They say practice makes perfect. Whoever “they” is. But ever since you were a kid, you’ve had to practice at something to get better. Like riding a bike so you wouldn’t fall off. Or you were on a soccer team to learn how to play. Or mom made you play piano every night before dinner. Even as adults, doctors “practice” medicine. Whatever it was, no matter how much you complained that you didn’t like it, or didn’t feel like it, or weren’t any good, you had to practice to get better.
In fact, there’s a level of practice that needs to be achieved before you are considered successful at whatever your task is. There’s even a book called Outliers: The Story of Success that talks about this same thing. (It’s similar to Freakonomics and is fascinating, by the way. You should check it out). But Outliers breaks it down by hours. They show you need 10,000 hours to excel at something. That’s a lot of hours and many people give up after about 5,000 hours. But people who really excel – like Bill Gates, the Beatles, or Tiger Woods – all had reached this magic number before they became superstars in their area of expertise. It’s not about luck, it’s about experience and working harder than most other people.
The same thing applies to photography. Henri Cartier-Bresson said that “your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” In other words, you need at least 10,000 images before you can really become proficient and have some decent knowledge as a photographer. Now in the days of film, it was prohibitively expensive for many to reach this level but digital imaging has opened the door for many to excel in a much quicker time frame. Either way, I have hit 10,000 images.
To be fair, I hit 10,000 at some point in the past, although I’m not really quite sure when. My first camera kept resetting the image numbers, then I changed cameras, and I have more than one. But as I was getting to 10,000 images on my current main camera, I started to keep track and wanted to save it for posterity.
Sadly, this is not a great shot to show off all the “incredible knowledge” that I’ve magically gained. It is not framed particularly well and it was just a test shot to gauge exposure. Here it’s exposed for the building and the sky, not my subjects, so clearly adjustments needed to be made.
So no magic switch went off as I crossed the 10,000 image threshold. Although that really would have been cool and certainly welcome. But I can say that I am much better off than I was with the first image I took on this camera. Because of all the practice that I’ve had. Do I know everything there is to know about photography? Heck no. Certainly not. In fact, I’m sure I still have a ton to learn! But I can look back on my previous 10,000 images and know that my next 10,000 will be even better.
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