« Warren Buffet's Principle (The Little Game, Part 3 of 3) | Main | Portrait Photographer? »

Friday, 11 January 2019


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

if I'm going to studiously ignore the things that aren't my top priorities, then I really need to think very carefully about my Top Five. And get them right. For example, "women" could be a very different category than "beautiful women."

Shooting attractive women is by far the most interesting and popular thing most photographers can do. And that's why I do it. Women like looking at attractive women and men like looking at attractive women. The appeal is powerful, visceral, immediate, and universal. It is by far the most common photography I do.

One of the things I most enjoy about your posts are the postscripts. Today there is one but I cannot find the corresponding asterisk within the post nor can I guess what it refers to. What have I missed?

[Sorry! It was something *I* missed. That was left over from a paragraph I edited out. Fixed now. --Mike]

I'm glad you mentioned this, Mike, because I was feeling like I'd cheated. When I tried to prioritize my roughly 40 categories of subject, style and theme, I realized that many of them were redundant, or similar enough to be consolidated, and ended up with just five! I'm still reconsidering--seeing if I can make these five more specific, which may lead to splitting them up.

Mike wrote, " … I really do feel like I've taken all the desultory meaningless dull dumb nothing snaps I need to for one lifetime … "

I feel that way too. But with a phone/camera always in my pocket I sometimes can't help myself. While the hit rate may be low, sometimes I make a photograph which is not desultory, meaningless, dull, dumb or nothing.

From a personal, very extensive, experience: "women", and "beautiful women" are definitely categories apart. Definitely definitely.

Warren Buffet is a very smart guy, he has given lots of good advice about lots of things----some of which he follows himself.
For instance he owns outright 60-70 different companies, most with multiple product lines. He has substantial investments in another 50+ companies. That doesn't mean he was being disingenuous with his advice to focus. In business- especially his businesses executives are encouraged to focus and few can have more than 5 top priorities.
So there is certainly wisdom in the advice. If you are a professional photographer and want to succeed you need to focus the work you show sharply because work comes to people who are known for the kind of work being offered. The extreme example is the one you gave, Wedding Photography--people looking for wedding photographers have zero interest in your other work.
If you are looking for a grant or a museum show it is good to focus.
It is also true that if you want to be good at something focus and practice go a long way toward getting you there.

Having done Photography Professionally for many years I absolutely see the value in the advice in that realm. But for many others I'm not so sure. Having mostly retired from professional work, I now get more joy fro photography than ever before. My goal is to make pictures I like, Pictures I am proud to have made---then print the best ones for myself. Arbitrary constraints won't make photography more satisfying, or me 'better'. I suspect that's true for a lot of folks.

I'm not suggesting people shouldn't do the exercise if they think it will help them , but good luck not pressing the button when an interesting picture if it is not on your list.
I also think it is very easy to 'Synthesize' everything you do into 5 categories
I prefer to think of Photography as one endeavor on the short list of things on which I expend energy.

Good food for thought, none the less.

You could make your OC/OL/OY challenge even more challenging by adding another element - one category (of photography). OC/OL/OC/OY - that would be a challenge I'd be willing to try. In fact...

This was a very useful exercise. Switching to a new computer compelled me to transfer over about 30 years worth of images and I decided to cull them while I was at it ... so the different "categories" of images was very much in my mind.

You've certainly given me something to think about and that, that is a gift in itself.

Useful and fun exercise. Thank you. I ended up propelled into a further part (#4?) of "What's Next??" mainly things I know I need to do or try or work on but have not. It is so easy just to download another couple hundred images and fail to learn what I need to learn to have the 2 or 3 gems in there be even better. Anyway, thanks. Onward!

The danger in this kind of exercise is that it makes you converge to a familiar mean, one that is marketable, but also predictable. It makes sense if you long to style yourself 'A Photographer', but – particularly as an amateur – there are other ways of using photography to enrich your life.

I 'spray and pray', edit lightly, and enjoy going over my back catalogue once the initial shooting kick has died down enough for me to become more objective. It's a great way to identify the initial stages of the *next* phase of my photogaphy. If I focus too intently or consistently I'll never do anything new.

I'm very interested how a personal visual sense does or does not survive contact with iconic subjects. For example, whether the way I tend to photograph mundane architecture on my local patch has any influence on me when I'm faced with a subject like a London Bus or Notre Dame cathedral. I often end up with a hybrid of my own interests and generic travel photography. It's not something I want to sell or put on display, but fantastically instructive for developing my own ideas and understanding. Not taking those photographs would impoverish the photography I do show others.

My son is a much better photographer than me and he gave me a piece of advice a while back.
He said "work in series" and your work will be better.
This means narrowing in from seeing yourself in a particular category to something more directed. If for example you see yourself as a landscape photographer pare down to a subject or approach you can follow to lay out a common thread for your work.
It could be a regional approach or night pictures or trees, your call.
This doesn't stop you from taking other kinds of pictures. Working in series should not limit you, it should focus you.
When you have said all you care to you can move on.

I just got back from a 3 week trip and was wondering how this might also influence the number of photos we take.

As I look at the folder with over 3000 raw files in it, my initial enthusiasm to see them on the screen has dampened somewhat - perhaps more discipline in the shots I took would benefit me now.

But then again, taking pictures becomes a kind of compulsion when faced with the kinds of things one likes to photograph. And I enjoy the taking of photos itself as a process - there can be a frantic joy to rushing around trying to capture some fleeting light or moment before it disappears forever.

Maybe I'll try the exercise on just those photos from that trip - it might well be instructive as a microcosm.

As a teacher I once had said: "You can´t just go out home with a camera just to see what´s interesting for a photo. No, there must be a purpose".

A few years ago, I sat down with a friend and discussed what themes she found most notable in the images of mine that she liked. We then categorised them under five headings...

Primary subject matter:

Urban vistas and vignettes, usually with figures for scale and context, but not as the primary subjects.

Selection criteria:

Seemingly mundane places or untypical views that are easily overlooked, but interesting through a lens.

Notable technical attribute:

Strong perspective lines to give a sense of depth.

General philosophy:

Objectivity. No attempt at glamorising.


A strong sense of place.

I try and remember those when I am out and about with a camera. It's not quite the same as the Buffet method, but it works well enough for me. I very rarely engage in other forms of serious photography.

Probably also explains all my favourite photographers.

I think the top 5 exercise should really be applied to your goals vs. subjects or genres of photography. If your goal is to be the best, most original wedding photographer possible, maybe you should focus tightly on that to the exclusion of other things. Portfolios should be focused as well. If your goal is to be able to fluidly use your equipment to accurately capture whatever catches your eye or attracts your attention, you are probably better served shooting everything out there in all different lighting and conditions. That would give you the widest range of experience with your gear and how it renders images, and better chance of success at capturing what you want.

I could be wrong, but I think most people take pictures to capture memories; something they find beautiful, something that evokes a feeling of time or place, something they want to revisit or see again at a later time. If that is the goal, the category or genre doesn't really limit their success in that endeavor. The number one thing for them to focus on might just be trying to look at everything around them and find something that they like and want to try to portray in an image.

Mike Plews quotes his sons recommendation to work in series.
Back in 2004-5 I built an 8x10 pinhole camera for a friend. A light-tight cardboard box with a pinhole fashioned from a section of a soft drink can.

A year later 52 sheets of 8x10 inkjet paper arrived. Every Tuesday for a year, Terry had found time to make a single exposure, recording aspects of his garden. The 8x10 negatives had been scanned, then printed at 4x5, to increase sharpness.

The quality of the individual pictures varies, but the commitment to one negative every week produced a series.

His website shows some of the more effective images, as well as other projects mostly made within a hundred square miles of his home.


I went through the exercise, but I don't feel that I have learned anything that I did not already know. One of my problems is that I have felt that I have tended to do the same thing over and over for the last several years and have been trying to move to something a bit different in all ways. Maybe I could think about focusing on one of my less covered areas, or something not in the list, or somehow try to merge some of the top five into something else.

I think you guys are indulging in masochism.

Unless you are earning your keep from photography, why not simply photograph whatever turns you on at the moment?

There is no immense joy in being the best shooter of trees - or anything else - if that deprives you of the pleasure of doing any other genre of work without fretting about it. Work: that word, of itself, might be largely to blame: work is a pretentious way of describing what we do for fun; it lends a gravitas that's totally undue. We really must get over ourselves and accept that we make pictures because we like making pictures. It's neither amazing nor stupendous, just what we like to do, much in the same way others may delight in cooking or getting frozen in small boats.

If striving to be best at some particular thing means so much, then that's turned into an obsession and is perhaps not the best place to find yourself.

This, of course, applies to the amateur status, not to the professional which is another thing entirely.

[That's all true for some people, but not for others.

Besides, this is an *exercise*...what's wrong with doing an exercise that helps you understand yourself better, even if you decide not to put it into practice? --Mike]

If you really want to go into detail categorizing then I think the best structure would be a tree, which you can represent as an indented list, thus:

------etc etc
---Etc, etc.

Even then, it is quite possible you would run into effective duplication in different branches of the tree. I rather feel that one should not go too far down this path (of excess detail).

Your list project came at a fortunate time for me because I was already in the middle of a project of reorganizing my photo archives. My list started out as types of photos that I make: environmental portraits of my kids, storytelling photo essays, photos about light and color, my aerial landscapes, street photos, cityscapes, etc. But then I started to think about intent, and also about your suggestion to chose my five top categories. Almost all my photos, every last one of them from the past five years or so since I quit hunting for commercial stock photos was made with this singular intent: what does it feel like to live my life? Yes, my photos cross one hundred different categories but each picture is an attempt to fill in a larger mosaic of what it feels like to be me. If anything, your list project has told me to branch out even further. I need to take more photos of the bad times, of things I don't like, as well as more photos of everyday, boring activities like normal family dinners and going to the store. No, I don't plan on driving people around me crazy with the camera, but if I want to tell this story right, I have to fill in more of the details, and that means shooting a wider variety of photos.

The comments to this entry are closed.



Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 06/2007