How long does it take to become a good photographer? Do you really need 10,000 hours of training? What if you don’t have 10,000 hours?
We all set limitations for ourselves, most of which are not really true.
Have you ever heard of a “brule”? I heard it the other day for the first time and thought it was great. A brule is a “bullsh*t rule.” They are the types of things that people say as excuses for why something can’t happen. The only thing more absurd than the brule are the reasons for why it can’t happen. Things like:
Because you are a girl.
Because you have a day job.
Because you never studied art.
Because you are too old.
Because you are too young.
Here’s a good one … you might have heard someone say it, said it to yourself, or said it to someone else. It goes like this, “I am too old to get good at photography.” This, I assure you, is a brule.
I train students of all ages from all backgrounds. I’ve had people who opened their camera for the first time in a workshop, and others did not know that they needed to recharge the camera’s battery. Some were lifelong professionals looking for a reboot and some were professionals who just felt lost on their path. But regardless of training, passion, talent, or any of the other positive attributes that these photographers had, there was no rhyme or reason that connects their photography with their age. The camera does not care how old the person pushing the shutter is.
The camera does not care how old you are.
The youngest student I’ve worked with was 15 years old, while the oldest was nearly 80. You know what separates a 15-year-old from an 80-year-old? The 15-year-old sees no reason why they could not be a good photographer. They figure a little practice, a little training, and touch of thinking, and they are bound to improve. They don’t see their age as a limitation.
Is this rational? Not really.
There could be plenty of reasons why they might never become a world-class photographer, but they don’t pay attention to that at all. While a 15-year-old might have the clock on their side, they lack more things than they possess. Their perspective on the world is shallow at best, their life experience is thin, and their ability to understand complex situations is wildly under developed. So if life experience should make photography easier to learn, why do so many people feel like they are too old to start or too old to get good?
In fact, I find that the people who think they are too old to get good at photography are those in their 40s and 50s, not in their 70s or 80s.
We could get out the therapist couch and start talking about your parents, your third grade math teacher who said you would not amount to anything, or even your unreasonable to-do list that leaves no time for creativity. When it comes to making excuses there is no end to the people, conditions, and reasons we can point to. But if making good pictures is your goal, one of the first steps you can do is to get yourself around people who are more advanced than you are.
A summary of my experience in learning anything looks something like this: get out of my own head, figure out what I need to play the game, and get into the advanced class quickly. Why? Well there are two reasons for this.
Firstly, is that the speed of training with people better than you leaves little room for doubt. If your brain doesn’t have doubt or worry, there is a better chance you will not get caught up in negative self-talk. Doubt is something that beginners do FOREVER. It is an endless cycle of “what ifs” – “What if I’m not good enough,” “What if I’m not talented enough,” “What if people think I’m stupid” … and this list goes on. When you work with more advanced people, they are already beyond the doubting phase. It is a phase that you want to fly through or even skip altogether. All doubt does is slow growth, nothing else.
Secondly, when you work with people more advanced than you, you will see that they faced all the same problems and succeeded. When you see the solution, it becomes much easier to get there on your own.
Success breeds more success.
Many of the problems that photographers face are repetitive. Meaning, everyone faces them. Even though photography is in the creative realm, there are a lot of basic problems and solutions that everyone must pass through. And I do not mean picking out which lens to buy.
If you can surround yourself with one or two photographers who are more advanced than you, it will catapult your work forward. There is no reason to go at photography alone.
It is like the old question, who was the first brave soul to eat an oyster? Might seem kind of daunting. But if the person down the beach has been eating oysters for months, cracking open the shell and diving in seems less risky. Photography is no different.
There is no time limit to learning. There are no physical requirements or college degrees required to pick up a camera. Among the mediums of drawing, painting, sculpting, and photography, photography is by far the quickest one to learn.
If you find yourself thinking, “Man, I’m too old for this sh#*,” get up from the computer and go outside. Find another photographer (there are about a billion on the planet) and get to work. Before you know it, the agonizing hours of what ifs will be replaced by steady improvement that people might mistake for talent.