It’s easy to lose oneself in gear, specifications and endless editing on your computer (in case you’re shooting digital). There is nothing wrong with that and personally do that maybe more than most, so don’t feel guilty for it. However, at the end of the day, the real problem is that what do you have to show for it. Spending time and money on gear is self-satisfaction and that is allowed, and while it can and does move you forward in your photographic journey to a degree, for others it does not mean much of anything. If you take a broader perspective and really think about it, did you produce something of value you can show to others, or at least yourself as a proof you really did finish something?
Results and motivation
Most photographers and artists will experience a dry spell at some point of their career or hobby, or spend most of their time in one and feel disappointed without knowing why. If at the end of the day all you get is spent money and/or time, no wonder you’re frustrated. Even when you arrange yourself a photo trip to somewhere and find yourself in a worst of circumstances for whatever reason that may be, you can always take those few photos of something you’ve never taken before because that’s all you are going to get due to situation mentioned. Finish up at least one of those photos even if it isn’t that special and you’d never show it in your portfolio, or even to your friends and relatives. Finish it because of you, so that you can look at it and think maybe it wasn’t that bad after all, maybe I should do that again. Motivation can be in short supply sometimes, or most of the times, doesn’t matter.
As I’ve already spent too much time and money on gear, I’ve noticed that some companies practice Kaizen, which is continuous improvement of everything related to a product, their workforce etc. Fujifilm comes to my mind as they’ve made their old products continuously better even after newer models are either announced or in the market. That has slowed down lately maybe due to economic reasons and ignorant consumerism in general, but they still do it more than others – which is to say that most others don’t do it at all. I can’t come up with a single thing that is bad about doing things this way, so why wouldn’t you apply that to your own life? No real photographer became famous overnight.
You most probably have heard the phrase work smarter, not harder. Working smarter is still working harder, you might save time and effort, but you are still doing more than the bare minimum. You’d expect that from others, so why wouldn’t you expect that from yourself?
Everybody has a different mindset on what is considered finished and you can make up your own. But make it better than your average, no matter how small the difference is. When I got myself a printer, and I now have two, I got into a habit of printing at least one photo from last week. In fact I have a calendar alarm for that in case I get distracted. If that week wasn’t particularly productive, I will delve into my past photos to see them with different mindset.
Digital photos do not change over time, nor should film either if you’ve developed and stored them properly. It’s you that changes. With film the time between exposing the film and developing it means it can feel like a Christmas seeing those photos from the past, even from not so distant past. With digital the process should go as importing the photos to your computer and considering developing and printing to be sometime in future. You’d be surprised how often that one photo you thought would be the best in weeks wasn’t. Never delete your photos on the camera, nor during importing. Storage is so cheap nowadays it’s makes no sense to spend time photographing and deleting them as soon as you can.
A distant friend of mine has plenty of good videos on YouTube, but two things come to my mind on this very subject. Travis Mortz of ForesthillFilmLab insightfully said that nobody ever “deletes” film photos or negatives, even the whole concept is alien to most who have lived the film era – an era which is coming back not just for hipsters and celebrities, but for those who want genuinely learn and create – and is one of the best news of this decade in my mind. Why should that be any different on digital? The other very good point from him recently (as in watched recently, not necessarily uploaded to YouTube recently) was that the creative part of photographic process is printing the photo. There isn’t a lot of creativity in scanning nor developing photos. Digital photos need to be developed as well, but that is not the same as editing your photo to be your final photo you’ll want as a paper copy, for your archive, for hanging on to your wall or even selling. For me the prints are made digitally either by an inkjet or sublimation printer as I don’t have a darkroom. It’s a sad limitation dictated by the small apartment I live in and I could move to a bigger apartment or a house, but rather spend the energy elsewhere – at least for now that is.
If you think of education, or schools in general, you’ll remember that many times you’ll spend time on pointless and menial tasks you have to complete to pass the course, or the school in general. That’s the way I remember my studies from decades ago and it should be that way still, although I don’t know that for a fact. It’s learning to learn that’s important, and learning to have the patience to do a thing and actually finish it. That’s how life in general works. You don’t get to pick and choose what you want to do and what you rather not and many times starting something and not finishing it can be worse than not starting it at all. Learn to spend your time, energy and motivation wisely so that that accumulates to your future tasks, making them easier.
I know you might have an excuse or many in objection of finishing larger tasks and I get that, I have mine. Although mine are most probably not as valid as yours. To that I say you must do with what you have, whether that is time, money, energy, resources, motivation, health or any other thing. If you can, try to be 1% better next week or next month – and finish that. After all, it’s not that big of a change. If you manage to be 1% better every week, measured by anything you want or just guessing which is even easier, you’ll be 67% better in a year. That will make a difference and gained motivation, energy, confidence and other things tend to spill to other areas of your life.
I hope you don’t feel pressured to do something because sometimes forcing isn’t the right way. There are times when that works, at least when it’s you forcing yourself and not somebody else. But not always. Take this as an inspiration of what I’ve found to be useful and know that I do not always practise what I preach. This isn’t a contest of who’s best nor who’s right. It’s setting some new bullet points on your inner agenda and coming to your own conclusions, because it’s most likely your own way that carries you forward.