News flash – it doesn’t matter how much you know about your gear, or how well you’ve thought through your current situation. The first pictures you shoot will not be your best work. Translation: put in more time and you’ll produce better results.

Yes, I know. Yet another piece of advice that doesn’t need to be said. Well, I’ll tell you, from personal experience, that the more you know about your craft, the more likely you’ll fall into the “Do as I say, not as I do” hole. Let’s focus on photography.

If you know your gear inside and out and have been shooting long enough to think through “everything” (read that word with a heavy dose of sarcasm) then you will likely be able to produce a technically accurate image right off the bat. Good for you. But that doesn’t mean that it’s the best picture you’re capable of crafting. The longer you work on that one shot, the better it’ll get.

Remove the little twig in the center of the picture – it gets a bit better. Put a graduated filter on the sky – it gets better. Wait until the wind blows the branches to JUST the right position – it gets better.

Waiting that extra minute and adjusting those few little details can drastically improve an image. That’s the part everyone knows. That’s also the part a lot of photographers actively think about when crafting an image. They’re excellent at seeing what small adjustments could be made to turn that one image from average to excellent. Use your experience to see the little details.

That should be where it starts.

Experience is a dangerous beast. It teaches us to remember extra batteries – sure. It teaches us to always clean our sensors, to check our histogram, to bracket our shots. It teaches us all the useful tricks we’ve learned along the way – the tricks that prevent us from making mistakes we’ll have to fix later (if they’re even fixable). It also teaches us the best way to photograph a sunset, compose a portrait, find the best angle for an architectural shot, etc.

Did you agree with that last statement? Maybe you shouldn’t have…

Yes, experience teaches us “the way” to do something. What experience doesn’t always teach us is how to make mistakes. It’s very easy to create a picture that works, then default to that technique in the future. After all, “Experience taught me that this will work.” Hey – it might even work really well! Experience, when relied upon, can actually be a glass ceiling. It can keep teaching us everything we need to know to stay right where we are. In fact, experience is often the best tool we can use to keep ourselves from advancing.

Sometimes, if you want to grow in your craft, all you have to do is go out and make some mistakes.

– Jon

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