Jeremiah Rogers

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Why Practice Matters in Photography

Monks cleaning a pagoda in Chiang Mai, Thailand 1.

“I have to shoot three cassettes of film a day, even when not ‘photographing’, in order to keep the eye in practice.” – Josef Koudelka

Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Practice matters in photography and it matters more than I like to admit. I have tried to escape practice by inventing excuses: not having the right gear, wanting to travel more, needing to write or needing to take an item off of what can seem like an endless list of tasks.

I’ll get almost ready to go out photographing and then remember this thing that I have to do and make up an excuse not to go. It’s far easier when the weather sucks or when I’m in a bad mood, but just about any day a good excuse can be found.

Lately my productivity has been dropping. I’m not making enough pictures and certainly not enough pictures that I actually like. Based on past experience, from about one in a hundred or one in a thousand pictures comes something I really enjoy. The math isn’t firm — and I could shoot a thousand pictures and totally waste time — but it leads to a fairly obvious conclusion: shoot enough photographs and something good will come.

So I’m changing my routine. I’m trying to make photography one of the things that I have to do every day. Around 3pm — even if things aren’t done for the day — I tell everyone I’m responsible to that I’ll be gone for the next few hours. I put on some music, grab my camera, and head out the door to shoot pictures.

The pictures aren’t always great. Especially starting out again having not shot many photographs in the past few months, the pictures have been just terrible. In the past week I’ve not taken even a single photo that I’m proud of… but I’m getting my legs back.

Just like in road biking, weight lifting, distance running or even basic cardiovascular training there is legitimate practice and then there are just miles and hours. Sometimes the picture taking resembles miles and hours more than any kind of deliberate exercise. For me it is a process rather than a formula.

Yet just as the process really starts to drag on — just as I get really bored with the same scene again — a light clicks and I start looking the scene through a different view. I finally get frustrated with being afraid of people and just take pictures. I start to get the photographs that I really enjoy again.

So if you feel stuck in photographing, I say get back out there. Try to take pictures consciously for a few hours per day. Know that it rarely comes easy. See the footnote if you need proof.

  1. I took thirty exposures of this same scene before the framing of the pagoda and the monks lined up nicely. There were a few frames of the pagoda not showing the whole thing, a few of the pagoda with no one in front of it, some with the pagoda perfectly centered and the monks working below, and then this, my favorite. Being off center let the pagoda and the monks fill more of the picture. While the photograph might look exotic, monks are among the easiest people in the world to photograph. They won’t get angry at you or run away. So it’s kind of like hitting a softball. 28mm lens at f/16, ISO 400, 1/125th of a second on a Ricoh GR. [return]