Do you really want to do what’s necessary to become the best photographer you can be, or are you more drawn to the idea of being a photographer and the trappings that come with it? Wherever you are along your path, I think it’s a fair question to ask yourself. And it demands a soul-searching answer. In other words, as my friend Dave Black likes to say, “Are you all in?”
There is no denying that photography can be an amazingly glamorous profession. Whether it’s shooting from the sidelines of an Olympic event the way Dave Black does, or traveling to the far corners of the world the way Lucas Gilman does, or managing a large production for a portrait the way I often do, photography can create experiences that are rarefied indeed.
But those opportunities don’t just present themselves. They first require the investment of time and effort to master whatever it is that you wish to be known for. Usually, that first requires lots of mistakes, missteps and outright failures—the kind that make you cringe when you look at the pictures years later. When lots of mistakes and failures are overcome they lead to resilience and grit—a critical quality for any photographer because every picture can be done better the next time—and should be done better the next time. Solving problems—any and all kinds of them—leads to experience and confidence in both yourself and your work. Deep and varied experience combined with confidence leads to mastery. And photographic mastery in your chosen niche will give you the best possible chance at success in this great profession.
“If you depend too heavily on those shortcuts, eventually you’ll be exposed.”
In most things in life you hear that there are no shortcuts. Well in photography there are. Plenty of them. The shortcuts fall under names like auto-focus, auto-exposure, TTL, high-speed motors, RAW capture, Photoshop and many other technologies that have made entering photography easier than ever. But, if you depend too heavily on those shortcuts, eventually you’ll be exposed—pardon the pun.
I’m often reminded of a great story I heard about legendary coach John Wooden and a conversation he had with one of his star forwards during his championship run of the late 60s and early 70s. He was holding a practice when he called the player over and told him that he wanted him to stand at the free-throw line and shoot 400 free throws—one right after the other. The accomplished player viewed this as akin to writing his name repeatedly on the chalkboard and said, “I can do that coach,” meaning, he already knew how to shoot and make free-throws. In a soft and reassuring voice, Wooden responded, “I know you can do that. But I want you to be able to do that in the clutch moments when the game is on the line.” So, the player stood there and shot 400 free throws. He was all in.
John Wooden’s commitment to mastery won him 10 NCAA national championships—7 of them consecutively. He too was all in.
Are you all in?