How you live your life is how you take photos
I look at many people’s photographs and I’ve noticed that how people take photos is in direct correlation to how they live their day to day lives. This may not sound like a startlingly profound fact but, put simply: your personality can create the biggest barrier to achieving interesting and unique photographs. It’s not your kit, it’s not your ability to capture perfect focus. It’s who you are and how you live that you need to examine.
Let me delve a bit deeper and explain.
For example, let’s take me. One thing that I do profoundly well is live in the moment. I am very present and that is stunningly useful when I want to connect to the world around me and take photos. It’s also super cool when you are around kids, because kids are just so totally present. Even my uber-dreamy son doesn’t understand later – he wants to share his discovery about slugs with me right now, because it’s just so exciting.
So presence is a very awesome attribute to have as a photographer. But guess what – there is an aspect to it that makes my photography more challenging, that I’ve had to work on getting over, so that I can be a better photographer.
I realised a while back that neither the past nor the future seem to occupy my mind much, so it made creating long term projects and stories very hard. I have always found it easy to take singular wonderful images. But the part that I have had to really work on and push myself out of my comfort zone with – is creating these stories and projects.
Now here are some stereotypes…
Are you a busy, task-oriented person? Your photos are more than likely going to be rushed and you are going to struggle to be present, truly in the moment and to take photos that are meaningful and well composed. They may make you feel like you’ve achieved something, but really you haven’t. Taking 500 photos is not an accomplishment, taking 2 or 3 well composed, meaningful photos is.
Are you a very practical, handy person? Can you read a manual for a washing machine and understand it? The issues you are likely to have are excellent technical skills in your photography, but ones that don’t capture mood, feeling or experience well.
Are you a very creative, dreamy, ideas person? You are likely to have the opposite problem. Your photos will probably full of mood and emotion. You’ll be able to recognise in the world around you wonderful moments of human expression, or evocative moods in the changing weather. But technically? You’ll likely struggle as you try and kick that bit of your brain that is underutilised into action.
Now I ask you: what do you see in your personality that is reflected in your photos? Both the strengths and the weaknesses. And if you recognise it, you can discover the key of what you need to learn and it is that that will radically improve your photography.
Photography is a very personal journey and everyone needs to learn different aspects at different times. I work with beginner photographers all the time and no two beginners are the same, we are all on our separate path. We all learn at different rates – and more importantly we absorb information differently. Some people find things like learning manual a breeze, while others struggle for years. And the same goes for composition, capturing emotion etc.
Learning is a hugely personal thing that is most effective when it meets us where we are.
When I looked recently at the portfolios of images that my students give me, it is obvious that everyone’s challenges are distinctive. And it basically comes down to their personalities.
But what exactly is the problem?
Now, we could just accept who we are, carry on and just try improving over time, right? We could just focus on our strengths and keep going – which is what I find many of my students do. The super-techy ones just keep learning more and more about tech things, the creatives keep reacting to the tech stuff with horror and working harder on capturing mood and emotion.
Developing a skill, though, is not just about increasing your strengths, but working on your weaknesses. This will help you create balance within your imagery. You don’t have to make your weaknesses as strong as your strengths, or be totally in harmony – but by pushing yourself out of your comfort zone you will surprise yourself, you will generate new ideas, you’ll even start lighting up different parts of that big ole brain of yours. Clear the dust out I say!
Photography is an inner process. It’s not an outer process. It’s about you, your experience, your passions, your mood etc. So by looking clearly and objectively at yourself you can more easily identify where you should be improving.
And you know what’s so funny about this? When I tell people where I think they are weak, they always know deep down. They see immediately what I am saying because when I demonstrate the weakness in their creative output, their photography, they see that weakness in their personality.
Now how do you we identify our weaknesses and improve?
Ask your nearest and dearest! Ask them not just about what your weaknesses are (because after all by living with or close to other humans we are often helpfully reminded by them what our weakness are :)) but also our strengths. We usually think we know our strengths, but you can also get super surprised about other people’s opinions of your strengths. And often our perceptions of ourselves are outdated. What we were told as children we were good at is often what we carry as a permanent vision of ourselves – and that gets outdated! You need a fresh vision of yourself as an older person 🙂
I know you aren’t all trying to be the world’s greatest photographers. But if you want this photographic journey to keep reaping its beautiful benefits on your life, then it’s worthwhile examining what might be limiting you, or stopping you from developing.
I want to encourage everyone whom I teach to think about photography not as an endpoint or an output – how can I get the very best focal length etc. I mean of coursethat all has a place, a very good place, and a function – but as a sense that your photography is on the same journey as you. It’s intertwined with your life. For me, taking photos is how I make sense of, remember, enjoy and connect with what’s around me.
Photography is not always easy or effortless for me either, it does kick my butt at times – but it keeps me thinking, keeps me fresh and most of all it keeps me awake to this amazing world.
I’d love to know what you think. What do you think that is in your personality that is holding your photography back? Please comment below.
And as always, get in touch if you have any thoughts, questions etc. about anything to do with photography at all.
Keep on keeping on!
Anthony and Diana
The photos in this post are from a project I did a few years ago on – Bellies! So I am proof you can overcome your weaknesses! It was a super fun project and it was a great way to develop my skills of talking to strangers on the street.