Last Week’s Instagram

Once a week—or every so often—I will display one of my photos captured and/or processed with Instagram over the last week. It’s a way for me to show photography that usually is quite different from my regular work. Except for the technical details beneath the pictures are displayed without any comments, hoping they will stand on their own. But I still very much appreciate any comments you may have.

Facts about the photo: The photo was taken with a Lumix LX-100 with the lens set at 10.9 mm (the equivalent of a 24 mm for a full frame format). The photo was cropped, then transferred to my cell phone and processed with the Snapseed app with various adjustments before uploaded into Instagram.

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Don’t Trust Your Talent

I have always been a strong believer in talent being overrated. Over the recent holidays, I read a book that largely confirms my assumption. Yes, talent may set some limits to our abilities, for instance creatively—or for that matter and more specifically photographically, since that is the field I am working in and writing about in this blog—but I really think it’s only of marginal impediment. In particular when talking about creativity, I think it’s something everyone of us inherently possess, we just don’t use it to our full capacities. In growing out of childhood, the society, our peers and ourselves most often discourage our creative development, so much that we end up losing trust in our abilities. What may seem like a lack of creativity is never due to shortage of talent, as far as I see it.

The book I have read is Bounce, written by Matthew Syed, the British number-one table tennis player in the late 90’s, a two-time Olympian, today a columnist for The Times and a commentator for BBC. His book is challenging the prevailing idea that success—whether in sports, business, school, arts or whatever—is determined, in large part, by the skills we are born with. In doing so, Syed pulls on recent scientific studies from around the world on the subject and makes for a convincing argument (well, I guess he never had to convince me in the first place).

When we see—of if you could see—“natural talents” like Tiger Woods, Roger Federer, or for that matter Picasso or Mozart, in action, they seem to be in a different league than the rest of their equals—certainly compared to any of us regular mortal beings. What we forget and what we don’t see, is all the work they have put in to become extraordinarily good at what they do. Tiger Woods, for example, was considered a miracle golfer when he became the youngest ever winner of US Masters in 1997. Now, consider that Woods was given a golf club five days before his birthday, that by age two he had played his first round and that by five he had accumulated more hours of practise than most of us achieve in a lifetime. As Syed writes: “Far from being a golfer zapper with special powers that enabled him to circumvent practice, Woods is someone who embodies the rigour of practice.”

Practice is really what makes the difference. If you put in the work, you can excel in anything you want. Do you want to become a master photographer? It “only” takes some work, albeit a lot of hard, consistent and always pushing yourself kind of work. This much say, skills that are more based on pure physical strength may nevertheless have a component that is dependent on our heredity, such as for instance runners. However, not even the best runners in the world can compete at a top level without a lot of training. The genetic composition may have some saying, but medical science still haven’t found any “running gene”, which of course doesn’t mean it can’t exist.

For undertakings that are more complex, involving using more parts of our brain and body, Matthew Syed is adamant about how little talent matters. In achievements depending on fast reflexes, creativity, judging of multiple inputs and even intuition—without going into any definition of the word—we can only excel after hours and hours of hard work. Take a tennis player or a soccer player, he or she will not only have to be good a sending the ball over net or kicking a football and dribble, but he or she will have to be able to judge the movement of the opposition, weather conditions, the conditions of the field or the court and other variables. In many situations during a game he or she will have to make instant decisions. For instance a tennis player at the highest international level must be able to understand where the ball goes even before the opponent has hit the ball, judged upon how the opponent attacks the ball, being able to read even the smallest of muscle changes. This is not something that is God-given.

Syed calls it “combinatorial explosion”; tasks that requires a combinations of abilities and skill sets. As he writes in Bounce: “It is the rapid escalation in a number of variables in many real-life situations—included sports—that makes it impossible to sift the evidence before making a decision: it would take too long. Good decision making is about compressing the information load by decoding the meaning of patterns derived from experience. […] it must be lived and learned. It emerges through practice.”

What Syed is saying, is that in practices that require “combinatorial explosion”, our skills need to have been ingrained in our backbones. We need to be able to apply them reflexively without having to think consciously. To get to such a point takes thousands and thousands of hours of training. Take photography once again. If you are doing street photography, you need to react fast and get your settings right at first try. If you need to think about how to set the camera, how to compose, when to push the shutter button and so on, the subject will have long been gone. You really need to be able to handle your camera without having to think about it at all. Again, this is something that takes long practice. It’s nevertheless achievable—even at the highest level—for anyone who is willing to put in the work.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that being able to handle “combinatorial explosion” is not depending on some inherited talent. However, in Bounce Syed is referring to plenty of research that clearly shows that more than anything such proficiency is not a result of heredity but rather environment. I am not going to recount some of the studies; if you are interested I suggest you read Bounce. Of course there is more to excel in whatever endeavour you are engaging in than being able to handle “combinatorial explosion” and put in a lot of work, but let me stop for now. In next week’s post, I will take up the thread and reflect on other aspects of the dichotomy of talent vs. practice.

I will just like to add one thing: Think about how our understanding affects our mind sets. If we believe being able to become good at something depends on talent, what will happen when we fail a couple of times with our endeavour? Of course, we will give up, thinking there is no point in continuing since we don’t have the necessary talent. Rather, failing shows the opposite, that we are on the right track. As Matthew Syed says; to be able to get better at something we need to push ourselves close to what we can possibly handle. That means failing—a lot—before we get the hang of it.

Last Week’s Instagram

Once a week—or every so often—I will display one of my photos captured and/or processed with Instagram over the last week. It’s a way for me to show photography that usually is quite different from my regular work. Except for the technical details beneath the pictures are displayed without any comments, hoping they will stand on their own. But I still very much appreciate any comments you may have.

Facts about the photo: The photo was taken with a Lumix LX-100 with the lens set at 34 mm (the equivalent of a 75 mm for a full frame format). The photo was cropped, then transferred to my cell phone and processed with the Snapseed app with various adjustments before uploaded into Instagram.

Pure Light

Sometimes I feel I have been struck with pure luck when I am out shooting. I am sure you have all felt it at some point. When suddenly the light is right, you are at the right place and the right time and everything is just set up for capturing enchanting photos. Of course, most times, it feels like the opposite, but every so often, all variables come together as if it was meant to be.

Such was the time when I was out enjoying the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, USA, between Christmas and New Year. My love one and I had decided to spend a handful of days at the north-eastern-most point of the contiguous United State. It wasn’t a photo trip as such, but of course I had brought my camera and some lenses.

One day when we visited Shi Shi Beach, the afternoon sun bathed the coastline with golden and forming light. It came out through layers of clouds, streaming like ethereal rays from the sky above. Even I, who don’t regard myself as a nature photographer, felt the majestic pull of the landscape.

The afternoon went flying with capturing the scenery. I concentrated my approach to capture light and shadows together with the structures and forms of the landscape; the rocks, waves that hit the coast and the beach itself. It was all about graphics and lights. However, the intense and low sun made for such immense contrasts that it was at times almost impossible to capture it all. I set the exposures so that the highlights would be rendered within the latitude of the sensor’s capabilities (and even a little overexposed since I am working with RAW files that allows for some recovery of burned out highlights). Still the shadows would grow almost completely black. That was one reason why I concentrated on capturing strong graphic images rather than rich and full sceneries or details.

To further enhance the challenges with the harsh contrasts, the best images were captured with the sun streaming directly into the lens. Backlight creates dramatic photos but is also challenging to control. If nothing else, it surely widens the contrast significantly. Sometimes I didn’t even had to take any photos—there was no way I could handle the contrasts, but at other times when I overcame the challenges, I surely was rewarded with spectacular images.

I am usually a wide-angle photographer, but this time I had brought my 100-400 lens in addition to my regular lenses. It’s a lens I rarely use, but I knew with the rock formations at the coast of the Olympic Peninsula it would come in handy to compress the perspective. On the other hand I had to work harder to render some feeling of three-dimensionality since the long telephoto lenses flatten the images. However, challenges are always fun, and working to overcome both contrasts and two-dimensionality increased the sensation of being in a special place and time.

I hope you enjoy the handful of images I show here from the trip.

This Year’s First Instagram

After a long and needed holiday over Christmas and New Year, it’s time for me to pick up again my blog from where I left it last year. I hope you all have had an enjoyable festivity however and wherever it’s been for you. Thank you for all the lovely comments many of you have left on my blog while I have been absent. It’s been a pleasure reading them. I will start this year’s blogging with my regular weekly Instagram post. In the beginning of next week, I will be back with a “proper” blog post again.

Once a week—or every so often—I will display one of my photos captured and/or processed with Instagram over the last week. It’s a way for me to show photography that usually is quite different from my regular work. Except for the technical details beneath the pictures are displayed without any comments, hoping they will stand on their own. But I still very much appreciate any comments you may have.

Facts about the photo: The photo was taken with a Canon Eos 5D with a 100-400 lens set at 400 mm. The photo was further cropped a bit, then transferred to my cell phone and processed with the Snapseed app with various adjustments before uploaded into Instagram.

Happy Holidays!

Christmas season is over us. And we are getting closer to the end of yet another year. It’s been a inspiring year in so many ways. For me personally, I feel blessed to have been able to accomplish a lot of the things I set out to do in the beginning of the year, whether personal development, expansion into new business areas of photography, travels to various places of the world, teaching workshops and not the least the contact with all of you here in the blogger’s sphere. It’s been stimulating to discuss with many of you, exchange thoughts and getting feedback on many of my concept I have written about in this blog. Thanks for so much inspiration and encouragement.

I will log out for the rest of the year and enjoy a couple of weeks of holiday and time off. Before I do so, I want to wish you all happy holidays. And not the least may you have a wonderful start of the new year soon coming up. I’ll be back shortly after we have entered the new year.

Last Week’s Instagram

Once a week—or every so often—I will display one of my photos captured and/or processed with Instagram over the last week. It’s a way for me to show photography that usually is quite different from my regular work. Except for the technical details beneath the pictures are displayed without any comments, hoping they will stand on their own. But I still very much appreciate any comments you may have.

Facts about the photo: The photo was taken with a Lumix LX-100 with the lens set at 34 mm (the equivalent of a 75 mm for a full frame format). The photo was cropped, then transferred to my cell phone and processed with the Snapseed app with various adjustments before uploaded into Instagram.