Malcolm Gladwell famously asserted in his best-selling book Outliers that for a person to truly excel at something, he or she must have approximately 10,000 hours of practice at it. It’s become known as the “10,000-hour rule.”
The 10,000-hour rule isn’t meant to suggest that if you cook for 10,000 hours, you’ll become a world-class chef. Many factors come into play, practice being just one.
Let’s take photography, for example.
How should we apply the rule in our profession?
And what activities should count toward us earning that 10,000-hour merit badge?
Counting Up the Hours
We could start by adding up every flip of the shutter — at, say, 1/125 of a second each. The photographer would need to take about 450 million pictures to reach 10,000 hours that way.
Obviously, that’s too literal an interpretation. You should include all your time spent on shoots and preparing for shoots, too.
So, if you spent three hours on shoots each day for 10 years, that would add up to 10,000 hours. Difficult, but certainly achievable.
But I don’t think those are the only hours that should count toward your 10,000. I would also include time spent with mentors. A good mentor can give you advice that advances your photography by leaps and bounds.
Talking with and learning from the best can make a huge difference. I would contrast this with other kinds of photography discussions — such as gabbing with others at your skill level about the latest gear.
I would argue that the former activity should count toward your 10,000 hours; the latter, not so much.
Finding Your Own Style
But learning from mentors, preparing for shoots, and clicking the shutter are not enough in themselves. Even if you do them for 10,000 hours — or 20,000 hours, for that matter.
If you simply imitate your mentor in your work, for example, you’re still a wannabe.
To truly excel, a photographer must develop a personal style and approach. This requires self-reflection, and ultimately, to see the world in a unique way.
So even when you’re not making photos or talking with others about photography, you can still be logging hours toward that 10,000-hour goal. Just walking down the street, even without a camera in hand, you can be logging those hours.
As Michelle Black put it in her recent Black Star Rising post, “Photography is about moments, whether we capture them with our camera or not.”
All the time you spend seeing the world as a photographer, as opposed to just another resident of the planet, is “practice” toward becoming great at what you do.
I’m not sure how that jibes with Malcolm Gladwell’s interpretation, but it works for me.