The picture habit: On 37,000 pictures in three years after a week of bad pictures

· 573 words · 3 minute read

This week was packed and long in a way I haven’t had to deal with in a while. One day started at 7a and went to 10p, schedule filled the entire time. Another went from 8a to 11p, with a 20 minute break that went to someone else’s problem. Yesterday was a mere “start at 8:00, go to 5:30” day, but the cumulative sleep loss and churn of the week made it a day to be gotten through, not won, punctuated by doubling back on things that should have been handled but simply had not been.

I have been trying to re-cultivate the habit of having a camera with me and looking for opportunities to take pictures, but when I finally got to take a look at the haul from the past three days I could see the slow leak of energy and remembered how I was settling on things to shoot because the few minutes I could scrape together to do that didn’t involve giving myself the time to sink into the shooting groove.

So it was sort of hard to sit there last night with the iPad and swipe through the pictures I did get, taking a stab at making something out of them and realizing there just wasn’t anything there. Ideas I sort of knew were not a great idea were glaringly not great ideas. Fatigue and being hurried meant I hadn’t paid attention to the technical merits, so no amount of cropping or reconsidering could make images I was happy with.

At the same time, I had that recent experience of going back and counting how many pictures I’ve taken since my interest in photography was rekindled several years back–37,000 images give or take in about three years. And then I look at the places where I keep the pictures I like and see a few hundred and consider all their siblings: The almost-but-not-quites, the ones I thought were the good ones that turned out not to be, the bad ideas, the good ideas poorly executed. Then I see the other pattern: The places I go back to over and over, either because something didn’t work the first time but I knew there had to be something in there, or because something finally worked after not working and I wanted to go back and figure out what. Every place has a combination of time and perspective that elevate it. If I were great at taking pictures, maybe I’d be able to see those things without being in the right place at the right time, but as it is I have just taken to following the advice “be the person who goes back.”

Anyhow, 37,000 images, most of which I don’t like at all. Just me trying to figure things out, either as a matter of technical skill, mastering the device that’s taking the picture;or vision, being in the right place at the right time and seeing the right things; or craft, taking something that wasn’t very well thought out and drawing a good image out of it. It’s all just practice.

Sometimes the practice is capturing the right thing at the right time. Sometimes the practice is finding the right thing out of the wrong thing. Sometimes the practice is just making myself sit with the things that can’t ever be the right thing and letting them teach me as much as they can before I set them aside.