Above: Te Anua, New Zealand shot on Canon 1DX F22 1/1000th sec, using Canon 24-105mm F4L series lens
Do you ever get frustrated because you can’t create the kinds of images you see in your mind’s eye? When was the last time you took a shot and looked at it and thought “that’s exactly what I wanted, 100%.”
The more you know, the less you know.
When I first started taking photos my level of image satisfaction was the following:
Beginner: Jubilant celebrations
Every time I managed to shoot an image that was properly exposed +/- 2 stops.
Or I managed to get the eyes in a portrait kinda sharp.
When I remembered how to turn the camera on and change the ISO without consulting the manual.
Lighting: High fives all around
Every time I managed to light an image that was properly exposed +/- 2 stops.
The flash fired for five consecutive frames, and I didn’t trip over anything.
The first time I created Rembrandt lighting I celebrated the same way soccer plays do when they score a goal in the World Cup.
Then I got the hang of lighting and figured out how my camera worked, and suddenly the more I understood, the less I celebrated, and the more I knew, the less I liked my photos.
Post Production: Employee of the month
I did laps of honour around my office and awarded myself, ‘Employee of the month’ when I figured out how to successfully open a file and convert it to black and white.
I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face for days when I first discovered the selective adjustment brush in Lightroom.
Then I got the hang of lighting. I figured out how my camera worked. And my post production knowledge became more sophisticated. Suddenly the more I understood, the less I celebrated, and as my knowledge of photography increased, my image satisfaction levels decreased.
So what happened?
I have “Gapalitis” a disorder that many creatives develop at some stage of their training. Gapalitis is hard to treat because every situation is unique.
The bad news
Gapalitis is a psychological disorder. There are no physical symptoms, but if left unchecked it can be debilitating, and one of the main reasons many photographers give up.
The good news
Having Gapalitis means you have great taste. That’s how you’ve developed the disorder. Gapalitis is a disease caused by the ideas you have in your head or in your mind’s eye being more advanced than the skills that you have.
There is hope
Gapalitis is manageable, but it’s not something you want to cure entirely. Any artist that looks at a work and thinks “Yep, that’s amazing, I’m 100% happy with that” risks creating work that is stagnant or outdated.
Fine tune and develop your skills, so the gap between the image you imagined and the image you create becomes smaller.
The fastest way to do this is to do the work. Photograph something every day, even if it’s on your smartphone. Edit more photos, even if it’s for 15 minutes during your lunch hour or while you’re watching Game of Thrones.
Your photos will get better; the gap will become smaller.
Oh, and one more thing, keep celebrating the wins, you’ve totally earned it!
This post was inspired by one of my favourite commencement speeches by Ira Glass.
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take a while. It’s normal to take a while. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”