Photography is 99% frustration.
99% frustration. So often I arrive at this spot and ask myself why do I do this. I never seem to be satisfied with what I shoot. I am constantly looking at the work of others and thinking mine is pale and lacking in comparison. I scour my photos and rarely find what I thought I had shot, or what I want to capture. Flaws surface to overshadow and silence elements I had thought were strong.
And this is only after the act. The real frustration is out shooting.
Street photography has to got to be the most frustrating of photography genres. You can control nothing. You see it, it’s too late. You can’t stop people. You can’t ask them to move back, to make that gesture again, to not smile. You can’t will the gods to part those clouds to let that light shine in. You become manic, like a lunatic trying to locate where that noise is coming from in the dead of night. You shoot more. You move, thinking the action will be around the next corner. As you’re moving on you look back and see it happening – see that moment you had imagined appear in the very spot you have just left. But you have distanced yourself from it. You think, will I go back? You find yourself stopped in the middle of the footpath. Pedestrians frustrated as they navigate around you. You’re looking up the street, down the street, all the time muttering expletives under your breath – you hope – under your breath. You realise by people’s quizzical looks that these expletives are escaping and are audible. You are talking to yourself out loud. Next you realise the looks you’re getting from the people sidestepping to avoid you would actually make good shots. You raise the camera, but soon realise it is pointless. That moment has also passed you by. Oh, fuck it! What’s the point. You find a doorstep to sit on and bemoan your lot and then notice an interesting crack in the concrete which gets your attention and you delight in this for a moment.
Then images of photographs you have seen, photographs you admire and aspire to get start to populate your thoughts and the frustration returns. Why can’t you get shots like that? How can others find and see and construct those shots? Why does it seem so easy for them and so damn hard for you?
You stop to do the numbers and you realise that almost everything you shoot is shit. On a given day you can shoot hundreds of images. At best they are mediocre. The subsequent swipe through can be swift. The flaws reveal themselves loudly. It’s crazy to calculate but when you are dealing in what can be a 1/250 of a second and you notice that you missed the shot, and had you reacted more quickly you might have gotten it – what are you estimating? – another 1/250 of a second? Is it really that narrow? Really just fractions of a second? Add those fractions up and what do you get? Frustration, that’s what. Disappointment.
But you persevere. That old maxim – leave your photos marinate – comes to mind, and you begin to put faith, or hope, in it. Ya, better to leave them be and see what difference time can make. But you cannot resist it. They are burning and smouldering on your Camera Roll. You give in and begin to work on some images. Editing is the cure-all, no? How about converting this shot to black and white? Perhaps then the flaws won’t be as loud. What if you add a filter? Maybe a crop, a flip? Never! No matter how bad things get don’t crop; never flip. Except for the times you do. Oh, how you regret those!
The more I think of all that is associated with photography, the more I wonder why I actually do it. At every stage you are going to encounter frustration, and probably none more than the so-called photography help articles. You know the ones: Ten top tips to up your Instagram game. The top twenty mistakes you keep making and how to stop them. How to teach literally anyone to take amazing, high quality photos.
Well, here’s the thing. You read all these, particularly the Instagram ones. You may not be not much of a gear head, but you are like everyone else. You would love to have a K after the number of Instagram followers you have. How do you get it? What’s the secret? There is none. It is a lottery. OK, you guess if you are going to have selfies showing your killer cleavage, or put your cute cat in a stream of sunset shots you might find favour with the algorithm and be pushed up and out on Instagram’s Explore page. But if you are trying to showcase quality images on Instagram and build an audience, you better have patience. Want a killer Instagram tip? Here’s one. Write out all your tags. You know those ones you spend so damn long on for every Instagram post hoping the hub will feature your shot. Ya, those. Now go to Settings, Keyboard, Text Replacement, +, and paste in those tags to Phrase. Underneath in Shortcut write, for example, tagsbnw. Now the next time you are writing your tags for an Instagram post, just type tagsbnw and click space. Hey Presto! There are your 30 tags all there. Done in a second.
99% frustration. But what about that other 1%?
There is of course that remaining 1% when things fall into place; when you hit the sweet spot and slide into auto-pilot and you get that gift that gives and gives and gives. But that is a photography post for another day. For now, let’s acknowledge the frustration, indulge in the constant challenge. You know, like most things in life, if it was easy, if there was no torment or obstacle, you would probably lose interest. Don’t! It’s all about the next photo.
Kiss the future…