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. 🙂
You hit it spot on. I’ve been slowly weaning my self of newsletters, blogs and the like so I have more time outside to photograph then inside reading about it. … but I am still on your list.
I think I’d argue almost everyone is saying the same few things. People should learn the basics and then go shoot, experiment, and travel. That That is where the true learning is.
Awesome. I think I’ll head over to my Feedly stream right now and delete a couple of feeds. (Not this one, though.)
Nice, man. In Texas, we say something like this: chew the cherry and spit the pit. In the end, only so many cherries can be chewed.
Thanks so much David, on another day of pruning the unnecessary to let in the light. Great inspiration and confirmation that I’m on the right path.
Agreed, when I first started out in photography, I absorbed as much info as I could. Thats all it was, info. No soul, nothing about instinct, it was about applying rules and it became very stilted. I then cut my list down and nowadays have 3 or 4 voices that I listen to. Sometimes these voices change, mostly though they remain the same. Its true though, we very often the new shiny voice (like new shiny gear) will improve our photography. This is not true, I have found that walking a journey with another photographer, learning from their growth and failures only enhances my own work. It makes me rethink about areas I need to grow in, or push myself into, or get out of. It makes me realise that failure is a learning process and is ultimately good. Thanks for making me think about this again.
Thank you. No…REALLY…thank you 🙂 No wonder why I’m so exhausted all the time! Step away from the media, get out there and take pictures.
I like the idea of just in time learning. Working towards a goal and getting ideas for what you want to do. Then and only then learning what you need to get there. This might be an idea for a certain subject, or composition, or just about anything, then learning the tools and techniques to make it happen. This way you are consuming what you need to get to your goal and not consuming everything hoping to find your goal. I think defining the goal (vision) is what scares people the most.
Spot on David, and very timely. Do you think the same could even apply to images? There are always time and quality factors, but is it possible to try to absorb too many different images and styles, even if they are all great work?
I do, very much Alastair. We’re not much different (metaphorically) from sponges – we can absorb only so much before we need to be squeezed out – inhale, exhale. You can’t do only one of those all the time…
Thanks David once again for an inspiring blog. I always seem to come away feeling inspired after having read your blogs. Whereas many of the blogs that one might read in the various social media sites tend to deal with technical aspects of photography, you deal with the more important part of it – that which inspires us to create. Thank you for continuing to be an inspiration and a calming voice amidst all the noise out there
Precisely why I did not succumb to the very strong temptation to purchase the 5DayDeal (Although the charitable cause almost tipped the scale!). Yours is one of the few voices I listen to for photographic and artistic inspiration/growth. Had I purchased the 5DayDeal I would have felt obliged to download and read/watch everything therein. Now I have time to respond to this post :o). Thanks for the reminder to simplify and stay focussed on the right personal goals.
Tee-hee. I was working through the 5DayDeal bundle and got slowed down while reading Vision is Better. 🙂
I agree with paring things down to simplify and streamline you life, but don’t you have to first dive into all the noise in order to filter out the best advice first.
I’m starting to get there without realizing it. You’re really good at making me realize there’s a thing called ‘self reflection’ David. Even if you have to do it over and over again.
Yes, I think probably, Matt. It’s more a question of looking for the best voices in all the clamour then filtering the rest out. As for self reflection, wasn’t it Socrates that said “the unexamined life is not worth living?” Wise man, that guy. 🙂
Excellent post. Limiting noise is great for inner peace. There are way too many things literally screaming for our attention. News and the whole ‘if it bleeds it leads’ is anything but helpful.
Thank you for this, David. I did in fact buy the 5DayDeal bundle — have been eyeing your workshop downloads for a while since I’m a huge fan of Craft & Vision and all of your print books. Your incredible and gentle nudge towards inner dialogue of the creative soul is exactly what I need to remind me the ground myself, get rid of noise, take a walk with a camera, let myself breathe. Thank you for that. And for this post. You are one of the voice I will continue to listen to and respect.
Great post David.
A voice of reason amidst all the clamour! Photographers, writers, we all actively seek distraction. I find myself feeling stressed at the end of a day when I allow distraction to take over. I’m so much more productive when I switch off and calm down. Oh, the irony of leaving a comment…!
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I have often visited the place where you took your cover photo, A place of peace and quite, to realĺy stop and listen . To get away from the noises of everyday and just let the mind rest.Nothing like spending an early morning with a camera, a hot cup of coffee, ànd the gulls to clear the mind and hopefully create something that speakes to you.. Lots of voices can be a great thing but it is oh so nice to head to the shore and listen and hear your own heart !
I don’t know what to say except thanks for occasionally lending your own voice to my ear (and for the image critique). You’re spot on, especially about limiting all but a couple. Yours is one I keep coming back to on occasion.
Less high ISO, more ISA1600 B&W. Solid. I dig it.
I agree that with an over saturation of social media and other channels by photographic providers of education, and other services, you can reach the stage where it is all a lot of noise and you can lose sight of your goals, if you ever had any goals.
I have many E-books and magazines by Craft &Vision and other entities, most of which I have read fully and enjoyed, plus a lot of instructional videos from a couple of sources which I have yet to view.
What I have noticed more lately is that many photographic bloggers (and software providers etc.) think that it is necessary to engage with followers or subscribers on a daily basis. It all gets a bit too much at times.
I recently went through a spell of consuming all of the books and video and blogs…then just the other day realized how long it’s been since I’ve picked up my camera for the love of it. I did purchase the 5 day deal and am excited to get to it, after some much needed time creating images and other art. Just like so many of your posts, this one came at the perfect time and solidified ideas I’ve been tossing around. Thanks!
David, do we have to say ‘amen’ at the end of all of your posts? 🙂
This is so spot on. I remember when I used to read and read and read about photography. I remember calling photography ‘all consuming’. If it’s not, how can you be passionate about it? Read, read, read. At the time I remember thinking this felt like advancing my photography. All of this great input, I must be getting better and better right?
Then on reflection I realised I hadn’t been out with the camera in days. I had read *a lot* (and way too many gear reviews!) and thought that was progress, but it barely registered in terms of improvement. As you say, it’s all noise. It can be interesting noise, but it’s still noise.
I remember when I used to read DPReview daily, feeling that every niggle on my camera done to death by 100+ post threads meant I needed a new camera. I never felt happy with it. Then many years ago I stopped reading that, and started reading your blog and suddenly I was perfectly happy with my gear and happy to go out and become a better photographer.
That said, there is an *awful* lot of good content out there, beautiful images and inspiring articles to read and with all the time in the world I’d love to read it all. But knowing that I can’t, it’s about cherry picking stuff and building a network of trusted sources (e.g. on Twitter) who will highlight important things that are beyond your peripheral vision. I’m much happier with this approach.
ps it’s worth thinking that a lot of my past reading was filling in gaps whilst sat at a desk at work. It’s amazing how much better you get at filtering the important stuff when your own boss and time is precious 🙂
Too much noise. Indeed! I love this advise David and think it’s pretty spot on. We live in a 24 hour news world and most of it is noise!
I’ve eliminated a lot of distractions over the past few years myself, including magazines (down to 0 from a high of as many as 27 at any given time); 98% of television, including news; no more weekly Sunday paper; and only a few online photography sources via social media (wherein I’ve managed to avoid clicking on 80% of the links). I think I’ll keep you, though. 😀