Thursday, July 22, 2010

Shoot Something or Someone Every Day

Waiting to Go Aloft in Nashville, 2010

If you want to get good at something, you have to exercise every day. To be an excellent athlete, your body has to be conditioned to see opportunities that last little more than a glimmer of a second and execute them flawlessly. To be a good soldier your body has to be fit and your mind has to be trained to follow rigorously rehearsed protocols without thinking. You sure wouldn’t want to go to the surgeon who hasn’t done whatever you’re going to let him or her do to your body many times before on other people?

The same rigor applies to photography. You have to know your camera very well to know how to operate it without thinking when distractions get in the way. I forget this every now and then. I’ll go a while without taking pictures. A few days, maybe even a week or two. Sometimes I’m distracted by “day job” responsibilities. Sometimes I have a backlog of images to work on. Sometimes I’m just lazy.

There’s a price for this laziness. Holding a camera in my right hand is second nature. But when I’ve put the camera down for a little while, I have to condition my body to pick it back up. When I’m lazy or especially distracted, my disciplined “professional” senses, the ones I use to watch, listen to and understand what people are about when I’m doing marketing research, have to be told that they can relax and be open to the unexpected shapes, sounds, colors and moments of the world around me.

I’d had a long day of work in Nashville earlier this week, for example, before I took Waiting to Go Aloft in Nashville, above. I had only my iPhone camera with me. (Recognize that as the flimsy excuse it is if, like me, you buy into the notion that the “best camera” is whatever camera you have with you.) I was waiting to board my plane to return home, reviewing the day’s notes, when I happened to look up and notice the dynamic sky just outside the window.

It wasn’t like this was some great revelation. The picture isn’t anything to write home about, as the old saying goes. But it was just the mental sorbet I needed at the moment, enough to distract me momentarily from my work, give me an appreciation of the natural world and send me back to work after I’d taken the picture with my phone cam with a mind refreshed.

If you want to get better, you have to photography something every day, no matter where you are, no matter whether you have a “good” camera with you, or not, and even if the only subject at hand to shoot is your own foot. Don’t believe me? Check out this or this, or worse yet, this.

I Will Shoot Splatter Patterns on the Ground if There’s Nothing Else, 2010


  1. Haaaa! I remember those. Your "splatter patterns on the ground/avec shadows" is still creative and interesting, though. So true, you do have to practice every single day to see improvement. I'm beginning to think it'll take a lifetime to get any better for me, but I'll plod along. Great post.

  2. I've had extensive training and experience with firearms over the past 40 years or so and instructors always push 2 points:
    1) Marksmanship is a perishable skill.
    2) You must develop and maintain muscle memory through constant practice.
    I took up photography as a hobby last year and approach it the same way. When I need to get that "once in a lifetime shot" it's no time to be fumbling around for the controls on the camera....or the weapon.