We tend to overestimate what we can do in an average day
but underestimate what can be done over the course of a year
In a 1978 Paris Match interview, Joan Didion said [PDF], “What’s so hard about that first sentence is that you’re stuck with it. Everything else is going to flow out of that sentence. And by the time you’ve laid down the first two sentences, your options are all gone.”
And so it begins.
I wrote my last post about defining success during the interval that I teach a winter photography short course for Lifelong Learning. I talk a lot in class about what makes a successful photo outing and how that isn’t the same as bagging a wall-hanger photo, especially early in one’s photography experience.
I can tell who in my classes have been reading the on-line forums. They are the ones with the most anxiety about their gear. Read some of that nonsense and you’d come to believe that it’s hopeless to make a good picture without a five figure investment in optics. I point out that I made this picture with a D70 and the kit lens, an outfit that has less features than any camera currently on the market. I’ll make a few snide remarks about the “camera collectors” as I call them, people who spend way too much time reading specs, arguing on forums, but don’t actually make pictures. Then we crack open our camera manuals (I make them bring them to class.–few of their covers have ever been creased by turning that first page) and learn how to turn on the histograms feature. The camera you know how to use is the best tool for the job, I say.
I recall an episode of a Julia Child series where she said to follow the recipe through the first time, then improvise from a position of strength. I find wisdom in that concept that extends far beyond the kitchen. Learn the rules: rule of thirds, never compose a line coming from the corner of a frame, don’t put a subject in the bullseye of an image. Then break them, but deliberately and from a foundation of understanding, if it helps communicate my visual idea.
Experiments cost nothing in the field, if as beginning photographers we can give ourselves permission to fail in order to succeed. I think Julia summed it up for all sorts of creative endeavors: “The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.” Cultivating that attitude is a major part of my definition of success.