“The best teacher is experience and not through someone’s distorted point of view.”
― Jack Kerouac
You’ve heard this sentiment before? Probably. A little cliché? Sure. True? Definitely. Plus, it sounds a little cooler coming from Jack Kerouac.
How Does it Relate to Photography?
Experience is the Best Teacher
There are thousands of photography schools and courses out there for you take. And it’s not to say they aren’t valuable too, because many of them definitely are. But nothing can replace real experience. With photography, this is truer than ever.
Another famous quote, from Henri Cartier-Bresson, said “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” In todays digital world, a bigger number might be more accurate. In other words, you need to take a lot of photos to get better. You can read and learn about photography all you want, but if you don’t apply it by going out and taking photos, then you’ll never see progress. Much of what you learn is brought on by the act of taking photos too.
We all have our own points of view. We all see things our own way in photography too. One of the most valuable aspects of experience is that it teaches us through our own eyes. You can learn a lot from others, but it will always be their point of view. In the end, creating your own point of view and vision will bring your most authentic photos.
Building your personal vision in photography comes from time. It doesn’t happen overnight and it needs the growth that comes from taking thousands of photos. Your vision at the start will come more from your idea of photography, but through experience you can hone it into your personal vision. Learning and seeing other great work can help you get an idea of vision, but it’s not your personal vision until you go out and take the photos to make it that.
How to Apply it to Your Photography
Go Outside & Shoot as Much as Possible
The fastest way to get past those first “10,000 photographs” is to go out and photograph as much as you can. It sounds simple, but many people get frustrated when they aren’t nearly as good as the photographers they admire. Frustration can lead to shutting off, both your camera and yourself. You have to make sure you go out and keep shooting.
The truth is many of those we admire had to start somewhere too. It takes time. And even for the most talented, a great photo is rare. It takes dedication and plenty clicks of the shutter to get something you really like. If you consistently get out there with your camera, you keep your eyes going too. If you take a month off, it can take time to get back in the groove. Just continuously going out to photograph is the best way to not only get better, but give yourself more of chance to capture something you like.
This can be easier said than done, but there are a few ways to help you get out there.
Start a 365 Challenge
Many photographers have found big inspiration and improvement from committing to the “365 challenge,” where you take at least one photo every day, all year. It becomes addicting and once you start, you feel a responsibility to keep it going. Plus, there’s plenty of others doing it so it can feel like you’re part of something. You can even connect with others participating in the challenge on social media like instagram or flickr.
The 365 Challenge sounds more difficult to do than it really is too. Of course, you won’t be able to find time to take an amazing photo everyday, but if you can make sure you at least try each day, it adds up.
Take Your Camera Everywhere
With smart phones, most of us always have a camera with us. If you don’t like shooting with your phone, there are plenty of pocketable compact cameras too. So there’s no excuse to not have a camera with you. Many times, the best photos can happen when we aren’t out looking for a photo, anyway.
We all have those moments where we see something and wish we had a camera with us. By making sure you always have a camera in your bag or pocket, you’ll be able to capture more of those moments and scenes.
Take a Photo Trip
This could be a week long vacation, a weekend getaway, or just a day trip, but taking a trip with your camera can be a great way to focus on gaining experience. You can pick a city, place or event you’ve always wanted to check out, grab your camera, and spend the whole time photographing. Trips can allow you more freedom for photography, help you focus, and give you the excitement of a new place, which usually makes it even easier to click away.
Train Your Eyes to See with Experience
The natural talent you’re born with in photography is a different discussion, but experience can definitely help your eyes see. When you start out in photography, you might not notice all the things you notice later. Over time, you find out what really interests you, your personal vision develops, you learn how to capture that vision, and within all that, the photos around you start to appear.
Light, patterns, colors, contrasts, juxtaposition, illusions, moments, and more. These are all things that you can learn to see with experience. When people around you start wondering what you’re taking a photo of, that’s a good sign that you’re seeing things others don’t.
Observe everything around you. Notice how real life scenes can form patterns or illusions. Notice how contrasts and colors can come together to create beautiful images. Notice little telltale signs that happen before you capture authentic moments. And then take lots of photos of all these things you notice. The more you explore, observe and take photos, the more you notice things that went unnoticed before.
See How Your Camera Sees
Our eyes are so much more powerful and complex than a camera and lens. We see a whole other dimension and expose for completely different degrees of light in the same scene, at the same time. Our photos won’t do that so you have to see a scene as it can be captured by your camera. This doesn’t have to be a negative, though. It can be used as a positive, instead.
Think about how contrasts, shadows and light can be worked together to create a photo more interesting than our eyes saw. Those contrasts can become more powerful in a photo and the light can be used to bring a photo to life. Things like patterns, lines and layers will look different in photo too. So with your experience you can learn how to frame things together in a way that will look even better in a photo.
There’s Always More to Experience
There will always be more to experience, learn and see when it comes to photography. There’s an endless amount of reasons experience is the best teacher, but it would take a book to write them all down. And in the end, we’re talking about experience here. So no more reading or writing, time to grab the camera and start more experiencing.
Tell me what you think about experience and how important it is in photography in the comments below. And if you have any favorite quotes for photography, be sure to comment them too!