10,000-Hour Rule, according to Malcolm Gladwell, suggests that it takes 10,000 hours of dedicated and deliberate focus to truly master a skill. For a photographer, that may mean 10,000 unique photo-shoots, or as many pure hours of repetitive practice. Add to that reading, studying, learning from others, and trolling the web, history books and publications for photographic excellence as a marker, and the hours multiply. Within that chasm lie trial and error, frustration, failure and success. It is a long journey. For me, well worth it, but it means having good days and bad days and struggling to learn from both.
For this assignment we are capturing dynamics in relationships, between people and how they interact, but also how people may respond to their environment. We remain restricted to black and white, manual controls, with a limited lens range. I went with a fixed hyper focus of 35mm and intended to keep it in the range of F22, but found myself needing aperture more around F10 for the inside conditions. I did take ISO up to 1600.
I secured approval in advance to photograph at the food bank through the Executive Director for the overseeing non-profit agency. He assured me it was fine, that I was welcomed and added that I may even return as many times as need be. We knew each other from before, from when I put together a fundraiser to benefit the food bank a few years ago. On this day, a local church was volunteering to put it on.
On the whole, it was an off day for me. I lost about 75% of pictures taken that otherwise could have been interesting if I had been able to execute them effectively. When I look through the viewfinder I have a composition in mind. But, I don’t always have the technical skill to fully achieve it (yet), at least in manual control. Yet, despite my challenges using manual controls I am starting to prefer it for when I do achieve what I want – because it gives more creative control.
I see myself in that frustrating first 1,000 photographic hours of the learning process. I am impatient to get better.
This scene was challenging for me in other ways too, however. Many people who require food services in Geneva do not want to be seen there. One man said that his family is not aware that he needs it and he especially did not want his picture posted. In all, five people very clearly asked not to be photographed, but at least a few others gestured in a way that might be interpreted that way as well. I assured all of them that their pictures would not be taken or posted. In my final set, I deleted images including these people in particular (if they accidentally got into the frame) to respect their wishes. This narrowed the output significantly, and as the room filled up it became more difficult not to include one of these individuals in any picture. Eventually I left, even before food service ended, because I did not want to make people uneasy and I sensed that by being there that I did. In the end, very few pictures came out anyway because the lighting was fairly dark and there was rapid movement almost constantly; difficult for me with manual controls.
What did I learn today? I did not feel relaxed. Perhaps if I had taken a swim before I would have done a better job. I am a better photographer when I feel centered, focusing, having fun, and when also mingling, more than I did here. I was not as social with people at the scene today as I normally am. For example, the last time that I volunteered at the food bank some patrons invited me over to join them for lunch and I walked around and got to know people there more.
So, going into it with an open mind and a good mood makes a world of difference, maybe a swim beforehand, and of course, practice.