The importance of shooting for no good reason.

Emily.  Taken with an Olympus e-30 and a 35-100mm f2 zoom lens.

Gosh, I really like photography.  And I think it's a lot like playing the piano.  You need to practice all the time if you're going to be any good at it.  It may seem like one of those crafts where you can learn all the stuff you need to know and then shelve it until you have time.  But I think that only works for hobbies like stamp collecting or artistic pursuits like conceptualism.  If you paint you need to learn to control the brush and the more you do it the better you are at it.  It's the same with musical instruments.

How do you get to Carnegie Hall?  Practice, practice, practice.  When will I be done learning to meditate?  When I'm dead.  And how do I learn to take better photographs of people?  Shoot and shoot and shoot.  There's really no shortcut and there's really no advantage to learning every little fact as a cerebral tidbit.  When you shoot a portrait your hands do some stuff your mouth does other stuff (talk, sing, lie, cajole, praise, engage....) and your brain does some other stuff.  But to make them do everything at once and make them do it reasonably well you have to give your creative muscles daily exercise or they atrophy.

So I call friends and people I meet and relatives and anyone that will listen and I invite them over to my little studio and make photographs.  And it's nearly always a nice collaboration.  When it isn't it means I wanted everything my way and ended up not getting anything nice.  Or the subject wanted everything their way and that didn't work either.

The image I keep in my head as I shoot a portrait is that of water in a stream.  Every time a rock comes up I try to go around it.  I never try to push the rocks out of my way.  I don't know what's on the other side of the rock but I know I'll get there if I just stay fluid.

The way to stay fluid is to be the water, everyday.  And flow.  

Practice, practice, practice.  Enjoy the process and you'll enjoy the outcome.  Force the process and the outcome is worthless.


Poagao said...

Do you ever shoot for free? Jon Harrington would like a word with you: http://rising.blackstar.com/photographers-excuses.html

Neal Thorley said...

Very zen.. i like the concept.

kirk tuck said...

Great post, and one that everybody should read. Do I ever shoot for free? Yep. If it's for me.

Kurt Shoens said...

Oh no. I've crossed John Harrington. One of my friends was losing her job and I collaborated to shoot free pictures of her to help her find a new job. I've made bogus excuse six and possibly also excuse two.

Tom n Nang said...

Love your work! Great Stuff!

Tom in Texas

kirk tuck said...

Kurt, join the club. I've shot a headshot or two for unemployed friends who needed them. I've also do work for good, non profit charities without monetary compensation.

I still think his list is valuable and a good read for many.

Tofuphotography said...

As an avid photographer and an avid stamp collector I can honestly say the more you work on your stamp collection the better you get in that field also!

kirk tuck said...

I stand corrected. Practice works for just about everything, I guess.

Kurt Shoens said...

John Harrington makes two good points in that blog post (and many others on the same subject): don't let people take advantage of you and don't overvalue getting your photography published. No controversy there. He's telling photographers to work from a position of strength.

I don't like the next point: that photographers can't evaluate non-monetary rewards for their work. We may think that a free project exercises new skills or builds a portfolio in a new direction or benefits a person or cause we care about. But no, we're wrong. His final point explains why he could possibly care.

You mentioned the controversy surrounding photographic pricing a few blog posts ago. How could pricing be controversial? You work for yourself, you don't have monopoly pricing power, and you should charge whatever you want. By Harrington's reasoning, you can't do that because if you price too low or work for free, you're poisoning the well and wrecking the business for other professionals.

That sounds OK at first, but then I think it's pretty demeaning to the photography business and its customers. It implies that customers either can't recognize quality work or don't value it so they'll select a cheaper alternative if given a chance. It also implies that a casual photographer financed by some other full time work can perform adequately. I have much more faith in the value of photography, in the skills of those who do it well, and in the ability of buyers to act in their own interests.

Returning to his third point, really, the contention is that if an emerging pro thinks that a free photography project is in his own best interest, well he's just wrong. Our hypothetical newbie is not taking the long view! But isn't it sad if things have real value only with a price tag?

As the economy recovers, I hope there will be less blaming other photographers for the state of the photography business.

Anyway, those are my disagreements with John Harrington's blog posts on this subject.

Robert said...

I will always help a friend in need. But after helping a friend that stole my unfinished work and had it printed inside of a promotional box of chocolates, with no by line, I wont help a friend in need, with a business.