Practice, Practice, Practice

Tony here with a discussion of something we think might be helpful. Photographers, especially professional photographers often feel that once they reach the point where people will pay for their services that education and more importantly, their learning in general has come to an end.  That they have reached a level of competency over their craft because, after all, they are the pro.  However, there is a big problem with this line of thinking. All areas of artistic or creative work and for that matter all administrative, legal, medical, and literally all other areas of vocation need continual practice, continual updating, and learning, to stay relevant in order to compete in today’s world.

Here, I was forcing myself to use 70-200mm at 200mm setting for street photography when I would usually elect to use 24-70 in the past.  Athens, Greece.

A few years ago a good friend called to say she would be in town over that particular weekend and asked if I wanted to go out and practice working with our lenses. I let her know in no uncertain terms, that I don’t need practice with my lenses, that I was a pro. She told me that I could use some time working with my wide-angle lenses.  Then said that I was not nearly as good as I thought I was. I think she may have been right. Up to that point I had spent much of my career photographing people with medium to long tele lenses and on the occasions that I did use a more wide-angle lens, I think I was pretty average.  It was time for practice. Over the next few weeks I forced myself to go out on shoot with only wide-angle lenses in my bag forcing myself to practice.

 A scene I would often take with a longer lens, but here is the 24-70mm set to 24mm. Not automatic or natural for me.

Musicians regularly play scales musically in order to stay sharp and exactly on task. Nothing too advanced or particularly difficult.  They play “ups and downs” on their scales, low notes to high notes in order to develop habits, knowledge, and pre-determined reactions that will become automatic responses when the time is needed.  They know the instrument inside and out. Whatever the instrument, the key, or the style, musicians could teach photographers a thing or two about truly gaining mastery over our craft. Repetition, understanding predictability, and creating useful habits, all help to form the professional.

For me personally, I have to have some kind of a discipline when trying to learn something. What I mean by that is that in order for me to really get comfortable with any piece of equipment or even software, I have to use only that one thing for a while until it becomes habit and second-nature.  When trying a new lens for example, I will only go out with that lens for several days or on several jobs until I really have it down.

So, practice, practice, practice, folks.  Do what the pros are doing…or should I say should be doing…