learning good nature photography is the intrinsic values. Patience, study, centering, attention, being present, understanding your subjects, connecting with the landscape, wildlife, etc. Thank you for doing that– it’s not all about f stops, shutter speeds, and lenses.
    I have a blog & Facebook page devoted to educating readers to Nature & Nature Photography– would you mind if I quote from your blog posts to get messages across? I would certainly give you credit and link to your site. If you prefer to see the blog or Facebook page first, let me know and I can send the links. Thanks Robert!

    1. Hi Joni – Thanks for the feedback and the very kind words – I very much appreciate it. You are more than welcome to quote whatever you like, I’m honored and hope it benefits your readers. Any other way I can help, just let me know.

      RR

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