I recently synthesized — stumbled upon, really — a great response to a question I’ve been asked at least 10,000 times. It’s a simple question on the surface, but I’ve always seen the answer to be so complex.
Q: “Chase, how do I ‘make it’ as a photographer?”
Prior to today, I either tried to respond with some enthusiastic bullet points about passion, creativity, and hard work; or I lamented that I didn’t have a good answer; or replied with a)”I don’t know, but I’ll call you when I get there”; OR b)”Call me on my cell at 3am on a Saturday night when I’m 5,000 miles from home – I’ll be awake working and I’ll tell you then.”
Obviously all these answers lack something. From here on out, however, I’ll be excited to steer that broad question to this two-part answer:
1. Be Undeniably Good. Last year, in an interview with Charlie Rose, the famous comedian Steve Martin gave this advice to anyone trying to make it in any field:
Be undeniably good. When people ask me how do you make it in show business or whatever, what I always tell them and nobody ever takes note of it ‘cuz it’s not the answer they wanted to hear — what they want to hear is here’s how you get an agent, here’s how you write a script, here’s how you do this — but I always say, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” If somebody’s thinking, “How can I be really good?”, people are going to come to you. It’s much easier doing it that way than going to cocktail parties.
Part 2 of this answer and a link to a great video after the jump. Hit ‘continue reading’ below.
It hit me like a ton of bricks. It’s simple, but profound and unarguably true. And in case someone responds to that suggestion with, “Ya, but how do I get to be so good that people can’t ignore what I’m doing?”, then I’ll drop part 2, complements of Malcolm Gladwell:
2. Dedicate at least 10,000 hours to whatever it is you’re looking to master. In his enlightening talk at the 2008 AIGA Business Design Conference, about innovation and misconceptions regarding what it takes to become a success, Gladwell discussed this concept from his new book Outliers: The Story of Success. “Genius and creativity don’t necessarily spring forth unbidden, they require time and support to experiment, try and even fail.” I found his talk really entertaining, and I’d imagine you might too.
What’s fun about photography, of course, is that anyone can pick up a camera these days and make great pictures, straight outta the gate. No brainer, really accessible, relatively little effort, nice pictures. I love that about photography – it’s why everyone has a camera these days. The technology is really wonderful.
But, if you want to “make it”, whatever that means, I think you need to start by being undeniably good. And if you can’t intuit how to be undeniably good, then start by dedicating 10,000 hours to it. That will get you where you want to be.
VERY IMPORTANT: Do NOT be discouraged by this answer. On the contrary, let this be your golden ticket, the keys to the kingdom. Let it be refreshing that the answer to your questions about mastering photography isn’t bound by money, gear, or even DNA. It’s right there for the taking.
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