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It’s interesting that on websites like Digital Photography School you will find lots of articles on gear and photographic techniques, but far fewer on the mindset of the successful photographer. I’ve always believed that the key to understanding why people are successful lies in the way they think. For example, if you want to build a business that turns over a million dollars a year, then you would learn a great deal from talking with people who have already achieved that.
It’s the same with photography. One of the mindset skills that is important to cultivate is patience. It’s surprisingly difficult to do. Much has been written about our western culture of instant gratification and shortening attention spans. Many people are naturally impatient – it is natural to want results now rather than wait.
With all this in mind, let’s look at some of the ways that patience can make you a better photographer.
It’s so often tempting to find an interesting scene, take a few photos, then move on to look for something else.
But what if you waited? Maybe the right person needs to enter the frame to complete the composition. Perhaps you have to wait until somebody finishes what they are doing and moves out of the way. Maybe you just need to work the scene more, trying different angles and focal lengths and taking the time to look beyond the obvious.
Patience will help you do that.
For example, I had to sit and observe the scene below and wait for the right person to enter the frame. He finally did – and I got this photo.
Patience is a great characteristic to have in all dealings with people, but it’s especially helpful when photographing people. It takes time to gain somebody’s trust, to get to know them, and for them to open up and give you expressions that reveal character and emotion. It requires an emotional investment on your part, and it greatly helps if you are genuinely curious and interested in your model. An interesting conversation, a discovery of common experience or interest often leads to better, more revealing portraits.
You’ll get even better results if you work repeatedly with the same model. That requires the patience to build a friendship and working relationship, and the understanding that you might only start making your best portraits on the third or fourth shoot, not right away.
This is one of my favorite photos of this model, and it came on our third shoot. I would never have made it without the patience to build our working relationship.
Long exposure photography is different from other types of landscape photography in that the shutter may be open for as much as five or six minutes. This is a long time to wait, and it can be difficult to know what to do.
I like to use that time purposefully, when I can, by exploring different compositions and angles of view with my iPhone (whose camera has nearly the same angle of view as my Fuji 18mm lens). This way I am working on my next photo while the camera is exposing the frame.
If I am not thinking about other photos then I like to relax, breathe in the air, and contemplate the scene. It’s a chance to chill out and enjoy the view, rather than rush from one viewpoint to another.
You’ll find the best light for most types of landscape, travel, and architectural photography at the beginning and end of the day, when the sun is low in the sky and golden light rakes across the scene. This is called the golden hour and it’s when most scenes look the most beautiful.
When you find an interesting place it takes patience to wait until the sun is lower in the sky, or discipline to wait and return when the light is better. The reward when you do so is beautiful light and more powerful images.
The light changes with the seasons as well as the time of day, and it takes patience to return to a scene at different times of year to explore it in different lighting conditions. I used to live near the beach where I took the photos below. Patience helped me build a series of images shot in different seasons and different types of light.
One of the easiest ways to improve your photography is to assign yourself projects that you can tackle over time. Projects are interesting because they focus your attention on a theme that you can explore in depth. This takes time, patience and sometimes determination. There may be times when things don’t go your way, when creativity doesn’t flow, or when people let you down. Patience helps you push through these negative events and go on to complete your project.
This photo was taken as part of a long-term project photographing circus performers.
One thing that all these ideas have in common is taking the long-term view. It’s all about considering what you’d like to achieve in photography over the next few years and how you are going to do so.
If, for example, you decide that you would like to spend more time taking photos of people, then there is some hard work in front of you in terms of finding interesting models and arranging shoots. Patience is required, but so is the ability to look into the future and think about your photography related goals, and the body of work you are building. Thinking ahead like this helps you act purposefully and constructively. Good luck!
If you enjoyed this article and would like to learn more about the creative side of photography then please check out my ebook Mastering Photography.