What I’ve Learned After Fifteen Years Practicing Photography

I’ve been doing this long enough that I honestly can’t remember why or how I started. I mean, I remember my origin story… but as an adult I also know that is probably a distillation and summary of what exactly went on. There are no easy lessons now.

Here are my fifteen year lessons:

  • Photography is communication. Why I do something is 80% of what I end up doing. I like to tell stories with photos. Even when I’m producing a single image, I focus on the story that it tells. Is this “best view of x city” or is this “How I feel at x location” or is this “This is how it feels to be x person”. I feel I am wasting my time if I am not communicating some emotion with a photo. The 100 million people with smartphones are doing the straight documentary recording. If I want to be something else, I need to step up to the next level of communication.
  • One frame per composition is the key. When I was in my early days, I would take a lot of photos with similar compositions because I thought that it was a numbers game, shotgun style. Now I have transitioned to thinking that meditating on a single photographic composition that distills the moment is the way. Spend time being in a place or a time: feel it, understand it, think about how to portray it. I still take more than one photo, but it is always in seeing one first in my mind that I shoot a few chasing it and know when I have it. Capture and move on, you will thank yourself when you’re culling.
  • Understand that what you do is for you. Your vision is yours. It should communicate to others but ultimately if you hinge everything you do on others opinions, you’ll never do anything great. Consider what other people see. Be receptive. But your vision is what you will always be enacting and ultimately if you photograph by committee you’ll never get to that perfect recording. Be communicating always, but communicate your own mind and trust that others will be able to interpret. Maybe they won’t, many people are not properly understood. But if it is true to reality, somewhere and sometime it will be received. You get what you get and you have to let go of anything else.
  • A photo is an extraction. It is a simplification. It is reality seen through certain specific limitations. It is those limitations that make a photo. Four straight edges and a 2D simplification of reality. You need those limitations to make this an art—if you are trying to 100% capture reality you are not taking a photo and it doesn’t make sense. A photo is a haiku. 17 syllables and done. Without those walls, you’re lost. So embrace the walls and find a way to express everything there is between them. There will always be something outside the walls, but that’s okay. Do what you can and that’s all you can do.

Oh and process your images. Simplifying your vision is key.