From my own experience as a photography educator and workshop leader, I have seen and heard this same scenario often—photographers describe their excitement for the photo shoot and then the disappointing reality of what they got. The disparity between the image you thought you made and the one you get is a gap that closes when you go through this volume in a targeted way, working every scene.
I’m going to explain in detail strategies for going through this volume in future posts. But first I’m going to describe a non-visual analogy that illustrates my point for shooting a lot. Ira Glass has had a long and distinguished career in public radio. The current host of This American Life, which reaches 2.2 million listeners each week, has been honing his skills for more than 35 years.
In a series of YouTube videos, he articulated just how long it took him to make the work that lived up to his ambitions for it. He points to a piece he made after eight years working full-time in radio that he describes as “horrible,” and says it is perfectly normal to make work that is not as good as you know it can be. It takes a while to get better; you just have to fight your way through it.
There are many examples of inspiration that speak to the theory of getting through a volume of work to produce something worthwhile and satisfying.
The whole idea of finding a theme was outlined in earlier posts, and photographer Robert Frank, arguably one of the most influential photographers of our time, devoted two years of road trips in 1955 and 1956 across the United States to come up with the content that became his seminal volume, The Americans. He took more than 27,000 frames with a Leica rangefinder camera, and eventually distilled that into the 83 photographs that make up the book.
This volume provides an underlying foundation that is woven into your process and becomes second nature. It gives you the ability to problem solve and instinct often kicks in and you somehow save the photographic day.
Here’s Ira Glass:
“You’ve got to get rid of a lot of crap before you’re going to get anything that’s special. You don’t want to be making mediocre stuff. There’s a gap for the first couple years that you’re making stuff. What you’re making isn’t so good. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is good enough that you can tell what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you.
A lot of people at that point, they quit. The thing I would say to you with all my heart is that most everybody I know who does interesting, creative work, went through a phase of years where they had really good taste, they could tell what they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be. They knew it fell short.
Everybody goes through that. If you’re going through it right now, or if you’re just starting off and you’re entering into that phase, you’ve got to know it’s totally normal and the most important thing you could do is do a lot of work. Do a huge volume of work because it’s only by actually going through a volume of work that you’re actually going to catch up and close that gap.” Ira Glass
The video above was inspired by Ira Glass and created by Daniel Sax