Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Day one . . .

I wrote at least a thousand words a day every day from the age of twelve on.
—Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

This is the book I'm reading right now and I'm attempting to apply his words to my world of photography. Photography and creativity. And here's what I think: If Ray Bradbury can write at least a thousand words a day, can we all not take at least ONE decent photo per day?

Let's face it. It's never been easier to photograph than it is today. We've got cameras in our iPads, our cellphones, in the little point-and-shoots we carry around, up to full-frame digital SLRs. We all have cameras of some sort.

And it's never been easier to acquire how-to information. When I first began in photography back in the late 1970s (sound of rocking chair creaking), my options were to teach myself, join a photo club, and/or take classes/workshops. I opted to teach myself, finding and reading books and magazines, looking at photos I thought were good and trying to figure out why they were good.

Fast-forward to today, and yes, we've still got classes/workshops to take, books and magazines, but we've also got huge amounts of information online in the form of online classes, eBooks, video tutorials, camera clubs, photography forums, and so much more. It's almost overwhelming, at least it is to me.

So why aren't we all taking the most incredible photos all the time? Why do some of us still not know how to work our cameras or use our software? Why don't our photos look like some of the extraordinary work we see online or in galleries?

The quote above, from Ray Bradbury, is applicable to us as photographers in two ways. First, he wrote every day since he was twelve? Yet it wasn't until he was 24 (or so) that he wrote a story that he knew was really good, was unique to him, which reflected his true voice. It took him twelve years of writing to get to the point where he felt he was becoming a pretty decent writer.

But what really struck home was that he practiced his "art" every day from the age of twelve. If our art is photography, how much time have we really put into it? Are we shooting every day?

Well, today's the day to ask ourselves, why aren't we? We've got cameras, magazines, books, and the power of the Internet to make us excellent photographers. What we need to do is photograph every day.

Shortly after I got my first digital SLR, I challenged myself to take one decent photo every day. Yes, it was a pain in the butt, but nothing I've ever done has pushed me so much toward becoming a good photographer.

This daily challenge required that I think photography all the time. Could that be my daily photo? Or that over there? Panic, too, was a good motivator: Oh, no! I've not shot my photo today and it's 8:00 in the evening! I began looking through kitchen cupboards, chasing the cat around the house, rolling towels oh-so-artfully, anything to fill my frame so I could complete my daily assignment. Panic leads to creativity, big time.

I shot daily for more than a year, and I posted my daily pictures online. Why? Posting my photos kept me sort of accountable to whoever might be following what I was doing. I didn't want to disappoint all seven of those people! And my photography is much, much better as a result.

Why didn't I continue? Why not continue on, year after year, shooting and posting daily photos? Because photography and I are sort of wrapped around one another anyway; I don't need the daily pressure to think about photography, to experiment with photography -- I do it all the time anyway, no worries.

But if you haven't given yourself the daily burden/opportunity of shooting a decent photograph every day, your photography runs the risk of stalling out, of your not paying attention to the things you see in your daily life, and you'll get out of practice, you'll get rusty, and your photography will suffer.

It's a very old joke, the one "How do I get to Carnegie Hall?" "Practice, practice, practice." The same holds true with photographers, with writers, with musicians, with painters. To improve your art, DO IT. Do it daily. Do it in public. And maybe, twelve years from now, like Ray Bradbury, you'll be looking at your work and quietly nodding to yourself thinking yes, these photos are good. Damn good!

Happy New Year, everybody. Wishing you a happy and creative 2014.

©Carol Leigh