Stop Making Excuses: Get Out and Shoot Some Photographs

Stop Making Excuses: Get Out and Shoot Some Photographs

So, what did you photograph in the last seven days? What, you didn’t shoot anything in the previous week? Nothing? Too many times, I hear: “there is nothing interesting to photograph” or “I’ve already photographed everything around me.” Well, to me, that means you just aren’t trying hard enough.

Years ago, when I started to get the drive to improve my photography, and I wasn’t shooting professionally yet, I too would fall into the trap that there is nothing interesting in my area to shoot. My interest always has been action sports, such as motocross, surfing, cycling, and downhill mountain biking, to name a few subjects. Well, I live in Connecticut, which isn’t known as the hotbed of these types of subjects. You want quaint New England towns with white churches and town squares? Well, this is the place for you, as we are swimming in those subjects, but that wasn’t the photography I wanted to shoot. Yes, there is motocross, cycling, and even surfing near where I live, or so I found out. But the athletes aren’t the high-level athletes I wanted to shoot, and the surfing didn’t look like the surf photos I’ve seen from California. So, I kept using the excuse, yes, excuse, that it just wasn’t worth spending my time shooting amateurs at non-interesting locations. So, my skills never got better.

That was until a non-photographer friend who was tired of hearing me complain gave me one of the best pieces of photography advice I’ve ever received. She said: “Why don’t you simply pretend that the thing you want to photograph is a big event, and you have the assignment to cover the event?” That bit of advice landed on me like a ton of bricks. Later that day, I started to think about that, and I decided that weekend, I was going to go to the local motocross track. 

So, what subject or type of photography interests you? Write those down right now, everything that you can think of to describe the subject or type of photography. Do you like landscape photography? Then, perhaps write down: lakes, mountains, rivers, waterfalls, hiking trails, scenic overlooks. Just write down anything that might come to mind. 

For me, I wrote down motocross, and I then started searching the internet for motocross tracks or races near me. I found a track about 45 minutes away from where people pay for the day to ride the track. There are no races at this facility, but that didn’t matter. I called the track and asked if I would be permitted to shoot there, and the lady said I could shoot all day. I decided that weekend, I would head out early to the track and treat it as if I was on an assignment. Sure, the riders weren’t the best, and the track lacked the feel of a professional race track. That didn’t matter, because I pushed myself to get the best photos I could for that location and those riders. Years later, now that I’ve been photographing professional motocross racing for some time, I realize that photographing amateurs is harder than photographing professionals. Those early days made me work harder to get interesting images. I’ve used this same approach with every sport I’ve shot and probably will for every future subject matter that I want to photograph.

So, that brings me back to my question of what did you photograph in the last seven days? For me, it was my daughter’s equestrian event. As a proud father, I was going to be there all day to see my daughter ride. Since there are so many riders, there is a lot of time between my daughter’s riding times. So, I did the old self-assignment approach. I worked the event as if I was covering it for a publication. I scouted the stadium course and the cross country course early in the morning, looking for interesting backgrounds and where the sun would be coming from later in the day. I then photographed the paddock as the riders and horses were preparing for the day. This competition is one of their more relaxed and fun events of the year, and they always have a theme, so riders and yes, even the horses dress up to support the theme. This year was Disney movies, so of course, if this is an assignment, I need to capture that aspect too. Do I plan on photographing equestrian events in the future? I don’t know, but I do know that I had a good time photographing. I worked on photography skills that can help me in my professional career, and I was able to provide some beautiful images to the other riders on my daughter’s team.

Now that I have described how this approach has benefited me in my photography career, how can it help you? Again, you need to take that first step and stop thinking there is nothing near you to photograph. In fact, the less you have to photograph, the better this approach is, as it will make you work harder for those exciting images. It will not happen with just doing this one time. Make that list of subjects and descriptions of what you like to photograph, and then use Google to find locations or events that are near you that might be similar to what you want to photograph. Want to photograph bands? Well, most festivals, be it an arts festival or a food festival, will have entertainment and most likely a band. Photograph that as if you are a reporter covering a big concert. Want to photograph waterfalls in Iceland? Find a local park that has a waterfall. Scout the location for the best time of the day to shoot there. Go back and photograph it in different weather conditions. Want to shoot fashion? Ask a few friends to work with you as if it is an assignment, then buy them some pizza afterward. 

Here are a couple of additional benefits you might get from this assignment approach:

  • Thinking ahead and deciding what type of gear you will need and instead of always bringing everything.
  • Ensuring your gear is ready to go when you are.
  • Training yourself to be on time or better yet, early.
  • Not giving up when the first few images are disappointing. You wouldn’t go back to an editor and say: “It was too hard, so I gave up.”
  • Realizing that your photography skills will improve each time you use this approach.

If you are photographing an event, you will develop skills focused on interacting with event organizers. Any professional photographer will tell you these skills are just as crucial as any photography skills. I would argue that they are even more critical.

So, stop the excuse that there is nothing to photograph near you, do your research to find something, and then, treat it like it is the most important assignment you have that week.

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13 Comments

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Smaller events are the gem. People love being photographed and especially if they don't get to be the star of the day often. The thing is you want to intrigue them because at first they don't realize you are here or what you are doing. When they get it, they'll talk to you with a few questions and you build the relationship from there. Some don't care some do but they'll eventually connect and see what you have captured. Big events are what people think of first, but racers often don't have time for connections. When you connect, that's when a lot of doors open and you eventually end up at a few larger events. Relationship is everything. I do a lot of racing, but that's a side income, tiny income, however, the skills learned should not be under estimated. I see a lot of people come and go because they want to quickly make money at races and don't give themselves the time to develop the skills. A large volume of magazines don't pay enough to make a living and racers will buy only so many prints, plus regarding photography, there is a lot of competition at larger events.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

There's lots of events close to me, but, I love driving to shoot at new locations. This Saturday, we're doing a model shoot at the abandoned Donner Pass train tunnels. It's about an 8 hour drive. I get all giddy like a 'lil girl as the date gets closer....mostly for the drive...then, the shoot. Then, the drive home. Wooohooo! :)

Douglas Turney's picture

I would get giddy too driving in such beautiful country. But I know what you mean. I get excited even loading up the van for a photo shoot. It isn't just the actual shooting that I enjoy.

gabriel lourenco's picture

I have been stuck on the "excuses zone" for a long time.... I always wait for the weekend to go out and shoot but I somehow do something else (Or sometimes just find any excuse to stay home playing videogames / Netflix) and end up never shooting. I bought the Sony a6400 when it was released because my good old a6000 was glitching when turning on and after 6 months I barely touched it :(

David Chmelik's picture

This article is very simple, but it is so true.

Thanks :-)

Douglas Turney's picture

You're welcome and thank you.

I have really started to enjoy photographing downhill mountain bike races. They are small. The access is insanely open. Cost of entry is a lift ticket. You can take all day. I used to endeavor to shoot motorsports but the access is far restricted and the events usually require a very long, heavy, and expensive lens. Some of my best liked shots at a bike race are taken at 18mm as I was able to get so incredibly close. To make it more interesting, I have been shooting them on film as well. That adds a constraint to framing, available light, shutter speed, etc... that keeps me looking for better composition.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

You can also give yourself a specific assignment like panning, jump or whatever and get very good at it. My favorite in my field are action night shots of cars. There are at least 5 way I have explored and I have more I would like to test with but night sessions are not that frequent unfortunately.

Li Gao's picture

love this. thank you :)

Douglas Turney's picture

You're welcome and thank you.

I think the next step after this is to not be ashamed to take photographs of events just for the joy of doing so without fretting about charging too little, “giving away the milk”, etc. If I’m in control and I’m happy, and my hobby isn’t interfering with my responsibilities, then I don’t see a need to worry about charging (unless they offer), and I’ll be pretty generous about permission to share my photos.

Granted my wife would probably be happier if I had some hobby income too offset the cost of my photography expenses.

Graham Glover's picture

I shot street photography in DC 5 days ago. I used a compact camera (Canon G16) at a preset effective focal length of 35mm, along with other settings of b&w, jpeg, Av, and auto ISO. While I have a 5DMkIV and a 35mm prime, the G16 with the aforementioned settings were a challenge. Also, DC's boring for street photography in comparison with NYC, but I'm in NY only a few times of the year. I have to make DC and Northern Virginia work for me.

https://grahamglover.zenfolio.com/p565806569

I'm an amateur, but I schedule 15 hours per week for photography. I schedule and plan one project a week (mostly successfully) and shoot and process it. Genres are street, fashion (BIG fashion design center here in Northern Virginia - NOT!), and sports (girls high school soccer).

This is a great post. It’s so important to always take seek opportunities to practice no matter the situation. I recently jumped way out of my comfort zone by volunteering to shoot a walk for breast cancer here in Denver. It was my first time doing that sort of thing and I definitely had some nerves leading up to the event. Like most of you I was so pumped with excitement the morning of. It was cold and snowing during the event which Only added to the fun and it shows in my photos. Thanks for sharing!