Monday, September 3, 2007

The Myth of Talent

Recently I read an article written by Craig Tanner and posted on his site at called, The Myth of Talent. I highly recommend it to people in all walks of life, but it will have particular resonance for anyone whose dream is photography (or any creative endeavor).

The gist of his article, for me, is that we shouldn't buy into common notions about talent—that you either have it or you don't. Talent, in his words, is something that you develop through passion and a belief in your future.

These days, I sometimes feel impatient that I'm not consistent in producing top-quality photos. And, as I've been trained to do through experience, I wonder whether I have the necessary talent to reach my goals. Tanner made a clean break with his dead end job fifteen or more years ago and toured the western United States, taking 7000 or so photos along the way, to pursue his dream of becoming a nature photographer. He was shooting slide film at the time, and sent all his rolls off for processing. They were all waiting for him when he returned home at the end of the six months. As he described them, his slides were abysmal. Instead of quitting in shame or disgust, he adjusted his goals and began to practice closer to home. He finally built up his talent and his portfolio to where he is considered a "talented" photographer now. When he receives compliments, he has to resist the urge to tell people just how hard it was to achieve the level of success he enjoys now. When we see someone with obvious talent, we tend to think they just popped out of the box that way. Not so, according to Tanner.

Reading Craig's article helped put things in perspective for me. I've changed jobs and even professions several times in my life, usually when I've become bored or saw no future in it. Perhaps a lack of vision at certain points? This time, there is no turning back. Even when I produce poor results, the process itself is still enjoyable. And when I produce great results, the elation is like nothing I've experienced before. The most important point I took from Tanner is that I shouldn't expect perfection every time I pick up my camera. Try for it? Yes. But expect it? No.

Last week, a friend of mine, and a fairly successful photographer, mentioned to a group of us that he needed a "second shooter" for a wedding he had booked for this past Saturday. Having shot three low-budget weddings on my own this season, I felt ready to take on this responsibility on a shoot that was as important as this one was. This was a high-budget wedding with high expectations from all concerned.

I went into the event with the goals of making as good photographs as I could for my friend and to learn as much as I could from him. But, when I took my DVD of RAW files over to his studio today, I had a feeling that I had let him down. Don't mistake me. There were some excellent photos on the disk. But there were some real clunkers, too.

The reason some of the images didn't turn out well is that I broke what I assume to be a cardinal rule in photography. For some time now, I've relied mostly on two lenses, both of which are image stabilized with a constant f/2.8 aperture over their zoom range. But their zoom ranges don't overlap each other. In fact there's a gap of about 45mm between the high end of one and the low end of the other. So, I pulled another IS lens out of my bag that filled the gap, but it ranges from f/4 to f/5.6, depending on focal length. We were shooting both indoors and out late in the afternoon, and I simply had not accustomed myself to this lens to get the best use from it. And I left it on till after the sun set (usually no problem with an f/2.8 lens). I should have used my 17-55mm f/2.8 IS that would cover me well in low light instead of trying to get some extra reach with a slower lens.

This will be the first advice offered in this blog, but it's based on a lesson I learned the hard way. Don't use new equipment for the first time on an important photo shoot. Take it out and test it first, so that you know it well enough to get what you expect from it when you're on the job.

Following Craig Tanner's advice, no matter how the feedback comes back to me on this most recent shoot, I'm going to continue moving forward without letting this foolish choice affect how I feel about my talent, because talent = desire + perseverance.