4 Things I’ve Learnt About Photography in 2020 (so far)

What a strange year this has been, right? Yet, curiously, this has also been a year in which I have probably taken the greatest leaps in my photography for some time. Because when you are doing something new, or have been pushed into a new way of life, you can either freeze and panic… or you can use it as an opportunity to try new things. To innovate.

What a strange year this has been, right? Yet curiously this has been a year in which I have probably taken the greatest leaps in my photography for some time. Because when you are doing something new, or have been pushed into a new way of life, you can either freeze and panic, or you can use it as an opportunity to try new things. To innovate.

Of course, we’ve had our share of freezing and panicking, but overall we have been focusing on this idea from Albert Einstein as a way to keep ourselves inspired:

“In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity.”

I would love to share 4 ideas that have made an impact and helped me develop my photography this year.

1. Being a beginner is an awesome opportunity

During the lockdown I got super into watching youtube videos of people painting with a tablet. It really inspired me! So I ordered a tablet and have been, in my odd moments of time, usually late at night when my kids are in bed, playing around with it.

I am pretty terrible at it so far! But you know what is so cool about being a beginner – you know that you’re not supposed to be good so you can just play around and have fun. Experiment.

Being a beginner means you aren’t constrained by any previous ideas, you can relax and just go with the learning process. People can be at their most creative when they ‘don’t know’ the proper way to do things, and that is something to celebrate. When you are bogged down by knowing a lot, it can actually constrain and confine you. It can make you think of the rules too much and what is and what isn’t possible.

All of this is to say: if you are new to photography, if you are feeling intimidated by how much there is to learn, try to throw out that feeling of overwhelm and instead celebrate the experience of not knowing. Knowledge and skills will come. But the magic of a beginner’s mind happens only once, and you’ll never know what you can make until you get started!

And if you aren’t new to photography, take a leaf out of the Zen Buddhists’ book, and try to cultivate this concept of a beginner’s mind as a way to approach your shooting:

“Shoshin (初心) is a word from Zen Buddhism meaning ‘beginner’s mind.’ It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner would.”

I’ve also been starting out the learning process with my new HD filters, and I’ll tell you this – I’ve already created some downright boring shots. But you know what I also know as a professional? That you often have to go through a lot of boring or rubbish shots when you are trying something new, trying out new ideas and concepts, or new kit.

It’s rare to get good at something straight away, and get something beautiful and incredible. So I am in no way disheartened. In fact I know it’s just part of the process.

2. Constraints can be magic for your creativity and imagination

It’s important to me as a photographer to be taking photos on a regular basis. To remember that it’s important to me, even if it’s not directly related to work or a commission or a project. And so when we were in lockdown, I decided to look around my apartment and find something I could do inside that would be a great project.

This was a huge challenge for me because I am not a still life photographer, I very, very rarely shoot inside. My love is for natural light and for exploring and wandering around outside – and I am just as happy in a cool city as in nature. The point for me is exploration and looking for interesting light.

Setting myself a project inside was pretty strange, but ended up unbelievably cool. So cool in fact that the work I made is the best I have done in probably the last year or two – so much so it’s going to be my next gallery show.

I won’t share it with you right now, but the cool thing is when you have endless choices it can often feel like – what the heck do I shoot? But when you have very few choices it can get your imagination into working overtime to create something. I have often felt like my imagination works best when confined by time or place or location. It makes me work that bit harder to make something beautiful.

So what can you create right now with your photography? Regardless of the situation you are in – on a long commute, confined at home, over busy with kids – how could you use the limitations you are under to make something?

3. Everything ordinary is extraordinary

Like most of us, you’ve probably already experienced deeply challenging periods in your life. Who alive hasn’t had their life upended by grief, loss or pain? But there is something pretty unique about this pandemic situation – it’s an issue that we all share, a challenge that we all face.

Of course, there are people who are suffering way, way, way more than others. Financially, physically and emotionally. It has created a lot of havoc. It has also for many of us made us remember (or realize) what is important.

We really only have one thing in this world, and that is the moment right here. Not yesterday – that is like ancient history now – or even tomorrow because that is not a given. We have now. And so what do we do with it?

What I have realized is that I don’t want to spend endless time worrying unnecessarily or not fully and totally appreciating every single thing that I have. I have remembered that I don’t want to put off the opportunities to go out shooting because I am feeling lazy or distracted. I want to fully and totally appreciate the moonlight on the sea, rather than getting getting sucked into stupid discussions on Facebook.

We can use our craft of photography to create something extraordinary from our lives at any moment. Focusing parts of our life on creating and not just consuming or doing – brings so many benefits. I can’t be reminded enough to look at the big picture and make sure I’m doing things that make me deeply satisfied.

This is to say that I encourage you to always be taking photos, to try and make a photo project, to weave your passions more and more into your daily life.

  • To live these moments of our life with as much reverence and gratitude as possible.
  • To always always always have our fingers in the creative pie, as it were.
  • To not put off shooting because we have too many other things to do.

Because the emails never end, the website is never perfect, and the accountant will always demand more of your attention.

4. Photography is a journey

… and it’s OK to go in and out of it, to have ups and downs. This probably sounds like the opposite of the idea above, but in fact it’s not. It’s accepting the flow of life and therefore the flow of photography.

Even though I try to be regularly doing my own photos, my own projects, I often fall out of the habit of shooting for myself. And that’s totally cool. We are not machines. We can attempt consistency, we can strive for it, but we can also not get het up with ourselves when we stop being creative.

I have periods when I don’t shoot, don’t feel creative, have no new ideas, get distracted, have important life things to do etc. But I know that when I allow myself complete freedom with my photography, and don’t have expectations of what I should be doing, that’s when I come back to photography full of ideas and energy.

So remembering that you love taking photos, but not giving yourself a hard time when it falls out of your life. Just get back to it when you can.

That is awesome and super powerful. I mean, we have expectations about so many areas of our life, so many “shoulds,” so don’t let this mysterious, amazing and wonderful area of photography be tainted by such negative concepts.

I would love to know if any of these ideas resonate with you. If you experienced any of these things this year with your photography. And what have you learnt in 2020? What has made your photography better this year?

Let me know in the comments.

In the meantime, stay safe and stay creative!

About the Author: Anthony Epes is a photographer, traveller, and teacher. He lives with his writer wife Diana and their kids by the beach in Southern Spain. Each week, he sends out a free newsletter with his very best ideas on how to become a more artistic and creative photographer. Join him on an inspiring journey to bring out the artist in you through the power and joy of photography. This article was also published on anthonyepes.com.

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