Doomed To Mediocrity?

In Pep Talks, VisionMongers by David82 Comments

I got this question in my inbox this week:

In the past two decades I’ve learned at least one thing about myself:  I don’t do expert well. I do bouncing around, try everything once well.  Chalk it up to my being Gemini, too much coffee or ADD. I can get good, and focus for short periods of time but when the next shiny thing comes along – zoom, off I go.  Does this doom me to a life of mediocrity as a photographer? Does this mean I’ll never develop a “style” or “vision” that will be consistent enough to market?

Sincerely, Doomed In Duluth.

I’ve got a response. But I’m interested to first hear yours before I write mine. Otherwise you’ll totally copy me or just write, “yeah, what he said.” and we’ll miss a chance to hear other voices, encourage each other, and hold hands around the campfire while we sing Kumbaya. Or something. Seriously, how would you reply to this? It’s a good question and I know it gets asked more often than we admit, but usually it gets asked with our inside voices, the ones we try to ignore or medicate. Give it a shot in the comments.


  1. Pingback: On Being Average | Photography Minute, Learn about Photography in Minutes a Day

  2. I wish I had seen this post earlier. I would certainly have wanted to contribute when it was active.

    If I am to put this response in terms of yout Astrological sign I would have to say that he is not suffering from ADD. Geminians just have a unique way of seeing things – they are able to see multiple sides of the same situation simultaneously so it is easy to become distracted. That is by no means a weakness but a strength in disguise. With the ability to see the same situation in different ways that means you could potentially render the same scene in different ways and evoke different responses.

    That is where you have to come to realize your strength and make the most use of it. Having knowledge of that you now have to choose a side and try to flesh it out, work at it to try to make the image evoke that one interpretation that first grabbed your attention. Work at it through composition, point of view and organizing your elements through your view finder to translate your feeling into the image. If it doesn’t work out try addressing some of the other emotions you got when you saw the scene and see whether they translate into a much stronger visual interpretation of the scene you “felt” when you saw it.

    It may take hours before you finally get the interpretation that you are looking for but you will be far more satisfied than running to the next scene and not getting any images that evoke the feeling you want.

  3. Actually, I have the same problem. I’ve been doing photography my entire life (given, I’m only 26). Until recently, I had never considered that I might be good enough to do it professionally. I always have consistent results, but my style changes to fit the situation, and I have no idea how to market myself in a sea of photographers, who often know how to market themselves better than take pictures. It seems like a highly unstable industry, and a highly saturated industry. So, I can’t really offer any advice – – only commiseration.

  4. I am a student, social worker, Wife, Mother of 5, keeper of numerous pets, Wilderness EMT, Incident Commander for Search and Rescue, Amateur Radio Operator, Emergency responder for national and international incidents and a novice photographer. I have a great passion for life and while my body continues to race towards 60, my mind is way back when I was 20.

    I don’t suffer from ADD or drink tons of caffeine, I just enjoy trying new things. I probably won’t ever be a well known photographer but I have become a keeper of time for the people I meet and the places I go through photography. Last weekend I went to a nursing home and photographed 37 people, the oldest was 100. They won’t remember me but their families will have a permanent memory that they wouldn’t have otherwise had.

    If choosing to participate in multiple facets of life means my photography will always be mediocre and/or unmarketable, bring it on! It’s too much fun to stop even if I’m not the latest or greatest thing to hit the world of photography. And during those times when I’m feeling forgotten and just another drop in the bucket, remembering having made a permanent memory through photography feels good and reminds me that today someone is holding a photograph I took of someone or someplace they love. And that’s all I need!

  5. Author

    @rkpowers – Patience, young man 🙂 Monday’s post is my own reply to this. 🙂

  6. Eli R., above, suggested that David chime in on post number 100, so I’m just trying to help get there. I already dropped my 2 cents in a while ago…..

  7. I would say “go with it”. Jump around, learn everything you can. If you try to force yourself into a mold that you don’t fit, you risk losing your passion. Enjoy who you are and learn from it. Just remember to take a moment once in awhile and look at your work, play with it, critique it, mess it up, fix it, and just generally see what charges your batteries. This periodic contemplation may well lead you into a more directed focus.

    But in the meantime, just enjoy who you are and see where it takes you.

  8. My personal choice is when I am attracted to “shiny new things” is to go back to my list of “my favorite thing”. If what is on my favorite list can incorporate the shiny new thing its a go. If not I forgo it and focus back on my list. My list consist of just nine things I love to photograph. My passion my love is captured and my ideas stay focused. cheers

  9. I think Mr/Mrs. Doomed needs to explain “shiny new thing”. I understand it as being a new activity not necessarily a new piece of gear. Talking with a fellow hobbyist photographer recently, he confessed to not shooting lately. Snow board season is upon him so he got distracted. I don’t think he intends on being a vocational shooter in the future but if he wanted to, well, maybe snow boarding is a distraction. Unless, he was to bring his camera and “shoot snow boarders”? That’s how Chase Jarvis started out.

  10. My answer, like some of the above, would be “probably”. For the most part, I’m a subscriber to the 10,000 hour rule; namely, that’s how much time you need to put into something to truly master it. The ‘shiny thing’ syndrome certainly presents a challenge. In my experience, the equipment is the easiest piece to master. The trick is how to apply that equipment to realize your vision, assuming you have one. I’m still working on that myself, and likely always will be. That said, there are people in many disciplines who can just be great at something from the start. I hate those people! 😉

  11. I’ve only skimmed these comments, so apologies if I’m repeating something already said.

    My two cents would be not to judge yourself by others standards, or what you think are their standards. Do you makes you happy.

    Ask yourself – do you feel doomed because you read blogs and books where others always talk about focus and single-minded determination in one area? If you do, then perhaps you’re taking what works for others and trying to apply it to yourself instead of finding what works for you. Maybe for you, your vision and purpose is one that sees you jumping from one field to another. If so, embrace it.

  12. Quote Nike “Just Do It”

    I hear and I forget
    I see and I remember
    I do and I understand

    Either of the above works

  13. Mediocrity is not necessarily the result of trying lots of different things photographically. I view mediocrity more as not having a solid handle on the fundamental principles of creating images with impact. In fact, trying different things makes you more versatile and allows you to refine your ability to compose, expose and create impact in your images across a variety of situations.

  14. Wow, so many empassioned, expressive and creative responses. The art of conversation is far from dead. So, here’s my take on this.

    My real job is in IT and I’m the ‘Jack of all Trades’ type where my focus changes frequently. I’ve heard from the experts, my whole career, that being a Jack of All Trades isn’t going to get me anywhere. What they left off, is that you have to be a “Master” of all Trades. Just take a look at my blog and gallery; I’m all over the place, too, but my goal is to Master it all!

    So, FWIW, here’s my advise to you. Duluth is a spectacularly beautiful place with a myriad of things to photograph. There’s the natural beauty, the industrial beauty, the city beauty, the country beauty and of course the lake beauty (and people, too).

    So, Master the craft, don’t worry about the focus. Your focus is a “broad brush” don’t pigeon hole yourself, its not in your personality! For some reason, that’s a put-down now-a-days when in my parent’s generation (ww II) it was a compliment. My mom was a very successful artist and jumped media on a yearly basis and jumped styles, too. You know what, here customer’s loved that. They could see her creativity because she “Mastered” all the media that she would use! Her mom (my grandmother) gave me the best advise when I was young, “It doesn’t matter what you do, just do your damndest!”

  15. Embrace it! This is the digital age. An age of multi-tasking, of having to have multiple skills, multiple interests. Most of us struggleto do it and are jack of all..rather than master of one.

    The duChemins of this world are great BECAUSE they embrace and work at that multi-discipline approach.

    What you think is as a weakness, is really a strength!
    You have a head start on most of us who are truly average!

    Enjoy the journey

  16. Look at it this way. Your inability to stick with a plan long term my be just the reason you Will succeeded. It’s fine to have more than one passion in life, the goal is to HAVE passion. Tell yourself, I need to learn this NOW, and do this NOW because tomorrow I may be counting ducks at the local lake. Make yourself jump into action because you know yourself better than anyone and know you must act Now. I believe once you start accepting the things you know about yourself the tasks of completing something will become easier.
    If I may quote:
    (To Your Higher Power), Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

  17. Don’t know how you’re defining ‘mediocre’ but I can relate to the bouncing around and onto shiny things. Being curious means constantly trying/learning new things (I do that) — it makes life interesting and exciting!

    What helped me focus was a course (in the form of a book) called Creating A Life Worth Living: A practical course in career design for artists, innovators, and others aspiring to a creative life by Carol Lloyd. It’s simple, doable and extremely practical. You only need to spend 10-15 minutes a day at it. That will get you through a chapter a week and the book finished in 11 weeks. Highly recommended.

    Just a few things this book helped me figure out that may help you too are focus, determine my needs re work and realize I need two or three careers at once (writing/screenwriting, photography, teaching) — its a Whirling Dervish Artistic Profile (author’s term). That sounds like you, too. It helped me dig deep and figure out what’s important enough to seriously pursue and which interests are secondary. As you try different things you’re learning and you can likely utilize everything you’ve learned in some way. These ‘shiny things’ may be leading/pointing you toward a focus — or three. Keep journeying and embracing all you experience — you’ll find the answer!

  18. Developing ones vision, establishing ones integrity is very hard work. Commitment and focus and discipline are essential. There is no magic bullet. Where I personally get into the most trouble is in trying to do too much at one time. Pick out some small area of your photographic journey where you want to grow and work on it for at least a month. Don’t get diverted and don’t try to take on more. My hunch is that you will achieve some success. Then gradually build on that success. Personally I think that at least in part, the incredible technology at our disposal deludes into believing that there is a way around hard work. There isn’t.
    Furthermore, the belief that we are stuck with who we are is at best a half-truth. If we want something badly enough, we can either achieve it, or come very close. I think of the analogy of AA. Some people have thought that they were condemned to being enslaved to alcohol. What they discovered was that by working a program, with the help of a community and a commitment to sobriety, they achieved what they never thought possible.

  19. I remmeber a great documentary about Picasso, most ly him doing his thing… he also would have oved the ‘delete key’ in a particular scene semi- timelapsed his muttering and kvetching geting more and more pronounced as he resorts to pastes paper over parts of the picture he has changed to many times saying “i never know when to stop!”. He was certainly all over the place and equally certainly not mediocre.

  20. I have the same challenge/opportunity.
    I’m not exceptional at one thing but I’m very good at a lot of things.
    I recognized I have this tendency and realized that in order to be truely exceptional I had to focus on the one thing.
    I made a choice not to be exceptional. The price I would have to pay is to high. But even though I am good at many things, I am better at some, and those are the things I choose to focus on – photography being one of them. Does that mean I’m mediocre? Yes and no. Yes on the things I’ve just played with (pottery) and no on the things I’ve focused on (photography, programming).

    And like so many have said, there is a benefit to a broad experience. You can see the world in a way the exceptional person can’t. He see’s it very focused, very detailed in one area. You, with your broad experience will see a richer more varied landscape. Is one better than the other – no. They are both necessary.

    It’s a choice and a commitment to the choice. Obviously when you jump from one to another it is because of the choice you made.

  21. Apologies if this is a duplicate of anyone else’s ideas. I decided to write before reading in order to avoid being influenced by the thoughts of others.

    Doing a lot of different things builds a wealth of experience. When you’re near retirement age, all the stories will make you what used to be called a raconteur, or story teller. That, then, becomes your image or signature.

    You’ll walk down a street and see something that reminds you of a story you read or a job you held. You’ll take a photograph with that in mind and that photo will be different than the one that others on that same street see/shoot. It will be the embodiment of your vision and the collective experience of all the things you do somewhat well will make that signature unique.

    The downside, of course, is the time it takes to get there. It is a lot faster to choose one thing and learn to become an expert. However, if that isn’t natural, then the awkwardness of forcing it will show up in your work, too.

    We can all learn better technique, but none of us can change who we are or our inner nature. I think the happiest of us are the ones who learn to embrace it.

  22. As I see it there are two specific questions raised. 1) Does it doom you to a life of mediocricity as a photographer and 2) Will you never develop a style or vision consistent enought to market.
    My reflections on Q1 is that there must be many ways to Memphis. And who gets to decide what it is to be mediocre. How do you measure mediocre?
    On Q2: I would ask my fellow photographers what they think your style is, if there is one. Perhaps you can focus on elements of your style for marketing purposes. Not all of it. Could you co-operate with someone who could do the marketing for you. Do what you do best and outsource the rest.
    As I have not yet started reading visionmongers I assume the “right” answer is in there somewhere. 🙂 Let us hear “The Voice” in comment number 100, David!

  23. I only have one hobby – I collect hobbies. The way I found my voice was to scrutinize my hobby collection for the common thread. Once I found that thread I had to choose whether to weave an entire career garment from it or just stitch together the tapestry of all of my varied interests with it. Just find that common thread then make sure it’s a part of everything you do professionally and whatever you make with it will be strong. Of course, the more of that common thread you are able to weave into your daily activities, the stronger your results will be.

  24. Training yourself to conscentrate is an art, not something that just happens. Sure there are people who can concentrate on one thing for long periods of time, but the rest of us need to train ourselves to focus and conscentrate on one thing. If you are having problems, schedule to work on a project for 20 min. and force yourself to stay on task.. When you get so you can do 20 min , move to 30 min. I think training yourself to concentrate is like running a marathon. You can’t start out at 26 mi, you have to start small on build. Try concentrating in short bursts – take a break – and do another short burst. It has worked for me over the years. You may not become an expert, but you will gain some expertise in your subject.

  25. Wonderful input from all. If I were you and had the ability to bounce (not financially limiting) I would. Eventually the peg shape of YOU will find the corresponding hole. Until then, you are still being shaped. Finding freedom in that, the ‘permission’ to not find a track and run with it in one direction, as a wise man called it “following your bliss”. It’s a bit self serving (possibly) but to walk where you are being led (by faith, or the inner voice or inner voices) takes some stones. It’s the sum of the parts, not the parts individually (with respect to mediocrity in many areas). There is a Robert Service poem about gypsies. I think it’s called “The Men That Don’t Fit”. Service talks about never finding your track, never making a mark, although I can’t help think that he’s putting himself in the same category, and it’s not a bad one to be in.

    All this as I sit in my cubicle and listen to the owner talk to someone about my comfy little day job of almost a decade vaporizing as he pulls the plug on the company. Maybe.

    I might just be touching base with you Mr. Doomed to find out how you do the whole bouncing thing.

  26. Frankie says… RELAX!

    I used to think I was that way. It used to scare me.

    I have actually had three full blown and reasonably successful careers. In each I managed to be what most would call “accomplished.”

    I’m now the ripe young age of 59. And suddenly, when I look at what I’m doing today, it is a compilation of all the skills accumulated in the past. They all begin to find themselves in a serendipitous existence in who and what I am today. I am able to look at how I do something each and every day and identify where that lesson came in my life.

    It is called life…. keep doing the things that make you happy and don’t ever become satisfied.

    Two quotes:

    “Perfect confidence is granted to the less talented as a consolation prize.” – Robert Hughes

    “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” – John Lennon

  27. Dear Doomed: I feel like I am writing to myself. I am 56. In my working lifetime (about 40 years) I have been a surveyor, a recording engineer, done a degree in theology (2 in fact), a degree in engineering, been the head designer for a prominent bicycle company, and those are just the “major” activities. In the last few years I, like you, have felt that I will never find my “one true voice”. I have truly despaired about it and to some extent still do. Deep down I hate being this way.
    Recently though I have begun to see a glimmer that gives me some encouragement. I am learning to accept (simply) that this is who I am. I am “Jack” and not “Master”. I am discovering that there are distinct advantages to this. Example: A major theme in David’s “Vision Mongers” is learning to develop the ability to handle the business end of things and not just the shooting. For those of us who are Jacks this is a much easier transition. We like to do new things…
    I don’t want to just roll on and on here so let me conclude by saying this. In the “jackdom” in which we live, look for the threads that are common to everything you have done (in photography as well). For me the thread in all these activities has been the ability to marry the technical or theoretical with the art and the practical. So, for example, in photography: highly technical but highly artistic… As a “jack” I can relate and work at both ends of this spectrum; Art at one end and shiny objects at the other.
    I am sure that if you look at what you have chased and become good at that there is a theme, a common thread. Work the threads.
    All the best,

  28. Doomed, against whom are you measuring yourself to determine your mediocrity? If you measure yourself against your idols, then you might just find that indeed you continue to be mediocre. (There is a reason that we choose to idolize some, and the ability to easily reach their level isn’t often one of the reasons.) However, if you measure based on your own progress, then you might just find that while you still feel mediocre that you’ve actually progressed remarkably since your last self-determined measure of mediocrity.

    When faced with some clear superior ability of somebody else, my brother, as a child, would remind himself that he could do backflips (and the other guy couldn’t). We can all do something. I bet that you are envied by many for some particular ability of yours. You might not even realize it.

  29. …such a great question.

    “For reasons I can’t explain, how I expect things to be greatly influences how they become.” – Zig Ziglar

    If you think you “can’t,” you are right. If you think you “can,” you are right. You are doomed to mediocrity only if you believe that you are “doomed to mediocrity.”

    Make a list of all the things that you have been experimenting with. Do you see any common threads? Make another list of the things that you have tried and didn’t like. Compare the two lists. Try to be intentional about observing what you are learning. Knowing what we don’t like can help push us in the direction to find our style (or vision). Observe. Make notes. Review your findings periodically. Align your thinking with your dreams and be true to what you love. Whatever you do, …Keep Going.

  30. Dooms email TOTALLY describes me, ironically, I am Gemini too. I find myself being able to do many things fairly well but not GREAT at any one particular thing, as my astrological sign predicts.

    I rarely finish a project whether it’s a web design, drawing, or photographic project such as a themed calender. I seem to do more “playing”, as David writes in a previous post, than finishing a project. My favourite short cut is CTRL-Z. In LR I spend a long time pushing sliders around but never settling on a final look. When pencil drawing, the eraser is my best friend. Even writing this post I CTRL-X, CRTL-Z, and do multiple edits before settling and pressing Submit. I don’t understand how David can write so fast. Books spew out of him. It makes me feel sub-perior(is that a word?) and not capable of great things… just mediocre. Perhaps, some people are hard-wired for greatness while most of us are not.

    I totally understand how Doomed in Duluth feels. How do we people with short attention spans stay focused? I still haven’t figured that out after 42 years.

  31. Wow, everyone is so encouraging here – and rightly so. Knowing you’re doomed to mediocrity is what keeps you shooting and creating – as long as you don’t let that negative self-loathing (a trait of all great photographers I hope) stop you from your passion.

    Am I Chase Jarvis? Nope. But I sell my work to people and they’re happy. A few houses have my prints on their walls and it’s not even my mom!!! I’m sure you can speak the same, and if not your probably just haven’t tried.

    Put yourself out there – the world is a vastly diverse place and your idea of mediocrity will be another person’s dream artist.

    Just don’t stop pushing yourself and practicing.

  32. Before I read the other comments, I just wanted to say – THAT IS SO ME!!!! I could have written that. Wow. David, your site is just so freakin’ illuminating. I love it. Thanks for doing all you do for us!

  33. I hate to be so blunt, but if you’re into photography for the money, then photography isn’t for you. You’ll spend more money on gear than you’ll take in. If you photograph because you’re compelled by some inner force that won’t release its grip on you, then you are where you’re supposed to be. I have to photograph. I have absolutely no choice in the matter, and it’s been that way since I was 13. It doesn’t matter how much money I make. I will always be a photographer. If you don’t have similar sentiments, then maybe it’s time to move on.

  34. Well, I think a lot of people have found themselves in similar situations and certainly to varying degrees over their lifetimes.

    However, the journey of vision and style is such an organic creature that it is impossible to isolate it from all the influences of our lives and still expect to create things anew.

    I disagree that your photography is doomed to mediocrity just because you have an impulsive spirit. As others have said, I think we all have to find ways to incorporate that spirit into our photography.

    For myself, my work photography subject matter changes very little from year to year. Some of the products that I have gotten excited about over the past couple of years have given me something new to challenge me while still working with the same subject matter. Simple things like an off-camera cord for my flash or simple homemade flash-mounted light modifiers.

    If you have followed David duChemin for more than 2 minutes, then I would think it odd if you didn’t question every single gear purchase, at least a little. I think that’s a good thing. Maybe you find ways to make-do with what you have or it forces you to explore different avenues with your current set-up.

    It’s okay to beat yourself up a little, just not too much.

  35. Yeah, what they said. 🙂

    Seriously, Doomed, I think there are two parts to your answer. The first is about your vision. The second is about photography as a vocation.

    Regarding your struggle to focus and define your vision, it seems to me you just need to relax and slow down a little. Remember when you were a kid and you were fascinated with the ants marching in and out of the anthill? Maybe you had a hamster, and you watched it run around in that funny plastic ball all day. That’s the kind of thinking to cultivate here. As many others have said, try to understand what moves you; what keeps your attention. Then you can bring your photographic skills into the mix. Your style will be a result of how you see these things and how you choose to present them to the rest of us.

    If you struggle with doing this yourself, get help. Find a local photographer to mentor you. Join a camera club or take a class at a local college. These kinds of actvities will force you to focus on your vision through assignments and provide feedback via peer review.

    Making photography your vocation is a very different effort. Even if you become comfortable with your photographic vision and are satisfied with your style, you might not be ready to become, as David puts it, a visionmonger. Maybe not ever. It does require a strong commitment and passion because there will surely be times when you just want to pitch it all and give up. I’ll bet every successful photographer has thought that way once or twice in their careers, but they loved what they do so much that they couldn’t imagine a life without it. Is that what photography means to you?

    You may discover that the harsh truth is you don’t have the passion or the drive to turn this into your career. If so, accept it. But continue to enjoy photography without the pressure of needing to pay the bills with it. Get better at it. Teach others. You don’t need to make a living at it to enjoy photography in a way that satisfies you.

    In the end, that’s what it will really be about: you and your passion for the craft. Despite all of the great advice here, only you can decide what’s right for you. Good luck.

  36. I think to do anything well you do need to be disciplined and work hard. Pure talent does not necessarily make one a success at something. Even with talent you need to work. That’s my 2 cents! 🙂

  37. how exactly do you define success versus mediocrity? how exactly do you define expert versus novice (please note David i avoided the word professional)? are you attempting to grow and learn more in an effort to communicate through your photography?

    i am new to the photographic community, and am learning everyday. if i allow it, i can get exposed to multiple techniques and patterns very quickly. i recognize in my own development trends that match up with learning a new technique where eventually i move on to another (an aspect of attention deficit disorder i suppose). it makes me smile as i look at my (and i use very loose quotation marks here) “portfolio” and see where i focused heavily on a technique or a post production technique, and then, like layers of sediment in geological shifts, that style or technique is gone. they pop up every now and again, and that is what i use as a litmus test or sorts to define if i am following fads or seriously trying to grow. when you “bounce” around, are you bouncing because you are looking for the new thing that will make you famous, or are you trying to learn? develop? grow? seek? find?

    realize that your photography walks you hand-in-hand along this crazy journey if you will let it. every one of the people here and any other photographic community is trying to communicate something that lies very deep within. what is it you are trying to say? are you recording something? are you expressing something within you? don’t chase butterflies as a group, but rather chase a single butterfly. once you have captured it, studied it, and become better for having chased it; move on, but remember the experience as it helps define who you are now. you don’t have to master every technique, but knowing about many couldn’t hurt. know about many+practice some of those+focus on a few=develop vision. maybe this makes no sense, but what the heck, it’s been good for me to write it down. best of luck Duluth! stay with it!

  38. It’s funny, when I read the question I immediately thought of David’s previous days post… “to sit still is to stagnate, to not move forward is to move backwards, and the antidote to both is simply to learn something new daily.”. It seems to me that chasing the next shiny thing that comes along means you are doing just that – moving forward and learning. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself and enjoy the ride. Your vision will come to you when it’s ready.

  39. Yeah, what he said……
    Sorry, couldn’t resist.
    I, too, am ‘niche’ deprived as far as photography goes,(actually, NOT just photography) but I approach each job, session, shoot, as if I’m getting ready to shoot my best shot ever, whatever the subject. There used to be a term that was used by many which is a better sounding version of ‘jack-of-all-trades’…It was “Renaissance Man”. I prefer to hold onto that phrase and keep plugging away at all facets of my life with determination, set-backs, and victories. One of my guiding principles is from Carlos Casteneda’s Don Juan…..”Follow the path with Heart”. If one truly does this, then there is no stopping.(Although you may pause to enjoy the view) ALL facets of Life become stepping stones.
    Could be my personal ‘cop-out’ rationalization but I will remain niche-less before I will be a ‘son-of-a-niche”!


  40. Everyone is so wordy!

    Screw Expert. A broad pallette allows mixing colors you never thought possible and that rigid 1-trick experts will never see.

  41. I don’t have more info for Doomed, but to David: well done. Utilizing the community here you managed to turn an email to you, that if you responded would have been one voice, into something much bigger. It became more like a forum post, except being the front page of your blog, everyone read it.

    I think there were some great responses here. Probably some that Doomed can relate to, and others that annoyed him. Both are good. It’s part of the self examination process. By involving the community to answer Doomed, many more poeple get to examine themselves and how they see themselves with this concept.

    So, well done not taking the time to answer 🙂

  42. I think Doomed needs to take a step back. Forget about vision and photography for the moment and ask youself what the “bouncing around” is all about. On the surface it sounds like someone who lacks any sense of purpose, and it’s origins could be a) immaturity, b) psychological, or c) biochemical. The approach for dealing with any of these would differ; Doomed has a good amount of self awareness already, knowing s/he has the “bouncing around” problem. But if s/he can’t move beyond this on his/her own, then some professional assistance is in order. Otherwise, pursuing photography and vision is just another form of “self-medication”, as David said, and it’s likely to to lead to yet another short term interest. Of course it could work to Doomed’s advantage, but the negative tone of his/her letter suggests it would not. So rather than treat your life as a crap shoot, take the time ask yourself what you really want to do with it. And as David would surely say, buying more gear isn’t going to help with this.

  43. I can say this for certain, you and I have the same issue – lack of focus. You are not alone, but only you can solve the issue. Stay true to yourself, follow your creativity, and push harder to become better.

    Don’t look at your focus issue as a weakness, turn it into a strength. Dont focus your passion on one segment (i.e. portraits only) you will get bored, become good at different segments. Go to different locations, shot during different times of the day, or take on different assignments. Whatever it takes to break your current habbits, just do it. After a few weeks you will be happier and your work will look a lot better.

  44. I think it all comes down to hard work and priorities. It takes a lot of work to escape mediocracy. I know in my own life many things have taken priority over photography and I have not put in enough effort and time. So basically we can blame all kinds of things but are we willing to work hard for what we want? That is, if we even know what we really want. We have to consider also if we’re just looking at the people that have “made it” and wishing we had what they have without doing what they did to get there.

  45. Gee, that’s a problem. Follow your inner voice, your creative spirit, and go with the flow of your feelings. Let your true self out and if that leads you to what you think are great photos then who is anyone else to say you’re not the artist you want to be. Just because you’re not the artist or photographer THEY want you to be?

  46. I am sitting at work with my HUGE coffee, my leg twitching in that I-cant-wait-until-4pm-today kind of way. You see, I just bought a new, shiny toy. It is a new flash. The UPS guy lovingly dropped it off yesterday from B&H. I have already BUILT (not bought) a few fun ringlights (think RayFlash minus $194.00, plus cardboard and foil), because, though I have never tried it before, I really want to try CLOSE portraits. Of myself, my girlfriend, my family, my friends; all of them. And last week, I was shooting a band (and getting paid for it.) And a couple months ago, I was shooting a Halloween party. And last year, I spent 2 months photographing Florence, Italy. And next month, I am second shooting a wedding with my GF.
    And I am having more fun with each new ‘project’ (what YOU are calling “toy”) than I EVER would if I was confining myself to a specific style.
    Im not great at any single one style. But Im elated when I see that LCD light up under my nose after I have ventured into my new tangent. And to me, that means more than getting paid millions of dollars to HAVE to stick with one thing.
    I am not like everyone, in the same way that the person who can nail down a style and focus only on that is not like everyone, as well.
    But I am having a blast.
    And you, sir or maam, in Duluth, are most likely having an incredible time, but are also following a million different blogs (that werent out two decades ago) that are telling you to “NAIL IT DOWN.” But if you dont realize that after two whole decades, you are making yourself, and SO MANY people around you happy with the great things you are creating with every Cup o’ Joe, then you MUST stop and think about it for a minute.
    Stop worrying.
    You know the greatest Photo Book ever written? The Attention Deficit Disorder Association’s Book of Photography of North Ameri- HEY! LETS GO RIDE OUR BIKES!

  47. Sigh, this is a cop out. A way of saying, “Yeah, I could be great, but I get distracted too easy.” I have ADD, and drink too much coffee too, and I hyper-focus. If you find yourself flitting from thing to thing it is because you allow life to happen around you. You’re just watchin the blinking lights.

    If you ACTIVELY explore your world and make things happen, you’ll find that you’ll not get distracted because you are in control. Stop looking for an excuse to be mundane. Stop letting your world happen around you. (Stop sitting in front of the TV!)

    When you get to the end of your life and ask, “Was my life a success?” Will you answere, “No, I made excuses and wasted it.”

    And as far as being a mundane photographer. Who cares?!?! Go take pictures that make you happy. Either the world will follow or it won’t. Why should it matter?

  48. So what sort of ‘mastery’ do you want? I constantly get the criticism that I’m “all over the place” with my photography. I think of myself as a landscape photographer but I am a visual omnivore. I will photograph anything that grabs me, landscapes, flowers, buildings, cars, yesterday it was a still life in my livingroom .

    Too often I think we confuse mastery of marketing with being a master photographer. A master photographer can photograph and communicate his/her intent regardless of the subject matter. Personal style is something that evolves as you learn process, what works to say what you intend and what doesn’t. You should be constantly learning new things and your “style” should be constantly evolving. Ansel Adams was primarily a commercial photographer but the general public is only familiar with his grand landscapes because that was what he marketed as art photos. It is thanks to his constant exploration of process that we have the Zone System.

    You may have to limit your marketing to one aspect of what you do because buyers aren’t a very adventurous bunch. You might even simultaneously succeed in marketing wildlife photos as prints and posters while being a successful portrait photographer for individuals and doing various “personal work” on the side. But that’s a matter of marketing. It is not photography. Don’t confuse the two.

  49. Someone above mentioned commitment, and that’s what seems important to me. Sooner or later, you have to come to terms with what you really want to do and commit yourself to getting good at whatever that is, if you think you’re going to make a decent living at it, at least.

  50. Gemini…coffee…ADD?! You may one day have to add middle age crisis in the mix!
    From what you write i am not sure if you already are a photographer or if you are planning to add photography to your set of shiny things, nor do i know WHY you are interested in photography.

    What i can say is that i still have to make a conscious effort and focus on “what is my mission today” when i grab my camera and leave the house (i am a 46yo gemini), but the good thing is that (just like in sport, music, etc…) practice makes perfect and with time this (to keep focus) becomes a second nature.
    When applied to a defined activity, such as photography, your ability to chasing the next shiny thing can be turned into an advantage, by allowing you to experiment different styles and subjects and gain experience.
    With persistence, purpose and self awareness you will one day feel that certain situations (sports, animals, exotic places, etc) make you vibe more than others.
    I believe that once you know what you like best (and maybe why you do what you do), then you will develop your own style.

  51. You’ve already answered your own question; you don’t do expert well. But expert is overrated. Expert is boring. I was lucky enough to make a really good living in a relatively small niche, and did so for a long time. But I got bored. Bored to tears. I sabotaged my career, threw my “style” out the window and tried to reinvent. I experimented with alternate process, different formats, and anything that was a change from what I was known for. It was a disaster. None of the “new” work felt right because I was really expert at only one thing. Everyone wanted me to keep shooting the same photo over and over, and it was boring to me.

    It’s analogous to a band who has a hit single and the fans demand that they keep recording songs in the same style over and over. If their creative drive takes them down a road that their fans don’t get, they may find creative validation, but commercial failure.

    The answer is “no”, it doesn’t doom you to mediocrity, you’ll learn far more than most one dimensional, successful photographers will ever learn, and as a result you’ll take lots of great pictures. But the odds are that if you want to be “known” for your photography, you’ll have to find a “thing”, shoot it until your bored to tears, and then shoot it some more.

    Or you can just find the joy in taking pictures and do it obsessively and just for the sake of it. There are still a few people out there who are true “jack of all trades” photographers making a decent living, but if you look at all your favourite photographers, you’ll probably find that they are known for a certain thing, and they keep playing that “hit single”.

    Just my two cents. Obviously everyone’s experiences will be different than mine.

  52. There’s a great quote up at A Photo Editor’s place ( “Only the mediocre are always at their best.”

    It sounds like the original questioner is a bit dissatisfied with their approach. Using the words “next new shiny thing” suggests that it may not be worthy of the attention they put on it. I don’t have much advice except to be honest with yourself about your aspirations for photography and to try to notice in the moment when you’re engaging in a distraction from those aspirations. It doesn’t mean you have to stop that engagement, but just noticing you’re doing it, and perhaps questioning yourself as to why, is a start. Good luck!

    Good luck

  53. Being a generalist in a world that tells us specialists are better is frustrating sometimes, but Stephen in #15 said it well. What you’ll find is that eventually you have an incredible breadth of experience, and it will serve you well.

  54. I agree with many of the folks above. I say many, because there is not one quick and easy fix to this. I know, I live it. As you know, I am ADD as well. When I saw the dogs portrayed in the movie “Up” I laughed, because I saw myself. Trotting along and then, “Squirrel!” and off to chase the next squirrel. I think if Doomed doesn’t get a handle on it, it could spell trouble. That is our reality. We have cards stacked against us. But there are ways to deal with this. As I said, I am ADD, not sort of, but really ADD. I take meds, daily and they help. If Doomed is really ADD and not just using that as an excuse for being lazy and undisciplined then he might look for professional help. It can and does work. And as one person pointed out, it is a type of “resistance”. But it can be fought. Being ADD does not keep you from having a specialty and a focus. What it does is it keeps you from delving deep into it and it can keep you from gaining the expertise you might otherwise have gotten. Doomed, you and I have to not just be focused, we have to be hyper focused. Ironically people who suffer from ADD often find that they obsess over things when they are trying to focus. We can use. Find one thing you are good at and obsess over it. Understand your weaknesses. If you know your weaknesses, then surround yourself with people who fill that void. David, is one of those people for me, so is Gavin and so is my wife. There are ways around this.

    There are way too many people who use ADD as an excuse. Both people who suffer from it and those who don’t. When what they really are is scared and uncommitted. If that is the case then the answer falls in a whole other answer.

  55. Hey Duluth,
    I haven’t read any of the above responses, so apologies in advance if I’m repeating anything anyone else said.
    I’m a Magpie Starburster too (a name I gave myself – made up? to describe exactly what insight you came to about yourself).
    What I can tell you has helped me tremendously (not yet in the photography realm), is to really whittle down what I truly, deeply care about and what really drives me (i.e. the whole “passion” thing) creatively speaking.
    For me, I’m in a sort of limbo, as I “let go” of the other pursuits (read other shiny things that have caught my attention) and begin to focus on the 2 creative outlets and becoming more disciplined in my approach to those.
    Are you doomed to a life of mediocrity? That depends on if you choose to continue to “starburst” your energy/time/etc in all sorts of directions, of if you can truly figure out an avenue or 2 you can commit to long term. If photography feels like that to you, stick to your guns, get some tunnel vision (discipline).
    When the next shiny thing comes your way, ask yourself – how am I going to feel if I abandon my photography while I traipse down this road a bit?
    We all only have so much time/energy/focus, this I’ve learned. We are the ones who can choose where to focus that time/energy …
    Your style and vision will emerge, change, develop, find shiny things to photograph instead of following shiny things (lol).
    Hence the old adage “Jack of all Trades, Master of None.” It’s up to you Duluth.
    All the best, coming from an in limbo (recovering) Magpie Starburster.

  56. Mark just stole my line!!! :o)

    I don’t know what mediocrity is and I don’t really care too much about it. Maybe things would be different if I were a professional photographer, which I am not. But I believe sometimes putting too much pressure on yourself only means you stop having fun, and your pics end up being … mediocre?

    I can see the photographer in the picture. If s/he’s trying too hard, I pass the page. If the photographer is cracking up behind the camera, has a special relationship to the person / thing in the picture or is simply fascinated by the image, so am I. Even if technically the picture is far from perfect.

    So, to keep copying Mark, I’d say: relax, experiment, and enjoy :o)

  57. Interesting question and where I am right now.
    I am also a scatter brained Gemini, but previously focused on landscapes.
    Better equipment has opened a myriad of doors for me and I want to walk through them all.
    I think my passion is going to settle at live concert photography and that is what I am going to push, but I have no intentions of locking all the other doors, I’m going to enjoy it all.
    I don’t have to worry about doing it for a living, but I am going to market myself properly and professionally on my intended route.
    I love the suggestion by Nicholas Franklin…
    Create multiple brands/images, which would suit a multi-faceted Gemini perfectly!
    I certainly won’t be beating myself up over it, unless of course, all my images are mediocre, but Gemini’s don’t do mediocre!!!

    Looking forward to Davids’ response and others.

  58. Are you having fun?

    If yes, then that’s all that matters.

    If not, then keep exploring till you find your bliss.

    Either way, just relax and enjoy the journey.


  59. Maybe it is all about “resistance”. Suggest this person read the “The War of Art”.

  60. I think that alone can be your muse, the open attraction, the attention getting, the interest spark. I know that sometimes when I head off on a trip, I often have zero clue with what I might come home with beyond whatever pre-visualized goals I might have. The reward comes from being open to the new experience, new subjects, and the new moments. When those combine with great or perfect light, the result is anything but ho-hum or mediocre. Often it is the extact opposite; extraordinary.

  61. Absolutely NOT. You are only tied to a life of mediocrity if you view yourself to be mediocre. To be honest, if you are able to flit between countless hobbies, trades etc… and you are able to do them fairly well, then I believe, more than most, you have the ability to find what is interesting in them and challenge yourself enough to keep this lifestyle up. You sound like a rather passionate person to me who likes to experiment. Again, a trait that I believe is very useful in any artistic endeavour.

    Anyway, would you rather find your style and master it, or have a bunch of goals and have a very interesting, challenging, changing path along the way to numerous styles.

    I think I am in the same boat as you anyway. I have gone from classical violinist, to software engineer to Japanese high school teacher in 15 years. In the past couple of years I have jumped on photography, and have slowly started to do paid work. My style keeps changing, I am not even sure what I like shooting the most, I just love all of it… Is that bad? I think not.

    I don’t think any of these scattered, incoherent thoughts are that helpful, but just know that many of us are riding in the same boat as you. Maybe I have a window seat and am enjoying it a little more. Wanna swap seats for awhile? 🙂


  62. First of all, I would say almost the same as John, in comment 6 : maybe he did not find his “thing” yet. When you find it, you know that you can not live a single day without it : it dit the same to me, for photography as a passion (I tried so many different leisures, but now I know I will stick a long time to photography).
    Then, and to be slightly different than most of comments, I would separate “what you shoot” (subjects) and “how/why you shoot” (what I would call “vision”).
    In a nutshell, I mean that you can easely change your subjects while you still keep “how/why” the same.
    Furthermore, and for me, “how/why” is in “construction”, and I reckon it might developping for the rest of my life !

    David, let me thank you for the french translation of “Within the frame…” I shall recommand it to all my french photog peers that do not read english 😀

  63. Is there nothing you like, nothing you keep coming back to? I love landscapes, animals, the odd portrait, but I continually find myself drawn to the ocean, seascapes, beaches, and the inhabitants thereof. I’m too new at this to say I have a style or vision, but I have an inkling into what drives me.

    As for the original correspondent, I don’t know you, never met you, so I could be talking out of my hat… Perhaps you’re not willing to invest the time and effort into becoming an “expert,” whatever that is. Or perhaps you’re afraid you’ll fail. Maybe it is you won’t go the last mile (or kilometer). In the software business, for example, it’s typically said that 80% of the code takes 20% of your time but the hardest 20% of the code you write takes 80% of your time. Perhaps you get the 80% of the way to mastery and can’t or won’t do the last 20% of the work that requires real work?

  64. I’m thinking, yeah, with an ADD approach it might be hard to develop a style or vision that is recognizable to clients. But then, I’ve seen photographers who say they shoot lifestyle, but really, they’re shooting fashion, architecture, sports, product, and editorial too. Their style is distinguishable, yet it’s not predictable or trite. The way they shoot each job might be different and incorporate new gear, or new direction unfamiliar to them. Yet, they maintain a vision they’ve developed over time, while also giving the client what they want. I think as photographers, we solve the problem, then capture it. You’re vision and style can grow from that process. So go ahead, bounce around and work with new, shiny objects. I think what it really boils down to is how you will present yourself as a photographer to a prospective client. I would suspect you will find your answer by editing your photos with a rep, art buyer, or consultant to help you define your vision better. If what they tell you doesn’t jive with your Gemini, then maybe you should take a look at your expectations of yourself and be more critical of your focus and ability to give the client what they will require of you, while still being satisfied, as a photographer, and be happy with your work.

  65. Your style might be visible to everyone but you. As scatter brained as I am, there are things that I like doing. If you’re like me, self-editing is really hard. Recently I went through 200 gigs of photos and pulled out 200 images. It was SO helpful. It has helped me see what I like, what I tend to default to, what makes the photos mine.
    Good luck, and have fun.

  66. Well, I am going to stick my neck out here and send an excerpt of a letter I recently wrote for the fine art part of my business, but I think it holds true for me in my photography endeavors as well. Each year. I pick something new to add to my photography bag of tricks. However, I don’t let go of all the other things I have learned, it is just different situations seem to fit with different skills and techniques. In a way it seems to grow like a well tended garden. Well here is the letter…
    “To be honest, I was taught that an artist should limit herself to a certain palette and stick with a small range of themes so that they can develop a signature style and not confuse their audience. I can really see that it worked for lots of artists. I mean everyone gets a certain picture when you say Norman Rockwell. I have always wondered then, did Norman ever want to paint a Monet? Or perhaps a Warhall? Sigh, I imagine I will never be famous. I love to surprise my audience with something different. I would shrivel and die if I had to limit my colour palette, or my topics for paintings. I like doing short series, but it is just that, short. So basically, I am doing everything wrong and still somehow thinking that you will still consider my creations. But I guess perhaps that is what my signature is. I should write my professor and explain that creativity, surprise, and imagination are my signature traits, my unexpected colour palette becomes my signature colour palette, and even if the characters are doing something unexpected, I generally avoid gory or nasty stuff as I don’t find that uplifting to my spirit. I follow my muse where she leads and I let the dust fall and cover my footyprints as I pass. I figure my audience is just as curious and adventurous as I am, and I guess that is just the way it is.”

  67. I don’t think ‘vision’ or ‘style’ is much affected by shiny new things or new focuses, as much learning how to find the way you like express what you see one frame at a time. Its not hopeless.

    However good marketing and a well developed business are needed and go with a consistent vision.

  68. My theory is – have fun with it.

    It all boils down to how much fun you can have with whatever your current passion is. If you are having fun, you’re more likely to stick with it and keep learning and improving. Nothing wrong with going off and enjoying the next shiny thing that comes along, because if its truly meant to be, you’ll find yourself with your camera again in the future.

    So, i say: experiment, have fun, go crazy, and don’t worry about mediocrity.

  69. Perhaps you just haven’t found your “thing” yet.

    There is nothing wrong with trying new things and then abandoning them once you realize the things you’ve tried aren’t your things. What if da Vinci had never tried to paint?

    Your question “does this doom me to a life of..?” is great! You’ve given yourself a lifetime to become a good photographer! You have no pressure to deliver a solid landscape next week! So, take your time – read one book a month – take a class, try different things from architectural, portraits, landscapes etc. Take your camera on vacation, and if anything, just capture what you’d like to remember. I assure you, something will click (no pun), and I hope you discover the joy in capturing small slices of time, that only YOU can create.


  70. If you find yourself always chasing “the next shiny thing” you may not be doomed, but will in fact be relegated to a copy machine. While creatives draw creative influences from all things around them or those whose work they admire and respect – to be the one who others wish to be copy does in fact require an ever changing style and vision. Perhaps this style and vision is consistent, or perhaps it remains fluid and dynamic. Nonetheless, it is yours.

    While my creative juices are inspired from many sources – peer influences are just that. Another method or style that I can incorporate though not replicate.

    It appears as if you are still struggling to find yourself or you niche’ in your creative – this is ok. However, until you focus and define who you are – rather than be a unique brand, you will always be known as the photographer whose style is like THE PHOTOGRAPHER.


  71. I’m not too far off that kind of personality, but I’ve slowly managed to build up skills as I go. So I go from mixing sound, to playing bass/guitar, to Lightroom related stuff, coding gallery plugins, to writing. While there is an element of ‘jack of all trades’ about me, I have certainly settled on some and have mastered them to point of peer recognition as such.
    I still flit about the place, but I’m constantly learning, and love it. The trick is to hone yourself in as you switch, because ultimately all of the things you do become facets of your style. Return to stuff you’ve done already and go at it more when the new fad is done.

  72. Hmmm…how to say this? I believe the short answer is probably. I had a professor in college who was fond of saying “You can’t teach style. You either have it or you don’t.” Now he was referring to illustration, but I believe the same could be said for photography. You can learn mechanics, or how to use a particular feature, tool or technique. But I don’t think you can teach someone *when* to use them, if they just don’t see it. It’s sort of like trying to teach someone to be funny…you can teach them a joke, but not how to deliver it. Just my .02.

  73. Mediocrity? Depends on how you define it. Will you be a world-renown photographer? Probably not, but that just puts you in the majority with the rest of us. Will your photos be mediocre? Not necessarily.

    You may just have a very long path to your vision or style. In theory, you could develop multiple styles and attributes according to what your shooting. Is this practical in today’s market? Of course not. Should that worry you? Not at all. A couple suggestions :

    A) Don’t worry with making a living at this. Presuming that “everything once well” talent you have is steady, it could easily be applied to other fields outside of vocational photography. Project direction and management comes to mind, and can be applied to the imagery field.

    B) Create multiple brands/images. So you do a little of everything? Separate your best fields and have a three-pronged attack. No rule was written that you can ONLY be a Sports photographer, or ONLY a Editorial photographer. It’s just wise to treat them separately for the sake of your clients.

    Hope this helps.

  74. I think that Doomed in Duluth needs to look deep inside and see if photography is really the vocational choice they’re interested in. If not, then moving on to something new is okay, and is part of their life’s progression. But if it is, then they need to find a way to channel their new interests in a way that still involves photography. This could mean changing their style, or perhaps switching what they photograph altogether. Involve that “next shiny thing” into your photography, and I think you’ll be able to maintain a long and happy photographic vocation.

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