Work at photography everyday

Artists learn from the masters, The Louvre

After writing In the Zone I thought further about the similarity between sportsmen, musicians, performers or others and how it relates to being a photographer. To ensure peak performance they work at their craft, their art every day.

Sportsmen and women, musicians, dancers, and many others live for their sport or art. Peak performance in any field requires commitment to do whatever is required to improve and to turn raw talent into excellence. Whether it is practice, performance, fitness preparation or, in the case of sports people, analysing their own, and competitors', performance.  Musicians and artists spend time considering the work of past masters and their contemporaries to learn new approach, to understand what great performance entails.

But even artists, sportsmen and other performers have to spend time on everyday tasks; they still have to sleep, feed themselves, deal with the tax man, take the kids to school or after school activities  (like their parents did) and all the other tasks involved in life and running a household. It is not about giving up those aspects of but fitting the two parts of their life together. In truth most in 'conventional' careers face much the same challenge. Indeed for many, a non-photographic career and the need to make a living is something they have to fit photography around. It is just another constraint.

To make the time really count that everyday involvement has to be thoughtful and well considered. It does not mean that a photographer has to take pictures every day, there are other aspects that need to be worked at as well as picture making. One needs to analyse why some pictures are successful, what the market needs, to understand the underlying technology and the increasingly rapid pace of change.  Or simply enjoy the excellence of work by others, to be inspired.

Practice needs to be wide ranging and cover all aspects of photography but should always be disciplined and thoughtful. The brain, especially, needs training so one should think about photography even when one does not have a camera in one's hand, that is equally important practice. Neuroscience shows that the brain never stops adapting to new stimuli so one can maintain and improve underlying thought processes and skills at any age; even just by repeated rehearsal in one's mind. Repetition is key to making new skills second-nature so that high performance can happen without thinking, when there is no time to think - being 'in the zone' in fact. It is important that repetitive practice is disciplined and focussed on doing things properly to reinforce the right skill, being casual in such practice will just as easily reinforce bad habits.

And there should be time simply to critically enjoy one's own work and the work of others.

I have been around young sportsmen and women or young musicians for a long time and I have a noticed the ones who rise to the top are not always the one's with thegreatest raw talent. The one's who excel are those with great talent who work hard at their skills and the wider aspects of their sport even when they would sooner do something else. I have seen fabulous talent 'wasted' because the individual was not prepared to work at it. Especially when overtaken by those with less talent who were prepared to work hard. For the hard workers being overtaken was always a spur to work yet harder and smarter. There is something that drives them, and for the best it is not pushy parents. What I have noticed is that they often cannot leave the tools of their craft alone, whether it is an instrument, a ball or whatever, they are thinking about it in all their spare (and other!) moments. Discipline, too, is a skill, like any other, that needs nurturing. I have noticed that high achievers' doodle and it is invariably pictures of their art, craft or sport.

How many of us photographers are prepared to keep working at our craft especially as we get older and have essentially mastered our technique; do we continue to play and really think about what photography means to us and what we want to do with it? Do we work at getting even better or simply accept the level of performance we have reached? A year or so ago I certainly had, but I have changed that, I am working at my photography as though it was a new enthusiasm. Do you know what? It has started to feel fresh and exciting again, I am enjoying it.

Writer and artist friends make the point that you do not aspire to be a writer or an artist, you will write or draw anyway. You might aspire to being a 'successful' writer or artist, that is something different. I believe the same is true for photographers; certainly it is for me, I think about photographs and see photographic opportunities almost all the time, whatever I am doing .

The same is true for business, including as a photographer—it does not just happen it has be worked at, constantly. Success comes from living it and acting effectively in all parts of one's life. Working at the business aspects of photography is another discussion for another time.

So, get started and work at your photography every day, even just in quiet moments, perhaps during your commute; use 'dead' time productively. Change the nature of that mindful practice frequently, so as not to get bored, make sure it is not just taking pictures mindlessly. Bored practice is counter-productive, it will train the brain in the wrong way. Find a way to enjoy photography every day.

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