Sometimes It's Hard, Rehashed.

In Pep Talks by David18 Comments


The world incorrectly assumes that professional photographers wake up in the morning, dust off their genius and their impermiable self-confidence, rush out to see the world, unearth their truant vision, shoot 12 perfect images and then rush home to post them online with only a curves adjustment and a little sharpening. Sometimes we wear a bag over our heads to shield others from the reflected glory, too.

As Cosby would say, riiiiiiight.

It’s more like this some days: we rise, reluctantly pick up our cameras while considering again that perhaps we’ve shot our last good image and just maybe we’d be better advised to go into onion and oyster farming instead. Equally difficult career choice, but your self-esteem hangs less precariously upon it. We walk out the door, looking for coffee, then stumble back because we’ve forgotten our camera, batteries, or CF cards. Or all of them. We wander, we shoot crap, we give up. We finally start seeing things aright, we shoot a few good frames, then tire and shoot more crap. We go home and sift through our images hoping to God that the few good ones were shot in RAW, properly exposed, and at least passably sharp. All the while plotting the coup that will overthrow the other photographer we are shooting with because secretly we know he shot brilliant stuff we didn’t even see, and that his career is about to take off while ours is clearly about to sink. We call our highschool guidance counsellor and indict them for the lousy advice.

And then we start playing with our images and discover a couple that are good, even excellent. We bring the blacks in, make sure the whites are white, and do some sharpening. The despair leaves, replaced by the bouyancy that truly capturing your vision can give you. You stop comparing yourself, if only for a moment, and all feels right with the world. So right, in fact, that you’re ready to go to bed and do it all over again in the morning.

Sure, there are days this doesn’t happen. When all you shoot is gold. But they’re rare. Most days I love, love, love what I do. But I still worry I’ve shot the last good frame I’ll ever capture. I still compare myself to others. I still shoot 200 frames of crap as the price to uncover 10 good ones, and one great one. That’s if I’m lucky. I don’t love it any less jut because the honeymoon is over. I just realign my expectations. I see that shooting better and better images takes more work, more investment of my emotions and all the craft I can conjur for the day.

So why am I telling you this? In part it’s a confession. Makes me feel better. In part it’s because I keep hearing people tell me it’s a revelation to know I shoot hundreds of images just to get to the good ones, and that fact encourages them to get through their own junk shots to find the gold. I keep hearing that people find it hard and assume that it comes so easily to others. Rubbish. Sure, there are days, and the longer I do this the better the images within the crap become. Heck, even my crap is noticably better. Still crap, but better. Keep at it.

It’s an art, it’s meant to be hard. An artist without challenge only grasps at the low-hanging fruit and creates cliche. Expressing your thoughts, emotions, your vision – your soul – is an act of disclosure. And then there are the technical challenges of the craft. If you want it to be easy, I can recommend some excellent finger paints. The rest of you, go easy on your self – let it be tough, the bumps on the ride make the smooth spots on the journey all the sweeter.

Whether you consider yourself a pro or amateur, I guarantee you we all feel this way sometimes. It’s a good sign that you’ve not yet become complacent or arrogant. Both will kill your art.


  1. The above post is the reason I read your blog – pure, brutal honesty that sums up what most of here think every day but struggle to put into words.

    Thank you.

  2. Thank you for this encouraging and revelatory posting. I feel that there is not much worth doing which is not hard.

    And for a novice like me, there is so much to learn that you feel motivated despite failing all the time.

  3. Where do I start? Of course, no one is here to read my comments…

    The lead image was so f’ing powerful. That is the gold you speak of and so worth all that it takes to be trusted by the person in the image. I would love to read the circumstances surrounding this image.

    Being self declared ADD, its rare I stare at an image and take in every nook and cranny. I can’t help but spend 4 minutes (thats a long time for me) taking in the details. First the obvious details, then I start to focus in on subtle patterns, shadows, colors. That is awesome.

    As for the post itself. Another home run in my book. As Sean states above, your comments are brutally honest and what goes through our own minds each day.

    I recently read Art & Fear. I was dog earring so many pages where I found comments and observations that struck me between the eyes. How do you propose I dog ear this specific post?

    So the voice in my head about how the other guys is shooting better moments is visiting other peoples minds as well. Whew! No wonder that other photographer was frequently glancing at me while he winced at me.

    Loving the posts. I appreciate the time and energy you spend on posting in place of pursuing a cup of coffee. Many of us are really getting a lot from your words. oh, your photos too 😉

  4. Correction to the last sentence of my third paragraph. I do not see colors. I meant shading or something rather. Hey, I am a photographer, not a writer.

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  7. I just found your blog 2 minutes ago and this is the first post I read … very well said … I will keep checking back!

    I am glad your crap is getting better … a dream for many photogs (hmm … not me of course)

  8. 🙂 This makes me laugh because it’s pretty much a play-by-play of my weekend… well, except for the forgetting the CF cards and camera part… I actually lost sleep last night because i was so worried that I got NOTHING at a client shoot yesterday. And now I’m stoked about the BEAUTIFUL shots I got. Yep, that’s how it goes.

  9. This post is one reason why I keep coming back to your blog. You very frequently address my misgivings in my art. Still looking for the gold. Thanks, David.

  10. Thanks for being open, I know I’ve had the same experiences before, the self-doubt, the questioning, the discouragement. It’s usually all in our minds…

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