Musings on Photography

Practice and exercises

Posted in art is a verb, process by Paul Butzi on March 22, 2010


Michael Johnston has an interesting post over on TOP about some exercises he recommends. I don’t have much to say about Mike’s suggested exercises – I think they’re probably pretty useful. It’s really the comments that I find interesting.

The interesting thing about the comments is that they reflect a trend I’ve noticed before – that the people who protest that the exercises are stupid and counterproductive and useless are the people who have never done and would never consider such exercises.

I mean, what’s the cost? The one exposure exercise is opportunity cost only, a fallacy if there ever was one. Potential photographs stream past us at infinite rate, and all we can do is dip into the stream now and then. How many photos have we missed if we don’t make any photos? An infinite number. How many photos have we missed if we take one? The same infinite number. How many have we missed if we take 10,000? The same infinite number.

And the ‘make a lot of photos’ exercise – what can the possible harm be? You go out with your DSLR for some time, and you make 300 exposures, and perhaps all of them are crap. Ok, delete them.

It’s staggering to me that so many photographers think photography is about sitting at a computer and reading stuff on the internet, or sitting with a book and reading about photography in their den. And it’s really about – dare I utter the phrase? – *making photographs*.

As Ted Orland puts it, the function of 99% of the art you make is to enable you to make the 1% that soars. You can’t go through life making only perfect art. You have to make a vast, staggering pile of stuff that falls between outright mistakes and stuff that’s pretty damn good but not quite there, along with the stuff that takes people’s breath away.

The thing about photography, especially digital photography, is that the feedback is so good and so fast. Make some photos. Look at them – are they good, or bad? Which ones are good? Make more like that. Which ones are bad? Make fewer like that. Repeat. The more photographs you make, the more feedback you get. If you don’t make photographs, you don’t get any feedback. It’s not rocket surgery.

Maybe the reason I feel this way is that I think *I* ought to make more photographs. A lot more photographs.

7 Responses

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  1. Colin Griffiths said, on March 22, 2010 at 7:45 am

    I always considered that I do two sorts of photography; it’s mostly the stuff that takes me forward, and very, very occasionally that which helps tell me how far I’ve got.

  2. My Camera World said, on March 22, 2010 at 9:37 am

    I yet to see a marathon runner who can finish that didn’t practice or exercise first.

    I also haven’t seen a great musician who did not practice first.

    I wonder if these people who think it is useless to do exercises are not so insecure in themselves or their abilities that they just can face the fact that they might even fail at an exercise.

    I think any great photographer who now does not need to exercise so much would ever pan the need to practice.

    I practice a lot because I cannot get every shot perfect. I also like exercises because they get me to explore in ways I may not have though of before. I may agree that I don’t need to the basics as much as I used to but there are still areas I need to improve in.

    Good exercise are controlled studies that only let you explore one or two variables at a time and therefore when reviewing you only need to focus on those attributes to make improvement.

    Niels Henriksen

  3. Len Metcalf said, on March 22, 2010 at 3:22 pm

    Some people think they can learn in their minds… others have to go and practice… and it is the ones that practice that grow, develop and deliver the fantastic images…. the ones who only practice in their heads just might not get there…

    thanks for pointing out this post… love your musing by the way…

  4. Juha Haataja said, on March 23, 2010 at 12:58 am

    Agreed, taking photographs is the only way. (But reading about photography is not bad for finding new directions to explore.)

    I think I should try the “one shot only” exercise – the “100 shots” approach is good but perhaps not if you do it all the time.

  5. Paul said, on March 23, 2010 at 8:05 am

    Same in the old darkroom I to force myself to print at least one image a day, Monday till Friday it is a great way from keeping from rusty. Of course they are not all good images but little by little I find little gems I would of never have appreciated if I had just printed twice a week. This whole subject may have something to do with the 10,000 hour theory.

  6. Tommy Williams said, on March 23, 2010 at 12:07 pm

    This is exactly what I was thinking as I read the comments–and I speak with the fervor of the newly converted. 🙂

    I have always thought before acting and I have read about lots of exercises and, after a bit of thinking, concluded that they wouldn’t be interesting or worthwhile.

    And yet every time I do get off my duff and try an exercise–whatever it is–I learn something. You would think that I would have made the connection many years ago of the value of trying all the exercises proposed by someone I respect. Sadly, it is only recently that I have realized just how valuable it is.

  7. Peter Szawlowski said, on March 24, 2010 at 4:08 pm

    It is so simple – Use it or lose it, or in other words, practice, practice, and more practice …
    The folks who don’t accept that just don’t know what art is all about.

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