Praxis: How to Practice Photography Effectively

Praxis: How to Practice Photography Effectively

The saying goes that you need to practice 10,000 hours before you master something. I think this is a bunch of rubbish.

No, not the practice part. I’m sure if you put that much effort into practicing anything, you’d be really good at it. What I take issue with is the "master" part. You can always be better; even if you are the best in the world at something, you can still be better than where you were yesterday.

Praxis

Praxis comes from a Greek word and is a process where you break up your practice towards an activity into smaller parts. Praxis is circular; you are continually going through the steps of praxis over and over and over.

Do. Reflect. Plan. Repeat.

Although praxis can be applied to anything, I will try my best to explain this in a photography context. You can start the process anywhere in the cycle, and if a certain step doesn’t quite make sense at the time, you can skip it or repeat it, depending on what you need. Generally speaking, I’d recommend waiting at least a day between moving onto the next step.

Do. (Shoot)

In photography, this would most likely be “shoot” or “photograph.” Under praxis, though, you’re not really “thinking” so much while photographing, though. You’re working intuitively.

Reflect.

Reflection can come in a couple of ways. One form of reflection is to reflect on the images you have created. This includes editing your images (and choosing which ones to keep and which ones to exclude).

It also includes reflecting more broadly about your image-making practice and the world around you. Some activities I do to help with reflection are to engage in cultural activities, such as visiting a museum or art gallery or attending a live theater production or live music venue to help get inspiration and think through ideas. I also enjoy hiking and talking through ideas out loud. This is a bit individualized, though, so whatever it takes to help you get in the mindset to reflect is great!  

Plan

Planning is just that, planning for the shoot. It can be as simple as coming up with an idea to as complex as working with and casting other creatives, including models, hair, makeup, stylist, etc. It also includes things such as planning either a broad shot list or a storyboard.

Do. Reflect. Plan. Over and over and over again.

Retouching

Retouching is a “do” activity. It’s something you actually work at. Because of this, retouching would fall in its own little “praxis cycle” or would be a part of the larger photography praxis cycle. That’s something you might need to figure out for yourself and what works best for you.

Conclusion

No one really starts off making great images. It takes a lot of work, practice, and labor. And depending on where you are, you might already intuitively have good practices in place to do these things.

My intention isn’t to instruct you on how to go about your photographic practice, but rather provide a set of parameters to gauge your practice with. What works for you is what works for you. If you’re already smashing goals and taking names, then great! Keep it up. If you just want that bit of reassurance that there are other people working in a way like how you’re working or you need a bit of help in trying a new approach, then here it is.

As always, if you do end up trying this (or are already working in this way), I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

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10 Comments

Ivan Lantsov's picture

my inglish not good I look up

praxis(Noun)

The synthesis of theory and practice, without presuming the primacy of either.

not understand synthesis explane?

Ali Choudhry's picture

To synthesize something means to make it. So in this instance, you are "making" theory and practice.

Matthew Lacy's picture

To make by combining two or more other things. So you're making something new (praxis) by combining theory and practice.

Abby Ferguson, MFA's picture

What a great, practical outline of how to purposefully work on your photography! I think another important part of the reflection process is to actively critique your work. Selecting images to edit does that inherently to a certain extent, but taking it further and specifically looking at what works and what doesn't work in an image is also important. Journalling self-critiques is one way I have been more intentional about that!

Ali Choudhry's picture

Thank you and completely agree. Reflection in this instance is both about what you've already created; but also what you want to create. Looking back but also forward. I'm glad you enjoyed the article.

Jan Holler's picture

Well, to be able to reflect means to know about the matter. And to get there it takes time. It may be very well over 10'000 hours. Have a look at how much time Leonardo da Vinci spent on anatomical studies. There are hundreds of drawings alone of hands and arms created by him.

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Leonardo-da-Vinci/Anatomical-studie...

Ali Choudhry's picture

Exactly. But I'm sure you'd appreciate that he didn't make all these drawings and then reflect.
It was more likely that he did a couple of drawings, reflected, and then planned the next session. And repeat.

Jan Holler's picture

I am not sure what you mean with "next session" because the "session" took him several years.

C Fisher's picture

Good idea, structure and routine really helps.

Ali Choudhry's picture

I'm glad you found this useful. :)