Monday, June 14, 2010

Is reading killing your photography?

Alright, at the risk of decreasing my blog readership by a huge amount here I'm going to go out on a limb here and try to turn you off reading - at least to the extent that it impacts your photography.

I'm as guilty of this as the next photographer. I mean my bookshelf is literally crammed with books on all aspects of photography - from the business side, to the Photoshop bit to the DAM bit and more. And that's not to mention the giant photo books from people such as Steve McCurry, Nomachi Kazuyoshi and other greats.

But in these days of instant access to so much information on this great art, do we spend too much time reading about it and not doing it?

Over 10 years ago now I spent 12 months traipsing around India, Nepal and SE Asia with my now wife. Half way through the trip we were in Agra, India - about 20 paces from the entrance to the Taj Mahal. We were having dinner in our guesthouse - because there was a new scam in town where local restaurants were in kahoots with the local doctors to poison their customers and get a kickback from the hospitals! But I digress. In the guestbook in the hotel there was an entry from a Japanese guy saying that he'd done his Dive Master training in a tiny little town in the Philippines with a Japanese instructor.

So next thing we're hopping a plane to the island of Cebu, then a tiny bus to the even tinier town of Moalboal so my wife could get her Dive Master qualifications. And what was I doing? Well apart from getting dengue fever and spending a week in hospital, I was reading a book on the business of photography .John Shaw's Business of Nature Photography to be exact. (And by way of full disclosure apparently if you click on the link and buy the book then I get a little bit of change but I would recommend it wholeheartedly anyway!)

As I've mentioned before this book changed my life and I read it over and over again the whole month I was in the Philippines. But looking back at it now, I really don't have many photographs from that month. I was too busy reading to take pictures. I will probably never be there again and I don't have much to show I was there even once. No incisive portraits, no stunning sunrises. Not even a shot of my wonderful hospital bed with its cable Aussie TV! My wife took more pictures than me and she spent most of her day underwater - and no she doesn't have an underwater camera.

The amount of time we spend each day reading about some new technique or piece of software or equipment. And let's not even talk about the number of times we read (yet again) about the basics even though we know them like the back of our hand. Wouldn't that time be much more productive spent working on our art?

So in order to get ourselves away from having our noses stuck in a book (or looking at a screen) and back to a viewfinder I think we should all make a promise. We should all vow to spend less time reading about photography and more time doing it. To limit our reading to the stuff that really helps us right now - not at some imaginary point in the future.

So if you're really into off-camera flash at the moment by all means spend a couple of hours on Strobist - but back that time up by going and spending a couple of hours practicing what you learnt about. And even if you think the Strobist stuff is interesting, if you haven't got the gear or the inclination to follow that path at the moment then don't bother reading about it until you're ready to do it. Your time is better spent reading about what you want to do with your photography right now.

For every hour you spend reading about something, spend the same amount of time, if not more, putting that knowledge into practice. Because just reading about it isn't going to make you a better photographer. It's just going to make you a better read photographer. And goodness knows the world has enough of those already!

As for me - I promise not to read my photography books more than 50 times each. :)

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