Picture this … let’s say you would like to get in shape. You’ve decided that the pants are too tight, the third flight of stairs is too much, and tying your shoes feels more difficult than ever.
You hatch a plan to go to the gym once a month for an entire day. While your effort should be applauded, there is an enormous flaw in the plan. The only way to get in shape is by forming consistent habits, that are easily repeatable, at regular intervals, that contribute to your improvement without burning out. Even someone who has never exercised in their life can see that devoting a full day once a month will not lead to success.
Consistency matters, and it matters a heck of a lot more than talent. Why then do photographers struggle to maintain a consistent pace in developing their own abilities? These are three scenarios I see all the time and a few solutions to suggest new habits you can form.
Consistency matters, and it matters a heck of a lot more than talent.
In the age of online connectivity, research is frequently confused with learning. Learning about photography does not require a computer. As someone in their 30s (aka not that old), my entire photography degree was completed without a digital camera or a computer. It is possible – though I will fully admit a digital camera and a computer make things easier – if they are used properly.
What do I mean by properly?
If you are the “researcher” ask yourself, what are you looking up online?
• Are you reading design essays on how to create pictures, think like an artist, or develop your creativity?
• Or are you looking at gear, reviews, and endless streams of photographs that each get approximately three seconds of your attention?
I will be the first to admit that my entertainment “research” on things like watches and boats is a wonderful distraction. It does not make me better in any way … as much as I assure my girlfriend, “Oh wait … I just have to check one more thing.” She and I both know there is zero critical research following that statement.
• Study pictures in hardcopy formats like books, magazines, and prints rather than online.
• Take a walk … photography is more physical than mental. It does not happen when you are sitting down.
• Or take a class. Whatever you do, make it at least once a week. Twice a week is even better, particularly in the formative stages where you are trying to learn a new skill set. Once you have a solid handling on it, you can find a rhythm with longer gaps between shooting or thinking about shooting.
You’d like to separate your activities and look at how much time you are actually devoting to photography versus being online. Facebook and Instagram are not research.
This could be you or someone you know. The photographer who runs on whims and inspiration is bound to have trouble finding lasting success or fulfillment. Photography, like exercise, works best when practiced regularly.
Ask any professional athlete about their training. It is a refined system. Even if photography is a leisure sport for many people, it grows like a plant, with consistent watering. Long dry spells followed by spurts of activity will achieve mixed results at best and it will never allow things to sink in. Recently, while listening to an interview with Dr. Joe Dispenza he pointed out that:
“When you have a new thought 1,300 – 2,600 new neural connections are formed. And if those thoughts are not reinforced, then within 36 hours they are trimmed back.”
What does that mean for the photographer? Well it means that all your hard work gets wiped clean within a day or two, unless it is reinforced through repetition.
If you are an impulsive genius, ask yourself:
• Do you feel like ideas rush at you from nowhere?
• Do you struggle to find the time to do everything you want in photography?
• Would you describe your photographic behavior as going through intense peaks and valleys?
• Keep a small notebook of ideas. When something strikes you, jot it down.
• Map your year. Look back at last year and see what contributed to the peaks and valleys of your activity. Whether it is work, family, vacations … see if you can add a touch of regularity to level out the process.
• Find a photo-buddy. The easiest way to keep on course is with a friend. By keeping tabs on one another, exchanging pictures, or discussing ideas, you will discover that the social aspects of photography will increase the speed at which you learn and your output. Remember, Rome was not built in a day and “Petit Henri” did not turn into Henri Cartier-Bresson overnight. It took time.
This type of photographer is both their own greatest critic and their own victim. It is a vicious cycle of psyching yourself out before you have even started. I can’t tell you how many wonderful photographers I have met, who never publish, never finish their projects, and are wholeheartedly convinced they are not good enough. Doubt is a consistency killer. If this is an issue, you already know it and then best thing you can do is get out of your own way by engaging with someone else.
The other thing to note is that “The Great Skeptic” usually does not have a photographic problem; they have a confidence problem. Now I am certainly not a therapist or coach but I have seen enough people who have talked themselves out of being consistent to recognize when it is happening. Doubt is no match for consistency. In the battle of repetition versus doubt, repetition always wins.
Step one is TAKE A STEP. Do anything, and I mean literally anything, to connect with another photographer. This is not a solo operation. The solution for this is actually ironically the easiest one. Take one step in a new direction and the old version of yourself literally evaporates.
One of my favorite examples of this was a workshop photographer who I will not name. Photography was new to them. The camera was an confusing device with a bunch of buttons that had very little rhyme or reason. After our first critique, they told me that it was one of the most nerve racking things they ever did. The whole process was like coming face-to-face with a three-headed, fire-breathing dragon; they were nearly paralyzed. And it was funny to know that in my monstrous form I come with three heads.
BUT … after the critique they were only left with sweaty palms and an ego that was still intact. The experience was not nearly as bad as they expected. We have continued to work together for a few years and literally laugh every time we see each other about how things started out. The skeptic still shows up from time to time, but it has gone from a dragon to a small whispering mouse that needs to be brushed out of the room.
Consistency is a focus not only for me as a teacher, but also as an artist. Many of the challenges that I’ve seen in other people exist in me as well. At varying points in my life I easily could have been described as a researcher, impulsive genius, and skeptic, which is why I have such a familiarity with all of these challenges. Balancing consistency can be a challenge. I found that if things were too consistent they would get stale and if they were not consistent enough, nothing would get finished. Balance is an art and one that is best tuned regularly.
Balancing consistency can be a challenge. Balance is an art and one that is best tuned regularly.
Editor’s Note: All of the images in this article were made during the A\M Workshops private shoot at Galleria Romanelli in Florence, Italy. The artists pictured are student sculptor Valentina Tortolini and master sculptor Raffaello Romanelli.