Have a Little Patience


It's been a busy few weeks doing a lot of thinking and planning for my upcoming trip to Berlin, so I don't have anything to report in the way of new work, so instead, I thought I would share some thoughts about one of the key attributes of a photographer. Patience. We are told it is a virtue, but what does this mean, and what does it have to do with photography?

By my very nature, I am not a patient person, I fact it would be far more accurate to place me on the opposing side of this scale. Those closest to me know that I am usually not one for hanging around, and I like to get things done quickly and efficiently, observations I would find impossible to dispute. But even in my crusade of slick efficient purposeful processes, I have developed patience as a consequence of my photographic journey, which has been a hidden blessing.

You may think this is fairly obvious, and for the most part, I would agree, that patience is an attribute most essential for a photographer. There are the hours of practicing, and learning, and practicing some more; endless editing, file management, publishing, maintenance.... (I could go on, but I don't want to try your patience!) All these tasks are simply processes, something I can get behind wholeheartedly, but this is not what I am referring to.

We live in a time like no other in history, the world is now driven almost exclusively by instant gratification. If you want something, you can buy it online and have it arrive at your door the following day, maybe even the same day, without leaving the comfort of your bed. Food is fast, and readily available all year round. No longer do you write a letter, and drop it in the post box hoping it eventually arrives at its destination, when all it takes is a simple text message. If you want to take your holiday pics, no longer do you wait for days or weeks for your disposable cameras to be processed only to find that 90% of them are absolute rubbish (ahh, the good old days). Now you can take a thousand shots, pick your best ones and post them to social media in the time it takes to drink your favorite hot beverage.

If the latter is possible, then why do you need patience to be a photographer today?  If you can see instantly what you have taken and can decide straight away if it is good enough,  then you do not need patience at all?

This all depends on what you are trying to achieve from your photography, and how you define what is good enough which correlates proportionally to your level of ability. In my opinion, a snap of an event that you want to keep as personal memory is absolutely fine, but if you are seeking something more considered and original, then patience is required, a shit ton of it.

Firstly, there is the development of skill which is a funny experience when viewed scientifically, and anybody who has developed any new skill (which should be everyone) will probably recognize this process. Your abilities are somewhat tied to your level of confidence, meaning that you may be more confident, but not actually as competent as you think you are, and when you start to really develop the skill, you may have lost the confidence to administer it when you discover you aren't actually as competent as you thought you were. This journey of development is long, hard, and at times deeply frustrating, which is why a significant amount of patience is required with yourself to stay on the journey and continue in your pursuit of competence. 

This behavior was first described by social psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger, and the effect that bares their name (the Dunning - Kruger effect) is the cognitive bias towards one's own abilities in a specific field. This means that as you begin to develop, you believe you are more skilled than you actually are, when in fact you couldn't be further from it. As your skills develop you quickly recognize that the early lofty feelings of confidence were unfounded and illegitimate, which sets in a deep regression in confidence, so much so that the desire to quit burns with intense heat to the point of failure. It is at this low point in your levels of confidence where our soothing virtue is required to douse the burning state of depressive regression; in the words of Take That you need to 'have a little patience'.

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Source - Wikipedia 

I have been there, many times. I have climbed mount stupid more times than I care to remember and thought I was king of the field in so many different activities and skills, most of which are now nothing more than a distant memory to me. These areas of my life were abandoned for a multitude of reasons, a total lack of confidence only making up for a small percentage, but was no doubt present in more than I care to recognize. In my photography, I recognize the D&K effect all too well and see myself as now slowly climbing the second slope towards some kind of personal enlightenment, and I recognize that there is a long way to go.

Recognizing and building this newfound patience has had a positive impact on not only my development as a photographer but in all aspects of life. I am far from becoming a saint, I still get pissed off by the general incompetence and stupidity of others, but I am now able to slow myself down and recognize what is and isn't within my control and what I should worry myself with. It's actually quite liberating. But enough of the fluffy stuff lets talk photos and applying these new skills.

There was a time when I would see something where I thought there was an image, snap it and walk away. During the climb of mount stupid, I was satisfied that I had done the best I could and no improvement was necessary, and do you know what, I was right, about 0.01% of the time. It's only now that I look back at these moments and realize how wrong I was. This recognition has meant that I am now able to focus more on what I am doing, and each time improves on the last to continue my development.

Take this shot from my recent collection of limited edition prints ('Take Off' - click here to view in my shop), this appears to be an easily captured shot, freezing a moment in time. This notion couldn't be farther from reality, and in fact, this image took a long time to create.

I had noticed whilst walking by this derelict building how close the aircraft appeared to the building on their outbound incline from City airport in London's Docklands,  and saw the potential for an image. The airplanes appeared to be almost kissing the building as they soared into the sky, and juxtaposed nicely against the tired architecture anchored beneath them. 

So I stood and waited for the next aircraft to come through. And I waited. And waited.

It was not for a lack of outbound airplanes, they were fairly regularly, about every 10mins or so, but there was quite a variety of different aircraft taking ever so slightly different paths, not as the one I had originally seen on my initial pass by the site. In the earlier stages of my development, I would have taken what I had in the first couple of planes and made do with that, accepting the slightly off composition, or uninteresting aircraft. This time, I waited it out for the perfect composition, trying different airplanes and compositions for around 3 hours. This seems like a long time, but it meant I captured what I had in my mind and produced an image I am very proud of, so much so I released it as a limited edition print.

Another example is the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens. This shot took somewhere in the region of 10 hours to create, in two distinct phases. The shot was taken over course of around an hour, capturing some 300 odd frames for use later in the construction of the final image. The stadium is a popular tourist spot and was typically buzzing with activity, on top of this was a school sports day, the young children enthusiastically occupying the track. In my mind, I wanted to create an image that was clean, free of distraction to clearly show the bold lines of the stadium, with the varying light created by the sporadic clouds in the sky.

It was during this process that my partner Claire exercised her own development in patience of me and my work, as she sat by my side as I carried out the shoot. I suppose it's easy to forget that it's not just the patience I must have with myself, but the tolerance others must have with me, something I have come to realize and truly appreciate. Unfortunately, Claire's patience was a little too committed, and in over half of the frames, her foot was captured in the bottom right-hand corner, just out of sight on the camera display, concealed by the settings info. It wasn't until later in the shoot that I realised this and asked her to move it, so I had some frames that were clean in that corner.

What of the other 9 hours? This came later in post-processing. Because of the significant number of files with a foot loosely dangling in the bottom right-hand corner, the automatic processes in Photoshop didn't quite work well enough to remove it, nor the dense patches of other visitors on the day. After a few hours of trying to remove the distractions automatically, I resigned myself to doing it manually and embarked on the laborious process of removing all the distractions by hand to get myself towards the result I had in my mind.

This final example was actually quite early in my development and was one of the defining moments in my recognition of patience in photography. Whilst exploring the temple of Ta Prohm in Angkor, Cambodia, I wanted to capture this scene of the tree climbing out of the corner of the ruins. Alas, a tourist was stood staring at his phone in the middle of the frame, totally oblivious to my crouching beside him obviously trying to take a photograph. I crouched down for around 10mins growing ever more frustrated by the inconsiderate muppet, but still, I waited in the hope of a clear shot.

My gaze clearly focused on the visitor as my knees began to sore when I saw him start to move slowly out of shot and put my camera to my eye. As he exited to the left of the frame, I was shocked to see more visitors pass into view from the right, only this time, they were monks who were visiting and significantly enhanced the scene. My trying patience was rewarded with a shot that actually tells a story and is more complete than it would have otherwise have been. Not the best shot in the world, but one that definitely has its place in my collection.

Recognizing and accepting the Dunning and Kruger effect is a powerful part of the journey is self-development, and understanding where you are on that journey ensures you remain committed to yourself, regardless of how confident you feel. I know that I have regressed in confidence, something I touched on in my post Is This The End of the Begining where I recognized that I still have a long way to go and need to work harder to break through to the next level of skill and ability, and therefore increase my self-confidence in my photographic work.  

What are you passionate about? What skills do you want to develop? Keep plugging away regardless of your level of confidence, because in time it will come, and so will the skills and satisfaction that you are seeking. All you need is patience.

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