Henri Cartier-Bresson said that “Your first ten thousand photographs are your worst.” Every successful creative spends boundless time, thought, and concentrated effort pursuing their passion. You can accelerate your photography education by learning from accomplished artists. One way to stimulate your photography is by reading quotes from not only photographers but creative people who express themselves in any medium.
I find stimulus from musicians, painter, authors, sculptors, and others. By reading the words of outstanding visionary artists, you can draw from the depth of their experience.
Whether you are coming to grips with camera settings when you are just starting out or seeking deeper motivation, if you’re already confident with your camera, you will do well to learn from those with more experience than yourself or your peers.
Be Part of an Ongoing Conversation
“I’m in the middle of a long conversation with my audience, it’ll be a lifelong journey for both of us by the time we’re done.” Bruce Springsteen (rock musician, author)
Photography is a communicative tool. Your style choice may be fine art or street photography. You may be interested in creating documentary photographs. Whatever your choice of style and subject, approach it as an ongoing conversation. Not just talking, but also listening.
Your best photographs express your feelings. They convey something of who you are. The best conversations are two-sided. Participate with your audience and listen to their feedback.
If you’ve never seen Springsteen perform live, find some of his concert clips on Youtube. He is a master in audience participation. He draws energy from his audience and is driven to return that energy in his performances.
It’s easier for rock stars to do this than photographers. Find people to give you feedback. Become part of other photographers creative conversations by sharing your feelings about their photography. You will grow together.
Work With the Raw Materials
“What makes photography a strange invention is that its primary raw materials are light and time.” John Berger (art critic, novelist, painter and poet)
Having a good grasp of the basics for anything you want to learn is the start of your journey towards success. Photography is all about light and time. Understanding the role that these two raw materials play in photography will make your journey more exciting and absorbing.
Throughout history, some of the greatest minds have devoted themselves to the understanding of time and light. As a photographer, you need to constantly consider these two raw materials of your craft. Not in such a deep way as to invent time travel, but at least in how they relate to the story you are telling with your photographs.
“Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. However, above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.” George Eastman (founder of Kodak)
“Photography is the simplest thing in the world, but it is incredibly complicated to make it work.” Martin Parr (photographer)
Commitment over time makes a huge impact on your achievements. Photography is actually quite simple, but to make a truly great photograph in our lifetime will probably elude most of us. This should not stop you putting in the effort because there is always an element of luck. Unless you are practiced and prepared, when luck happens, you may miss it.
Whatever you like to photograph, work on it. Not once a month, or even once a week. Make a point of taking at least one photo a day and learning, or improving one technique. Focus on a few topics you love and make projects of them. You will see your progress more readily if you do.
Be more than a person with a camera when you are making portraits. Engage in dialogue. This way your subject becomes an integral part of your photography conversation, and not just a ‘sitter’ for a head shot.
“Who sees the human face correctly: The photographer, the mirror, or the painter?” Pablo Picasso (painter, sculptor, printmaker, ceramicist, stage designer, poet, and playwright)
You could argue that some of the faces Picasso painted are barely recognizable as people. He expressed himself like no other person before him. Study him and read his quotes. You can learn from a master who was one of the most influential creatives in history.
Portraiture is probably the most common photography subject (even if you exclude selfies.) There is nothing complicated about choosing to photograph a person, but the complexities in making an outstanding portrait are many.
“A portrait is not made in the camera but on either side of it.” Edward Steichen (photographer, painter, and art gallery and museum curator)
On Street Photography
“It’s easy to penetrate someone’s privacy. People are glad you’re there to see them, cos no one’s paying attention.” Bruce Davidson (photographer)
© Kevin Landwer-Johan
Our perceptions of street photography are as varied as the number of photographers who engage in it. Bringing yourself to step out into the world, record it as you see it, and then share the photographic conversations you have, is challenging for many people.
Jumping into the shoes of experience will ease this pain. Guys like Bruce Davidson have been approaching strangers ‘cold’ for decades. Use the voice of this experience to guide you and motivate you.
Street photography is popular. There are a lot of new photographers producing some wonderful work. These pictures can do a certain amount to inspire, but there is no depth of experience to really lean on.
On Documentary Photography
“I’m not an artist. An artist makes an object. Me, it’s not an object, I work in history, I’m a storyteller.” Sebastiao Salgado (photographer)
Our photographs can change the world. Photographs can change us. As a young guy with a camera, seeing photos and reading articles with quotes from the greats like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Sebastiao Salgado, Dorothea Lange, and other accomplished documentary photographers inspired me. These are the things that drove me.
Before the internet, we shared photos differently, being mostly restricted to printed pictures. Inspiration happened in the pages of books and magazines and sometimes on art gallery walls. Carefully curated bodies of work published in Time, Life, and National Geographic, accompanied by well-written, carefully edited articles, provided a richness difficult to find on Instagram or other social media platforms.
If you feel strongly about something, photograph it. Make it an ongoing project. Let it span months or even years. But do not rely on only yourself. Look to those who have gone before you. Listen to their music, read their books, and study their photographs. Bring them into your creative conversation so that you stimulate your photography.
“Photography takes an instant of our time, altering life by holding it still.” Dorothea Lange (photographer)