4 things I’ve learnt about photography in 2020 (so far)

Fez Morocco

Hey friends

What a strange year this has been, right? Yet curiously this has been a year in which I have probably taken the greatest leaps in my photography for some time.

I’ve been pushed into being more creative, more expressive and more imaginative with less resources that I have for a long time. It’s been really exciting.

It’s also been a time when Di and I had to stop business-as-usual (along with the rest of the world of course) and think – how do we want to move forward now, given all that is going on?

And ask ourselves – can we carry on living this creative life? Sharing our passions and knowledge for photography? Will this new normal allow that?

And because we love to push ourselves – can we create things that are even better than what we’ve been doing before?

So it’s amazing to think, 6 months into the pandemic, we have transformed and done so much to create a new way of life, and new work along the way.

Because when you are doing something new, or have been pushed into a new way of life, you can either freeze and panic, or you can use it as an opportunity to try new things. To innovate.

Of course we’ve had our share of freezing and panicking, but over all we have been focusing on this idea from Albert Einstein as a way to keep ourselves inspired:

“In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity.”

I would love to share 4 more ideas that have made an impact and helped me develop my photography this year.

Being a beginner is an awesome opportunity

During the lockdown I got super into watching youtube videos of people painting with a tablet. It really inspired me!

So I ordered a tablet and have been, in my odd moments of time, usually late at night when my kids are in bed, playing around with it.

And I am pretty terrible at it so far!

But you know what is so cool about being a beginner – you know that you’re not supposed to be good so you can just play around and have fun. Experiment.

Being a beginner means you aren’t constrained by any previous ideas, you can relax and just go with the learning process.

People can be at their most creative when they ‘don’t know’ the proper way to do things. And that is something to celebrate!

When you are bogged down in knowing a lot, it can actually constrain and confine you. It can make you think of the rules too much and what is and what isn’t possible.

So this is to say – if you are new to photography, if you are feeling intimidated by how much there is to learn – try to throw out that feeling of overwhelm and instead celebrate the experience of not knowing.

Knowledge and skills will come. But the magic of a beginner’s mind happens only once, and you’ll never know what you can make until you get started!

And if you aren’t new to photography, take a leaf out of the Zen Buddhists’ book, and try to cultivate this concept of a beginner’s mind as a way to approach your shooting:

“Shoshin (初心) is a word from Zen Buddhism meaning “beginner’s mind.” It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner would.”

I’ve also been starting out the learning process with my new HD filters, and I’ll tell you this – I’ve already created some downright boring shots!

But you know what I also know as a professional? That you often have to go through a lot of boring or rubbish shots when you are trying something new, trying out new ideas and concepts, or new kit.

It’s rare to get good at something straight away, and get something beautiful and incredible.

So I am in no way disheartened. In fact I know it’s just part of the process.

I’ll soon be ready with some of my HD filter shots, and show you the journey I’ve gone from terribly boring to completely beautiful.

(And this is a cool 3 min video from the mindfulness teaching of Jon Kabat-Zinn about how you can bring Beginner’s Mind to all of your experiences. I think it’s a cool idea to bring to your photography.)

Constraints can be magic for your creativity and imagination

It’s important to me as a photographer to be taking photos on a regular basis.

To remember that it’s important to me, even if it’s not directly related to work or a commission or a project.

And so when we were in lockdown, I decided to look around my apartment and find something I could do inside that would be a great project.

This was a huge challenge for me because I am not a still life photographer, I very, very rarely shoot inside.

My love is for natural light and for exploring and wandering around outside – and I am just as happy in a cool city as in nature. The point for me is exploration and looking for interesting light.

So setting myself a project inside was pretty strange, but ended up unbelievably cool.

So cool in fact that the work I made is the best I have done in probably the last year or two – so much so it’s going to be my next gallery show!

I won’t share it with you right now, but the cool thing is when you have endless choices it can often feel like – what the heck do I shoot?

But when you have very few choices it can get your imagination into working overtime to create something.

And I have often felt like my imagination works best when confined by time or place or location. It makes me work that bit harder to make something beautiful.

So what can you create right now with your photography? Regardless of the situation you are in – on a long commute, confined at home, over busy with kids – how could you use the limitations you are under to make something?

Everything ordinary is extraordinary

You’ve probably, like most of us, already experienced deeply challenging things in life. Like who alive hasn’t had their life upended by grief, loss or pain?

But there is something pretty unique about this pandemic situation – it’s an issue that we all share, a challenge that we all face.

Of course, there are people who are suffering way, way, way more than others. Financially, physically and emotionally. It has created a lot of havoc.

It has also for many of us made us remember (or realise) what is important.

We really only have one thing in this world, and that is the moment right here. Not yesterday – that is like ancient history now – or even tomorrow because that is not a given.

We have now. And so what do we do with it?

What I have realised is that I don’t want to spend endless time worrying unnecessarily. Or not fully and totally appreciate every single thing that I have.

I have remembered that I don’t want to put off the opportunities to go out shooting because I am feeling lazy or distracted.

I want to fully and totally appreciate the moonlight on the sea, rather than getting getting sucked into stupid discussions on Facebook.

I want to spend time talking with my kids until they run out of energy, not just thinking about the million emails I need to answer – because who knows when they’ll want to talk to me again? Well, my teen at least. Our 8 year old still thinks I am pretty interesting. Lol!

How long will that last?

So how does this relate to photography?

It is to remember that we can use this medium, this craft to create something extraordinary from our lives at any moment.

Focusing parts of our life on creating and not just consuming or doing – brings so many benefits.

I can’t be reminded enough to look at the big picture and make sure I’m doing things that make me deeply satisfied.

It is to say that I encourage you to always be taking photos, to try and make a photo project, to weave your passions more and more into your daily life.

To live these moments of our life with as much reverence and gratitude as possible.

To always always always have our fingers in the creative pie, as it were.

To not put off shooting because we have too many other things to do.

Because emails never end. Websites are never perfect. Accountants always need replies.

Chefchaouen Morocco at Night

Photography is a journey

And it’s OK to go in and out of it, to have ups and downs

And this sounds almost like the opposite of the idea above, but in fact it’s not. It’s accepting the flow of life and therefore the flow of photography.

Even though I try to be regularly doing my own photos, my own projects, I often fall out of the habit of shooting for myself.

And that’s totally cool. We are not machines, we can attempt consistency, we can strive for it, but we can also not get het up with ourselves when we stop being creative.

Chefchaouen Morocco at Night

I have periods when I don’t shoot, don’t feel creative, have no new ideas, get distracted, have important life things to do etc.

But I know that when I allow myself complete freedom with my photography, and don’t have expectations of what I should be doing, that’s when I come back to photography full of ideas and energy.

So remembering that you love taking photos, but not giving yourself a hard time when it falls out of your life. Just get back to it when you can.

That is awesome and super powerful.

I mean we have expectations about so many areas of our life, so many shoulds, so don’t let this mysterious, amazing and wonderful area of photography be tainted by such negative concepts.

Chefchaouen Morocco at Night

I would love to know if any of these ideas resonate with you. If you experienced any of these things this year with your photography?

And what have you learnt in 2020? What has made your photography better this year?

I’d love to know, let me know in the comments below.

Stay tuned, stay safe and stay creative!
Anthony and Diana