This article originally appeared in Outdoor Photography Canada magazine – subscribe to get these articles years before they appear here
The Art of Practice
Musicians have scales, actors have lines, painters have sketches, and athletes have workouts. Photographers have what? While all other artists have a daily routine to practice their craft, most photographers only dust off the camera when they go on a planned shoot. Imagine if musicians only played whenever they had a gig and did not practice in the time in between? Why, as photographers, do we expect that we will perform wonderfully every time we go out even without practicing in between?
Nothing will sharpen both your technical skills and your artistic eye faster than daily practice. Visual ‘scales’ do for the photographer what musical scales do for the musician; we constantly stay ‘tuned’ up and ready to express our art.
I know we all have really busy lives, so who has time to shoot every day? You might think it’s easy for me as a professional photographer to shoot daily–after all that is my job isn’t it? But to make it as a pro, you need to do some heavy marketing and selling. I only get to go on photo shoots about 1/3rd of the time, the other 2/3rd is spent doing the business part of photography. In the past, I found that between shoots I was not practicing with my camera and that my art was suffering. It often took 2 or 3 days into a trip to get back into ‘seeing’. I was not practiced and ready.
For the last five or six years I have carried a small point-n-shoot digital camera with me everywhere I go. By doing so, I don’t have to carve out special time to shoot daily; I just take a snapshot here and there in my day as I see something interesting. I might be walking the dog, or standing in line at the bank, doing dishes or visiting the washroom. But if something catches my eye in a flash of perception then I’ll make an image. I’m doing a little photography almost every day and the differences I have seen in my ability to see and be creative is amazing. I no longer have any ‘photographer’s block’ and I no longer need to ‘warm up’ before going on a serious photo shoot. I see photos everywhere! Many of you own and carry a smartphone and I know many of you make quick snaps with this convenient little tool. Congratulate yourself for doing visual scales daily… you’ll see big differences in your ‘serious’ photography by practicing everyday with a smartphone or wee point-n-shoot.
Even though I’m a nature photographer, anything that catches my eye can become a photo. The great thing about shooting daily is that soon you’ll begin to remove labels from subjects and just learn to see light, pattern, form and design. You’ll see beauty in the mundane, and you’ll be inspired anywhere you go from the park to the parking lot. The better you become at photography in general, the better you’ll be at outdoor photography in particular. So don’t restrict yourself to pretty nature scenes.
Although I’ve mentioned the wonders of a point-n-shoot camera here before, I really think anyone who is serious about becoming a better photographer should invest in one and carry and use it. If you have a smartphone with a camera start using it for your daily visual push-ups. The quality of the image is not as important as you practicing the art of seeing. Practice for the joy of discovery. Happy shooting!