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Persistence: Playing the Long Game

By on Mar 10, 2017 in Photography, Theory Thursday | 3 comments

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We live in an age where people want instant results. Gone are the darkroom days where you had to wait until your film was properly exposed. Now, we have more gigabytes of data on our memory cards than some people do on their computers. However, that does not always mean that we will all be great photographers overnight simply because we have the ability to create a consistent stream of content. What it means is that we have the ability to consistently improve, if we so choose. That is the catch. We must want to learn and must play the long game in order to get the rewards.

Last week we talked about “Fauxtographers” and what we can learn from them. This week we look into how you as a photographer need to play the long game rather than look for cheap ways to get more followers. While getting a lot of followers may look great, having a strong following that is supportive is another. Having 50,000 followers and only 5 that actually care what you produce is the same as only having 5 followers in my books. This post is not about followers, this is about putting time and effort into something you love and reaping the benefits of that labour later on.

Be a Lifelong Learner

This sounds like something you’d hear at a teachers conference and that is probably where I picked it up from. The truth of the matter that we live in an age where you can get information simply by checking an app on your phone. So then why are you still struggling with off-camera flash? The truth of the matter is that often we forget or simply don’t want to actually study the craft. I remember offering one of my courses to a friend who later refused. The reason was that he did not want his clients to know that he was still learning. It was a strange thing because I have rarely met clients that would be put off by the fact that I was upping my game. See that is the way that I look at learning; upping my game.

Using events like the 5 Day Deal to get the materials that you need on a wide range of photographic topics is a start. Their yearly deal gives you an insane amount of material to study from and it will real increase your knowledge and skill. Once you have the thirst for knowledge, your images will certainly improve.

Use What You Know

The second step is to actually get out there and use what you know. Experiment with new techniques that you pick up along the way. After all that is why you invested either your time and/or money into learning, right? The biggest mistake that I make with pretty much anything that I study is not actually using it. I have hundreds of books and videos on my hard drive that I have read or watched but then completely forgot.

So get into the habit of using what you learn. If you read an ebook try it out the next time you go out. Even better, you can focus what you are learning to the problems that you are having with photography. So rather than blindly watching some cool guy on youtube do a tutorial on something that you don’t have the right equipment to do, try finding out how to use that off-camera flash that you are struggling with.  Look for videos related to that technique and see how far down the rabbit hole you go. I am sure when you finish you will be a master or at least have a better working understanding of your flash or whatever it is that you were researching.

Invest in People

This means get out and meet people. I have a bad habit of crawling into a bit of a hole when it comes to shooting. I like to be inside my own head when I am out getting some photos. However, there comes a time when you do have to get out and see real live PEOPLE! This is also a good time to learn and to teach others about what you like to shoot.

Taking the time to teach or even to simply just listen. The other thing is to really be a fan of the photographers in your community. Being a part of a supportive community is something that I love. While being based in Korea, I have had the chance to meet some amazing photographers. This is also great when you are commenting online or showing your work on facebook. After all, these are photographers and not your mom, so getting a compliment from them goes a long way.

This also goes towards helping people out when they need it. Many photographers are making courses (wink,wink, nudge, nudge) and helping them get the word out is a major way to help build up a community and build that fan base. Too often we look at other photographers as competition when we should really be looking at them as friends.

Be Patient

There are too many people out there thinking that they are going to be the next “Humans of (insert your current city here)” Rather than getting out there building their own brand. While some may be lucky and stumble on to something great, the rest of us have to slug it out in the trenches. However, do not let that put you off. Just because you don’t wake up with a billion emails asking you to work for Nat Geo, Magnum or clients wanting to pay you thousands of dollars for your work.

I previously wrote about how nothing happened when I was published in National Geographic and that was a huge learning point for me. As I said in the post (read it here) I was really hoping to “hit it big” but as you can tell, that hasn’t happened… yet. However, what has happened are a lot of great things that only took place because I kept my head down and produced better and better images.

The key here is that you’ve got to work at it to make it. It is that simple. There are so many people picking up cameras these days that you have to work hard and be the best. Don’t get jealous either. Chase Jarvis talks a lot about this and the idea of trying to please everyone. The key is to make images that you love and in the long run you will get better through practice and people will love what you do.



  1. steve robinson

    March 14, 2017

    Post a Reply

    Thanks for another excellent and informative article, Jason. Yeah I’m definitely in for the long haul and know 100% there’s no shortcuts to success. Luckily I’m my own worst critic so I’ll always be trying to improve my photography and there’ll never be a point ever, when I’ll think I’m a great photographer, even if I eventually become one. To be honest the more I improve and learn, the more I feel I’m not that good, if that makes any sense. It’s like life in general. You think you know everything as a youth, but when you’re older and and have so much more life experience, you realise you know nothing.

    I think I do need to push myself more in photography and use social media more than I have done. I’ve finally joined instagram, but it’s just a case of maybe posting one photo a day to build up a gallery and hopefully build a small but loyal following. I’ve been amazed looking though some profiles on instagram and seeing really average photos and some actual bad photos where the horizon isn’t even straight, getting over 1000 likes. That must mean the fauxtographer has spent about 7 hours a day on Instagram, for years, frantically commenting and liking everything, to get a huge following. It’s all a bit empty and meaningless though, at the end of the day,. Plus there’s not enough time left to practice and learn photography itself if you live on Instagram. No wonder their photos don’t improve.

    One self criticism, linked to your article, is that I don’t diversify enough and don’t utilise my gear enough in photography. I have a macro lens, along with a couple of pocket wizards and a SB 900, which I hardly ever use. Shameful really because there’s so much I could do with them, especially on days where the skies are crap for landscapes. I’m determined to make more use of them this spring. Oh by the way I have about 200gb of photography dvds and books which just lie on my hard drive gathering internet dust haha.

    • Jason Teale

      March 14, 2017

      Post a Reply

      Thanks Steve! Yeah the instagram game has been around for a long time. Years and years ago on an old photo sharing site called Trek Earth they did it by commenting in a similar fashion. However, my next project shows that it is not really how many followers you have but the quality of the photos.

      We all need a kick in the pants when it comes to learning and getting out on social media. I thought I had good coverage and when I asked Jared Polin from Fro Knows Photo, he set me straight. I stayed away from youtube because I wanted to spend time shooting stills, not editing video for free. Now, I see that every little bit helps.

      My basic plan these days with regards, to my piles of books and vids is to read one a day or simply just read a part each day and record them in a spreadsheet. This will allow me to see just how much stuff I’ve gone through this year.

      • steve robinson

        March 15, 2017

        Post a Reply

        Sounds like a decent plan. The problem with learning and trying to master photography, is that there aren’t enough hours in the day. It takes up an incredible amount of hours because the learning curve in both shooting and post processing is almost infinite. Then you’ve got social media work on top of that. You really have to live and breathe it. I put aside one night a week to catch up on tv and I go to the gym an hour a night. The rest of my free time is all photography, either out shooting or post processing. Luckily I have a lot of downtime, as a middle school teacher in Korea, so I’ve got my hard drive connected to my computer there and can read photography books and videos in between teaching.

        I’m really pumped about spending a whole year in the UK, doing photography, without needing a job. It might be the only chance I’ll ever have to immerse myself completely in it. Could be a make or break time for me. It needs to be worth it because I’ve been living on 400,000 won a month in Korea, for the last year, in order to do this haha.

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