To me, photography is about personal expression, and that expression is made possible by the tools available to us. We try to explain to others how we feel, which can be limited by our language or culture. We try to show the world we can climb high, but are limited by our strength or endurance. We try and draw the dream world we escape to when life gets hard, but our sketchpad doesn’t jump to life. This difficulty to express ourselves is most evidently understood with children. Their imagination is bursting at the seams, but when you ask about their drawings or stories, their brains are whirring faster than their mouths could ever keep up. The missing link is the tools available, not the imagination.
So, as an artist, we need to practice the skills that allow us to better express yourself. As a landscape photographer, my expression is rooted in an adoration for the natural world; To bring the viewer into the landscape and make them feel back home in the wilderness. In order to do this, I use my skills as a photographer, which I practice, a lot!
In 2016/17 my wife and I took a sabbatical, where we lived in a small trailer and traveled around the US and Canada (read more about it here). On that journey I took over 30,000 photos. I’ll do the math for you; let’s say I shot 1 out of 4 days, so on average that’s around 330 photos per location! Last time you went on a hike, how many photos did you take? I bet it wasn’t 300.
I don’t share these numbers with you to encourage you to do the same. On the contrary, I want you to learn from how I learned, and help you to learn more efficiently. With the advent of digital photography, the approach to releasing the shutter has changed. On film the quantity of shots was confined. Both literally, i.e. the number of rolls in your bag, and from a cost standpoint to pay for film and development. The photographer was forced to slow down, determine if this was the shot they wanted, and dial in the settings as needed. Now, with a seemingly endless supply of 1’s & 0’s, a virtual army of trigger happy digital hoarders has emerged, my former self included. But repeating the same thing over and over is not a way to learn and develop new skills, but a way to multiply the mundane.
“People believe practice makes perfect, but it doesn’t. If you’re making a tremendous amount of mistakes, all you’re doing is deeply ingraining the same mistakes.” Jillian Michaels.
As a shutter-happy photographer, I would approach a vista, and start snapping away, wanting to make sure I didn’t miss anything. When I got home, I had endless pictures of basically the same thing. Almost indistinctly different crops, bracketed exposures, etc. (Have you ever looked at your photos a day later and can’t tell the difference between two shots?) This resulted in hours of my life spent behind a monitor. This method of wash, rinse repeat, just wasn’t cutting it. In order to learn new skills, you must push the boundaries of what you can do. So now I wash and rinse, then I change shampoos and rinse, leave the shampoo in longer and rinse, change the temperature of the water and rinse. Each time I look at what I changed and decide what I can learn. In photography, this could be changing your perspective, reducing your aperture, adjusting your white balance, etc. Then when you get back to your computer, you can review what worked and what didn’t, easily distinguishing between photos. And the next time you are out shooting, you will be able to take less photos, but capture of your artistic expression.