Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The key to successful landscape photography, is practice!

(I'm moving my newsletter to this blog. This was issue 1 of 17)

Practise? While this is not exactly earth-shattering news, there is more to this than meets the eye. I recently read a book called 'Outliers' by Malcolm Gladwell. He has written other books like 'Blink' and 'The Tipping Point.' In Outliers, he reviewed the lives of successful people in an attempt to understand the secrets to success. He examined a wide range of people, from Mozart to Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. Gladwell found two variables that counted for the vast amount of these success stories. Luck and practice. Luck because they had to be born at just the exact moment in history where their innate skills could be put to the best use. And practice because Gladwell found out that that each successful person put in 10,000+ hours of hard practice before historical events led to their success. I believe that when it comes to becoming good at landscape photography, practice is the most important element.

Mozart was highly skilled and a child prodigy according to some people, but his early work was only good, not great according to the experts. What set him apart from other prodigies was lots of practice. Mozart produced his first great work when he was 21, after about 10,000 hours of hard work and just in time for his work to become noticed by the important people of the era. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs had 10,000 hours of computer time just as the computer revolution began. The same goes for most 'outstanding' people of history. If the vast majority of them had been born just a few years earlier or later and had not had 10,000 hours of experience in the big movement of the age, they would still be smart and talented, but not a world famous expert.

So what does this have to do with landscape photography? First of all, this is the beginning of a new age of photography. Technology has upended the apple cart of huge cameras and static images when it comes to landscapes. Now, small and compact cameras can capture dramatic moments and we can share them instantly with the world. Some people complain that landscape photography is being cheapened by inexpensive digital cameras and software. However, from what I understand about the way history works, a new age creates new opportunities. Therefore, we don't have to become another Ansel Adams to become a good landscape photographer. All you really need to do is become another... you. With practise.

What is most important however is that it still takes a long time to learn how to use the camera, understand how light interacts with the landscape, and figure out all the technical processes required to get a high quality image. And based on my personal experience, 10,000 hours is just about right to get to that high level. I have about 6,000 hours now.

The point of all this is that many people deluge me with questions hoping to somehow find the magic bullet that will allow them to take pictures like the 'experts.' People will spend a small fortune to spend a little time with an expert at a photo workshop. And while it is important to understand that camera settings and equipment to use, the most important thing is to go out and practice. Sure, 10,000 hours is out of reach for most people with real lives, but every hour is an hour well spent. Once you have the basics down, you have to apply that knowledge to the way your mind and heart operates. Nobody can teach you that, it is up to you to find your own truth at this moment in time.

In fact, when I set out to recreate a picture that I had made earlier with a lower resolution camera, I cannot do it. Even if conditions were exactly the same, I am thinking and feeling differently than before, so I will never make that image again. So if I go out to a familiar location, I know I must find my way as if it were my first time. And what helps me find my way at least some of the time, is lots of practice. And often times, I may not make even a halfway decent image, but I at least know that I now have more experience!

And of course, the luck of the moment has a lot to do with the capture of any good image, but I'll leave that for the next blog entry.




  1. This might be the best quote ever:

    "All you really need to do is become another... you. With practice."

    The inspirational words are greatly appreciated.


  2. I think the idea of a blog is a great one Patrick. And as you know I love the photo in your header.

    I think I have another 9,900 hours to go, can't wait.


    Peter @Kent3ed

  3. Great advise and well said! Get off the sofa and out there. Practice, practice, practice!

    Thanks for your time and advice,


  4. So true! You can apply that to every thing you do in life