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Friday, 05 July 2019


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Not sure who said it first, but I heard it first through Fred Picker.
My rough memory is something like this: "Everyone has 10,000 bad pictures in them, so the sooner you get through those, you'll get to the good ones"
It's not a monolithic 10k, you can get good ones in between but I found the the Idea helpful. ---as though the bad ones weren't totally useless if you keep at it. You have to keep at it though, if you lay off for 6 months, you start over.
If you stay with it and pay attention, you start eliminating common mistakes.
Like Mr. Bellow's advice,, it is a broad generalization but helpful because it stresses 'the Doing' of the thing you want to get better at.

I've told people that Looking at, talking or reading about Photography is different than Doing it. Those other things are good too, but they don't count against your doing.
Get out, make pictures, look at them critically, go make more.....
Do it until you please yourself.

The 3 million word number seems excessive; but of course I don't know how much unpublished work most authors I admire did before they started publishing. The cases I do know, it's generally rather little; though it's also true that they improved after they started being published professionally. (And the number I remember is 1 million, and not from Bellow; but I can't find a source for it.)

Also "writing" comes in flavors just the way photographing does; does what I'm writing now count? Many people would say not, I imagine.

Also, I can't believe you published this without any reference to Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hours!

I'm a little afraid people are searching for the "magic key" that will unlock their creativity or their potential or something. You're not offering them that key, but desperately hopeful people are sometimes poor readers.

This goes back to the "ten thousand hours of deliberate practice" to master a difficult skill. The idea was popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in one of his books, based on other research. Ten thousand hours, at 40 hours a week, would be about five years. In music, I think the Gladwell book said that world-class violinists (?) couldn't practice more than about 23 (?) hours a week without losing focus, so that would be more like ten years for a hard-working musician to get to world-class status. "Deliberate practice" is a thing, a psychological term for mindful practice that focuses on weaknesses in performance, and not simply pounding away at what you already do well.

In my experience, that seems about right. My experience would come from observing people in law, medicine and journalism -- after getting the relevant degrees, it seems to take about five years of full-time work to get to the point where you're really motoring.

But, that involves relatively objective judgment (how many people you cure, how many cases you win, how few mistakes you make.) You really don't get that in personal or enthusiast photography, where it's mostly self-judgment; and not even really in most pro photography, where other skill sets are as important as the actual camera work (self-promotion, accounting, contacts, location, level of competition, etc.)

Might you get some level of objective analysis with photography clubs or other such organizations? Don't know.

This idea that a skill can be acquired with a certain amount of time or work is a very extended way of thinking. We live in a society that seeks general solutions (it is easier and cheaper) to particular problems, does not consider the great differences between people, we could think of it as a statistical approximation of the majority but in no case guarantees anything when we consider particular cases. This is even more inaccurate if what we evaluate is artistic work.

I've been at it for 61 years so I think I can safely say I passed your 'monkey butt' number long ago but I don't really believe it is about numbers.

The machine gun or spray gun approach works for action photographers because putting the camera on servo and pointing it where they know the action will occur allows them to get shots that the time lag between brain and fingertip doesn't allow.

If you are going for art though, you need intent, you need a mindful approach. I'm reminded of the famous monkey self portrait. Whose photo is that? The guy who owned the camera or the monkey? A lot of photos are the result of luck to some degree but when the result is entirely the result of luck, I'd be hesitant to lay claim to a credit line. I prefer that my photos reflect my intent.

While no doubt true in a general sense, the role of feedback should not be underestimated.

If you want to write professionally, then feedback from publishers, editors and readers is a major factor in honing your particular style, but it also tends to be coloured by the requirements of the genre.

As a hobby photographer, I found that getting constructive feedback was extremely hard. Random thumb ups on Flickr were not what I needed, but meeting other photographers and artists was often interesting because they could articulate what worked for them, and what didn't.

I have been involved with technical writing and report writing for 30 years. Everything I wrote was reviewed before reaching the clients, and would be scrutinised in minute detail by the same clients.

So I developed a style based on objective factual details, structured argument and clarity. This turns out to be incongruent with writing fiction.

Lets say 3 million words would boil down to about 100,000 photographs (that monkey's butt is kind of warm). If those photos were done with an 8x10 view camera you would be in the tall cotton. If it were a DSLR you would be up with my neighbor Carl after a trip to Disney World.
It's complicated.

Always remember the Blind Squirrel School of Photography: even a blind squirrel can find a walnut every now and again...

My guess is that over the last 50 years I've got close to 100,000 hours of time invested in learning about all things photography. Yet I'm still learning, still seeking a higher plane of knowledge. Part of this reality stems from the sheer magnitude of change that has taken place in photography over the last few decades. Part of it might just be that I'm a slow learner!

Dear Mike
I find your 2500 hours theory fascinating. However I do think it does depend on the type of photography one shoots. Documentary photography like that of Antoine D'Agata, Nan Goldin or Anders Petersen has a lot more to do with "looking within", being absolutely sincere, not being afraid or shy to express your deepest desires and thoughts however awful or embarrassing they maybe. As Petersen says, "It has nothing to do with good photos it's about believable images".

What about poems?
Same time, 30,000 words?
And less for haiku?

Thanks Mike! I did hope that you would weigh in. By the way, speaking of putting in time, the Peter Turnley workshop in NYC was worth every penny. Thanks for featuring him on your blog.


2,500 hours. Phew! I thought you’d end up referencing the aforementioned 10,000 hours.
Mind you, maybe that’s the difference between proficient and mastered.
Hope you enjoyed the US holiday.

Some people didn't get the memo. NBC bans DSLRs from first day of Democratic debate https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/06/28/noisy-cameras-make-trouble-nbc-debate-hall/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.ad74ebb51cd1

Except for small market pros, and enthusiasts the DSLR era is over. No matter how much a news shooter loves his DSLR, NBC News has just pried it from his still warm hands.

In relation to Commercial Photography Tom Zimbero said: We don't want democratized content, we want unique content. https://medium.com/@Zimberoff/disrupting-stock-photography-fffe1c7d5b99

How many hours do you need to spend learning unique? Can unique even be taught?

Tom Zimbero has coined the word pixting, for photos posted on Social Media. "Pixting is to photography as texting is to literature."

While shooting is the best way by far to learn, shooting time should also be supplemented with intense exposure to a wide variety of: books (ie- photo essays), actual prints and (unless you're a natural born intuitive genius) some measure of direct hands on instruction from someone who really knows what they're doing. The latter can be crucial towards correcting misconceptions, replacing bad habits with good working procedure and imparting individual insights suited to one's particular needs.

Numbers - why is always numbers? --I. Jones

I think the real takeaway from these kinds of answers is to practice, set goals and to improve. And, as you say, mindfulness.

Somewhere in there, I would add: it takes time. Time to shoot, time to review and time to improve. Even though we all want to be good/improve now; it take time to make that happen.

Let me add to F.I.L.M. : Large format photography. There's nothing like doing it sheet be sheet. All the calculations must go into the single shot, because bracketing is not only awkward, but expensive. No it's not street photography, but it sure is disciplined. I never got good at it (for the expense reason...), but it taught me soooo much, that I did become a far better roll film photographer. And the lessons continue to pay off now that I am a wholly digital photographer.

I'd add that, as David Vestal taught and I've written here a while back, some of the most important time you can put in is the time spent studying, analyzing, learning from your 'contact sheets.' Or slide collection, or browser of digital files. Time spent learning from your own work counts just as much in a quest for mastery as time spent shooting.—Carl

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