In my last post, I said that practice doesn’t make perfect, but effort may. By “practice”, I’m referring to exercise for the purpose of acquiring skill.
I don’t practice my photography. I can’t recall ever having done photography practice at all. I quite possibly never will.
That might sound surprising. Professional baseball players practice batting. Likewise, most professionals in most fields practice what they do. Why don’t I?
It makes sense for Major League Baseball players to practice during the off-season, so that they can perform at their best, when it counts. The same kind of reasoning is true for most other sports, and many other types of endeavors. However, with photography, there is no equivalent to an “off-season” and “on-season”. Thus, there is no need for dry runs. You can make every photo opportunity and every shot count.
If you want to learn how to spot meter, you don’t need to sit in your living room and take practice shots spot metered on the door, the wall, the window, the carpet, etc. If you want to learn macro photography, you don’t need to take practice shots of pawns on a chessboard. If you want to learn off-camera flash photography, you don’t need to take practice shots of your bored son sitting on a stool with his hands in his lap, staring vacantly. Nothing is stopping you from doing real photography – i.e., trying to make worthwhile photos – and learning your spot metering, macro skills, flash techniques, etc., in real photography situations, instead.
Of course, I’m broadly generalizing. I recognize that there are some situations which some photographers may encounter where it makes sense to practice with a dry run before doing the real thing. So, don’t take this as an absolute rule, if it doesn’t apply to you. But, otherwise:
If you want to better your photography, then treat every shutter actuation as an opportunity to make something significant. Treat it that way by making your best effort. Learn by actually doing, not by setting unnecessary, artificial boundaries, and then hollowly going through the motions.
Don’t shoot for the purpose of acquiring skill. Shoot for the purpose of making good photos.
Acquiring skill will then naturally follow.
“Practice”, as it is most often done by photographers, is a rationalization for half-hearted effort. Practicing is a crutch. Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes practice. Effort may make perfect.
Many photographers spend most of their photography time and energy practicing, rather than doing. If you’re one of them: What are you waiting for?
When I started photography, I told myself, “There are enough mediocre pictures in the world; there’s no point in me contributing more”, and, “I’m only going to press the trigger when I’m absolutely convinced this one could be something special”, and “In that case, I better try damned hard if I’m going to come up with any photos at all”. I stuck firmly to this for my first several years of photography. (Ultimately, I eased up on this because there are times in professional photography when expediency must be the priority.) I still have strong tendencies to refuse to allow myself to actuate my camera unless I have compelling reason to think the result could be special.
If you want to get on the fast track to good photography, then I suggest: No rationalizing insufficient effort. No dithering with practice runs. Think. Observe. Plan. Make a worthwhile photo. Or refuse to press the trigger. This will force you to think about what you’re doing, and make a real effort.
If you want to excel at photography, trying your utmost to make every shot the best you can do is a more effective path than doing systematic technique exercises in controlled situations to gain proficiency.
Thanks for reading.
Elephant Seal Coming Ashore, Mirounga angustirostris, Piedras Blancas State Beach, San Simeon, California
All pictures and text are © Mike Spinak, unless otherwise noted. All pictures shown are available for purchase as fine art prints, and are available for licensed stock use. Telephone: (831) 325-6917. For workshops, please go to http://www.hteiw.com/