On My Soapbox Again. It's STILL hard.

In Rants and Sermons, Thoughts & Theory by David3 Comments

soapboxIn response to my post last Friday, Craig Beyers left this comment:

As I’ve already said–and you so eloquently state–if it was easy, everyone would to it. Robert Heinlein said it better: any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. You guys–the pro’s and amateurs–who have mastered the craft make it look so easy that the many of the rest of us will grab *any* tool/gadget that might give us the capability to think we’ve mastered the craft, if only for one photo . Must be time to buy another lens…’cuz I don’t have/make enough time to shoot .

I think Craig has tapped something here. Photographers who are new to the craft look to photographers who’ve been doing it for over twenty years and they only see the results of those twenty years. They do not see the years’ worth of crappy images, the number of mistakes made, the books we’ve read, the lectures we’ve been to, the stupidity we ourselves have engaged in when buying gear and hoping it turns out to be the magic wand. You do not see the contact sheets of current shoots, either. What you see is the best foot forward and assume that it is effortless, a result of being hit on the head by the mythical Talent Fairy when we were young and being raised by artsy parents who put a Leica into our crib as an infant instead of a teddy bear.

You don’t see the thousands and thousands of frames of garbage we’ve shot, the visual experiments that we’ve tried and failed at, the stages we’ve gone through to find our vision and master our craft. But this can be your path too – and because time both speeds by too fast and seems to take forever to get there, I can confidently say, “be patient, you’ll get there.” If you study your craft. If you shoot and shoot and shoot some more. If you give up trusting your gear to create great images and start trusting your vision instead. And most importantly, if you love putting the world into a frame for the sheer sake of it, for your love of expression.

But there’s something else you need to know. You’ll probably never get where you think you’re going. I know, I said you would and now I’m backtracking. You might well get to where your photographic heroes are, it just won’t be where you think it is. If you think that great photographers wake up in the morning, wash their face with genius-soap, and then confidently make great images one after the other, I can tell you I’ve yet to meet one. I’m not claiming to be anything more than a what I am – a photographer struggling to express his vision – but any photographer that is looked up to by any other, well we’re always looking forward, wishing we could more perfectly express ourselves. Those photographers that look up to us see that we’ve arrived, while we ourselves are looking up to others , conscious that we’ve not arrived, that there are better stories to tell in stronger ways, that there is no destination. Only a journey. Each day you embark, you move forward, and each night you go to bed knowing, not that you’ve arrived, but that tomorrow is a new day to move ahead, to creep forward. It’s the moving, the creeping, that matters. Like a pilgrimage – it’s the journey itself that changes you, not the destination.

Tomorrow I’ll return without the Jack Kerouac-meets-Jack Handey deep-thoughts/sermon and soapbox, I promise. I just had to get it out.

Be patient. Chase your vision, learn your craft. Twenty years from now you’ll look back and see how far you’ve come. But you’ll also look forward and see how much further there is to go – a thrill and a joy if it’s the journey you love, a heartbreak if all you want to do is “get there.”


  1. Thanks for this David. I needed this kick in the pants after having to try and choose my best 10 shots for the TPN book competition. And seeing all the other fabulous shots put out there, I start to question what I’ve done and also what I’m doing. But you’ve given me back some perspective and for that I thank you. I can now confidently say that I put my best foot forward and it is better than what I could have done 2 years ago….and two years from now I’ll be better than I am now.

  2. Well, it’s about time someone pulled the curtain back a little. Must admit that it’s awfully easy to feel like Dorothy in Oz.

  3. Hey man, don’t forget all the gray hair you get along this journey! It’s always great to come back from a shoot and have your kids say things like “Gee Dad, Your Hair Really Goes Gray When You’re Outside Huh!”

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