Remember when you took your first photos? Was it 5, 10 or already 50 years ago? Maybe it was just today. Recently, I thought about my first photos when I went down the deep and dark rabbit hole called my Lightroom library. I think that it’s very healthy to take a walk down memory lane every once in a while. Looking at your old shots certainly makes you want to shrivel up. However, these generic, cliché shots should also fill us with pride since they are the solid foundation of everything that has followed. Why not celebrate these shots today? This is a declaration of love to all the crappy shots that helped and still help us become what we want to be.
When you start out with photography, you are completely lost. I still remember how confused I was with all the settings and modes. In hindsight, I can’t believe how long it took me to understand the connection between aperture, shutter speed and ISO. It’s so simple once you get it. I was so excited to grab my camera and capture everything around me. And I did. Oversaturated sunsets the world needed to see, insanely generic landscapes and cringe worthy photos of cute babies were the first things my creative soul sank its teeth onto. Were those old photos good? Not at all. Probably just as breathtaking as your first shots. They are great, though, because they will always be the testament of our initial passion that will hopefully never wear off.
Would you have ever been able to do what you do today without them? In a way they are the deep shadows behind our personal milestones. Often overlooked, but at the end of the day they gave them the dimensionality they have. There are two quotes that sum up best why your crappy shots are your most precious ones. “Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.” by Babe Ruth and “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10000 ways that won’t work.” by Thomas A. Edison. Each and every shot you took that brought shivers down your spine was always an insight of how not to do it. They may not become part of your portfolio, – and will probably remain in the dungeon of your photo library forever – but the insights they’ve given you will help you create the next shot.
They are the best resource for learning how to take better photos. One way of finding out what you want is simply discovering what you don’t want. If your photos don’t fill your eyes with joy, learn from them. Take a close look at them and ask yourself why they don’t satisfy you. Which mistake could you avoid on your next walk? If you have the perseverance to eliminate each and every mistake that annoys you in your photos, they will improve tremendously over time.
All love for those crap photos aside, I know how depressing it feels when you take a photo walk for 3-4 hours and all you end up with is an SD card full of mediocrity. It’s even worse when you think you’ve definitely captured a couple of once-in-a-lifetime golden moments that turn out to be glorified mediocrity at home. It still amazes me how that’s possible. As far as I see it, it has to be a mix of that tiny camera display, initial euphoria after 2 exhausting hours and the emotions you felt when you discovered that moment. Whether we like it or not, it’s still a central element of our craft to compose the shot in a way that the viewer experiences it the same way we did.
Whenever I feel stuck, I always remember this quote by Ira Glass: “Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. It’s gonna take a while. It’s normal to take a while. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
“Oversaturated sunsets the world needed to see, insanely generic landscapes and cringe worthy photos of cute babies were the first things my creative soul sank its teeth onto.”
The original quote is even longer, but this pretty much captures the essence of it. He also mentioned that the only way to rise above mediocrity is to produce a large quantity of output. For us photographers this output consists of our beloved crappy shots that guide our way. Whenever you take another photo that couldn’t be farther away from painting with light, think of this: that photo may not catch anyone’s eye ever, but it will open your eyes forever.
It simply takes time to find your muse in photography and be able to express what touches you in the world. Give yourself the time you deserve and try to enjoy the journey. Believe in yourself, find and express your eye, heart and soul, never give up, connect with passionate photographers and people who inspire you, dare to be different and never stop dancing to the rhythm of your inner creative soul!