Personal truths about photography

Photography is an ongoing journey, there is so much to learn and explore and so much to experience. Some lessons come easy, some difficult. It is crucial to acknowledge that there is no one right way in photography, given that it is so open and subjective. I  believe that we all want to improve and get better at what we do. After all, something is more enjoyable only when you continue to get better at it.  What is the point of photography, if it’s not fun?

 1. There is no bad camera nowadays. I honestly can’t think of a bad camera from the many in production today. The discussions on what camera to buy or avoid is no longer relevant. Even an entry level dSLR or mirrorless camera can perform well in a wide range of shooting conditions, and surpass the output from top of the line of cameras released 5 years ago.  I don’t see a reason to lose sleep over being unhappy with the choice we have today. Sure, there will always be better, more powerful cameras out there in the near future. Just because your camera isn’t the best available doesn’t mean you can’t shoot good photographs. The most important step, is realizing that your camera is MORE than sufficient. Don’t worry about what your camera can’t do, worry about what you can do with it. The happier you are with your camera, the less you worry about what you don’t have, the better you can concentrate on what truly matters: creating images.

2. Don’t worry about how a good photograph should look. Shoot the way you want an image to look. I have observed many photographers trying so hard to follow their favourite photographer’s footsteps, trying to emulate their shooting style, composition, thinking process and post-processing techniques. There’s nothing wrong with learning about how other photographers work. However, don’t throw away your own unique personality from your photographs. Photography is not about following a set of rules or  a long list of guidelines to accomplish a certain finalized, repeatable outcome. There are many reasons why photographers shoot, but it is a form of art and it is universally agreed that art is an expression of creativity and an outlet for ideas and emotions. In order for that to effectively take place, the photograph should contain traces of the creator’s personality, their thought process and their emotions and. Let your photographs speak for you and be unique representatives of you!

3. Growth is important. To grow, leave your comfort zone. When we start, everything is new and the cup is empty, but as we learn and get into the deep end of photography, over time, the cup fills up. We become comfortable, and no longer accept new ideas, and form our own opinions of what we should and shouldn’t do in photography. That is the most dangerous thing to happen to a photographer: getting stuck in the comfort zone. Many people don’t realize that when they stay still, they no longer continue to learn. In his article, “The Passion is In The Risk” Kirk Tuck, “Beyond that, risk also means removing yourself from a comfortable situation to an uncomfortable situation that elicits responses in a photo which in turn make it interesting to you and your wider audience.” To keep the passion burning, we have to push ourselves and take necessary risks. The most successful photographers I know are never satisfied with their own work, and always seek to get better. Their hunger for growth and improvement is insatiable.

4.  Success is not measured by fame. Photography is personal and it is no secret that photography has evolved into a game of ego. We constantly put our photography work on display in the hopes that we will receive gratification. Acknowledgement that we are doing the right thing and creating good photographs. We seek approval from our audience and we want our audience to “like” our photographs. I don’t think it is wrong to share photographs with an audience. It is after all a form of communication, and it demands to be seen and shared. Having an audience will help you grow, and provide the inspiration to do better the next time you go out and shoot. However, the shooting process was never about pleasing a crowd. Are you shooting for yourself, or are you shooting for someone else? (Bearing in mind that I’m speaking of photography as a hobby, not a profession. For professional photographers, you need to deliver to clients and that is an entirely different discussion). Make photography personal. It is your own game fueled by your own desire to pick up the camera and shoot what you want. Sharing your work, while important, is secondary. Those who can identify with you, those who can relate to your work are your true audience.

5. The greatest investment in photography is time. What is the biggest sacrifice in photography? Not the money spent on gear. It’s the time you have spent shooting. Dedication to the craft means you need to religiously (not the best word, but dedication is closely related to devotion) pick up your camera and shoot as frequently as possible. You may have the “best camera” or attend dozens of workshops by famous, successful photographers, and read the best photography books, but you won’t go far if you do not spend time shooting. The only question is, how much time can you spare for photography?

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Comments

  1. Mings Photoessay: Evening in Manchester makes us realize that point 5 in Wongs Personal Truths is higlyvrelative, as Ming has a focused, attending, keen sharp edged consciousness with each curated image, especially and even with little time. This indicates that with pros, it has very luttld to dobwith Wongs point that ” the only question” is how much time, and much more to dobwithbthecwuality, deliberate practice, and razor sharp awareness that professionals bring to their photography. Its about consciousness and flow within the time,not about the amount of time.

    • An interesting point echoing the “10,000 hour rule”. What is not said along with that hoary not-so-old chestnut is that the researcher who coined the phrase noted that you have to have talent as well – the 10,000 hours is what is needed to refine what talent you have. At some point, then, if we are self-aware, we realize that we’ve reached that point of diminishing returns and moderate our time spent to levels that are appropriate for us to live the rest of our lives responsibly and enjoyably. Comparing one’s self as a hobbyist to a driven and very talented professional like Ming might be aspirational at first but unproductive later as you reach the limits of your own talents. The trick is to enjoy what we can deliver, and celebrate our own vision as far as it takes us. 10,000 hours can be spent over a few years or a lifetime. The longer that period, the more we must be honest with and kind to ourselves.

  2. Beautiful monochrome photographs, especially the first.

  3. I was happy to come across this post. I really want to be do my own thing and not follow the rules. Good to know we don’t have to follow them. I was worried about all the posts about lines and thirds. I just want to enjoy it as a hobby and play around with different ideas.

  4. I pretty much agree with #1. I spent a couple of weeks in Europe with only a Panasonic LX10 (and my One+ 5) and came back with plenty of beautiful images. Most cameras these days have way more features, settings and capabilities than the average person will ever be able to use or learn. Taking the time to learn as much as you can about your camera is a big help. There were a few occasions where it would have been nice to have my E-M1ii with me, but traveling with just the one little camera was sort of liberating.

    • Robin Wong says:

      You are absolutely right, having a small camera helps a lot, especially in travel! Sometimes, less is more, and simplicity works!

  5. Bill Walter says:

    On #1, I certainly agree. It’s interesting that many professional photographers are dumping their D810 cameras for the D850. They get excited over slightly better resolution or dynamic range. And while the Nikon D850 is an incredible camera, the same photographers made the same lavish comments about the D810 when it was released. Meanwhile, 99% of their clients can’t tell if the photos were taken with the D850, the D810 or the D610, nor do they care. A well taken photograph will look great with any of these models. Like you said, there are no bad cameras in the last 5 years.

  6. Robin, your thoughts are motivating as so many times before. Thank you for sharing them. I agree with all of your points.

  7. Robin, great article.When was starting out I had a Yashica Mat faithfully took an hour bus ride to attend Sunday morning outings with members of the PSS. Photograhic Society of Singapore.Every one had Rolleiflexes Leicas Hassleblads. Me Yashica matt in a brown paper bag not even a camera bag It was aturn off with them.They avoided any conversation, I went out to proved them wrong .Well like Robin says get out and take pictures there is no BEST cameras. I took the National Top Award in colour print section and later another Top in Black and white the next year Took the two Top in the Jurong Zoo photo contest- 2 years running .Where are the Rolleiflex Leicas people. I guess admiring and wish they did the same. Thanks Robin great article. Readers make the best with the least.

  8. Thank you, Robin.

  9. david mantripp says:

    4 is a bit tricky. I fully agree with you, but there is a uncomfortable aspect to making your photography personal and then finding out that nobody is interested in it… social media is, unfortunately, a genie which cannot be put back into the bottle.

    • Robin Wong says:

      That is a valid observation, we do live in the world of social media now, and there is no avoiding or going around that unfortunately. I guess, just a reminder to keep ourselves in check from time to time, not to overdo it!

    • Frans Richard says:

      So? Don’t let yourself be put down by what others think. Real happiness comes from within.

      • Robin Wong says:

        That is deep! But so true.

        • Well, I’d argue that it’s a bit glib, myself. Hopefully real happiness has nothing to do with something as trivial as whether other people like your photos or not, but “comes from within” appears to imply that total isolation is the best path to happiness…

  10. Point 1. I disagree. There are some cheap digital imaging devices out there that are not worth their salt. Many are attached to a cell phone. More and more we are seeing better bottom of the barrel products on the market, but there are still many equal to the old 110 film format quality in digital.

    Point 5 can really be appreciated by those of us who have, and still do, shoot 4 x 5 inch and larger view cameras. Real photography to which digital imaging cannot compare.

    Point 5 is still very applicable to digital imaging. Those who do not spend time learning their device — be it entry level, many of the mirror-less, or a DSLR — and shot, shoot, shoot. Print too. If you want to display your images you must become familiar with printing; the printer, the paper, the overall display of the finished product. The more time one spends learning and doing the better one should become.

    All your points though are very important. Best thing is shoot for yourself. Please yourself with your images. There may be times you need to please someone else, but if you cannot please yourself it’ll be all that much more difficult to please an editor or other who may want your images.

    • Robin Wong says:

      For point 1, I was specifically referring to Mirrorless/DSLR system of recent releases, even at entry level. Of course, if we broaden our spectrum of gear to include budget smartphones and old point and shoot cameras, I totally understand where you are coming from.

      Thanks for further elaborating on Point no 5! Glad to see that it is also applicable for larger format cameras.

    • Ah purist “photographer” that love (only) Dark room.
      Well in old time my favorite camera was Linhof Technika cm 13×18, and neg prited it on Dusrt 138 (with blue light before Multigrade papers). Yes fascination Dark room is, literaly, impossible to describle whitout de visu et manu. But if we stay in analogue Era why not Polaroid Polaroid 50×60? Yes the “camera” used for the restorataion of “Cappella Sistina”.
      I think a bad prospective because the “manipulation” digitali is stellar about tinny camera (in my case point and shoot ad experimental, example with Camedia C 5050 – used Magnum Agency italian** Alex Majoli – 13×19 on if we stay in analogue times because no Polaroid Hhahnemuhle cotton rag very impressive at a distance, sure.
      Question: if “photo” is attached on “fine” Gallery (with a rich people that buy it) ohhh no problem because analogic is uber alles, no? Viceversa at time an Ocean opportunity innimaginable from 4×5 or 10×12 metric standard same 13 x18 or 18×24…
      Creativity is not a thing “metrage” and please this stupidity for metric or kilometric painters.

      **Alex Majoli points and shoots
      http://www.robgalbraith.com/multi_page8c1c.html?cid=7-6468-7844

      • A massacrated text… please see bellow

        Ah purist “photographer” that love (only) Dark room.
        Well in old time my favorite camera was Linhof Technika cm 13×18, and neg prited ion Dusrt 138 S (with blue light before Multigrade papers). Yes fascination Dark room is, literaly, impossible to describle. But if we stay in analogue Era why not Polaroid 50×60? Yes the “camera” used for the restorataion proof of “Cappella Sistina”.
        I think a bad prospective because the “manipulation” digitali is stellar about tinny camera (in my case point and shoot adnd experimental with Camedia C 5050 – used Magnum Agency italian** Alex Majoli – 13×19 on Hhahnemuhle cotton rag and very impressive at a distance.
        If an “photo” is on wall the “fine” Gallery (with a rich people that buy it) no problem because “analogic” is the “choice”?
        No I think Creativity is not a “metrage” thing.

        **Alex Majoli points and shoots
        http://www.robgalbraith.com/multi_page8c1c.html?cid=7-6468-7844

    • FatherRaphael Abraham says:

      Those who love photography love photos even the photos they don’t like.

  11. Worthy of a share!!! At least i dont have to explain further. I just let my friends read this blog!!!
    Thank you for this Robin.

  12. Perfect but…

    1 Well said for example I shoot with Camedia C 5050 C 8080 and Admiral for ever E1 Olympus, but all images on Eyeem my page are from Oly C 5060 Wz
    2 I agree
    3 To grow, leave your comfort zone…more idiot urban people is a drama as Latin: “Extra moenia nulla salus”
    4 Uhmm words of pure philosphoy and romanticism because whiout a bad guy gang, or exactly no Godfather-gallery-press is,
    again, pure illusion
    5 Yes like the…lover latin
    6 Amen

  13. I would say that point number 5 is the most important element mentioned here and sadly point number 4 has taken over, not only in photography but in many other aspects of life as well. Further hampering ones personal development.
    Quite often when I come across websites or blogs that go on and on and on about the technical aspects of photography I think, whoa take a break, for most of us this is a leisure pursuit that takes away the pain of everyday mundane living.
    A few by Paul Simon, written quite a while a go.
    Kodachrome
    They give us those nice bright colors
    They give us the greens of summers
    Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day
    I got a Nikon camera
    I love to take a photograph
    So mama don’t take my Kodachrome away

    Technicality mixed in with creativity = a satisfying experience.
    For those people who work in the field of photography, in many respects your extremely fortunate.
    Have a good day.
    AK

    • Robin Wong says:

      Thanks AK for sharing your thoughts, and also reaffirming points 4 and 5. I know some of them are hard truths, I just thought they should be written and shared. You are right about technicality mixed in with creativity, I call that “technical art”.

  14. Kristian Wannebo says:

    Well said!

    … only, it is so easy to start thinking about tools instead of going out experimenting when your growing makes a pause.

    But if you experiment with other photographers ways, remember that you may have to *unlearn* again in order to find our own road.
    And unlearning is much harder than learning…
    – – –

    To “1. There is no bad camera nowadays.” :

    Right!
    … but if you want large prints on the wall, a phone camera might not be a good choice.
    … and if you want snow or frost to glitter in the sun right to the edge of the frame, you’d better avoid some of the zoom compacts and some of the fastest lenses.

    But remember Robin Wong’s advice:
    >> ‘”The happier you are with your camera, the less you worry about what you don’t have, the better you can concentrate on what truly matters: creating images.”

    And it is easier to be happy with a simpler camera – even if it limits what you could do.
    – – –

    And take your time, as Robin says!

    • Robin Wong says:

      Thanks for echoing my opinion, and I appreciate that you also agree to be happier with simpler camera! Limitations can sometimes provide creative push that we all need.

  15. #5 is the hard truth! To be great in anything, much time is needed to be invest in it.

    • Robin Wong says:

      Sometimes, I see some people wondering how they are not improving, but the obvious truth lies on the lack of time committed to the craft!

  16. Hard earned wisdom and truths, Ming. Very well put overall—especially #5—time. We get the most out of that investment, but it is also the biggest investment requirement. In the last couple of years, when friends inevitably ask me about what gear to buy—and if they have the money to spend on expensive gear, I’ve tried to steer them towards more reasonable gear and invest the balance in classes or photography trips to work on their craft—especially, since they’ve all been beginner enthusiasts. However, I’ve been 100% unsuccessful in convincing them to spend time rather than money. It seems, when the disposable income is available and GAS hits, it’s easier to spend the cash, than spend the time.

    • *Robin (not Ming)… just saw that it was you, Robin. Apologies. 🙂

      • Robin Wong says:

        Thanks Dr Harris! No worries, we are all in the same, small world, and glad to hear that my opinion echoes with yours. Lets just go out and shoot more, instead of spending more!

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