On Noise Reduction
Cavendish, Prince Edward Island
We fear missing out, so we read it all, and listen to every voice we can, seldom aware that by doing so we’re missing so much more.
This is not the post you think it might be. This is not about reducing the noise in your low-light, high-ISO, photographs. There’s software for that. This is about making your photographs better. Actually, it’s more than even that: it’s about becoming a better photographer.
The reason so many of us are floundering, especially photographers that are newer to the craft, is because we are listening to too many voices. There’s just too much. Too many forums and debates, too many new products and opinions on the same, too many advertisements clamouring and clamouring about hot tips, and short cuts, and newer! better! shinier! shoot like a pro!
Too many voices will not teach you more, they will confuse you. Too many voices will not make you more creative, they will paralyze you.
Could it be we’re all listening too much and seeing too little? I know it feels like education when we read twenty blog posts a day, but are we really learning? Are we really moving forward? If I had to bet, I’d say no. From my own experience, and listening to the frustrations of my students and readers, the more of this unfiltered noise that we listen to, the more paralyzed by options we become, the more we place our hope for better photographs in new gear/technique/software/fancycamerastrap, and the less we learn. Could it be that we’re deeply uncomfortable with the idea that mastering this craft will take some time (a lifetime, even?) and the only path to do that is to pick up the camera and go make photographs, without all these unfiltered voices rattling around in our heads?
The problem is that these voices are all saying different things. Everyone seems to have the secret, but everyone’s secret is different. So we bounce from one to another, a new technique, new lens, new camera, all in hopes of hitting upon the one magic thing. Look, I know I’ve preached this sermon before, but the only magic thing is to learn the basics, very carefully choose a couple voices at a time to listen to, and go out and make photograph after photograph after photograph.
Could it be that we’re deeply uncomfortable with the idea that mastering this craft will take a lifetime and the only path to do that is to pick up the camera and go make photographs?
Too many voices will not teach you more, they will confuse you. Too many voices will not make you more creative, they will paralyze you. The joy and the freedom comes when you come to the startling realization that the camera will take a lifetime of discovery to master, and you can make beautiful, compelling, photographs all the way along that journey, and that the true magic will be made only when you silence the voices enough to listen to the one voice that matters: your own.
A few years ago I took Tim Ferris’ advice about embracing a low-media diet. I stopped reading newspapers and watching the news. I made intentional decisions about the voices I listened to. We’re just not hardwired to absorb it all, much less do anything about it all. I’ve never looked back. I’m more focused and less distracted. I have more time to do the things I want to do and listen to the voices that truly enrich my life. I have the quiet I need to hear my own voice. I’m also happier. I think the same holds true for photography. We can only listen to so much.
If you were looking for unsolicited advice here it is, written with all the love and care I can have for friends and students I want so much to see succeed:
Turn it off. Find a couple voices you like to listen to. Voices that feel right. Voices that point you in solid directions. Voices that come from photographers that create work you love, in ways that you respect. And turn the rest off. Delete the bookmarks. Cancel the subscriptions to magazines that are 2/3 advertisements and empty promises. Spend the time on making photographs and the money on books filled with work you can learn from. For all I know, I could be one of those voices. I hope not. But I write a lot, and you probably don’t need to hear all of it. You have to choose what you consume. Even with good stuff. Even Vitamin C can be lethal in high doses.
Humans have only so much bandwidth. We have only so much time and attention, only so much emotional resource to give to those we love and do the things that matter most. Less is truly more. But we fear missing out, so we read it all, and listen to every voice we can, seldom aware that by doing so we’re missing so much more. Be selective, and pace yourself. And tune out any voice that isn’t helping.
This post comes hot on the heels of the 5DayDeal. Many of you downloaded thousands of dollars worth of resources for only, what, $90? It was a great deal. So are the products in the Craft & Vision store, or my books, but pace yourself. Choose your teachers, give them your attention, let them challenge you, but don’t cram it in all at once. Ingesting and digesting are two different things.