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I have had the great good fortune to work with a number of people at the top of their fields, and whether they were writers or musicians or photographers, they all have one thing in common-- a profound ability to focus. There's no way around it: if you want to get really good at something, you have to practice a lot. And you've got to practice in a very focused way. And the easiest way to lose focus is to start thinking about yourself rather than the task at hand. Let me tell you what I mean. I am sure you've experienced this, because I know I have. You are out shooting and maybe it's not going so great. You're not like anything that you're shooting.
You don't feel like you're seeing anything, or you feel like you're only shooting the same things you already shot before, and so you started thinking, maybe I am not really a good photographer. Maybe I just got lucky before. Maybe it's all been the auto mode on my camera or just events were inspiring to make me look good. At that point, you've lost focus. You are really not thinking about photography at that point. You're thinking about yourself. When you feel yourself doing that, try to recommit to the task at hand, try to recommit to that whole photography thing. Being able to recognize that you're doing that is possibly a way out of all that narcissistic thinking and getting back into photographic thinking.
And sometimes the best way to do that is to stop and go, all right, I am not focusing. I'm going to go back to basics. Don't try to feel your way through things anymore; start thinking again about these compositional building blocks we have been talking about. Start thinking of light as subjects, start thing about looking for lines, all of these things that we've been talking about. That can get you out of your head and out of that self-critical non-focused place and back into photography. They say practice makes perfect, and actually I don't buy that. Only perfect practice makes perfect. If you don't feel like practicing, you shouldn't be, because by then, at that time you're probably just going by rote, just going through the motions and you're not really getting anything out of it.
One possible suggestion for practicing is to decide how much you want to practice every day or every other day or how often you feel like you want to practice. Maybe you say I want to practice for an hour, three times a week. Great! Get a timer of some kind and start keeping track of how much you are practicing. Go out shooting and if you start feeling like you're not getting anything, if you start feeling like you've lost it, like you're not able to maintain focus, then stop. There is no need to keep pounding your head against the wall, but take note of how long you were doing it. Maybe you managed to get fifteen minutes of good time. Take a break from it then. Go back and practice more later until you have gotten that hour in. It doesn't do you any good to be practicing in a continually unfocused manner.
I would also like to offer a suggestion that there are ways to learn besides just taking pictures. Looking at the work of other photographers is very, very important. Find photographers you like. Get their work. With the Internet it's great. You get a free access to so much stuff. Check out books out of the library. Once you have found some photographers you like, start taking apart their styles. Start trying to figure out how their images work and go try to shoot that way. Very often you will find yourself realizing, oh, they have made this decision this way and that decision that way, and you'll start to feel an understanding of oh, these decisions in this way add up to this style that they have.
Knowing what it feels like to have a decision-making process that leads to a style might then make you think, oh, well, if I start making these decisions that I already make and maybe I add one or two others, I might be on to something that I can follow and work. Practicing is very important, but you need to be a little bit thoughtful and a little bit self-aware of the way that you are practicing and make sure that it's something that really is productive.
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