Nobody Tells This to Beginners

I talk with a lot of aspiring photographers every day. I’d say 5 or 6 a week on a one-to-one basis and many more via our Artphotofeature Street Photography Group on Facebook. With a membership of well over 100,000, I figure I look at about 500 to 800 street photos a day over there, offering critiques and feedback on selected shots. There are great photographs in that group, and I see some truly amazing stuff every day, but if I’m honest the majority of the work just isn’t very good - yet. That’s okay because that’s what the group is all about. It’s a place to get better. Historically when people contact me outside of the group I’ve tried to do what I could to offer encouragement or any bit of advice that might be useful. Its becoming increasingly difficult to continue any kind of mentoring process outside of the group. It takes a lot of time and honestly I’m at a point where I really want to work on improving my own photography and evolve. I’ve recently taken on two new jobs making my time extremely limited.  Typically these are young photographers looking in some way to improve their craft, with almost all of them hoping to procure a magical shortcut that gets them to the next level. They ask for advice and tips on everything from gear, exposure control, composition, post-processing and how to break into the business and get their work published. There is never an easy answer. Well, actually, that’s not exactly true. There is an easy answer for most of them but most of them, most often, don’t want to hear that advice. That simple answer? Shoot a lot. It all comes from the work. The shear volume. The mistakes. The successes. Shoot enough and you’ll eventually discover how to tell a story with your photographs. It really is that simple but people often confuse simple with easy. It won’t be easy. Quite the contrary. It’s going to be hard. Honestly, it’s never been more difficult to get work as a professional photographer. The field is gutted. Your competition is everywhere and your competition is better than you are. They are better than me. They are better than the people I idolize. They are extraordinary. As with any field you need to outwork the competition and when it get’s difficult or frustrating and you feel like your work is crap (and you will) you have to keep chugging along. There is a reason you are drawn to photography. It’s because you are somehow wired to create and somewhere along the line you saw a great photograph that made you think, “I want to do that. I need to do that.” In the beginning you will have a difficult time conveying your vision to others and your work isn’t going to be as good as you think it is and when some dufus (like me) tells you that, you are going to be crushed. You’ll be disappointed and bristle and maybe get angry and perhaps lash out and then many of you will just give up. For those that don’t quit, it will eventually start to come together for you. I promise.

I first heard Ira Glass talk about this in a series of interviews that ran on PBS a few years ago. Each time I hear the interview, or read the words, I am encouraged. Recently I saw where 18-year-old Saar Oz’s of Creavite had posted a video that, in combination with Ira’s words, drives the point home very eloquently. If you’re just starting your own photographic journey, persevere. Give yourself realistic goals each week and stick to the program. Listen to what others have to say about your work. Find people who will tell you the truth and check your ego at the door. If no one seems to be “getting” that brilliant photo you took of a your big toe - perhaps you need to consider going in a different direction. Just don’t give up…

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.

A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work.

Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.” – Ira Glass

I recently went through my own extended funky photography period.  I was blocked creatively, uninspired and unsure of my work. I couldn’t even make myself take my own advice. On some level It happens to every creative person from time to time… keep working through it. For me, I think I’m back to a point where I can at the very least enjoy photography again. Make 2018 your best year ever.