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Mastering photography - Control (4)

Bo Stahlbrandt (bgs)

Keywords: mastery, art, bgs

In the last, 3rd part of the "Mastering the art of photography" series we discussed you as being a key factor in the chain to achieve mastery; you, your environment and potentially adding money as an "enhancer" when it comes to learning.

Several readers have been giving their feedback and thoughts in our Café on the first, second and third parts and I invite you to do so as well, after you have read these. Learning together is so much more enjoyable and it plays a big part of what our community is all about.

Are you a factory?

Of course not, but in this part we're coming back to you, the core and the very foundation of your own possibilities. Processes are key to enhance your photography with one important aspect being time allocation, something you can control for and then execute in a dependable and robust way.

There is very little wiggle room for blame-games here; no shifting of focus to others, to parents, spouses, ex-partners, children, grandchildren, the boyfriend, a stressy job, the full day, the low pay or any other circumstances or reasoning for not spending time on photography that you can come up with, including health or age. You end up with you, the naked photographer.

You and you alone are the core of it all. You are in the seat and only you can take the road, the road of improvement towards mastery.


A contemplating ballerina. As seen by Pascal Baetens (pbaetens)

A contemplating ballerina. As seen by Pascal Baetens (pbaetens)


Which parts are under your control?

Which parts of mastering the art can you then control for, the parts, which are within your "controlled-spectrum" versus the ones being out of bounds, outside of your control?

Since everything seems to revolve around you when you want to improve, it is important to understand which are the factors you can really control for and which are not directly under your influence, items you have to accept and to live with so to speak. Not being ignorant about these "out of spectrum items” should help though, especially since they can be managed, once identified and understood. We will look at these further down, but first let us look at the major areas being under your control.

You are in control

You control for nearly everything once you understand what true influence you really do have over your own life. Often items that seem to be outside of your control are not. For example, by changing your commute you might be able to get more time to spend on learning photography. You might decide to take another kind of transportation twice a week and use the time for learning instead of driving. You might renegotiate home office hours with your company to ensure you get rid of two legs a week of driving that can instead be used for photography. Or you decide to start listening to podcasts while driving or to skip another hobby, or to reduce looking at TV or spending time on Facebook. Or you decide to go to bed earlier to wake up fresher to be able to enjoy the learning earlier in the morning instead of risking being unfocused and tired.

Time is your number one, most valuable limited resource. Being aware of that you are in control of your time, you can decide to allocate some of it for photography. More on allocating it later in the article. If you do not feel as you are controlling your time, look at your schedule. If you don’t have a schedule then that is a warning signal you are giving others the power to rule over your time. If that is the case, I recommend you to take yourself and time management serious enough to draw up a rough “master schedule”, a template for the week.

If on the other hand you have a schedule and there is very little breathing space in it, consider today, now, what the number one thing is that you can do to reduce the load you experience through the amount of items plugged into it.

Full schedule? Pause here and reflect: What is the number one thing that I can do right now to reduce the load of my schedule in such a way that it is getting easier on me in the future?

Acknowledging you are in control you can now decide on priorities on how to move forward with your photography. Even if you still might not like the wording of becoming a master of a specific art form within photography, I do hope you are looking forward to further enhance your photography results while finding more joy in doing so.

Take yourself seriously

You are a photographer. Don't (you dare to) say you are not. You will also have many other, different roles you give a name in your life, maybe father, grandmother, girlfriend, friend, but most certainly daughter or son. You might identify yourself with your job, your current or a former profession or with the sports you are doing, if any. Here in Europe it is common with small silhouette-looking figurine stickers on the back of your car showing-off the sports you are doing, the tougher (triathlon) or more prestigious (golf) the more common they seem to be. I have not seen small sticker figures using cameras.

Important to acknowledge is that you are indeed a photographer. You spend time, money and effort to enhance your photography.

How much is photography worth to you?

So how important is photography to you, or, how much is it worth to you? I would argue a lot if you look at the time and money you have already spent. Is that a commitment or not? Did you commit to start taking photographs when you bought your gear? Did you commit to improve your results and if not why not? Why did you buy the gear in the first place?

If you are committed to photography then be truly committed. Don't go half way. Be honest to yourself; is photography really important to you? If so, make it important. If photography is a core interest of yours, then treat it as such. Put it in the right perspective in relation to other interests and time consumers and give it the priority it requires.

It is hard, often impossible to improve results in parallel when doing five or even three different things at the "same time". It is easier to improve when focusing on one single thing. The key element of success in many areas of life is indeed to identify what is important to you and to focus on that. Multi-tasking is a thing of the past; it is understood to be inefficient and is completely out of fashion in modern management practices.

Not giving photography the priority it deserves and you will show symptoms of chasing quick fixes, maybe acquiring new items to keep you going. It might be the bag "you need", the new lens "you need", the photography trip “you need” and so forth. You might start blaming other things in your life for your slow progress and your motivation will be suffering in the process. You wonder why you are not progressing as you wish since you got the gear for it.

If you give photography priority over other aspects of your life, you might get fanatically into photography. That is good. Become a fanatic, but don't forget to eat. If you decide (yes, you decide) to make photography a priority, then you have already made a huge leap towards enhancing your results, you are getting the effort part of the formula "Mastery = Effort x Focus x Belief in yourself" under control. Focus is a key element discussed earlier and it does not mean autofocus, rather that you pick a single specialization of photography. If you now roll this over time, you and your results are bound to become better and better. The "Belief in yourself" is something for the next article.

Setting aside blocks of time

No matter if your current, specific photographic interests require you to e.g. learn more by discussing and getting critique or by actually shooting a lot, you will need to set aside time for your photography.

Deciding to give photography priority means living it, not just writing it down on a piece of paper, or putting it in a calendar to be forgotten about. Set aside time for your photography and put a time block for it in your calendar. You want to make this block large enough to be useful, e.g. an hour-long block is something hardly usable. If your day is so full that you cannot allocate at least a four hour continuous block per week for photography, you will have a hard time improving it, since you are at best allocating "snippets of surface time" and they will be inefficient, not allowing you to really focus on anything.

Having more time available for photography than four hours a week is even better. In this case make a second block for your photography, make that block another four hours, not two, three or one.

Why four hours? Even if you don't need to spend time traveling to execute your photography, learning requires focus. Focus requires time to get "into it" and it has been proven through various studies that four hours and more are indeed efficient. We learn best if we are undisturbed with no phones ringing, no blinking icons, no spouses or children wanting our attention, no pressing needs to take care of.

Allocate a four-hour block per week, at a minimum. If you cannot do this, ask yourself how important photography really is to you and why other things are more important. In that case, ask yourself what you can change in your life today, now, to make sure you get more time for the one thing you love, that you are passionate about.

You might decide to dedicate your photography four-hour blocks for theory/discussions/critique versus learning in the field. Maybe you give yourself three blocks of field-exercises per month and one for theory, or your current needs are best covered by two blocks of post-processing per month, one of critique and one of field exercises. Or, you decide to spend all four blocks in the studio one month and the next month it all will go to post-processing followed by one month of critique and reflection.

Getting a peer to help

The key element here is that you allocate time and live it. Allocation is often easier said than done and it can be problematic to fulfill the self-assigned schedule. In this case it can help to have a peer to stay focused on the time allocated, to have another photographer on the same road segment. If you know someone, ask the person to help you by looking at your schedule and listening to what you have achieved weekly and commit to return the favor. Communicate your monthly schedule up front and commit to it. Then report your week at the end of it to the other person, via the Nikonians Community, chat or via email.

If you don't know of someone, ask in the Café for a peer and someone might help you.

If you feel comfortable, share your monthly plan with others in the Café. Create a new discussion thread, title it "My commitment for improving" or similar and let others know in which area you want to grow and how you have been allocating time to achieve that. Then report your learning weekly in your thread.

Defend your time block

In a life full of activities and demands, it is important that we learn to defend our block. Communicate your block up front to anyone that might want or need you while you will be in it and clearly state what you are up to. Make sure others respect your needs. Take care of other things before or after your time block and don't let anything interrupt you. Take yourself and your photography seriously.

Things we do not control (well) for

Let's have a short look at the items that you will meet on your road that you cannot control well or not at all.

Even if the shipping lanes in Asia are full of lightning, likely caused by cargo ships particulate helping seeding clouds, we on an individual level are still not capable of controlling or influencing the weather. So, different kinds of weather are something we need to factor in if we are shooting outside, which many of us are. A Swedish proverb says, "There's no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes" (in Swedish it even rhymes: "Det finns inget dåligt väder, bara dåliga kläder.")

The weather I (got to) like

It is interesting to notice how we can reprogram ourselves to like certain weather conditions we might have considered "bad" earlier; our mental mindset being key to progress in photography.

We are judgmental animals and tend to judge all and everything. No need to. Stop judging the weather and just get ready for the opportunities it offers instead. We might think of rainy weather as being “bad weather”. Forget the bad part. It is raining. It can rain in all kinds of ways and some of them are better (easier) for conducting photography in than others. It can be really cold or very hot. It can be stormy. It can be foggy, snowy or misty. Under certain conditions we definitely should not be out taking photographs, simply because of risks. We can leave that to some daring photojournalists or to machines. In case of rain, it is often enough to wear proper clothes and ensure you can protect your camera and lens, to whatever degree needed, between shots. You might soon find out you are enjoying the life-nurturing water coming down from the skies instead of condemning it as "bad weather".

I bet we are often missing out on excellent opportunities just because we are hesitant ending up procrastinating instead of simply reducing the amount of reasoning for why not photographing, limiting the tendency to overthink.

Feeling out of control with people

Another item that is impossible to control is the behavior of other people we depend upon for a shoot, e.g. the model, the make up artist or the friend that promised to help out. We can manage this to a certain degree and reduce risks by e.g. making sure that everyone involved understands what is expected from them up front, when we shall meet, what you need them to bring etc. Martin Turner’s studio article series can be helpful here.

Organization, communication and some management skills can go a long way to reduce on-location surprises. If we then end up with one or the other person still not working out well together with us, we can decide to make the decision not to work with that person, or to ask the person to fill another role.

Make decisions

Often things stay poor because decisions are not being made. It is better to make a decision than not to make any. If you e.g. find yourself upset about another person, think through what you can do to change the situation. You might simply need to talk to the person and whatever it is, make a decision.

If you end up with repeated experiences of certain things not working out, that is a good hint that you probably should change something to avoid that from happening again. Don't make the mistake though and victimize yourself, reasoning why you cannot do this or that. It is too easy to fall into that trap.

Next week we will dig into how to further expand your controlled spectrum, how to reduce risks and liabilities and we will start thinking about becoming more artsy along the way.

In the meantime, please do think through your own weekly four-hour block and how to get your own peer, plus remember to use the Café. You might also want to read The ONE Thing by Gary Keller, a book that has further influenced my own thinking and doing.

Enjoy your most valuable week :)

Part 5 - Decision making and freedom

if you don't want to give feedback or your thoughts on this topic in the Cafe, you might want to move on to part 5 of this series.
(7 Votes )

Originally written on November 22, 2017

Last updated on December 30, 2020