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Volunteering For Mastery

Knowledge is not skill. Knowledge plus ten thousand times is skill.
Shinichi Suzuki

The idea of 10,000 repetitions as a path to mastery is not new. It has been a principle of Eastern thought for a very long time and has been made popular in business by Malcolm Gladwell and in photography by Steve Simon. It boils down to practice makes perfect.

This principle is simple to understand. But, given our busy lives, it can be difficult to put into practice. And, too often, we tend to look for the perfect practice, particularly as photographers.

We say things like

  • “I am going to work on my portraiture when I get that special lens.”
  • “I want to shoot families but don’t have anyone to practice on.”
  • “I am going to perfect my landscape composition on my trip to Yellowstone next summer.”

As a result, we wait. And, we waste time. How to fix this? How to stop looking for the perfect practice and just log the time, make the mistakes and grow?

Simple, volunteer.

There are lots of great opportunities to volunteer your visual storytelling skills within your community. Volunteering takes the focus off of you and your inadequacies real or perceived. Instead, the focus falls on the needs of your subjects and the service you are providing. And, many of these projects are supported by established shooters from who you can learn, by exposure to their process and, perhaps, through direct mentorship.

So, by contributing to a volunteer photography project, you can make a date with yourself to practice and remove the pressure to be perfect.

Below, Ive compiled a list volunteer projects worth considering. But don’t limit yourself to these projects. Poke around your local community for something that speaks to you. And, if nothing exists which lights your fire, start one of your own using some these examples as a model.

TRIGGER WARNING: Please be advised, some of these volunteer projects deal with emotionally difficult subject matter.

Know of a great volunteer opportunity for photographers and other visual storytellers? Share it in the comments.

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