The reason why photographers never have enough time

Apr 19, 2022
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Creative Photo Folk
The reason why photographers never have enough time

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When you ask a group of photographers what they struggle with most the overriding answer is always time. Yet they all keep doing the one same time-wasting thing. 

Recently I surveyed a group of photographers about my photography membership, Creative Photo Folk. And bizarrely I got a lot of aggressive responses along the lines of why would anyone pay to join a membership when they can learn online for free. Then I further interviewed a few of the same photographers and the one thing they all had in common was that they complained about not having enough time.

I’m a really avid leaner and when I discovered photography about 13 years ago I was wildly passionate about it. I devoted every spare second to learning and practicing and I would say it took me about 8 years before I felt really confident with my camera and gear. Back then there was, I think, two main websites devoted to photography and YouTube didn’t exist the way it does now so the path for learning was reasonably clear. My biggest problem is that I loved photography so much that I wanted to learn every aspect of every genre so I consumed every vaguely photography related thing that caught my attention and probably didn’t practice as much as I should.

These days there are hundreds of thousands of resources devoted to teaching photography. And that’s wonderful, because yes, you can learn anything online for free. But there is SO MUCH information to search through to find what it is you need and a lot of the stuff isn’t overly comprehensive. When I was building Creative Photo Folk I made sure that for every project I included I researched at least six different references and then shot everything myself just to be sure that the information was correct and thorough. And I learned something different from each of those six resources so nothing was ever the full package.

A lot of brand new photographers think photography looks easy. They’ve snapped a few decent photos on their phone or a cheap camera and have enjoyed the experience enough that they’re looking to upgrade. But photography is a prime example of the Dunning Kruger effect so that newer photographers don’t yet realise how little they know and how much there is to learn.

While photography looks easy from the outset the more you learn the more there is to learn and when you are thrown into the overwhelming sea of photography information on the Internet you’re going to get overwhelmed really quickly when you don’t even know what it is you need to learn next.

Which brings us back to time. How much time do photographers waste wading through resources trying to learn. And when you’re learning, you’re not practicing and you really need both to be able to progress. But it can’t just be any old practice. You need to be practicing new techniques that improve your skills, not just photographing whatever captures your attention.

So when those photographers demanded to know why anyone would want to pay to learn photography when they can learn for free, I replied that the reason is time. And nobody argued with that. It’s like it had never even occurred to them that saving time is worth paying for. Photographers don’t even seem to realise that they’re doing it all wrong. And how could they? That’s a hard thing to know until you’ve travelled the path and looked back on all the time you’ve wasted getting to your goal.

I know a few people who’ve invested in university courses to learn photography which is fine if you’ve got a spare few grand. But I’ve watched those people go from knowing absolutely nothing to running their own studios in the space of a year because they had guidance to learn exactly what they need to know. And now they can spend the rest of their lives improving on those skills while already making money from photography. I don’t hear them complaining about time because photography is their profession now. In comparison you’ve got the self-taught photographers who will still be struggling with the basics in 12 month’s time.

I’m not saying every photographer should join a university course. Far from it. There’s plenty more reasonably priced courses available. But I am saying that a photographer needs a clear and defined path that shows them exactly what they need to know from camera operation, to creative techniques, to lighting, to editing and everything in between without wasting years of their life reading every blog and YouTube video that captures their interest.

Here’s the hard truth about time. If you don’t have time for something then it’s not important enough to you. I’m going to say that again. If you don’t have time for something then it’s not important enough to you. I ask you to reflect on that question and why you think that might be. I can give you plenty of reasons but I think it’s important you come up with your own.

I understand that between work, family and time to recharge it can be impossible to find time for anything else. But we always do if it’s important enough to us. Even if it’s just 10 minutes a day. But what usually happens with photographers is they say – I’ll go out and shoot something this weekend. But they don’t make any definitive plan around it and so something else takes priority and it gets pushed back a week. And this happens again and again until they start to feel guilty about not photographing more often which means they create a negative association with their camera so they want to pick it up even less.

But let’s say someone gave you a photography project to complete each weekend and guaranteed that each project would progressively improve your skills and would be really fun to do.

Then you’d be more likely to pick up the camera. It’s indecision and overwhelm that causes procrastination. And we don’t make time for abstract concepts, only things that are well defined. For example, this Saturday at 5pm I’ll take my camera to the beach and photograph silhouettes in front of the sunset. You’re more likely to do that than, this weekend I might go into the city and find something to photograph. Can you see the difference? It’s much easier to make time if you have a concrete plan.

Before I discovered photography I was wasting my life outside of work, drinking, watching TV and playing video games and feeling like life was pretty meaningless. The 52 new year’s resolutions project I talk about in episode 3 completely transformed my life because now I knew how to schedule and spend my free time. And so I went from being incredibly lazy to someone who’s a high achiever. I’ve had lots of friends tell me how much I inspire them with everything I’ve managed to achieve over the past ten years. And yet, all I did was stumble on the secret of how to make progress in life by giving myself projects.

So giving yourself concrete projects and making dedicated time for them is really important if you want to make progress with photography.

The other thing is, your photography needs to be useful. It’s hard to feel excited about photography when you’ve got a hard drive full of photos that don’t serve any purpose beyond the results of practice. But if those same images made you money then you’d be much more likely to make time to create more. Those photographers who learned photography in one year at university will have created a portfolio of work they can use to sell their services. But if you take three years to be confident with your camera that’s three years of some great shots but mostly unusable ones. And when your photos bring you more problems than they do joy you’ll begin to wonder what the point is.

So if you’re happy to spend thousands of dollars on photography gear but don’t see the value in spending a little extra to master that equipment and create useful photos, then good luck to you I say. I was that person. But if I could do my time again I would do it verrrry differently. Although I don’t regret that path I took because I wouldn’t be here talking to you today about the immense amount of stuff I’ve learnt about photography over 13 years of passionate dedication.

I designed Creative Photo Folk, my photography membership, out of total frustration at the way I learnt photography. If you could have got me using my camera and gear confidently over a year or two with defined projects so I always knew what to shoot each week while learning something new and creating a useable portfolio along the way, damn right I would have said, take all my money. My photography career could have been very different and I’ve no doubt I would have been much more successful by now.

But if you’d asked me back then I probably would have said ‘why would I pay so much when I can learn everything for free?’ as I wasted years of my life learning instead of practicing. You might think you know it all and it’s easier than it looks but you can’t even begin to know just how much there is to learn. And if you truly are serious about building a life out of photography don’t make the same mistake as me.

Have I learnt my own lesson? Absolutely. Recently I started learning something new and I thought, oh this looks so easy! And being super resourceful I bought all the books and started teaching myself. And then Dunning Kruger struck again and I realised I would never learn it alone without a defined plan and the right tasks, so I paid someone a few thousand dollars to teach me. Because life’s too short. I know it’s a skill I want to learn and I’m time poor so I want to get there as quickly as possible.

A few years ago my dentist, of all people, said that the future lies in the hands of information curators. People who can take all the free content and distil it down to just what people need to know. Because we are a time poor society now and eventually we’ll become so fatigued that we’ll have no choice but to pay to fast track to get ahead. And that’s why the online learning industry is one of the fastest growing in the world right now because things that save us time are valuable and worth the investment. You can pay nothing and take a long time to learn or you can pay something and take a short time. It’s really about weighing up what’s most important to you. But it’s not just about time. If photography feels hard and a bit pointless you’re more likely to give up than someone who feels confident and creates photos that makes an impact. Which end of the scale would you rather spend the most time?

Lots of people pay to learn arts and crafts despite there being a wealth of free content online. I don’t know why photographers in particular are so stubborn about it. I think it’s the trade-off for spending so much money on gear. It makes them feel better to save money by teaching themselves, even though it doesn’t make a lot of sense to spend so much on something and not learn how to use it properly. But then photographers will often pay for workshops that give them opportunities to shoot subjects or use gear they might not have access to otherwise. These are usually more about a fun portfolio building experience than they are about learning and knowing that photography needs to be fun is why I’ve put so much emphasis on making the projects within Creative Photo Folk fun to achieve. Not every photographer wants to be great, some just want to have fun. But why not both? And that’s why Creative Photo Folk exists. To help photographers save time learning using creative projects that are fun to achieve and give them something concrete to photograph each week so they can get to successful photography fast.


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