The Gap – Be Kind to Yourself, Don’t Compare

I often fall into the trap, as I suppose many people do, of being generally dissatisfied with the work that I’m producing. I make images that I like just often enough to keep me engaged but it can be tough to keep going especially when we’re surrounded by an onslaught of great work on social media.

The guitar teacher Tomo Fujita tells his students ‘Be Kind to Yourself, Don’t Compare, Don’t Expect Too Fast, and Don’t Worry.’ Good advice for anyone whether they are trying to learn a new skill or to be creative.

The other advice that I turn to when I’m struggling is what Ira Glass said about ‘The Gap’ (see video 3 below). He’s describing the difference between what you know is good and want to be able to do and what you’re currently able to achieve.

Check out the illustrated video below.

The solution of course is to do a lot of work. Bang it out even if you don’t feel like it. Just keep going. You will get better, you will evolve and you will close the gap.

Checkout the full interview ‘Ira Glass on Storytelling’ in the following videos. This should be required viewing for anyone in the creative arts.

Using Your Notebook to Document Your Art Practice

I am an unabashed striver – I want to continue to learn and grow in everything that I do. I am continually looking for ways that I can push myself and my work forward. I’m finding that one effective tool for this is my notebook.

As I said here I have multiple notebooks that I use for different purposes. Perhaps the most important notebook is the one that I carry around with me which is the notebooks I have in the Paper Republic Grand Voyager Pocket. This notebook allows me to capture ideas in the moment, to note the things that catch my attention and could be useful later.

My notebook is a ‘sandbox’ where I can play – develop ideas, ask questions and generally go down rabbit holes. It is a place where I can reflect on the photographs that I’ve been making, the things that I’m noticing and the choices that I’m making. Are there connections that I didn’t recognize in the moment that with some time and space become apparent?

It’s a place where I can make notes on some of the composition and post-processing experiments I’m trying. This week for instance I’m trying out split toning again and also playing with using tree branches to frame subjects. One example is shown below.

My knowledge is fragile in these early stages and if I don’t write things down I am likely to have forgotten what I was trying when I look at the work later. The very act of writing, physically using a pen on paper also helps me to remember more effectively.

My notebook is also a good place for me to write about the other photographers and artists that I’m paying attention to and what lessons I’m drawing from their work. How can I apply these to my own work?

This is not an onerous process that takes ages – just a few minutes reflection when I have the time. More if I have more to say and the time to say it in.

I hope you are capturing your process and having fun doing it. I’d be interested in hearing about how you use your notebooks to develop ideas and projects.

Friday Inspiration: Sean Tucker

Photo by Sean Tucker in London, United Kingdom. Image may contain: one or more people and indoor.
Sean Tucker, Way Out

I’ve been reading a lot recently about the algorithm that determines your feed on social media sites such as instagram and YouTube. I was a bit slow to realize that Instagram no longer shows you posts as they appear – in chronological order – but rather in an order that’s determined by a mysterious algorithm.

On YouTube the situation is a little better there are the subscribe and home sections. When I’ve caught up on everything that subscribe to and want to watch I will flick over to the home section and see if there’s anything interesting there. That’s how I found Sean Tucker.

Sean has had an interesting journey. He was a pastor in South Africa until he was 30, when he was asked to leave the church because his views contradicted those of the leadership. He then had to reinvent himself. I can only imagine how it would be to start from scratch after 10+ years of dedication to a particular path.

Fortunately for us Sean had been shooting video and photos on the side to supplement his income from the church and took the opportunity to focus on his photography. He’s pretty candid about his start in photography – it didn’t go exactly as he planned – but has been able to leverage his experience as a pastor to create some very inspirational videos. He’s tried his hand at a number of different genres and seems to be settling into being a street photographer. Sean publishes a book of his best images each year. I was lucky enough to get a copy a few weeks ago. It’s excellent. A quick flip through is below.

It sounds like true ‘street photographers’ bridle a little when that label is applied to Sean. That he’s not a proper street photographer. I suppose I understand it. Sean’s images have a strong sense of light, geometry and graphics. The more that I look at them and use words to describe them they remind me of Jay Maisel’s images – great sense of color, shape and line and perhaps some of Saul Leiter’s photos. Are these street photographers? I think that all three are doing the same thing – wandering around the streets of the city that they live in and taking photos of the things that catch their attention.

Find out more about Sean Tucker by visiting his website, YouTube channel and Instagram profile. Watch Sean in action as he pushes himself out of his comfort zone and does some landscape work in Snowdonia and then shows us how he thinks about post-processing in the videos below.

Doing’ it for the ‘Gram

I learn all kinds of stuff by listening to my kids talk to their friends. Some of it immediately, some of it takes me a while to unravel.

It’s snowboard season here in New England which means trips to and from the slopes with groups of high school age kids for me. They are very much into making videos of their exploits to get feedback on how they are doing with learning tricks but also to post on social media. ‘Doin’ it for the ‘gram’ was the phrase used in a rather derogatory tone.

That got me thinking about what I post on social media and why and what are my expectations. I am playing a game with my posts on Instagram, or at least I have some simple rules that I am following. Must be shot and edited on my phone. No wireless transfer of files from any of my ‘fancy’ cameras, no transfer of files from the phone onto my computer for editing. All has to be done on the phone. Also the apps that I use can’t be mobile versions of Lightroom or Photoshop.

This of course is less of an amazing feat now that the phone cameras are so incredibly capable and produce high-res files. It goes without saying that phones themselves are way more powerful computers than the first desktop computers I worked with but then I grew up with a single rotary dial phone in the house if you catch my drift.

The result is a set of photos that are in effect sketches or studies. I’m trying out composition ideas using the phone and quickly processing using filters and effects in a small number of apps – typically Snapseed and VSCO. I’m often accused of being heavy handed with the processing – probably true, certainly lacking the kind of finesse possible on a desktop. Are these the high impact, portfolio best images that will garner lots of ‘likes’ not at all. But that’s not the point.

I’m having fun playing and don’t mind letting people look over my shoulder see my sketchbook develop.

How about you? How do you use social media?

Are Small Steps Everyday Better Than a Big Push Once in a While?

In the first 30 years of your life, you make your habits. For the last 30 years of your life, your habits make you. — Hindu saying that Steve Jobs was fond of 

I tend to circle topics until I get a satisfactory answer – something that makes sense to me, is actionable or is a definitive end. It’s a funny trait that I didn’t realize I did until someone pointed it out to me recently. One of those topics is how to learn. I’ll certainly come back to this a few times here.

I was thinking about a story that I read in the book Art & Fear about a pottery class that was split into two. One group was told that their grade would be based on the quantity of work that they produce during the semester while the other group would be graded on the quality of work they produced. At the end of the semester the group that produced the most work also produced work of a higher quality. The act of making, making mistakes, correcting and making again had lead to a deeper understanding.

How can we apply this thinking to our photography to push ourselves forward? I am contemplating a project where I would post an image a day to Instagram and then review my progress at the end of a year. Would this spur me forward to actively create and finish more images? Would that help me get out of a rut and move me forward? I think it may be fun but would be an immense challenge for me. At the moment I rarely leave the house makes it a challenge or at least pushes me in a different direction.

Carrying a camera with me is not a habit that I need to adopt – my phone is always with me. I’m often mentally taking photographs – I still see the American flag, framed on 3 edges by fall leaves that I looked at for a week when I was dropping my daughter off at school but never took the photo – but I don’t take enough photos to be able to post one a day. Not yet anyway.

How about you do you carry a camera with you all the time and do ‘visual push-ups’ every day? Want to join me in the challenge? Need an accountability partner for your project? A year too long? How about a sprint? Everyday for a month? Let me know here or tag me on Instagram.