(© 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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