Do you ever feel like you’re not making enough pictures? Maybe things come up at work, the kids have to get to their swim practice, or there are not enough hours in the week. Whatever reason it may be, many photographers struggle to make time to take pictures consistently.
When I work with people, I try to tip the scales of creativity back to a state of balance so that you can create without stress. But to do this, it is important to set realistic expectations for ourselves that we can manage regularly.
Have you ever heard some famous photographer say that they need to take pictures everyday? Taking pictures everyday would have been easy for someone on assignment in the 1980s with no email or internet connection. It sounds like a dedicated approach from a serious professional, right? But in truth, the mantra of making pictures everyday is a concept borrowed from a painter who coined the idea over 2,000 years ago.
The idea of producing a piece of work daily comes from the Greek painter Apelles (371 BC – 307 BC). The Roman writer Pliny quoted Apelles as saying “nulla dies sine linea” or “no day without a line drawn.”
Like many quotes that get thrown around in the photography world, it has its origins in art. Since the idea of making things everyday goes back over two thousand years, this approach has a long track record of success. But if we look into the quote, it reveals something that many photographers miss.
Artists do not have the best reputation when it comes to work ethic. The common conception is that artists are scatter brained, poorly disciplined, and prone towards destructive behaviors like being drunk all day, etc. While this can be applied to particular artists over time, creativity requires a certain amount of discipline, usually much more than is generally expected by the budding artist or the audience.
“Nulla dies sine linea.”
“No day without a line drawn.”
To create a finished work of art, in any medium, is a tall order. It can take time to develop the idea and then refine the execution. Many of the great works of art we know were years in their development. The ideas were sketched, mulled over, probably agonized over with a few bottles of wine before a brush even touched a canvas or a chisel chipped stone.
But Apelles’ quote “Nulla dies sine linea” (translated from its original Greek into Latin, and now English as “no day without a line”) means something different. Apelles says no day without a line, meaning that artists should do something. In his case, have the discipline to make a line. How long does it take to make a line? Even someone with zero artistic skill can make a line in less than a second.
His advice is to do something small, but significant each day … to create a gesture that is inline with being the artist you are or want to be. He does not say to make a finished piece of work everyday. That would be a recipe for Karōshi, the Japanese word for “death by overworking.”
Henri Cartier-Bresson said, “You have to make a lot of milk to get a little cheese.” An artist will draw many lines before they reach a completed drawing, just as photographers need to push the shutter many times before they make a complete photograph.
“You have to make a lot of milk to get a little cheese.”
Which leads us back to the question of, how many pictures should you take a day? To make this equation easier for the budding photographer, let’s look at how many pictures you should take in a week. The answer … one.
Give yourself the goal of taking one good picture a week. It might take you 10 or 20 or even 100 shutter presses to get there, but ease the pressure on yourself and you will find you take better pictures more often.
One picture a week will give you:
• 52 pictures in one year
• 520 pictures in 10 years
• 1,300 pictures in 25 years
When you imagine that most people can only remember 10 pictures by the greatest photographers ever, you start to see there is no need to make millions of pictures.
Even for the professional artist, an exhibition rarely has more than 20 pictures and a book no more than 100 pictures. That means that by making one picture a week, you will have enough work at the end of two years for three exhibitions and one book. Start to see how these numbers add up?
The time needed to make one picture a week is manageable. It is something you can easily do, so why not try it for a month and see how it looks at the end? My guess is that you will even impress yourself.