Thoughts & Theory

Don’t Stop.

Agra Fort. Agra, India. 2008.

I rediscovered this sequence of photographs while putting together Photographically Speaking. In the book I discuss one of these images and explore the elements and decisions that make the photograph what it is. But looking at the 3 together I think there’s a lesson along the lines of the stuff I’ve been talking about lately, specifically the idea of inspiration coming from work, and my more recent post, Do The Work.

It’s easy to see something, to photograph it, and to move on. But you can photograph even the most amazing scene – the one where you’re sure you “got the shot” from an almost limitless number of angles. Add that to a variety of focal lengths, and you’ve got your work cut out for you. This is the photographer’s equivalent of the writer sitting down at her laptop to write the next chapter. This is the process of experimentation, muttering to yourself, then trying something else. It’s creating 100 sketch images to get to the next one. It’s why we need to understand the elements of the visual language; so we recognize them when we see them and put them to good use. Because, frankly, there is no “got the shot.” There are thousands of potential photographs in these scenes, not one, and how long you’re willing to explore, how receptive you are to what is in front of you, determines how many of them you create. I thought I had the shot when I took the top photograph. I was giddy. I nearly ran off to show someone how amazing I was. My (misguided) ego nearly ruined this series. Sure, you could stop at one. But sometimes the good gets in the way of the great, and I think this series together is more powerful than the first photograph alone, but even on their own, these three – and making them – brought me more joy than I’d have had to simply stop at one and call it a day.

The writer doesn’t stop and pat herself on the back when she’s written a really great sentence. She keeps writing. She does the work. Because she knows there’s a better sentence around the corner, and they’ll fit together brilliantly and the combination of the two will be even better than both alone and no amount of patting herself on the back will create that next line. Just work. The work. YOUR work. Being open, receptive, and observant, comes with practice, not as a stroke of luck. Keep at it. I shot this, still struggling (I know, my angst is exhausting) to get comfortable with my craft, after 20 years as a photographer. I’m getting there. So are you.

All the technique in the world doesn’t compensate for the inability to notice. ~ Elliott Erwitt