Surfing the Learning Curve

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

“There is the desire of a consumer society to have no learning curves. This tends to result in very dumbed-down products that are easy to get started on, but are generally worthless and/or debilitating.”—Alan Kay

In my experience, it seems that most photographers progress through three distinct stages while they’re learning and refining their image making skills. In my friend Rick Sammon’s book Creative Visualization for Photographers, he takes the position there are four but I was surprised (even though he and I never discussed this topic) how much we had in common on this topic.

Stage One starts right after a photographer gets their first “good” camera and discovers all of the medium’s potential for fun and creativity. During this time, novice shooters enthusiastically explore their world and every memory card is crammed full of files containing images that look so much better than they could have ever imagined. Unfortunately, this blissful period doesn’t last long and is quickly replaced by the next and longer lasting phase.

Stage Two occurs when the photographer’s level of enthusiasm is still high but becomes diminished when reviewing their latest images only to discover these new images are much worse than expected. Instead of the joy of discovery, all they can see is what’s wrong with their photographs.

Part of surviving this phase has to do with managing expectations. Don’t let Internet criticism or praise of your work inflate your ego or slow down your journey on the learning curve. Unfortunately, phase 2 lasts a long time but as the photographer continues to improve their skills by reading books and (unashamed plug) blogs like this and, most importantly, practicing their art until they reach the third and final phase

Stage Three is the point in which the images that a photographer sees in their viewfinder and what they capture is exactly what they expected. There are no surprises. Interestingly, because there’s no urgency to click the shutter you will find that under this phase you may shoot fewer but better pictures. While this phase can be fulfilling, some of that original magic is understandably lost.* But until a combination of lighting, subject, and photographer’s mood and inspiration come together to capture a magic moment, you gotta “keep banging those rocks together.”

*One way to rediscover that magic is by experimenting with and trying to shoot infrared photography.


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You pick up Rick Sammon’s book Creative Visualization for Photographers from Amazon for $31.08 with used copies starting at $22.45 as I write this. A Kindle copy is $29.53 for this preferring a digital format.