Never Stop Shooting

(© Ian Plant) I am sometimes asked to give advice to aspiring photographers seeking to improve their skills. My answer is always the same: shoot, shoot, and shoot some more. It is often said that practice makes perfect, and this is no less true for photography than anything else. And frankly, this advice applies even if you are an expert. It takes a lot of shooting and hard work to make great photos. The bottom line is this: if you are not behind the viewfinder as much as possible, assessing the potential merits of any scene that catches your eye, you’re going to miss out on a lot of great images.

There’s another reason to shoot constantly: for the simple love of the art of photography. I shoot whenever I feel inspired by a subject or location, and I often shoot even when I am not. Just the simple act of engaging in the photographic process gets my creative juices flowing, and my endorphins pumping. It feels good to make photographs, and it feels even better when I make something special that I might have otherwise overlooked if my camera never left its bag.

While backpacking in Patagonia, I passed a chaotic grove of windswept lenga trees. I’ve always liked the twisted trunks of these evocative, somewhat exotic (at least to me) southern hemisphere trees, so out came my camera. I wandered around for some time, taking a few dozen shots, and then I put my equipment away and started to pack up. Once everything was back in my backpack, I changed my mind and got my camera out again. I wandered about for a few dozen more shots, and then I packed up a second time. This time the backpack made it onto my back, and I even walked a few hundred feet before I came back yet again and dragged my equipment out for one more try. You see, I was greatly inspired by these trees, and I knew I couldn’t stop until I got it right.

“Third time’s the charm,” they say, and for me in the lenga forest, it certainly was. I finally found the shot I was hoping for (to learn more about my process to create this shot, please read Meat and Potatoes on my personal photoblog). It wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t kept pulling my camera out of my bag. It seemed crazy at the time, but I guess there was a method to my madness.

The truth is this: there are literally an infinite number of photographic opportunities in this world. You’d be selling yourself short if you didn’t get out there and try as many as possible—at least try the ones that seem the most promising, and then try a few more for good measure. Great shots don’t just fall from the sky into your lap—you need to go out there and find them. This won’t happen unless you make getting the camera in front of your face a constant priority.

So here’s my advice, for beginner and pro alike: whenever you are in the field, constantly immerse yourself in the photographic process. You’ll be amazed at what you turn up.

Technical details: Canon 5DII, 14mm, ISO 100, f/14, 1/6 second.

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    Great photo Ian,

    I agree, I think it is the same with all creative activities, you have to have a strict work ethic because you won’t get that certain magic happening everyday…


    Speaking for myself, I disagree to this philosophy.

    Sometimes I need a little distance to what I am doing – not because I got lazy, but when something fills me up completely, there’s no room for something new, or improvement.

    So from time to time I take a step back. But for me it is like “one step back – two steps forward”.

    Even when I’m outdoors without my camera, I try to see the landscape (or its details) and appreciate the light – this way I am constantly making pictures in my mind. Maybe it is because I don’t earn my money with photography, but I do not have to make a picture because it is possible to do.

    Same with music (I’ve been a musician for a much longer time than a photograph enthusiast): I have the best ideas when I am not on the instrument, but I still can transfer these ideas to the instrument when it is time to practise.

    But that’s just a part of being an artist – we are all different, and things work out different for all of us.

    If 24-7-shooting is for you: DO IT!

    (and now stop reading me lamenting and go out with your camera 😉

    Your photography is as always unbeatable. I have Bennett Lake, Yukon on my den wall and visitors always stop and stare. Wishing they were there I guess, or wondering what the canoeist is looking toward.

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