Learning to Focus

A couple times a month, I get on the phone or Skype with some wonderfully talented photographers to mentor them and nudge them forward in their craft.

Almost every time the concerns are the same, the questions are similar. Is my work any good? What are my next steps? How do I grow? Of course every conversation is different, but the end result is often the same and I find myself saying some version of these words that I’m hoping you’ll consider for yourself:

Your work is technically fine. You don’t need help there. You have an eye and visual taste enough that you know what you like. I can’t help you there. But you’re all over the map. You shoot this. You shoot that. And that’s fine, but that approach won’t take you deeper.

Deeper matters. Deeper requires time and focus. Deeper brings new ideas the more you work on something. Deeper gets you past the obvious and the low-hanging fruit. Look, there’s nothing wrong with the low fruit, but it’s the same as others are picking. Unless they also go deeper.

Deeper is what we resonate with when we see the work of someone who has photographed the same subject longer than others might have; that time and attention—that focus—has given them the opportunity to see what others have not. To see possibilities and to become more aware of their own reactions to what they are seeing. It is seeing those things and then having the time to work on finding new ways, specifically our ways, of expressing those things with our craft, that will make our photographs, and our experience making them, so much stronger. Deeper.

Very few of the people reading my words need hard lessons in craft. Some, perhaps, but if you can focus and expose, now is the time to begin to go deeper, not later. You’ll learn your craft as you go deeper. The reverse is rarely true. In fact, it’s often the manic pursuit of craft, new tools, and techniques that prevent going deeper.