For Photographers, Patience Has Its Rewards


Most photographers know to be patient in waiting for the right moment to get a shot. But we don’t all realize the value of being patient with ourselves.

I’ll give you a couple examples of what I’m talking about.

From time to time, many of us suffer from a lack of confidence in our ability to produce good photographs. For artists, it goes with the territory.

It’s not quite the same as “creative block” — that’s a lack of ideas. I’m talking about a lack of faith in your ability to achieve what you are trying to do.

Patience with Yourself

It often sneaks up on you when you least expect it. One day, you are editing your images and suddenly there is an empty feeling; they simply don’t seem good enough. You look and look, but cannot find anything worthwhile. It’s all crap!

Over time, I’ve learned that creativity cannot be summoned on demand. Instead of punishing myself, I take a break and revisit the project in a few days. I have patience in myself and the process.

I’ve also found that feelings of inadequacy often have nothing to do with the quality of the work I am producing. My photograph might seem bad to me because, subconsciously, there is something else affecting my perception at that moment.

Maybe you’re having problems in a relationship. Or your client is being difficult. Or you were treated rudely that day by a store clerk — it could be anything!

Whatever it is, you file what’s really bothering you in the back of your head and then you take it out on your photography. You’re fighting a battle on the wrong front.

At some level, your mind is always working against you. You are rarely free of your superego, and the only way to overcome it is to accept it for what it is and move on. Then it does not bother you anymore — or at least the damage is minimized.

Patience in Your Process

I take this into account when I am editing my photographs. When time permits, my editing method is pretty straightforward:

First, I download my images into Lightroom and leave them for a couple days. Then, I look at them and give any image I like (even a little) two stars.

In a few days, I look at the two-star images again and I upgrade some of them to three stars if they still interest me.

About a week or two later, I repeat this process and select my four-star images from this group.

I don’t look at them again for sometimes months before I choose my five-star images.

I do it this way because I know from previous experience that if I rush the process, I will be disappointed in the results. My photographs need time to grow on me.

Hurry Up, Then Wait

I know what you’re saying: “Unlike you, David, I have clients! I can’t wait several months to pick the best photos from a shoot!”

I understand that. If you are a studio photographer or a news photographer, you may shoot hundreds of photos in a shoot — but after editing out the garbage, you provide a selection for the client or editor to choose from. You are spared the final edit.

Long after your client’s deadline, though, you have the opportunity to go back and look at all those images again. Perhaps you want to find photographs for a book or an exhibit. I bet that in most cases, the images you select then will not be the same ones that your editor selected at the time the pictures were taken.

Have patience in yourself. Have patience in your process. And have patience that, over time, the cream of your work will rise to the top — proving all your self-doubts unfounded. That is the ultimate reward.


9 Responses to “For Photographers, Patience Has Its Rewards”

  1. I loved this. Thank you. And I needed it today. Reading it was kind of like having a wise voice in my ear. Much appreciated.

  2. Well said, sir! You know what they say, patience is a virtue!

  3. Hmmm, I'm not sure if I agree with this. I think there can be a tendency to overthink what should be a gut reaction. I find myself frequently going back to that one picture that struck me the first time I looked back through the film. I can always come up with reasons to like the others months down the road but you can't recreate that initial reaction.

  4. Great advise, it is so easy to fall into the trap of feeling un-inspired, thank you!!!

  5. Think Winogrand waited for as long as a year. he thought that after the shoot you where influenced by the moment, i.e. excitement, preconceived idea of the outcome and so on, that one wasn't able to judge.

    He died with a huge amount of undeveloped street material

  6. Thank you needed this today precisely ... when i needed to know that all those doubts are normal.
    Thank you for the support.

  7. I needed a good creative boost. I've been feeling a bit drained lately. Thanks for the advice on having a bit of patience with my creativity.

  8. Very very and again very good article!
    You described the feelings I sometimes have when editing my wedding photos. And you're absolutely true about everything here!
    Thanks for advise!

  9. Thanks! I'm glad to hear it's not just me. And that your process is very much like my own. Cheers!

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