A Sense of Urgency. Are You Demanding More Of Yourself?

I ran across this quote today:

“I have been impressed with the urgency of doing.
Knowing is not enough; we must apply.
Being willing is not enough; we must do.”
— Leonardo da Vinci

It gave me pause.

The “urgency” of doing.

Pretty much says it all. Doing is the thing that makes it work. Not reading or listening or studying or being desperately in love with the idea. One must ‘DO’ what one does. It is the only true path to becoming better and stronger.

Imagine a weight lifter who reads all the weight lifting books, listens to 6 or 7 weight lifting podcasts a week, gets a couple of weight lifting magazines a month, and can quote weight lifting stats that amaze his friends. But he only occasionally ever goes to the gym to actually lift weights.

How well do you think he does at the lifting when he gets around to it?

Same with photographers. We must make pictures to be photographers, otherwise we are not. We only discuss, read, and study the subject. Occasionally pulling a camera out to make a shot or two won’t increase our skills. Are there exceptions, maybe… I think I read about an art photographer who thinks about his shots for weeks before executing. But that seems to be his particular way of working, and the images reflect that, I’m sure.

But for the majority of us, doing is more important than learning or wanting. I have always ascribed to the philosophy that it means less what one says and far more what one does. Actions speak louder than words is another way of putting it.

Action. Doing. Progressing. Achieving.

When I teach the workshops, I blend all the different modes of learning together. We talk about what the light does, we look at what the light does, then the students do it with the lights. Hear, See, Touch. It forms a bond of learning that encompasses all the different approaches we humans bring to the ability to understand.

What struck me about this quote was that I had just finished reading a couple of post questions asking things like; “What is the difference between a shoot-thru umbrella and a beauty dish?” And, “Has anyone ever used a bounce card for a reflector, and what does it do to the image?”

In my mind it is nearly impossible to answer these questions with simple words, or even pictures and words. Maybe we can add some words to the pictures, but even then we cannot even come close to the knowledge that would be gained by simply doing it. Get an umbrella and a beauty dish and see the difference. Grab a bounce card and add it to the mix… what then happens to the image?

Of course one should know how to get hands on both a shoot-thru and a beauty dish, but that is a logistical problem, not a photographic one. Knowing where to put the bounce card can be learned by charts and graphs, but what it does the image is purely look and see. And move it a little to there… a little more. That kind of thing.

Applying the knowledge that one achieves through different means is the balance to the learning. Shoot. Shoot everything you see. Make it an urgent and immediate project.

And wanting to won’t get it done. As Yoda said to Master Luke… “Either do or do not, there is no ‘try'”. Truer words were never spoken. Telling me that you plan on or want to or should… whatever… means little. Only that you have idle time to plan dreams that will be gone in a few days or years.

Do the thing you want to do. Now… it is urgent. Urgency builds energy, energy builds desire, desire spills over to action and the thing gets done. I am not talking about procrastinators, I am talking about the “terminally planning”. Make images today, it matters not what you photograph, only that you make the images yours.

The urgency that Leonardo must have felt is obvious in his level of production. Books, paintings, flying machine drawings, architectural renderings and more. He had to get as much done as possible.

Maybe he knew intrinsically that our moments here are shortened by our existence. Yesterday is over, and will never be repeated. It has no bearing on what our today brings. And tomorrow… well, tomorrow is a great place to be, but not yet.

A talented young photographer I know just sold most of his gear and is moving back to the small town he grew up in. Talented by the work that was actually accomplished, but unfortunately the call of partying and ‘livin’ large’ was too overwhelming. He shot all the time when he got to LA, but after a couple of years, he wasn’t shooting any more new things, but trying to get by on what had been done. His work grew a little stale, and he began to complain about the business. His failure was other people’s fault. He rarely picked up his camera unless it was for an assignment, and the work started showing it.

He lost his sense of urgency. He forgot what he was, and what he wanted to be, and, most of all who he NEEDED to be. I hope he gets to a point where the action takes hold of him and he starts to produce again…with new eyes and a renewed sense of himself as a photographer, not a “business man with a camera”.

Knowing about business is of course vitally important, but if it becomes more of the focus than the photography itself, then other challenges, some even more devastating than not knowing spread sheets, enter the fray and the love of the craft can be lost.

Being a photographer is one of the coolest careers one can have. And no shooter I know of does it for the money alone. They do it because they love it. And the really successful ones push themselves hard… inventing and re-inventing and pushing themselves. With a sense of urgency.

So ask yourself if you have a sense of urgency about your work. Do you push hard enough, or depend on someone else to tell you what you should do? Find your vison/passion and DO IT with your cameras. Do it every day… push and refine your work and get over the hurdles as quickly as possible.

I am not a big fan of patience… preferring to push and shove and run and leap and fall. A lot. Patience is a slower, easier to set aside type of habit. Urgency, along with terror and fear, is a motivator.

Get urgent and get going.

Thanks for visiting, and follow me on Twitter if you would like. If you are thinking about a workshop this year, take a look at the schedule here at Learn to Light. See you next time.
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  1. Don you are a philosopher as well as a photographer. Very nicely put.

    I’m going to stop procrastinating tommorow, or maybe later in the week and shoot something

  2. I just wanted to say thank you for this post. I am in the beginning stages of developing a portrait business, one that will be a side job in addition to my teaching profession. I have put a word out to all friends who would be interested in posing for portraits so that I can practice and develop my portfolio. I got a great response and was nervous about actually contacting them and setting up a time to shoot. Then I read your post, and I realized I have let many things go by like this and I don’t want to do it again. I don’t have any pressure, it is in my control and I just need to DO IT! It hit hard when you described the “knowledgeable” weight lifter who listens to podcasts, reads blogs, and speaks the lingo, but doesn’t actually lift weights… That is me as a photographer… time to change that!

    I love when things like this happen. Thanks, I always enjoy reading your posts.

  3. Part of what I love about my kids is that THEY love to explore light and see what we can do with lighting and photos. And that they are wiling to be in front of my camera doesn’t hurt!

    Great post, yet again, Don.

  4. Excellent post. For me, urgency comes in phases ..there are times when I need to stop and think before doing serious damage to relationships, other times I pile one project on top of another. My breathe& think phase is nearing its end and some of my project plans are done – ready to be executed, the fear of failure is showing its face and soon I’ll be using all the stored sugar & caffeine to finish everything.

    My favourite quote is ” You’ll never know if you do not try and you’ll never know success if you don’t give it your best shot”

    Thank you for another excellent post.

  5. Your post is so timely and so true. I’ve been reading alot of similar themed posts and books lately (do, shoot, find your vision) and have had the lightbulb go on over my head. I know why my images had gotten ‘stale’, and why I just didn’t ‘feel’ creative anymore. I’d gotten so bogged down in the technical, that I lost the reason I got involved with photography in the first place, simply the love of pictures and taking them.

    I got lazy for awhile figuring ‘everything’s already been shot, or it’s boring’. Then I got a digital P&S, I shot alot more, but my pictures were even crappier. Then I got a DSLR and got bogged down with technical stuff. Not saying the technical didn’t teach me some things or improve what I was doing, but I let it interfere with my own ‘visions’ and love of pictures.

    The only problem I’m having now is I see shots all over the place while I’m driving, walking, shopping, etc. I don’t always have the ability to pull over if the subject is not moving, or I’d have to have been driving with a camera in my hand for the ones that are. Yesterday I really wanted the shot of the guy shoveling snow with one hand and talking on the cell phone with the other, and NO place to pull over!!

    While it’s frustrating to see a photo op and not be able to take it, I have re-discovered my original love of photography again. It’s posts like this one, and others I’ve read that have helped me to realize what I’d lost and get it back again. Thank you!

  6. Best. Post. Ever.

    This is really a great post, thanks so much for such a thoughtful effort.

  7. Don, you hit the nail on the head with the weight lifting analogy. Makes me feel so much better for myself for getting off my arse and shooting today!

  8. Hey Don, always a little bit freaky when you read an article that follows directly from a personal epiphanic experience from the day before…. is epiphanic a real word? Who knows, but I think it sounds cool 😉

    Anyway, took the family out yesterday in order to take advantage of the fine weather, went for a walk over some hills and through some forests, and yes, I took the camera. Being one of lifes procrastinators and terminal planners, I always have that nagging insistence playing on my conciousness that I should be ‘doing’ more… and lo, as my daughter, in amongst the trees, stood playing with a stick near a small shrub looking as cute as she can, I noticed the play of sunlight on her blonde hair. Aha!!! I thought, this would be that backlight rim light thingy that looks super ace and gorgeous that I’ve read about so much… so I took a few shots and yes, it was good… Sure, I’d read about it and seen images of it so many times that I’ve always felt like I knew the technique and utilisation of such light inside and out, but I’d never had chance to try it before – we don’t get all that much sun in England 😉 – The buzz from actually achieveing it with success though is incomparable, an actual experience that has the method burned into my brain, a practical experience from which to draw, in a way all the reading and theory in the world could never do…

    From now on, I promise to do a lot more ‘doing’….

  9. Great kick in the ass. Thanks for the reminder.

  10. That sense is with me all the time as of lately. I know it will leave for some time and let me rest because god, I’m gonna get really exhausted. And then it will come back.

    I can’t stop. Seriously. I wake up thinking about something I wanna try. I can’t shoot on weekdays because of my work schedule, so weekends are kind of crazy: location hunting, meetings with other photogs and friends to ask them to pose, atrezzo shopping… I’m an amateur, I want to go pro someday soon (in the next 1 to 2 years to say something) and in the meantime… I’m doing everything I can. Contact models that will do TFCD jobs, organize workshops with amateur photogs to do thematic portrait sessions with people that will let us take pics, find places to shoot, ask permissions. I’m moving the earth under our feet. Everybody around is amazed. Damn, I am amazed. I didn’t know I was so proactive. I’ve even discovered I’m a quite good make up artist, wich comes up handy for my shoots.

    This weekend I have a session I’ve organized with 3 models, 8 photogs, 1 makeup artist, 1 assistant. Next week I’m on holiday (and will go to 2 different concerts, obviously there will be pics involved) and then I have to schedule 2 shots, one consisting in a double portrait session with friends (something candid and natural that I haven’t done before) and a group portrait session with boys from the hood (rappers, I gotta get creative and I love it!). Then I have to teach strobe basics to a small group of photogs that know nothing about it and I have to propose a couple of models and a couple of photogs a session at an abandoned mansion (something dramatic and in the line of fashion photography that I’m willing to try too).

    At some point in between, I’m doing my 52 weeks and shooting some of my relatives. Model-like.

    And mind you, I’m still an amateur. So I guess I can say I do have that sense of urgency 😀

    • And there ya go!
      Isn’t that a terrifically exciting way to live?
      Pro or not, the focus and urgency of your work delivers a lifestyle beyond what most will ever understand.
      Your work can not help but grow.

  11. Excellent post! Reminded me of a Tony Robbins seminar on what he called “The Power of Now”. The gist of which was break the analysis paralysis and DO IT NOW!


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