There Are No Shortcuts

Recently I received a message from someone I met while traveling several years ago.  He’s a well-seasoned traveler, far more than I.  In fact, the list of places he has been is quite lengthy and growing weekly.  I have to admit, I would love to be able to travel that much.

He works for an airline on a part time basis, enough that he enjoys the benefit of flying standby for free.  Without other priorities, he hops on the next available flight to wherever, spends 12 hours, a day, maybe three days, in a given city and then hops the next flight back home to attend to his real job, not the airline job.  He may spend 36, 48, or 72 hours in the traveling, just to touch his foot down in Paris for lunch and get back by Monday morning.  He uses his phone to take lots of snapshots of well-known buildings, famous streets, interesting foods, and cultural icons. And many, many smiling selfies with new friends and family.  Those are wonderful memories.

Back to that message I got from him.  He just bought his first real camera and asked for tips to make beautiful images.  I completely get it.  If I were in all those incredible places, I’d want amazing images too.  But I think that fundamentally, he and I are doing two different things.  What I really wanted to say to him was this:

Slow down.  Photography is an experience.  It is an expression of one’s conscious awareness of the moment.  A powerful image conveys a singular amalgam of thoughts, feelings, and sensations that can only be captured at that moment.  Miss it and it’s lost forever.  The ability to recognize that moment comes after much investment of time learning, observing, perceiving, assessing, visualizing, planning, and preparing. Henri Cartier-Bresson famously said that your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.  For some of us, more.

I’m not saying it’s impossible to capture a magical moment without intention, but it would be something like me winning the 100m dash at the Olympics.  I have a pair of running shoes, and I know how to run.  But I haven’t studied the mechanics of running, the nuances of the start, or the strategy of pack positioning.  I haven’t raced – and lost – a hundred previous races. I haven’t nourished my body for the physical demands.  I haven’t even walked through the stadium to become familiar with the environment.  I’ve not spent time rehearsing for this moment, and when it presents itself to me, I am not ready.

What other advice I can offer my friend?  I’ll clip a line from Edward Weston and say, there are no shortcuts in photography.  I would also tell him to keep traveling, because it is what he loves to do, and use that new camera to capture all of those great memories.  If ever he decides to slow down, we can talk again about capturing great images. 


Claudia O’Grady, for the Wasatch Camera Club