Passion is just not enough


Passion: a strong or extravagant fondness, enthusiasm, or desire for anything. In example “a passion for photography.”

When you scan any number of Photographer websites or Facebook pages you are certain to find the word “passion” as the artist defines their personal connections with photography. Passion is certainly a component that a creative artist must have, but is it the only ingredient leading to recognized creativity?

My personal exploration into the art of photography has certainly been driven by a passion to express myself using the art and science of photography. Malcom Gladwell in his book “Outliers: the Story of Success” reports; “…The idea that excellence at performing a complex task requires a critical minimum level of practice surfaces again and again in studies of expertise. In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours.1

So the trip from good to great may require 10,000 hours of practice. How many aspiring photographers have heard praises from their family and friends about their images? Most of our family and friends are not going to offer a negative review of our talents. Their praise fuels our passion. This praise makes us think that Photography could be the outlet to express our passion. Not many have a passion for the camera itself (those become repairmen) but we seem to all have a “fondness or enthusiasm” to use a camera to capture or express our artistic passion while using a camera. The camera captures the images that feed our passion.

Gladwell, and the researchers he has studied, all agree that experts in any and all fields of technical endeavor have had to experience 10,000 hours of practice as they moved from good to great. So praise from family friends locks the amateur into believing that photography can be their artistic expression, but it will be practice, practice and more practice that hones that passion into creativity. I would offer that this 10,000 hours is that period where we develop our “Ability” to use a camera to capture and express our internal passion.

Ability is defined by Merriam Webster as “competence in doing.” That makes sense. A young, inexperienced photographer that has developed a strong passion for photography does not mean that their images will be critically acceptable. It is passion that drives us, but it is Ability that captures images that fuel our passion. I have read and listened to many young photographers say “I only do this for me, I really do not care what the judges (critics) say about my work. But those few are not those who aspire to develop an income from their photography. Those aspiring photographers will be the starving artists of our industry and may rise to the top, but Gladwell and others are not encouraging the starving artist approach if income from our creativity is desired.

If passion fuels our desire then ability impacts our creativity.

At this point in my discussion I want to offer that Passion + Ability = Creativity. My experience in the past 14 years of watching our profession evolve from film to digital reflects that Creativity by photographers has grown by the same exponential factors that our cameras and Post Production software (Adobe Photoshop, Corel Painter, Gimp, etc) have grown. In my case my passion for photography has fueled me to increase my ability by learning the next and the next and the next and the next new thing. The new things that have been thrown at Professional Photographers over the past 14 years are too many to discuss here. If passion fuels our desire then ability impacts our creativity. You just cannot have passion without ability.

Then what is the origin of ability? I was not born with the innate ability to capture an image using a camera. My wife was seemingly born with the ability to draw and paint. I have always admired (been jealous) artists. They can move their passion on to the canvas with their hands and express themselves directly into the shadows and highlights of the images in their minds. When I discovered I could do this with a camera I was hooked. So I had to develop an ability to work with the camera to capture shadows and highlights in a manner that would tell my story. I had to press the shutter at a time described by Henri Cartier Bresson as that “Decisive Moment.” In that decisive moment everything in the camera must be in agreement with my vision for that image. Shall it be underexposed, overexposed, or have shallow depth of field? So many technical questions and then the questions of artistic balance in the pose and composition of our subject(s). Does the painter or sketch artist have these same technical challenges? Yes and no. But mostly yes because they are choosing colors, brushes, strokes and pencil size to express their inner vision. So it is fair to say that all artists develop an ability to express their passion (vision) into a creative work that can be critically appreciated?

How does an aspiring photographer develop their ability to express their passion in a creative manner that may produce income?

If the customer does not give our work critical acclaim then we cannot make a sale and without a sale our passion can become expensive. Not many of us have a Patron that pays our way allowing us to buy expensive cameras and travel to exotic places to capture the images that will bring that acclaim. Our patrons are on the corners and down the blocks of the cities we live in. Our customers are our Patronage. How do we develop the ability to please our Patronage?

Professional Guilds have existed since the Middle Ages. These “Guilds” were where the young apprentices of the Trade were groomed by the Master Craftsmen into Journeymen. The apprenticeship was the beginning of their 10,000 hours. The Journeymen were recognized by the Masters has having the ability to represent the craft and actually derive a living from that trade. The Journeymen were allowed to sell their skills to the public. The American Photography industry has had that same guild since 1880. For more than 140 years the Professional Photographers of America (PP of A) has represented the interest of photography and has guided the aspiring photographers toward becoming competent photographers who could replicate their competency at a high standard when providing a patron what they expected from a photographer. PP of A does not raise the bar, but guides the aspiring photographer via conventions and guild meetings toward the bar. Ultimately, this construct enables the aspiring (apprentice) to develop their journeymen skills with the goal of being a Master Photographer.

Since the founding of PP of A in 1880 State chapters were quick to spring up reinforcing local photographers with that same level of expertise for aspiring photographers and challenging the Journeymen and Master Photographers nationwide to do better. In example the Professional Photographers of North Carolina (PPNC) is made up of three “Guilds” (Eastern, Central, and Western), each of which represent about 1/3 of the state geographically. Each of these Guilds holds a two-day seminar each year, with nationally-known and local speakers. This expands the opportunities for an aspiring photographer to improve their skills by being mentored by leaders in photography increasing their ability to satisfy the ever changing demands of our Patrons.

There has been a recent, and very welcome, momentum in Photography called “Meet Ups.” These meetups are local groups of photographers with a like passion for the skills. These are reminiscent of the photography clubs that I grew up with and this momentum should be welcomed into the continuum of aspiring to professional photographer. These meet up groups are enjoying growth, however, many groups are aspiring photographers led by other photographers of like experience. This is an area where the Professional Groups such as PP of A, or Wedding and Portrait Professionals International (WPPI) need to reach out to and educate these meet up groups about how they can help the aspiring photographer improve their ability to capture images. These national organizations have the resources to reach out and bring in talented instructors that will mentor and teach aspiring photographers. This can be their guide and develop the aspiring photographer into talented and profitable photographer.

So if Passion brings you into our vocation of Photography it will be Ability that will make you grow as a photographer. Combining these two attributes will have a definite and continued positive impact on your Creativity. Passion + Ability = Creativity. A formula for success for all photographers. No Photographer is ever too old to learn new tricks are we?

1. Gladwell, Malcolm (2008-10-29). Outliers: The Story of Success (pp. 39-40). Hachette Book Group. Kindle Edition.

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