Autodidactic Ambitions, Goals, photography, self-improvement

Paying the Price of Improvement

Whenever I get an extra chunk of income in one swoop, there are only two things I’m tempted to spend it on–laser hair removal, or new photography equipment.

With the income I just received for putting in extra time all school year to attend a professional development course, I’m leaning towards buying a new camera lens this time–a 50mm/1.4 lens to be exact (for those of you who are interested). Two summers ago, if you had given me the same chunk of money, I wouldn’t have hesitated before buying the new lens. The reason? Two years ago, I was convinced that the reason why my images weren’t coming out as I wanted them to was because I didn’t have the same level of equipment as the pros that I was admiring.

While it’s true I lacked the equipment (and while it’s true that the quality of my pictures would shift upwards with a nicer camera/lens), I was too naive to realize that more than anything, I lacked the experience and the knowledge, not the equipment.

Last night I happened to be looking through some old blog archives, and I stumbled across my post where I talked about what I’d learned from taking a picture of Raven every day. At the time I created that post, I distinctly remember looking back at all those photos and thinking that I had visibly improved in the few months since I’d started, and I was proud of a lot of the pictures I included in that.

Looking at that post now, I see a lot of overexposed highlights and places where I needed to work on my sharpness (perhaps with a faster shutter speed). I compared that post against my latest 10 on 10 post, and overall, I noticed a pretty drastic difference in the quality of my work.

My initial reasons for taking a picture of Raven every day weren’t to improve my photography skills, per se–it was simply an effort to document my perfect baby girl in one of the best ways I could think of. Now, looking back, it’s kind of astonishing what a difference it’s made in my work, and it’s required a minimal time commitment on my part–often fewer than five minutes a day.

I’m not where I want to be in my photography, of course (I haven’t met a single photographer yet who is). I still study other photographers daily and marvel at how they got that particular shot, thinking I’ll never, ever get there.

But this latest revelation about my own progress has turned up the fire that’s already been burning for several years now, and I was thinking–what if I extended my “picture a day” to subjects outside of Raven? What if I made myself wake up early each day and do a little extra photo challenge, even if it was just for 10 minutes?

Imagine if I did that every day for just 10 minutes–what would I then be able to see as I looked back on this very photo shoot I’m featuring in this post (of my new baby nephew)? What would I notice?

One of my all-time favorite bloggers (who, coincidentally, doesn’t keep a regular blog anymore) once said in one of her posts that she wakes up at 4:30 every morning so that she can be up and working for a couple hours before her kids are up. I have long been an admirer of her photography, and for some reason, I had just assumed it was something that must come naturally to her, that she probably didn’t have to work too hard for it because she made it look so effortless.

Then I looked at my own mornings, where I was drowsily being dragged out of bed every morning as late as 8:00 or 8:30 by Raven’s babbling or by the sounds of Matt as he finished getting ready, and I felt like I was slogging through the rest of the day as a result (unless, of course, it was one of the three mornings a week that I went on my run).

What was I willing to do to attain the improvements that I was seeking? Was I willing to put in the extra energy and effort (not to mention the earlier waking hours) that that blogger must have in order to get to where she is?

So I got up intentionally this morning (not at 4:30, but earlier than I have been, before the baby was up). I went outside. I took lots of pictures. And while it didn’t seem revelatory in the moment, I kind of can’t wait to look back in six months after doing this additional practice each day and say, WOW.

Because if I keep this up, I know that I WILL be able to look back and say WOW.

Now I just kind of hate that it’s taken me so long not to be an idiot.

But then again, isn’t that kind of the story of what life is like when it comes to self-improvement?

Of course, now I still need to decide what to do about getting that lens or not…

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