Saturday, November 14, 2009

Living with My Photography Critic

(Click on the thumbnail for the bigger, better version)

Paul Butzi recently wrote about taking pictures when you have no idea why you are tripping the shutter. I hope Paul won’t mind, if I jump on the bandwagon and sing a few verses of “Me, too”.

I still have an enormous amount to learn about photography (it pains me to think how much), but I am getting more and more satisfaction from it. And, that is true partly because I am trusting myself more to differentiate between occasions that are predominately study periods and those that are more about simply doing. Yes, of course those lines are blurred, but from one outing to another—or from one portion of an outing to another, there is shift in emphasis. There are occasions when I am mostly intent on learning a new technique—drilling basics into my thick skull, and sometimes I am just playing scales.

But, if I want to feed the passion, I need to have times when I simply do what I do as best I can at that moment and trust that six weeks from now, a year from now, my skills will have improved. That is, they will improve, if I keep doing this and paying attention to what works as well as what doesn't. I just have to be certain that I am paying that attention after the fact, not using it as a club over my head while I am photographing.

Long ago, I noticed that a great percentage of my photographs that I like best—on those rare and special days that I like any of them—are those that I took while shooting out of my mind. Even in the early stages when I knew almost nothing, a surprising number of the images that showed progress had been taken when something somewhat surprised me, I raised the camera, and clicked the shutter before I had time to think my way through the image.

Now, more and more, I am giving in to the impulse to shoot with abandon. I am learning that what catches my eye—and my heart—is most often a fleeting moment. By the time I think about it, the moment and the magic are gone. The more I study the scene, the more certain the best moments will escape me. If I get bogged down in analyzing, I trip the switch and activate the nasty voice in my head that nags, “That light is never going to work.” “Better look again. Is this framed properly?” “You didn’t check your exposure you are just going to delete this. You’re wasting time.” Some days the voice is particularly insistent. But, I am gradually training the nagger to speak when spoken to, leaving me to place increasing trust in my gradually improving skills and my intuition.

Of course, I’m not merely wandering about drooling and hoping that wonderful things will pop up in front of my camera and that my muse will always whisper “Now” at the ideal moment. I am comfortable inviting my intellect to take charge, or at least participate, if it honestly seems the best way to solve a problem. But, for better or for worse, I go about my photography, at least part of the time, trusting that when I have no clue as to why my shutter finger twitches at a specific instant—much less what is filling the frame, I don’t ask questions. I just let go and enjoy the moments.

After all, that nagging critic in my head represents the part of me that can be paralyzed by the specter of failure. The message behind all that nagging is “Don’t take chances. Work cautiously. Play it safe. D
on’t prove you are a loser.”

When I tell the critic to take some time off, I have a grand time and sometimes there is a bonus. I may make more mistakes, but I also make more pictures that I like. Not a bad bargain for trusting myself and following impulses. I wouldn’t recommend it for crossing streets, or choosing life partners. But, I think following impulses can be a swell idea, when you have a camera in your hand.


  1. Anita, a great post to go along with Paul Butzi's. I think you've done a wonderful job putting put some of my own thoughts into perspective.

    I sometimes get locked into an almost paralysis trying to "technically create" photos I like or that I think tell a larger story. I believe this happens because I want to push myself to continuing to learn and grow in photography and perhaps from just not trusting my own instincts.

    For the moment I'm in the frame of mind that it's okay to take "pretty photos" of my liking--no pressure, no reserves and little preplanning. However, I seldom stay in the same frame of mind for long. ~smile~

  2. Wonderful commentary, Anita. I'm enjoying your sharing and I think, wise words. We change and do become better when we recognize the steps we are taking in life. :-)

    When we trust in ourselves and take those chances we win. :-) Trusting overcomes al fear. I enjoy reading all your posts, whether I leave a comment or not, know I'm visiting.

  3. Anita, I find that I mainly just get into trouble, photographically-speaking, when I think too much about what I'm trying to do. Let your instincts guide you, they are smarter than you are. Grin.

  4. Anita: Tell that critic to shut the heck up and that you know what you are doing, because ... obviously, you do! That photo at the top if fab-u-lous!

    That whole thinking thing is entirely overrated and, I believe, debilitating to the creative process.


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