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Practice the Fine Art of Patience

Many years ago, I spent an afternoon photographing at a local farmer’s market. It was one of those beautiful summer days and the market was packed with eager shoppers and the full cornucopia of the harvest’s rich bounty. Now, as a photographer, I’m not particularly interested in food photography, but I knew for certain that the market would provide me a wonderful opportunity to exercise my eye. As I scurried from booth to booth photographing piles of tomatoes, flowers and the seeming endless row of produce, I looked up out of my concentration to find a man watching me with an amused smile on his face mixed in with a fair amount of curiosity. I looked back at him expectantly. He finally loosened his tongue and said to me: “A good photographer always waits carefully and patiently for his pictures.”

And then he simply turned his back and disappeared. To this day I have no idea who the man was nor have I ever seen him again. But what he said stuck with me, and therein lies one of the most important lessons I have received in life as the result of being a photographer. First off, I am not, by my nature, a patient person. My head is full of ideas and I am always scurrying from one to the other, with the resulting chaos that invariably follows such erratic flight. While it’s true that every now and again I will dig up a gem, patience produces much better and more satisfying results. It is simply not enough to be in constant motion while frantically snapping the shutter, (an activity that is altogether too easy to do in the digital age where it doesn’t cost us anything). Taking the time to consider what you are looking at is even more important, maybe even the most vital aspect of my work as a photographer and my life as a human being. In my relationships with people, there is wisdom in taking the time to think and consider before I snap off, usually with my mouth, and waiting before making decisions of any kind yields a greater harvest of positive results than leaping before I look.

So before you snap, stop. Look. Think. Enjoy the moment before you move on.

Step Outside Your Sweet Spot

No matter what you do, do something different. I can spell this in a hundred different ways! If you’re a studio photographer, take a camera outdoors and shoot some street photography. If you’re a fashion photographer, shoot some food. If you shoot with a 35mm DSLR, go get a Holga and see everything from a square format perspective. If you shoot digital, go work in a darkroom for a day. Change yourself on purpose. Shoot left handed. Challenge yourself to do something completely out of the ordinary. Photograph something you hate and make it look beautiful. Photograph something beautiful and make it look bad. If you are a corporate photographer, editorialize. Take a digital camera outside, start walking. Stop and make a picture every sixty seconds. No cheating.

The whole point of stepping outside your sweet spot, or your comfort zone, is to deliberately change your perspective and so you can go back to your regular work with fresh ideas. It will change your life by allowing you to see things you don’t ever really notice.

There is No Such Thing as Bad Weather

Years ago, I had a family portrait session scheduled for a Saturday afternoon at the beach. The day dawned to low-hanging clouds, gusting winds, and intermittent rain. I called the client to postpone the date.  My client refused.

When we arrived, we had the beach completely to ourselves. The overcast sky added a certain drama to the scenery and the light, though slightly dull, was soft and even, producing nearly shadow-free faces. When I positioned myself so the wind was at my back, and directly in the faces of my subjects, it blew their hair back as if I had a fan in my studio. Even the ocean, reflecting the dark sky, took on a steely temperament that gave the day a kind of “warmth” that I could not have predicted.

When the lab returned the prints a few days later, the photos were so beautiful that I sent it out as a promo piece that yielded a number of other jobs and one photograph went on to be picked up by a national company for a billboard advertisement, bringing in several thousand dollars in additional commissions.

Even when life doesn’t give you what you want, you wind up getting what you need. If I had simply canceled the shoot, a shoot that I was sure would be a disaster, I would never have discovered that there is beauty in everything, in all kinds of weather, and what is going on in my brain cannot always be trusted.

Patience, I am told, is a virtue. Practicing it is another matter altogether. Stepping outside my comfort zone has always produced growth, both personally and artistically. Trusting to the higher powers in life proves beneficial: there is no such thing as bad weather.

James Schuck

James Schuck is a writer and photographer working in Southern California. He is a graduate of the School of Visual Arts in New York City and has photographed everything from Architecture to Auto Parts to Cookies to Portraits and Weddings.

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