When I first got into photography, I expected to return home with great images from every outing. Obviously, that didn’t happen and it didn’t take long for my frustrations to grow. Why wasn’t I able to capture photos as good as others?!
Maybe this sounds familiar to you. You’ve learned the fundamental camera settings and you’ve read up on compositions but most of your images still aren’t great. They lack that little extra. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. This is something most photographers struggle with at some point.
There are many factors involved in creating a good photo but there’s one key ingredient that’s often neglected: patience.
The truth is that your favorite photographers don’t return home with great images each time they go out. In reality, only a small percentage of their images will ever see the light of day. An even smaller percentage finds its way into the portfolio.
It’s this factor that many forget. Especially in the beginning. You rarely see all the work that other photographers put into creating an image, so it’s easy to think that they’re just more lucky than you.
Having a technical understanding is important but having the patience, or grit, is just as essential.
Are you willing to spend days, weeks, or years trying to perfect a photo? Do you step out of your comfort zone and go on long hikes or drives over and over until you get the image you’ve envisioned? Do you put in the work?
That’s what it takes to become a better photographer.
Hard work pays off
I want to tell you a story about an image that I captured last summer. It’s a photo that I talked a fair bit about in a recent online presentation for a camera club here in Norway and a story that turned out to be a little eye-opener for some.
When you see this photo, you might think something along the lines of ‘how lucky you were to get the rainbow and light’. It’s easy to understand why you’d think that as I’m going to guess that rainbows and colorful sunsets don’t happen each time you go out photographing. It certainly doesn’t to me.
I did get lucky with this shot. Lucky in the sense that it only took four attempts.
This was captured in an area that I had scouted a couple of years before and was determined to get a shot of during the late summer months. Getting there involves a 1-hour drive, a 2 to 3-hour hike with a 20kg backpack, and a night in the tent. Warm summer days don’t result in the light I’m looking for so, instead, I need to go on rainy days. Rainy days here in the Arctic often include wind and cold temperatures.
Now, hiking and tenting is a passion of mine but, from a photography standpoint, it got frustrating when the first three attempts didn’t result in a single good image. I returned home without anything. One time due to low clouds blocking the visibility, another due to too much rain, and one where the light just didn’t get interesting.
I feared the same would happen during the fourth attempt as the heavy rain seemed to have no end. But, for a brief 15 minutes, the sun broke through the clouds and gave some magical light.
Those 15 minutes were all that I needed. Since I had used the previous visits to become familiar with the area, I knew where to run when the light hit in this direction. 15 minutes is all that you need. It’s in that little window of time where your hard work pays off.
Many say that you need to be at the right place at the right time, and that is true. But in order to find that time you need to try over and over again. Create your own luck.
I consider four attempts over the course of a couple of weeks to be a success. It’s not uncommon that I return to the same spot, often requiring much further drives and hikes, dozens of times during a year without getting anything that I’m excited about.
There’s always an exception
Now, every good image doesn’t require days of hiking, years of planning, and all sorts of hard work. Sometimes, things just work out. It’s perfectly possible to get a good image on the first visit. Here’s one of my favorite examples of that:
This shot was captured on a recent road trip to a place I knew little about. It was ‘luck’ that I found this particular composition and it was luck that the light got so good. To be honest, I expected little from that night as it had been raining upwards the entire day.
So yes, there are always exceptions. There will always be those moments when all the elements align and you get a great shot. But don’t expect to get those conditions each time. A professional photographer spends hundreds of days shooting without capturing any noteworthy images.
While I’m excited about the image above, it’s far from perfect. I look at it as a good beginning. It was a new area for me and I was treated with brilliant light but there are many things that can be improved. That means I need to get back in the car and spend more time exploring the area. Then, perhaps, I’ll one day capture something that deserves a spot in the portfolio.
Don’t give up. Patience is key
One of the most important things you can learn as a photographer (or artist in general) is to invest time. The more time you spend in the field, the more likely it is you’re going to get a few sessions with great conditions.
The days where the light is boring and the conditions aren’t optimal shouldn’t be viewed as a failure. Instead, take the time to explore and take note of possible compositions and perspectives. Look for interesting subjects. Become familiar with the place so that you’re prepared when the light becomes better. Because, if you’re patient enough, conditions will be top-notch one day.
Hard work pays off and that’s especially true when it comes to your creative endeavors. Stick to it, keep trying, and don’t give up. Great results will come!
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