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.