A Mantra for New Photographers to Live By

Something I muttered to myself one cloudy afternoon on my garden ended up being a mantra I have had with me for over a decade.

Some of you will know that I got in to photography through a perhaps unconventional route: macro. In fact, my interest in trying photography came from even more obscure means: a thread about macro photography on a car forum. A handful of guys were creating images of tiny bugs that had detail I couldn’t believe. Insects I would swat away without even thinking about were in fact these majestic and beautiful specimen of adaption and evolution, that when looked at closely, were truly fascinating to me. So I bought a second-hand Canon 350D, a kit lens, and a macro filter to screw on the front of it. It wasn’t much, but it was enough. Enough to get me completely hooked and invest more — both money and time — in to the craft.

Before long, I was out in my garden every day, plodding around with a 100mm macro lens and a Marumi ring flash. The difficulty was, as I told myself, that England wasn’t exactly a hotbed for strange and wonderful creatures; I needed to be in the rainforest to really get subjects. Most days I would grab my kit, venture outside (whether my garden or local lakes and rivers) and wander around looking at plants for 10 minutes. Then, more often than not, I’d return home dejected and whinging about England. Then, one innocuous day where I only traveled as far as my back garden, I hit the usual road block of lack of activity, and prepared to head back inside. In a sudden surge of determination I thought “you’re just not looking hard enough” and I swiveled on my heel, and returned to patrol the garden.

So much time has passed, I honestly cannot remember if I captured anything worthwhile that day. I want to post a great macro image and say that the only reason I caught the moment is because I had that thought; it just wouldn’t be true. But, that really doesn’t matter. For whatever reason, that little thought became ingrained in me and how I work. Every single time I would go out with my macro setup, I would no longer come back empty handed. Every time I was ready to throw in the towel, I’d think “you’re not looking hard enough” and carry on. My success rate rocketed and with every success after the mantra, the mantra was etched deeper.

The prompt for this article was just earlier today when I edited Nando Harmsen’s article on how high expectations nearly ruined his trip. I won’t spoil the contents as it’s a worthwhile read, but his conclusion and one that saved his holiday, is a close cousin of my mantra. In fact, the way I handle any soft roadblock in photography (and even writing) is to say “you’re not looking hard enough”. Countless on-location shoots have lacked a certain something for a specific shot or idea I’ve had, and where once I might have given up, now I just change my approach completely. My mantra isn’t so much a prescription to continue in the same way for longer — although that can work — but rather to change the way you’re approaching this problem. Speaking in terms of photography, it might be to alter your focal point, the angle of your shot, the mood, the style, switch from color to the intent to edit to black and white or vice versa, and so on. Don’t fall back at the sign of first resistance, as in my experience, the greatest fruits often lay beyond it.

Do you have a mantra when it comes to photography? Share it in the comments below; you could change someone’s outlook for the better.

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