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90% of Photography is Simply Showing Up

90% of Photography is Simply Showing Up

The mechanical processes involved in taking a photograph can be learnt by anyone who is inclined to do so. Artistic compositions and shooting styles can be developed over time. When you first start taking photography seriously, these subjects seem more complicated than they are, but once you start acquiring that knowledge and developing your styles and working on the key themes that interest you, it is surprising how quickly you can pick these things up. Once you understand the technical side of photography, the formula for making good photographs is this simple – go out and take photographs.

It sounds pedantic, but 90% of photography is simply about showing up. I am sometimes asked how I capture so many colourful sunrises and the answer to that is straightforward – I set the alarm for an hour before sunrise and I get up when that alarm goes off and I go somewhere nice and photograph the sun coming up. And that’s it. I quite simply increase my chances of capturing a keeper by going out as often as I can – I make the odds work in my favour.

It was a lousy grey and cloudy evening but I had decided to go out for sunset, so out I went. And because I was out, I was there as a small electrical storm moved up the coast and was back-lit by the setting sun. Luck had no part in it, this was about persistence.

Throw Those Curtains Wide

Procrastination is the enemy of a photographic portfolio. The more you get out and shoot, the more you’ll learn and the larger your collection of keepers will become. Henri Cartier -Bresson famously said that, “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” And remember that he said that during the era of film, when 10,000 shots would have been a lifetime of photography for many people. These days you can easily get through 10,000 shots in your first few months of shooting with a digital camera if you apply yourself diligently. I have about a quarter of a million photographs in my current Lightroom catalog and I’m still adding to the collection every week.

The bottom line is that you’re not going to catch a fish unless you go fishing. Sure you can buy an app that’ll supposedly predict when there’s going to be sunrise or sunset colour, but nature is simply not that predictable and you increase your odds of capturing something decent by maximising the amount of time you’re out and about with your camera. So even when the forecast isn’t looking great, or you can’t get to one of your favourite go-to spots, go anyway.

"You just have to live and life will give you pictures."
Henri Cartier-Bresson

I’m a great believer in serendipity – but serendipitous moments won’t occur if you’re bingeing on Netflix. Plan to go out and then go out, whether you feel disinclined towards it or not. Of my collection of 250,000 images, I have about 250 that I consider worthy of showing off. And of those 250 images I’d say that at least two thirds of them were serendipitous moments that I captured when I least expected anything interesting to happen.

So if you’ve been looking at other photographers portfolios and wondering how they get such amazing shots, then wonder no more. They don’t have a secret, it’s not about the camera or the lens and it’s only partially about the techniques, they just get out and take photographs. And if you want a portfolio that you’re proud of and which others will admire then you need to do the same. Or to quote Henri Cartier-Bresson once more, “You just have to live and life will give you pictures.”

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