There’s an age old axiom that says you truly are not an expert or well-versed in any field until you’ve practiced it for 10,000 hours.  Think about that number.  Ten thousand!  That sounds pretty daunting.  It means taking a lot of photos to get to that level.  Let’s just assume for a minute that in photography, 10,000 hours = 10,000 photos.  That would still take a lot of time.

If you take one photo a day, it will take you 10,000 days to become fluent with photography, or 27 years!  One good photo a day means it will take you twenty seven years to become fluent in the field of photography.  Look at how that extrapolates out:

Two photos/day = 5000 days (14 years)
Four photos/day = 2500 days (6 years)
Eight photos/day = 1250 days (3.5 years)
Sixteen photos/day = 625 days (2 years)

I don’t know about you, but the last time I took sixteen good photos in one day was…well, um, never really!  I could go into a long soliloquy about learning the craft encompassing more than just taking good photos.  And it’s true.  You learn when you take bade photos, because you’ve eliminated a process that doesn’t work.  You also learn from reading articles, books, attending seminars and workshops.  Learning a craft is much more than just one photo, but the math still holds true.  So, even if you spend four hours a day learning about photography, it will be a long time before you are fluent (at least 6 years anyway, right?).

The caveat now is that learning a trade or craft is more than just study and reading – it’s also doing.  So, in all of this, let’s say it breaks down to about 25-25-50 in percentages.  I say this primarily because you learn so much more from doing than studying and reading.  In the field of photography, this means taking pictures.  You have to take pictures (both good and bad) to become a good photographer.  Now comes the stickler – the question that I was asked and is the title of this post:  which photos count?

When learning, and studying your craft, does the crappy iPhone photo count?  The stupid cheesy grin shot you did with your “bff” at the beach?  My answer (surprise surprise) starts with “It depends…”  That’s the first part…the second part is:

What did you learn from that photo?

If the answer is – “I learned that on camera flash works with a portrait and the sun setting behind you”, then yes, it counts!  If the photo is “Well, I learned that on camera flash in a studio shot of a digital telephone doesn’t work too well because of excessive specular highlights”, then hell yeah, it counts!  The converse also holds though too.  If you take a snapshot during your vacation with yourself and your s.o (significant other) at Plymouth Rock, and it never sees the light of day past your refrigerator, then no, it does not count!  If you learn or gain nothing from a photo you took, it doesn’t count.  Here’s some shots from my history that I’ve learned from – can you tell which ones I shot at the beginning of my foray into the most recent?  (Don’t cheat and look at the meta data…which ones are first, middle, and last chronologically?)

This exercise also illustrates that you should never be afraid to also look at the shots you were taking one year ago, or two, or three or five, then compare them to your most recent work.  Do you see an improvement?  Has the gap narrowed between what you “saw” and what the image produced?  If the answer is yes, then who cares whether the photos in between count or not.  As long as you are striving to become better and to speak more fluently.  While trees do matter, it’s helpful to remember they are part of a forest.  Keep expanding the forest with the photos that count – the ones you learn from!


Also, don’t forget the Louisville edition of the Worldwide Photowalk happens tomorrow – there’s still room for a couple more people, so if you wanna join us for walking, talking, shooting, and a beverage afterward – it’s free to join!  Register here by midnight tonight!

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