Impatient Patience…Keeping The Momentum While Learning the Ropes

You know how you think about things around the edges, trying to formulate the thoughts into some kind of pattern that makes sense and can be challenged and won from various angles? You do?

Cool, then I’m not nuts. I do that all the time.

Recently I have been thinking about what I see as a disconnect between the level of competence beginning photographers have and their expectations.

We all know that the divide exists, but so often it is approached from a negative or insulting way… “Newbies! Killing the industry!” And that doesn’t work for me.

Not at all.

I am more concerned about people losing their dreams than the ‘health of the industry’. I really am.

The ‘industry’ will get along just fine, thanks, while some people will be devastated, demoralized or worse – and all relating to photography.

And I love photography. I don’t want making images be the catalyst for despair and regret. I would rather it be the beginning of a great love affair. It can be you know.

But we have to manage expectations, and managing them with what I call “impatient patience”.

“Hey Don, that doesn’t make any sense, partner… What the hell do you mean impatient patience?

Well, sit down for a moment and let me chat you up a bit about being impatient enough that you are totally immersed, but patient enough to know that it will still take some time to get ready.

First the impatient part.

Shoot. Shoot every opportunity you can get. Immerse yourself in weekend road trips and meetups and workshops and events and wherever you find yourself with your camera.

Don’t be patient… you want to learn it all. As fast and deep as you can. From exposure to Lightroom, lens selection to Photoshop Curves… it is all there for you to master. And it takes some time.

And that is where the patience comes in. Be patient with your impatience… KNOW that it takes more than a few shoots to get people to the place where they want to spend money for you to shoot them.

It doesn’t happen overnight. Even with impatiently shooting every other Saturday when it doesn’t rain because that is the only time LIFE has left you to work on your craft.

I was asked to review some work by a photographer through Facebook. She was trying to make it in the consumer world, and had put together her ‘best work’ on a website and was quite sad that no one was wanting to hire her.

I took a look and within four shots I knew why she was not getting hired.

Her pictures said “I am not ready”… and they said it quite loudly. On further discussion with her, she admitted that those were the best 23 images she had shot over her entire career as a photographer.

Which was nineteen months.

I asked her how many shoots she had done in that time and she responded with ‘twenty seven’.

Twenty seven shoots, and 22 photographs that ranged from snapshots of her kids to badly underexposed portraits and people photographs.

She was totally unhappy with the business and complained a bit about the “Craigslist shooters” who were taking all the work away from real professionals like herself.

Now she is a lovely person and I think she has the talent to do something cool, so I slowly talked her off the “cliff of insanity” where she was ready to chuck her gear and helped her understand that 27 photoshoots in 19 months was pathetic. That in order to make a dent in the life/learning/art curve she needed to multiply that number by a factor of 10.

270 photoshoots in a 19 month time frame makes more sense to me.

Impatient: 270 photoshoots.
Patience: 19 months.

Get it?

Understanding that it takes a certain amount of real world work and field study and a crap load of exposures to make a dent in the learning/artistic expression curve is powerful knowledge. And it would have ultimately been far more beneficial to her. I explained that at 27 photoshoots she is still a babe in the photographic world, and that there is a difference between a body of work and 22 images that are thrown together.

And to her credit, she got it. Definitely got it.

She is now much more committed to the work and is starting to understand what she doesn’t know – and then fix it. That is the most important part, you know, the part where you get it that what you are doing is your call, and the failure you are experiencing is the result of the hard work you are putting (or not) into the making of that call.

I wonder how many talented photographers quit before they ever had the opportunity to know what it feels like to have a strong body of work? Or how it feels when an AD calls and says, “I want you to shoot these images for me?” How many photographers misunderstood the nature of the business, and were then flummoxed and frustrated by it at every turn, only to give up because they think it is those CL shooters that are sucking up all the oxygen in the room?

That makes me feel a loss. I wonder how many incredible photographers were lurking deep inside waiting for some impatience to find them and pull them to the surface?

Now lost to us.

And to themselves.

I am not a patient guy. I know what I want to do, and I want to do it NOW. But I also realized that doing it before I am ready will create more headaches than if I know what I am doing. Or at least have more than a clue…

So I patiently spend impatient days learning and testing and re shooting to get it right.

And only when it is right, can I (we) say “I’ve got it.”

At least until the next thing comes along that we decide we want/need/must learn.

(This article first appeared in the Lighting Essentials Newsletter: “In The Frame” Subscribe on the right side bar to get it delivered straight to your inbox each Sunday.)
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