The other day I watched (skimmed, really) a video on YouTube promising I’d learn about the 20 biggest misconceptions in photography.
The video had 1.2 million views.
What, I wondered, could so many photographers be getting so wrong?
It turns out the answer included focus breathing, reciprocal rules, sweet spots, megapixel density, the non-existence of depth of field, and how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. My eyes haven’t glazed over like that since the last time I was put under full anesthesia.
Twenty things (no, the 20 biggest misconceptions) photographers get wrong and not one of them makes a damn bit of difference to my photography.
The video left me feeling like I was taking crazy pills. Almost 35 years as a photographer and I didn’t know (still don’t) what in the name of the Great Googly Moogly he was talking about. But I can handle it. I know that my photographs don’t rely on knowing any of that stuff. But how distracting is this nonsense going to be to others—people like you who just want to make compelling, honest, authentic, creative photographs?
When photographers want to “take things to the next level” or “up their game,” they tend to focus on honing a skill, putting in more practice, and dig deeper into the knowledge of the tools.
“If only I could get a better grasp on this or that technique,” we think. If only we knew more (like WTF is focus-breathing?), preferably the secret to this or that, we’d be better. And sometimes, this is exactly so. Sometimes that is exactly what we need. But not so often as we think. I think there’s something more important going on.
I think the most important thing we can do, once we begin to grasp the basics (and this applies no matter what your craft), is to protect our creativity with all the strength we can summon.
I think we need to feed it and nurture it and, most of all, keep it away from the toxic environment of our comfort zone. Yes, learn your craft, geek out on reciprocal rules if you must, but if you had to ration it all out, I’d tell you to give that stuff 10% of your effort and put the remaining 90% into anything that will make you more creative, give you greater freedom, and make you more comfortable with risk.
I would tell you the single best thing you can do is get out of your comfort zone. Get out and stay out. The dangers of the comfort zone are well known. Your comfort zone discourages or stops any real learning, limiting new ideas and possibilities. It discourages risk (at all cost) and since creativity is about doing and making things that are new and unknown, it can’t happen without the willingness to risk. To risk failure. To risk wasted time. To risk looking foolish.
The comfort zone discourages the hunger for more, to be better, to make and do better, to try new things.
It says this is good, let’s just stay here. If we aren’t moving forward it’s because it’s just easier to stay where we are, running in circles because it feels like progress. Sure, you’re moving, but never into new territory, and never deeper, unless you count the ruts that you’re wearing into the floor.
So how do you stay out of the comfort zone and keep your creative spirit alive and well and making photographs that feed your soul? Here are a few ideas to ease you in.
Be curious. Learn to self-learn. Google new words and ideas, read books about people you’ve never heard of, be open to learning about Picasso or Pollock or the metaphysical poets (I’m a big fan of Gerard Manley Hopkins). Expand your influences. New ideas shouldn’t threaten us. They should intrigue us. But follow your curiosity and not obligation. No interest in focus-breathing? Me neither. Move on to something that intrigues you.