Few of us will ever become truly great photographers, but giving yourself the best chance of it is still very much worthwhile. There is one method that is certainly a key ingredient, but it's often overlooked because it's not as interesting as buying new equipment or traveling to new places.
I want — no, need — to start this article with two caveats. The first is that I'm not a great photographer. The chances are I never will be either. However, you don't need to be great at something to identify the important factors to getting there, and it's something I have obsessed about both inside and outside of photography. The second is that the title implies a number of things: it's a secret, it's a guaranteed route to greatness, and it's always boring. None of these are necessarily true, but nobody is clicking "the often dull tip that might make you better at photography." Ok, let's get on with it.
I have been obsessed with people who have reached the pinnacle of fields for as long as I can remember. For the last decade, it's something I have sought out in all forms of media, though primarily books. The book I have mentioned a few times, including in my article, "The Books That Can Change the Way You Approach Photography: How Brute Force Can Take You Further Than Talent," is Grit, by Angela Duckworth. The objective of this book — and many others in what is becoming a sort of sub-genre — is unpacking what makes the greats in any field great. Sports are typically the focal point, but music is a close second, and many other disciplines fit the same mold.
There are many influential factors, for example, having a proper mentor. However, one that appears to span every activity one can be great at is also rather mundane.
Consistency: Dull, but Irreplaceable
Consistency, as far as I can tell, is utterly irreplaceable if you're striving to improve at anything, let alone be one of the best. That is, regarding photography, if you're looking to become a better photographer, you need to take pictures regularly. It seems obvious, but so few practice it. What this doesn't mean is taking thousands of pictures one weekend, then not touching your camera for several months before doing it again. Taking even just 10 pictures every day would likely yield greater improvement for the photographer.
If you look at anyone great at just about anything, they practice religiously every single day. The top musicians, even and especially the ones called prodigies, practice for hours daily. The top athletes not only train every day, but it guides their life in all other areas so that they can train that frequently. Writers such as Stephen King — and like his work or not, few have been more successful in the last 100 years — write 10 A4 pages every single day, including Christmas Day and his birthday.
This relentlessness is identified, broadly, as grit by Duckworth, and it appears to be crucial in motivating yourself to maintain consistency in your work. The greatest photographers and artists create work on an industrial scale and do so for decades, and there is no substitute for that. However, consistency is easy in concept but difficult to put into practice. So, here are three ways you can improve how regularly you take images.
Staying Consistent: 365 Challenge
This is perhaps the most obvious of the ways to maintain consistency. The 365 challenge is exactly as it sounds: you must take a picture every day for a year. This sounds easy on the face of it, but there are plenty of days you will not feel like picking up your camera, and it's these days that are the most important. As Chuck Close once said (and incidentally, he did photography too): "Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work."
There are plenty of structured 365 challenges you can follow if that interests you, but I'd like to add one important note: you don't need to wait until the 1st of January to start; 365 can start from any day.
Staying Consistent: Always Have Your Camera With You
Another often overlooked strategy for creating more images more regularly is having your camera with you at all times. This will encourage you to use it whenever you see a potential image or composition present itself, and knowing you can do so means you'll look for them constantly. If your go-to camera and lens are too cumbersome to have on your person, perhaps it's time to look at a walkaround setup. These can be cheaper than you think. Remember, the point is not to create great images every day but to take many images on the path to being able to create great imagery.
Staying Consistent: ThemesThere's no getting away from it: some people will not be able to take photographs every day — it just isn't feasible. This is where I'd like to point out that consistency doesn't have to mean creating images every day. Though you will reap more rewards from shooting every day in most cases, committing to shooting every week is still a marked improvement on what most photographers do.
The best way I found to be consistent when busy with things outside of photography is weekly themed challenges. There are many of these dotted around the internet; I chose to be a part of a community that had a theme each week. Its members submitted their entry, with the winner picking the theme for the next week. Not only will this get you shooting more, but obscure themes will put you out of your comfort zone or force you to do some creative thinking just to enter.
Consistent photographers: how do you stay consistent? Photographers who struggle to stay consistent: what is the biggest barrier? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Lead image by Hoover Tung via Pexels.