Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good. Malcolm Gladwell
10,000 rule for photgraphers
As photographers, we know about the ‘Rule of Thirds,’ “The Inverse Square Rule” (Law) Active Space Rule, etc. But have you heard of the “10,000 hours rule?” How does this apply to us the photographer?
I receive lots of questions from young photographers asking what they can do to become a “pro.” Most of them are very passionate about photography. They usually want to know about the tricks, shortcuts, or tips to achieving financial and career success through photography. What I find interesting is that few of them are interested in knowing how to become better image makers and artists.
Let me clarify that regardless of the amount of effort and funds you invest, there is no guarantee that you will gain great success in your photography if you depend only on shorts, clever maneuvering, or social media marketing strategies.
I would also like to add that I am not aware of any professional photographer who depends on image licensing and print sales as their only source of livelihood. Early photographers enjoyed the exciting days of free-shooting globe-trotting photography.
However, those days died long ago with freely flowing cash, 40 percent investment returns and bloated real estate values.
To be honest, you should expect inconsistent income and people asking for free use of your photos regularly if you choose to become a professional photographer. Besides, you will have set up multiple sources of income from various channels. You will need to spend more time at the desk handling non-photographic projects than would want to.
“Going pro” doesn’t mean acquiring a full frame D-SLR camera, going on exciting photographic trips, and then sit back and watch the income roll in from print sales and image licensing. It requires something more than that for you build a successful career.
In his best-selling book, Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell argues that an individual will require 10,000 hours of commitment and dedicated the practice to achieve success in any preferred sport, art, or craft.
Arguably, there is no shortage of disagreement regarding Malcolm’s “rule.” But, I am not going to discuss whether 10,000 is the correct number of hours. Every rule has some exceptions, and gifted prodigies indeed exist (though in very insignificant numbers).
When it comes to photography, it reasonable to argue that it takes only minutes for one to master the camera buttons and to attain correct exposure through real-time histogram. While operating a camera is a straightforward affair, operating a high-standard camera doesn’t guarantee great photography.
For photographers, the time they (or they should) spent seeing, establishing one’s visual vocabulary, and becoming great image makers, artists, and communicators account for the rest of those thousands of hours.
Based on my experience, I would state that fiddling with the software and the gear doesn’t contribute to these hours. Excellent photography is a result of a great vision. The software and camera are mere tools.
What does 10,000 photography hours mean? It means a passionate photographer will require two 3-hr shooting daily (one in the morning, and one in the afternoon) for 4 ½ years. You will have to shoot for a total of six hours every day to attain Gladwell’s 10,000 hours of success.
I will suggest that all new photographers should set aside at least five solid years of image-making practice and have more than a few dozen amazing photos to show for all their effort. If you lack all these, forget your Twitter, Google+, Facebook and other social media campaigns.
First, you must work hard to be a better photographer and artist. The 10,000 photography hours will help you to achieve that. Once you have a unique body of work and organically developed audience which can’t get enough of it, then you can consider various marketing strategies.
You’ll never attain the level rivaling Michael Kenna or Steve McCurry (two of the hard-working and best artists of excellence) through lots of Facebook “friends” or clever Search Engine Optimization. You must go out and start shooting!
It goes without saying that any practice needs to be deliberate and thoughtful. For you to excel in anything, you must practice well. Time is a crucial factor when practicing. In photography, you must maximize every hour trying to learn and do more. From my experience and research, excellent work is a result of a hearty work ethic.
As passionate photographers, we shoot because we want to; thus, it rarely feels like work. Successful photographers will tell you that the 10,000 photography hours will never be a headache if you love what you do. If you organize yourself well, those hours should take your photography career to the next level.
If you are like many passionate amateurs, you should get to work making photographs, and great photographic stuff will happen.