We’ve probably all heard the phrase “practice makes perfect”, but I recently heard it altered slightly to say “practice makes progress”, which is much better, I think, since nothing in this world is ever perfect. I’ve been reflecting on this lately, and thinking about how I am often disappointed in my creative endeavours because I haven’t reached the goals, or mastered the skills I had hoped I would by now….
I’m currently going through my external hard drive and organizing it. Years ago I had a computer crash, and while I was, thankfully, able to recover all of my files, they got dumped onto a hard drive, and I never did anything further with them. I’m fairly good at organizing and decluttering physical belongings, but the digital realm is one that never fails to devolve into absolute chaos for me. It’s a huge mess that gets worse each year, and continues to hang over my head like an invisible avalanche. This was finally my year to tackle that project, so I’ve been sorting, organizing and deleting; not just so that I can find photos or files easily, but so that I can finally get a bunch of the photos printed into albums!
Anyway, as I’ve been sorting, I’ve learned a few things (other than the painful lesson that sitting at my desk for too long is punishing to my shoulders).
Firstly, I’ve come to realize that just because a photo was taken, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily worth saving. For some reason, I think many of us have this idea that because we took this photo, it’s special. But, especially since the advent of digital cameras, I have ended up with a lot of duplicates, and unnecessary or blurry photos. In the past couple of years I’ve gotten better at immediately deleting those sorts of photos, but in the past I used to keep folders and folders of mediocre photos. I have been keeping in mind as I sort, that if I lived in the 1940’s I would have a lot less photos, and that would be totally fine. So, as I sort, I delete anything that doesn’t bring back a happy or important memory, duplicates that are so similar I don’t need both, and any photos I just don’t like. I am still keeping plenty of silly outtakes and anything that is truly sparking joy, but many of them are not.
Secondly, I am asking myself whether I have a purpose for these photos- am I going to print it? Am I going to blog it? Is it for reference? If the photograph doesn’t answer yes to any of these questions, then what is the purpose for me keeping it? I am coming to the understanding that sometimes the value in a photograph was simply in the action of taking of it. Like I don’t keep every sewing project or sketch I’ve ever made, I also don’t need to keep every photograph. Many of the photos were valuable in the practice they gave me, but I don’t need to keep the end result.
Which leads into my third discovery: practice makes progress. As I am sorting through the past 10+ years of photos (I received my DSLR in 2010!) I am noticing how much my photography has improved.
I look at the photos I take today and I often wish they could be better; they fall so short of what I want them to be, and what I see other artists creating. It can be easy to compare your skills to others, but it’s much more impactful to compare your current self to your previous self! I am looking through these photography “sketches” and realizing that they did have value, in teaching me. 10 years of practice has resulted in much better photographs. I’m no Ansel Adams, and yet, compared to 20 year old Nicole, I have vastly improved!
It’s so encouraging to realize that all of those hundreds of thousands of photographs that I took… and then deleted… over the years have resulted in not a few photographs that I am happy with and proud of. Like any artistic endeavour, it takes a lot of time and practice to grow and perfect, or rather progress. I would say that photography is one of the few creative practices I have consistently worked on, ever since my first film camera over 20 years ago and these days I have a lot more hits than misses.
Anyway, it was simply enlightening for me to see how much I’ve improved over the years, so I wanted to encourage all of you to keep practicing as well! Whatever skill or craft you are working on, don’t compare yourself to others, but rather compare yourself to yourself from years ago and I bet you’ll see a lot of growth.
If we take a moment to look back, we will realize just how far we’ve come.
(And of course, I did delete a lot of those out-of-focus and oddly composed photos, but I had to show a couple!)