As photographers, we often pour endless hours into every possible method of learning to become better through the study of our craft, practice, and an ever increasing collection of supposedly quality redefining gear. In this dogged pursuit of photographic excellence, we often forget about the far more simple aspects of our lives that can have a tremendously profound impact on the quality of our work. By forcing ourselves to take a step back and focus on the foundational aspects of our selves that allow us to maximize our performance, regardless of the task, we are able to expand the potential of our work to new levels.
1. Make a Commitment To Optimize Your Health
Life as a dedicated photographer often can also mean a lifestyle lays siege to a healthy body. Endless hours in front of a computer, continuous sacrifice in personal fitness to work, consistently unhealthy food when traveling or when there seems like no time to prepare a meal. There is a common misconception that sacrificing one's health to pursue photography is simply par for the course. In reality, however, such a foolish decision can actively become a limiting factor on the potential of your work. An unhealthy body will be constantly fighting against every action you take as a photographer showering your mind with lethargy. It will transform a simple task to a monumental battle of willpower. Furthermore, a lack of physical fitness can be a tremendously limiting factor when attempting to push the quality of your work. I'm not saying drop everything to train like an olympian, but a simple plan that can be consistently followed to ensure that you enjoy a balanced and healthy diet, supplemented with regular activity, can help pave a road to success that is easier to follow for all other aspects of your life, including photography.
It seems that many photographers enjoy wearing their horrible sleeping habits as a sort of insomniac badge of honor. The obnoxious belief that whoever can work the longest hours with the least rest has somehow reached a state to be admired is utterly toxic to your ability to create amazing work. We often talk about the importance (or lack of importance) of gear on the quality of a photographer's work, but never talk about the most important piece of gear any photographer has at his or her disposal. That piece of gear is the brain, it is ultimately responsible for image making and is directly tied to how good of a photographer you can become, regardless of any other factors. The health and effective function of the brain is directly tied to ensuring it has sufficient rest. Creative ideas, adaptive problem solving, recollection, learning, and empathy are all massive factors in your ability to create great images and the brain's ability to perform these tasks decreases as it becomes exhausted. Chronic exhaustion can also erode positivity, optimism, determination, and engagement. I'm not saying to sleep in until noon, laying around wasting your day but the simple act of ensuring that your brain has at least six or seven hours of peaceful sleep most nights can make a world of difference in the images you are capable of creating.
3. Pursue Amazing Experiences
Our society has created this romantic idea of the tortured artist able to create great work because of the tremendous animosity they have experienced. There is a truth to this, being able to draw on the intense feelings from a series of experiences can function as profound creative fuel. The good news is that intense experiences don't need to be torturous in nature. It isn't the agony that empowers great art, it's the immensity of the experiences. That same immensity can be drawn upon from positive experiences as well. Take the time to invite moments of wonder, exuberance, and delight into your life. A broken heart can be a powerful muse, so can a heart that is utterly in love. Find ways to experience the magnificence of life so that you can draw upon that magnificence to spark your imagination and raise your work to greater heights.
Being a great photographer isn't just about photography, it's also about ensuring that you, as an individual, are in a state of mind and body to be able to create great photography. Don't disillusion yourself with some unfounded belief that by martyring yourself in the name of photography that you will be able to somehow create amazing work through nothing other than sheer willpower. Instead, take steps to ensure that your body is poised as your greatest asset in the pursuit of your creative goals.