The More You Shoot, the Better You Become

One of the most frustrating feelings for any artist is when there is a disparity between your initial creative idea and the final result – that is when the result isn’t able to convey the vision you tried to express. For a photograph that comes out as a disappointment between the image your thought you got and the one you see on your computer. Often the reason for the disparity is lack of experience. The more experienced you become the smaller this gap between vision and result becomes. It simply takes a while to get better, and there is no other way around it than having to fight your way through it. According to Henri Cartier-Bresson «your first 10,000 photographs are your worst». When we take into consideration that he used a film-based camera, inherently much slower than today’s digital cameras, maybe we need to update his quote to your first 100,000 photographs. Or maybe even better to use the so-called 10,000-Hour Rule that Malcolm Gladwell cites in his book Outliers. The rule basically says that if you do anything for 10,000 hours you will become an expert at that thing. Put in a different, simpler and maybe more obvious way, it comes down to the fact that – as a photographer – the more you shoot, the better you become. As simple as that. Perhaps the ultimate shooter when it comes to volume was street photographer Garry Winogrand. When he died of cancer at the age of 56 in 1984, he left behind 2,500 undeveloped rolls of 36-exposure 35 mm film (mostly Tri-X), 6,500 rolls of developed but not contact-printed film, and another 3,000 apparently untouched, unedited contact sheets. Colleagues, students, and friends talked about him as an obsessive picture-taking machine. We can all learn from his industrious approach to photography. If we want to become good at what we do, we need to put in enough hours photographing. With enough practise comes confidence, skills and mastery. If we want to excel as artist we need to do the work, we need to be working continuously over a long period of time. As I wrote in my post Creativity is Work: «You can talk or think all day about photography and creativity, but if you don’t actually perform, nothing will ever come out of your desire to express yourself». Are you willing to put in those 10,000 hours to become the photographer that resides in you – or whatever art form you are working with?

On a different note: Today I will be heading towards Western Sahara and hope to shoot a lot of pictures – of course I should probably add. I hope to find internet access, and if that’s the case I will try to post some of the picture from and along the trip.

54 thoughts on “The More You Shoot, the Better You Become

  1. I am ready to put those 10000hours in to both photography and writing as I enjoy both these creative process.
    Enjoy your trip to Sahara!

  2. I enjoy your posts, Otto. I’ve noticed since I started my own phototography blog, I shoot a lot more and have seen a marked improvement in my work. I’m always looking for the next lesson or shot to share on my blog. You are right – creativity takes work. Have fun in the Sahara. Looking forward to seeing photos from your trip.

  3. Wonderful sharing as always. Thank you dear Otto, sounds that it would be exciting travel. Have a nice and enjoyable days, be in safe always. I would be waiting for your beautiful photographs. Blessing and Happiness, love, nia

  4. I was telling my niece about the 10,000 rule in Outliers, hung up the phone and then saw your blog. Nice synchronicity! 😀 I guess my obsessive picture taking will pay off in, oh, about 9,500 hours or so.

  5. This is why I’m so glad I started a blog, especially the 365 Project that gets me out there every day, even if only to my garden or a bedroom window. Great reminder that it takes commitment and work to become good at anything.

  6. As usual your insights are poignant and add to the dialogue about photographers and photography. I imagine that your trip will be life altering–not only in your photography but also spiritually, Sally

  7. Used to say that about painting too in art class. I like this shot with the combination sillouette and portrait lighting and the tendrils of smoke from the cigarrette- take lots of photos and take lots of thought-.Thank you for sharing. Maybe drop into hostels or hotels for computer access-you will know what to do. Enjoy the journey-look forward to the shots of the Sahara.

  8. Como siempre, he disfrutado mucho con este post, y yo también estoy dispuesta a trabajar esas 10.000 horas.
    Espero que todo le valla bien en ese viaje, y lo disfrute muchísimo, saludos

    Since always, I have enjoyed very much this post, and I also am ready to work these 10.000 hours. I hope that everything fences in him well in this trip, and enjoy it very much, regards

  9. Interesting Otto, and I wonder how many 10.000 or 100.000’s of pictures I have now taken..
    And I’m sure you will have an exciting trip. Western Sahara, I was there for 1 day, long ago, driving down to Layyoun. Going to Tindouf maybe? I wanted to go there for 20 years…..!

  10. You’re probably gonna think I’m a total nut case but while reading this post it hit me that this philosophy applies to young horses too. An old timer told me once that you need at least a hundred sweaty saddle blankets to see real progress in your colts. He was right!
    However, I’ve yet to reach the 10,000 mark in my photography, film OR digital!
    Have a fantastic time in the Sahara – can’t wait to see what you share with us.

  11. Otto, another wonderful post that inspires. I like your photo at the top – a wonderful mood set. I am so happy that you included quotes and information related to street photographers. I wonder how many hours I have clocked up on taking photos? I might try and work it out one day but for now, I am going to take your advice and just shoot, shoot, shoot. «You can talk or think all day about photography and creativity, but if you don’t actually perform, nothing will ever come out of your desire to express yourself». Wise words that can be applied over and over. PS You mentioned updating Cartier-Bresson’s number from your first 100,000 photographs, but to how many?

    1. As many as it takes to build the confidence in yourself that what you are doing is not reliant on luck or coincidence and that you have something to offer as a photographer. That’s not to say that luck and coincidence don’t have a role to play in the capture of great pictures 😉

      1. oh, i was just mentioning it as I thought perhaps there was a spello as Otto was making the comparison between Bresson who shot in film, to digital.

  12. Thanks for sharing your very good and motivating article. As an amateur photographer I must then take a notice from you!

  13. Otto, once again your blog speaks to the heart of a matter. Perhaps the 10,000 rule (hours or photos) allows not only the perfection of a technique but an acceptance that what you are doing as a photographer or artist is not based on luck or coincidence … that you are contributing to the work produced in your attempt to convey to another something you felt when creating an image … at least that’s where I find myself 🙂

  14. Wonderful photo in the above post. Love your use of the light to produce a striking image that really speaks to the viewer.
    I agree with you wholeheartedly in your article.
    The more I photograph, the more I learn. But it’s not just about practise. It’s about learning to ‘see’ with different eyes (with a camera).
    It’s also about balance and composition. Interpreting light and how it works. Learning how to draw the viewer into the image.

    I can’t believe how much I’ve improved since I took up photography with a little Point & Shoot camera 2 years ago (since 17th may 20120 to be exact).

    Sometimes it’s about luck and being at the right place, at the right time too. I’ve had a few of those and sometimes it’s not until I’ve downloaded my shots for the day that I realise how lucky I really was (that day).

  15. Interessant lesning! jeg liker dagens bilde, nydelig stemning og lys!
    Det er nok langt igjen til 100,000 ; ) MEN jeg fotograferer hver dag (sletter de fleste da ;)) I en tidligere tekst anbefaler du å bruke god tid på å ta bilde. Det må jeg jobbe med! Har en tendens til å bli for mange spontane bilder! Blir ofte veldig skuffet da jeg kommer hjem å ser bildene på skjerm, da er 80 % av de uklare!

    Ønsker deg en riktig GOD TUR! Gleder meg til å se bilder!

  16. I enjoy reading your post, have many interesting tips. Ahoralo best is yet to begin “Your Trip” luck and good shooting.
    Demandez à un ami bon voyage, tout le bonheur.

  17. Not just practice but purposeful practice. You need to give yourself a theme, subject, or particular lens, or camera setting to get better. I do this every morning. Great post as usual.

  18. “Are you willing to put in those 10,000 hours to become the photographer that resides in you – or whatever art form you are working with?” – Love this!

    Sir Otto, this is a wonderful advice before you take off, ahaha. Many thanks for the thoughtful thoughts. You and your crew take care in Western Sahara and kindly bring us back tales of your trip. Have fun, gather enough wonders! 😉

  19. … 10,000 hours plus the courage to drop all automatism or semi-automatism.
    To start playing in manual mode changes everything about the photographs we take, about the world as we see it 😉
    Have a wonderful experience in Western Sahara!

  20. In my opinion this is the most important tip. Try hard not to be concerned about upgrading gear until you really understand why you need it. Over time each of us develop preferences on the type of images we like to take (you can call this preference, your style). Now you can make a more informed decision on your next purchase. Like life this can be a bit of a struggle, but it’s worth it.
    I agree with victoriaaphotography on the composition and lighting. Also the storytelling here shows a great representation of what I image to be local culture.
    Thanks for sharing.

  21. I have played this game. It’s Zanzibar, Africa where we encountered it for the first time. They play, they bet, they advise on strategy. Wherever we played, my daughter and I drew watchers. As for the topic of more is better. A master surgeon told me once, ‘You can do an operation once and know it. Or you can do it one hundred times and still not understand it. Which will you be?’ It’s not quite so simple but I got the point.

  22. Lovely post, thank you. All creative work is similiar in that way. The hours of work pay off in the end but without them the full potential of creativity will never be realised. Thank you for a thought provoking post. May the Saharan journey be wonderful for you. Friends of mine did something like that a few years ago and it was fantastic.

  23. You are an inspiration, Otto. I have a long way to go before I put in the 10,000 hours in anything I am doing these days, but I will keep plugging away at it. I look forward to your photos from the Sahara. Stay safe.

  24. I love your photo, I feel the relaxed atmosphere and the shadows are great. What are they doing? Your post gives me pause for thought as always Otto. For me the best way to solve the creative dilemma is to not try. I send a memo to my subconscious mind and tell it to get busy while I work on the elements of the project that I know I want to use with my conscious mind. It never fails to deliver when I am ready for it. Now I do have one sculpture project that has had me stuck for months as to where to take it and guess what? IT’S BECAUSE I HAVE NOT WORKED ON IT! You are so right, great post.

  25. Yes, I think 100,000 frames is about right for digital shooters…there is something much more precious about film that makes one think before they pressed the shutter…instant gratification, not sure it has served us…

  26. Great post, completely agree about practice makes perfect. 100,000 images is more appropriate in the digital age because I went through my first 10k sooo fast and I hardly improved 🙂 Oh Great photo also 🙂

  27. I agree. My own practice for the last year or two has been to commit to 3 new images posted on my blog ( daily. In order to meet that commitment I have to be taking new pictures all the time. To do that I have to carry a camera with me at all times and I have to get better at looking and “seeing” pictures wherever I go. I think there’s no doubt I feel a lot more confidence in my picture-taking ability given the increase in volume and the daily attention to looking for things to photograph. I also have a lot more confidence in what I don’t bother taking pictures of.

  28. The more images we take the more we develop that ‘Seeing Eye’. I recall very clearly the last 15 years of my career when life was so busy that photography was delegated to brief holidays only when often I would have to re-read the instruction leaflet about the camera to recall all the settings. Now retired and using a camera almost every day, the mechanics of taking pictures are instinctive, and the Seeing Eye is free to do what it wants – look for pictures. Well written as always, Otto. Have a great trip.

  29. Good reminder article. I take my Nikon D300 with me every where. Try to shoot every day even if it is only for 1/2 hour.

    Take on a new avenue of shooting will put your established skills to use. Instead of always shooting standing up, shot down low, or shot from above looking down. Shoot full screen instead of partially filling the screen.

    He’s a fun exercise. Get 2-3 people in a car. Take turns driving. The driver chooses the place to stop & all fet iut and shoor. The only rule is you can not step more than 3′ from where you got out. Next driver (-:

  30. Yes! Yes! Yes! God willing, 10,000 hours of work and then some, should be the food all artist’s live on…safe tripping over to Western Sahara and many, many creative moments for you, Otto! Thanks for a great post! 🙂

  31. Now there’s a thought…finding Internet connectivity in Western Sahara to upload photos! What a possibility. And it does make sense to me that creativity of any sort requires exercise in order to grow and take new shape. Reading about technique cannot replace getting out there and seeing what you can do! I’ll look forward to seeing your next photos of an amazing location! Debra

  32. Yes, practice makes perfect. Interesting you talked about giving 10,000 hours. Malcolm Gladwell said that in his book, The Outliers, about what made people successful at what they did. Practice, practice, practice.

    Looking forward to your photos from your Sahara trip!

  33. Excellent post Otto and I couldn’t agree more. I also believe that we become more selective also with regards to which photos are retained. The trash bin becomes larger.!

  34. Great post. Good reminder of the 10,000 hour rule. (I am a Gladwell fan as well.) It is nice to know that it isn’t just me taking thousands of photos before I hit upon one I like. That’s just me role as a beginner. Thanks again.

  35. This post made me feel better. I was just saying I felt bad that I’ve taken so many pictures over the last year or two. I think the last few months some of my really poor photos have taught me things partly to see that there are different possiblities in my own ways of seeing. This for me is not an easy shift.

  36. That’s a brilliant advice Munchow. Yes, we must be ready to give 10000 hours for the tasks we want to excel at. Photography does require a lot of practice & precision. I’ve been coming over to this post time & again thinking over it. Thank you so much. Hope you enjoy your trip! 🙂

  37. Great advice! I have put in many, many hours and taken thousands of photos, but the gap is still wide. I still have a lot of practicing to do, but it’s fun!

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