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.
For me just as the beginning of summer is when we get the boat in the water, the end of summer is when we pull the boat out of the water. This weekend marked the beginning of that process as we made the trek from our mooring to the marina in Norwalk where will be hauled.
This year we were accompanied by Jay our buddy from TowBoatUS who gave us a tow to the dock. If you have a boat a BoatUS membership with on water towing is an amazing insurance policy. I highly recommend it!
I spent an afternoon over the weekend wandering around the local woods. Not hard to do in this part of Connecticut – everything seems to be in the Woods! It’s nice but I find it a little claustrophobic. Fortunately there are lots of ponds and lakes too which breaks up the walk nicely.
The ponds are now starting to catch the falling leaves. It will be snowing soon enough.
Growing up I spent an awful lot of time at the pool and it looks as though I’m going to be doing so again, although not in the water this time.
While sat watching my kids do laps I wondered whether I could use the time to develop a project, one that goes beyond the snapshots of the kids at the pool. It’s fun to start these projects, I find finishing them much harder.
I am generally happy to remain ignorant of the latest bells and whistles that the camera manufacturers have added in order to sell another piece of gear that no-one really needs. However, of late my head has bean turned by lots of new doodads. The latest in this parade of head turners is the updated version of Canon’s 100-400mm lens. I had the original ‘dust pump’ version of this lens which I eventually retired because it never saw much action and following it’s use I ended up spending a while cleaning the sensor on the body that it was used on. Having said that, there was a certain novelty factor to the way that the lens extended to change focal length. For the weight and number of times I used the lens I decided to leave it on my desk at home and make do with my very much lighter 70-200mm lens.
There are times however when the extra reach can allow you to make the photograph that you have in mind. The image above is a case in point. I’d tried with my 70-200, it really wasn’t working, click on the image below to see what I mean.
While getting closer was certainly an option I had an opportunity to use the new 100-400 lens and made the image below using the same settings as I had with my 70-200mm.
Immediately noticeable on the LCD screen on the camera was that the image made using the 100-400 was sharper than that made with the 70-200 even though all the camera settings and lens settings were the same. This in inevitably led me to wonder what if I dumped the 70-200 and replaced it with the 100-400 lens. That way I’d have a nice sharp lens capable of the extra reach when I need it. My only concern is the weight – a chunky albs. We’ll see how I get on!
In a world where everyone is a photographer and there are more photographs deposited into the ether every minute than there were photographs taken in the 19 th century one has to wonder whether anyone is really paying attention to todays photographs. How many of these photographs are looked at again by the photographer let alone by the social networks that they are shared with.
The photographs that stand out, those that we return to, the images that we print, are the ones where we really connected with the subject. This is often easier said than done.
All too often the camera serves as a barrier, sometimes an essential protection, but frequently the thing that inhibits connection with the subject. The more you are thinking about technical details or what else is going on around you the less available you are to connect with your subject, whether that’s a person, the landscape or whatever you choose to photograph.
The more present you are with your subject the more likely it is that you will have an experience and photograph that will endure. For me this means doing all the thinking in advance, or at least allowing the chatter to fall away so that I can be attuned and respond appropriately to opportunities that come my way. To listen carefully to the voice sometimes quiet, sometimes a roar, that encourages me to take the photograph.
I’ve come to believe that the deeper your relationship with yourself – the clearer you are about what’s important to you, who your influences are – the more likely you are to recognize what caught your attention when you walked by a potential subject. Why sometimes it’s a quiet voice inviting you to take the photograph and sometimes a roaring demand.
I doubt that I am unusual in having an almost continual running conversation with myself. One of the topics of conversation with myself when I travel is is to manage expectations for the photographs that I’ll create. ‘You take you with you wherever you go’, I told myself.
Playing with that phrase over the weekend I came to ‘Wherever you go there you are’, which felt too familiar for me not to have seen it somewhere else. A quick search came up with the most likely place that I’d seen it before – the title of Jon Kabat-Zinn‘s book of the same name that deals with mindfulness. Other sources were fun though, particularly Buckaroo Banzai, a cult film from the ’80’s.
The chapter in Kabat-Zinn’s book that is titled ‘Wherever you go there you are’ the problem that I was coaching myself through is described perfectly. Namely this – we have a tendancy to flee from things, if it’s not good here it will be better there. The problem of course is that many of the things that we’re running from have an uderlying root cause and that is us.
Not being happy with the photographs you’re taking at home doesn’t mean that the photographs you make when you travel to an exotic location will be too much different. They will inevitably have your signature all over them, they will be you, that it if you’re doing anything right at all. For me this means that I won’t suddenly channel Michael Kenna or Michael Levin when I travel to Hokkaido. I may go to the same places and see the same things but the photographs will be different, either dramatically or subtly.
In fact you should be striving to take ‘you’ photographs, those photographs that are a unique expression of how you see the world, and being doing that whether you’re at home or not. I, perhaps we, need to get comfortable with that, own it and milk it for all it’s worth.
Last year rather than create New Years Resolutions I decided to jump on the Chris Brogan band wagon and come up with three words that would be touchstones for my actions throughout the year. As I chose to do something I would check in with those words and see how it fit. For more about this approach check out Chris Brogan’s post here that introduces his words for 2015.
Since I found this approach useful I thought I’d do it again this year. So here we go:
My words last year were Healthy, Creative & Minimalist. I would give myself grades of A, B and C for each of these respectively. I have a good foundation in each of these but now want to build on that base. Apparently ‘201’ courses are what you would take after the 101 introductory courses. 201 therefore is a reminder for me that I need to be looking at ways to up my game in each of these areas. To reinforce the good habits that I created in 2014 and take the next step.
By necessity from a lack of time, money and energy I have sharply focused my efforts in a few narrowly defined areas. It’s time to poke at some of the boundaries I’ve established and also take some leaps and try things totally new.
If it’s not fun why are you doing it? Unfortunately I seem to have forgotten to schedule ‘fun’ on my calendar – we’ll be doing more celebrating of key milestones, events and just letting our hair down in 2015. Life’s too short not to.
How about you? New Years Resolutions? Goals? I’d love to hear how you’re set up for the year ahead.