This week I’ve kind of felt off when shooting. I suppose all photographers go through this, whether or not it’s actually true. Let me explain. Late one evening last weekend I went over to St Paul and was walking a few blocks of West 7th Street. I was feeling somewhat anxious just in general (never a good place to start from), and there were a lot of people around. Having people around isn’t so much of a bother, really, but it means either including them (which at bar closing time is kind of sketchy) or avoiding them, which means waiting or skipping a shot. At night, I don’t like to loiter around. Finally, it was raining pretty good - which is great for reflections but adds a little stress because my lens isn’t weather sealed.
And when you throw in election stress and other just general life shit I felt like I was just snapping obvious shots and not really seeing anything that was actually interesting. Still, I was outside and doing something so for that I felt ok. There are some interesting older buildings in that area, the facades of the bars were kind of cool. It’s an interesting mix of an area. I think it was a good location.
When I returned home I didn’t bother looking at the back of the camera. Being anxious I just felt a little frustrated with the evening and didn’t want to get into critiquing the images right then and there. It was late and I was tired, so I just left the images sitting on the camera. I left them there for three days. That’s pretty long for me, usually I’ll pull the raw images off the card and put them on a drive to keep my cards clean, then do a one-pass importing anything that is somewhat decent into lightroom. That’s my “contact sheet”. Later I’ll decide what to edit, post or print.
Before looking at the images, I recalled in my head the images I had shot and felt like I’d been shooting just a lot more of the same kind of shots I’ve been taking all season. A lot of eye level, horizontal boring crap. I started to think about what I should be doing differently to try to find images that are more interesting and help me progress as a photographer. Ruts are dangerous. Getting used to something is like finding the little comfort zone, especially if you have some success with it. Nothing grows in a comfort zone. Musicians try different things on different albums, stretching, growing, learning. Photographers should be doing the same thing. Not to say I’ve outgrown my style, honestly I don’t think I’ve really developed a style yet.
What I’m saying is that when I’m out taking photos, I don’t want to forget to look up, or bend my knees and go down low, or look for foreground, or miss some kind of action (something that’s other than moving car lights). Doing those things are not yet instinctive or ingrained. I have to *think* about it. I have to *remember* it. It’s just practice. It’s why Henri Cartier-Bresson said (to paraphrase) “your first 10,000 images will suck.” Yeah, probably the next 10,000, too. I mean, for me, I’m thinking of 10,000 that I’ve shot with intention that have made it past that first pass I mentioned above. I’m not at 10,000 yet. Probably not half that. I’m still (re-)learning. But the point is really not the number, it’s a big number that is meant to simply represent “you have to take a lot of images, practice a lot, learn a lot, try a lot, fail a lot and then you’ll start to get images that are worthwhile.”
I don’t know how many times I’ve gone out shooting this year. Generally I try to go at least once a week so I suspect the number is somewhere in the 40s now. Practice is important, like any skill. The goal is to keep doing it, even if I forget to bend my knees. I have, on occasion gone out with a specific idea like that. “Nothing that is a right angle” or “Only right angles” - these little mini-challenges help me train my mind to look for compositions I might otherwise overlook when I’m being seduced by some awesome neon sign.
Last night I had to walk to the grocery store that is two blocks away. It was a bitter evening, off and on snow or rain, and windy. While I didn’t expect to stay out long, I decided to bring my camera and look for at least one image that breaks some of my habits. I found a place where leaves were collecting and blowing down a low wall. I tried some angles, got down low, put something in the foreground. Of course as I was shooting, I couldn’t get the wind to cooperate and lift any of the leaves (they were pretty wet anyway), but it was a good exercise. It’s not a great image, but I didn’t expect anything spectacular. I was just looking for something *different* than my usual.