There are all kinds of things we can talk about when it comes to photography. Multitudes of techniques, basic to advanced camera controls, compositional rules, lighting, gear and even the artistic eye. There is post processing, software, file storage and all of the other technical details. You can boil it down further and talk about papers and inks. There are many different elements and all of them work together to create works of art in much the same way that a jigsaw puzzle’s pieces work together to form a whole. Without one element, one piece, the whole picture loses something.
But there is one part of photography that is very rarely talked about even though this piece of the puzzle is the key to everything. That element is determination. Gear, techniques, knowledge – these aren’t the things that get you out and learning, thinking and creating. In fact, you could have the gear of your dreams along with an entire library of knowledge at your fingertips but without determination, it would all be for nothing. Determination is the driving force behind everything that we do. Let me show you how determination is key to a long and successful photographic career.
What does a successful photographer do when he or she is simply out of ideas? You take pictures anyway because you are determined to create something, no matter what that something might be. The location, the subject material and all of the other variables matter less when you’re stuck in a rut. What matters is that you go out and do. Sometimes, the sheer will to go out and take photos despite a lack of direction is all you need to get the creative ideas flowing again.
So, when you find yourself without a plan, make up your mind to go capture something anyway. Once you find yourself out and examining the world with the photographer’s eye, surely something will capture your interest.
It is impossible to come to a point in your career where you can say that you have learned all there is to learn. In fact, a photographer that has this attitude quite clearly has not learned much at all about this art. In order to continue to be successful, you’ll need to keep an open mind, ready and willing to take in new information for the rest of your career.
The fact is, there are hundreds, thousands of well-recognized photographers and authors out there, all with something of their own to offer. You’ll have a lifetime of experiences to learn from — and many lifetimes of everyone else’s experiences, too. With this wealth of raw information, it is impossible to learn it all.
What’s more, no photographer, not even those leading the way on the cutting edge, has learned the things that photographers of the future will know. In the years and decades to come, new discoveries will be made and new technology will be released. You’ll have to learn about all of these things if you want to keep up with everyone else. Learning is a process that should never stop because that is how advancements are made.
What about the photographer who says to himself, “This is it! I’ve improved to the point that I can no longer do better than I am right now.” Well, that photographer is in a predicament, possibly because arrogance has led him to believe that he has reached some kind of pinnacle when in actuality, that arrogance will eventually lead the photographer down a stale path of mediocrity. Or, perhaps the situation is grim, the photographer is frustrated and fed up because he feels that he has hit some kind of artificial wall, a roadblock to his progress.
This is why you must always carry with you the determination to improve. No photographer, not you, not I, not even the greatest photographers in the world, will ever reach a point where we can stop and say, “good enough!” There will always, always be room for improvement. Look over your work with a critical eye and keep your sights set on the future with the idea that tomorrow, you will be determined enough to create a work of art that is even better than the one you created the day before.
I know — this sounds like you should be determined to invest lots of money in gear and equipment. And trust me, you probably will. Most photographers spend more money on must-have toys than is sane or reasonable. We do it for the love of the art because we are determined to make something incredible.
When I say that you should be determined to invest, however, I’m not talking about money. I’m talking about investing yourself. People like to think that photography is a quick and easy art. After all, it takes less time to snap the shutter release than it does to place paint on canvas. But you know the reality, that photography takes long hours of preparation, waiting for the perfect moment. There are hours devoted to creating and refining ideas and hours put into post processing and pouring over the perfect papers on which to print. Creating a piece of fine art is no easy feat, no matter what medium. Thus, you’ll need to be determined enough in your pursuit of art that you are willing to set aside all of the time it requires.
Every aspect of photography requires your determination. It’s the one tool, beyond knowledge or gear, that will see you through to the end. When you’re feeling yourself in a slump, remember what it takes to be a successful photographer and use your determination as the motivation you need to move forward.