“Photography makes me feel alive. I never get tired of shooting!”

“Oh, this sucks. Didn’t turn out the way I saw it!”

“Trying to find my style! Aaarrgghhhhh this is so difficult.”

“If I think of my hard drive and all the courses and videos I bought? Embarrassing.”

Let’s face it, f-stops will only take us so far

After refining technique and learning the magic triangle where most images seem to sink anyway, at the end of the day we’re still unhappy with what we’re doing, and there seems to be no reasonable explanation for that. I mean, we’re doing everything right!

We learn some more. Composition! Rule of thirds, golden ratios and leading lines. Which lead us nowhere in particular, because our photos are still a long way from where we’d like them to be. Frustrating to the hilt. And utterly boring stuff anyway.

So much so, that sometimes we fall into a rut. The muse has abandoned us (bitch!), inspiration only happens after exhalation and the lofty goals are as out of reach as a Tibetan monastery. What are we to do? And why does it happen?

We call this “the gap”

Ira Glass, host of the radio and TV show “This American Life,” explains it perfectly:

“But it’s like there’s a gap, that for the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good. It’s not that great. It’s really not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not quite that good. But your taste — the thing that got you into the game — your taste is still killer, and your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you.”

silhouette, musician, trombone, player, black&white

Oh, that’s all good and well – I hear you say – but how do get over it?

Good ol’ Ira keeps going:

“And the most important possible thing you can do is do a lot of work — do a huge volume of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week, or every month, you know you’re going to finish one story. Because it’s only by actually going through a volume of work that you are actually going to catch up and close that gap. And the work you’re making will be as good as your ambitions. It takes a while, it’s gonna take you a while — it’s normal to take a while. And you just have to fight your way through that, OK?”

Sounds simple enough.

There’s work and there’s good work

As you already know, there’s work and there’s good work. Intentional work. Effective work. Work with a few key elements that make it deliver results.

In no particular order, work that includes:

  1. Not just practicing, but practicing deliberately
  2. Getting the right feedback from the right people
  3. Believing in yourself
  4. Staying faithful to your original vision
  5. Showing up

Which is to say, things that aren’t out there on YouTube or even in most photography workshops.

trombone, hands, music, player, brass, black&white

10,000 hours to become an expert

They say that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at anything, which if you break down into reasonable working days could be anything between five and ten years, depending on whether you do it full time or not. That’s a long time to be spending an any skill, and much of that will surely be spent chasing rabbits.

And while there’s no sure way to cut corners, there are ways to make sure your working hours are useful and effective in closing that gap, a little every day. Being aware of the direction you’re working on, planning for a self-imposed deadline, never losing sight of what you’re trying to build and getting out there day in and day out — these are the things that will make a difference. You will look back to your work from a year before and think “How on earth did I ever think that was acceptable!” (insert shudder here).

That’s your sign that you’re closing the gap, slowly but surely, no matter how many squirrels you’ve been chasing last week, and how far behind you may still feel. It’s happening. And it’s wonderful.

I’m going to run a series on this over the next few weeks, and if you want to know more you’re welcome to join a free masterclass on Oct. 16. Just click here to join — it’s free and it’s fun!

Maybe that gap is smaller than you think.