The Golden Rule of Confidence

In his great book “The Confidence Gap,” author Russ Harris describes his golden rule of confidence as follows:

“The actions of confidence come first; the feelings of confidence come later.”

It reminded me of another quote I love: “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working,” by Pablo Picasso.

The idea is that confidence and creativity are actions that we can take every day if we choose to, instead of states of mind that we need to wait for. Yet it’s so easy to feel less than confident in today’s onslaught of information, technology, and experts claiming to know what you need to buy next.

This can lead to the endless pursuit of the best method, the ideal workflow, the optimal routine, the best gear, or the best technique for instant results. Yet if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past 30+ years as a creative artist is that there are no such things.

What you must focus on is yourself; a unique individual with strengths and flaws, and a particular way of thinking, learning, and seeing.

You must adaopt a tool or technique to your circimstyances or goals, because no two people are alike. And while you can start with general principles, you must internalize them in a way that is both beneficial and healthy.

For this to happen, you need to focus on what provides true value: practicing confidence . The opposite of that is looking for the next method or technique that promises to shortcut the hard work of becoming more conficent.

For me that means avoiding the superficial knowledge that is abundant online, and instead going deep into specific areas of study. It also means dedicating large chunks of time to practice the principles and methods that will add to my creative skillset.

Some of my favorite sources include trusted mentors, books, and practical experience.

This is hard work. But the long term benefits are numerous and healthy. Let me list a few:

These only come with time and effort. Not only have I experienced growth in each of these areas, I remain extremely excited about future possibilities. I also realize how much more I have to learn, and that makes every day new and exciting.

However, it’s the generosity that’s the game changer for me, because by sharing I know others can achieve similar or greater results.

Inspiring someone else to pursue their own creative path with confidence makes the effort worthwhile, more so than any benefit I might experiene. I know that simply from observing my own feelings. For me there’s no greater sense of satisfaction than seeing someone eyes light up with the energy of creative possibility. Whether my own kids, a student on a workshop, or someone I just met.

In sharing what I’ve learned and continue to learn about creativity, I hope that you too can see how important it is to practice confidently. The key is to focus on small gains everyday and forget about the end result.

If you get one percent better each day for one year, you’ll end up thirty-seven times better by the time you’re done. Ponder that for a while…

Being prepared is an illusion. We become prepared by gaining the necessary skills and experience in the thing we want to excel at or achieve. Waiting for the opportune time is akin to waiting for the absolute perfect sunrise from your living room window. By the time it arrives it’s too late, and you’ve gained nothing in terms of dealing with the inevitable obstacles and challenges that every outing in nature presents.

How are you going to practice confidence today?

PS – In my next article I’ll share some actionable tips you can use right away to improve your creativity.

From Capture to Print Masterclass-Free Webinar Series

I’m happy to announce a new series of free webinars that I will be offering over the next few months. My goal is to share creative inspiration and practical recourses to help you continue to grow as a photographer.

Based on feedback I’ve received from students, blog readers, and newsletter subscribers, I’m going to address the most common challenges that come up over and over again. It’s no surprise that composition, creative inspiration, and originality are at the top of the list.

The first webinar, “From Capture to Print, The Making of a Landscape Photograph,”  will be held on Tuesday May 23rd, at 2pm EST. There will be a recording available for registered subscribers only. To learn more and reserve your spot, visit the webinar registration page here!

Hope you can join us!

The Gift of Opportunity

“The pictures which do not represent an intense interest cannot expect to create an intense interest.” – Robert Henri

I’m in Moab, Utah leading the “Spring in the Southwest” workshop with a great group of passionate students. That in of itself is a tremendous privilege that I try to remember as often as I can. I also get to spend time in a place that truly nourishes my body and mind.
There is a a scale to the desert that alters my perspective about time, space, and meaning. Trying to capture that in a photograph is extremely difficult, but the attempt is what matters most to me. Reacting to the landscape and its beauty is what I enjoy the most. The results of the creative process are a nice reward, but a secondary reward nonetheless. 
The primary benefit is realizing how fortunate I am to have that opportunity. 

The Necessity of Photographing Light

One of the best things you can do to improve your images is to photograph light instead of objects. It’s something I focus on in every workshop and is central to the way I myself compose images.

I shared this in a recent newsletter and received some feedback which I think misunderstood the concept. The concern was that if you photograph light, the image might become more “abstract art” than an identifiable landscape.

While I can appreciate that, the confusion lies between how we perceive things in reality and how a photograph communicates that to the viewer.

When we experience a landscape, there’s a lot more going on than simply what we see with our eyes. (If not then you should seriously question your motivation to make a photograph.) And even what we see is significantly influenced by our subjective perception.

For example, research has shown that not only is color subjective, but certain colors provoke strong feelings in people. Blues and purples are more pleasant than yellows, for instance, while greens tend to be the most arousing.

Yet the photographic medium limits us to a single sense, the visual sense. Within that we understand and use what we can call the “visual language.” Light in all its variations is a major component of that language.

Photographing light does not mean ignoring the subject of your landscape. It means using light to give meaning and emphasis to the center of interest, to imbue the image with a sense of depth that goes beyond the literal.

What I strive for the most is to make the location and subject matter almost irrelevant, in favor of evoking an emotion. That’s because when I see a tree, or a lake, or a seascape, I want to convey what I feel, not what I see. I want the image to resonate with the viewer.

Light is the most powerful way to convey that. When a photograph or painting resonates with me, it’s almost always because of the way the artist has used light in a powerful convincing manner.

Study light in all its forms, from a beautiful red sunset to a foggy misty day. It will reveal much when you look closely.

Everything in this image is composed around the light, and how it affected lines, shapes, colors, patterns and drama.

Light forms the shapes and creates interest, energy, and scale. Very little about the actual “objects” interests me. The light is what I see and feel. 

Free PDF Resource-The Photo Evaluation Checklist

I believe composition is not only the most important part of photography, it’s the fundamental contributor to making captivating images that engage the viewer.

That’s why I think it’s also the most difficult part of creative photography, and it’s the area I spend most of my time studying and trying to improve. I also hear from many photographers and students that it’s their most frustrating challenge as well—whether on my workshops, or in talks, or in my Q+A days on Facebook.

In fact, I’d venture to say it’s probably the area you’d like to improve the most.

For me composition is like a challenging puzzle that I try to solve every time I go out to photograph. A even though I’m more comfortable with decisions now than I was a decade ago, I am always pushing myself to find ways to make stronger, simpler compositions. The difference now is that I enjoy the challenge, much like moving from a solved puzzle to a more difficult one.

Over time I developed a mental checklist that I use to evaluate my images, whether while I’m composing in the field or editing in Lightroom. I also use this checklist when I critique student images, and it helps me remain focused on the positives and use those as building blocks for improvement into the future.

I created a PDF document of the checklist to help you evaluate your images honestly and compositionally.

Enter your email in the form below to get it delivered to your inbox right away.

Download the Photo Evaluation Checklist!

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I’m also in the process of developing some in-depth online composition courses that may help you in your creative path as a photographer, including interactive feedback of your images. Stay tuned!

Questions or feedback? Please share in the comments below.