The Power of Looking Back

I think about progress a lot – as photographers (or really any human trying to improve at something), we are always in such a hurry to arrive, to be amazing, and to accomplish it RIGHT NOW.  And the truth we all know deep inside is that real improvement takes a lot of practice, patience and putting in the time.  But we still crave the quick fix.

A little over a year ago, I began my photography journey.  I had only been shooting in manual for 2 months but I was feeling pretty great about my skills and I decided to sign up for a workshop, only to quickly realize that I was surrounded by really talented individuals and that I had so much further to go than expected in my journey.  I felt intimidated and sometimes a little embarrassed that I wasn’t better, but mostly I tried to be a sponge.  I soaked in everything I could, I put my work out there, and I listened when people were willing to offer advice.

One of the topics the instructor addressed was the impact of experience on your development, and she shared an article by Cheri Frost called "The Photography Teacher Nobody Wants."

I remember that article resonating back then (as it still does now) but it didn't completely sink in, and I was distracted by hopes of quick fixes like better equipment and editing skills.  The denial is silly now, but I was at the beginning of my journey and I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

So fast forward one year.  Thanks to experience, I've made some great progress.  Last night, I realized just how much as I looked at some of the images that I took last April and compared them to recent ones, and I jotted down a list of things I know now that I didn't know then:

  1. Shooting in flat light does not give you natural contrast and dimension, and no amount of editing will transform an image from poor to amazing.
  2. Images won’t have amazing depth and bokeh if you are further from your subject than the background is, no matter what aperture.
  3. Interesting light makes most images better.
  4. It’s easier to reduce clutter that doesn’t add to the image than edit it out later.
  5. Be intentional about what you want to capture and convey – don’t just crop later and expect the creative choices made in camera to scale.
  6. Active seats are worth the price difference for the interaction and networking.
  7. Observing is hard but nearly always worth it.  Even if you take fewer photos (less to delete from Lightroom later anyway).
  8. It isn’t worth pissing your kids off, and forced moments come across that way.  Or you remember they were forced and just feel crappy about the images.
  9. Don’t compare yourself to others – but seek out those who are better than you and don’t be afraid to share your images with them.  They will become your mentors and trusted/honest partners.
  10. You will probably feel like you don’t know your style for years – and that style isn’t really voice, which is far more important.
  11. Buying used equipment is a great thing.  And you will be just fine if you buy the f/1.8 lens and not the f/1.4.
  12. You won't connect with every instructor or classmate.
  13. Facebook likes do not define the worth of your image.
  14. Presets can confuse you – you’ll learn more by making educated editing selections.
  15. Just because you have a year under your belt, it doesn't mean you won't make rookie mistakes.
  16. You will meet a lot of photographers, you will really connect with several, and there is room for all of us – so be kind and helpful.

Thank you experience - the effort has been worth it.