I’d like to think that as I age I get wiser. I sure hope so because I want to be a better person every day! Lately I’ve been pondering about principles. For most of my life I’ve been chasing after the 1-2-3 approach only to realize that things are so complex, I would have been better off knowing the principles of life rather than going in without any guiding principle.
Since I am a photographer, I’ve compiled 5 principles that I’ve discovered that are beneficial for photographers. I hold them as true because they’ve always been true for me and I am sure they will be for you too!
#1: The Pareto principle
The Pareto principle was discovered when an Italian dude discovered that 80% of the wealth was owned by 20% of the population and the crazy thing is, it’s the same applied to the whole of life. 20% (it can be more or less, it’s just that there is a HUGE disparity between the two) of what you do accounts for 80% of your happiness.
When applied to photography in general, it means the more cameras you have the less each individual one will be used. 20% of what you do as a photographer counts for 80% of your results, etc.
This principle is my master principle for absolutely everything I do. I always think in terms of 80/20. When it comes to photography, there are multiple implications: 20% of the whole selection of images accounts for 80% of the impact the series will have. I derive 80% of satisfaction out of 20% of the images. I use the same 20% of the tools 80% of the time.
Again, it doesn’t mean a clean-cut 80/20 but it could be a 5/95, the main point being the disparity is great. This principle, one taken to heart helps you focus on what works and just helps magnify it.
#2: If you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you’ve always gotten
I remember two main eras in my photography: before and after my mother passed away. All I did was to change the way I thought of photography, and I exponentially grew as a photographer. Simply stated, if something doesn’t work, change it!
If you always wake up at 7 and are late to work, change things and set the clock earlier. Applied to photography, if you are not satisfied with what you do as a photographer, change a variable, try shooting with another lens for a while, change your subject matter for a while, explore. If you always shoot the way you alway have, you will always get what you’ve always gotten.
If nothing changes… nothing changes!
#3: Where focus goes energy flows
Whatever you have your attention on will grow. Say you have your mind on photography. The more you think and put it in front of your mind, the more you will become a better photographer. No, not magically, but your mind will start putting ideas in your mind about improving. What if I tried this? Why don’t we read this? Get this training here, etc.
Your mind has the crazy cool feature of bringing you closer to whatever you envision, by telling you how to bring it about. So if you are not too satisfied with your photography, focus on it, on your images, and let your mind guide you to what is the best next step. I can tell you for sure that if you are reading this, photography IS in your focus, because those who aren’t interested in photography probably won’t be reading this.
The fact is, your brain told you to read this because it believes it will be beneficial for the growth of your photography focus, proving the principle. I found it true when my mother passed away, I suddenly started focusing more and more on my photography and grew from there.
#4. The principle of the slight edge
This is a powerful principles that is especially good news for those of us who are busy. The principle simply stated is that little efforts prolonged over a large period of time will create amazing results. The other side of that same principle is that at the very top, only a slight edge differentiates top performers, like a few seconds (or milliseconds) between runners and sprinters.
For photographers it means that a little photography every day goes a long way. Read a photography magazine every day, edit your images for 15 minutes a day, shoot for a few minutes everyday (how about a 365 day project?), etc. It’s not how much you do every day, but the compound effect of all that you did every day that makes an impact. I read about 300 books in a few years so far and it doesn’t feel like it.
The slight edge also works for buying cameras. You can probably save $3 everyday by not buying that super-mocha-nada-cappumachino every day. Do that for a year and you have more than enough for any respectable camera. I know it’s easier said then done, but if you have a goal to get a camera and think about it, you will pretty much automatically avoid temptations along your way.
Ask yourself: What can you do everyday to get you closer to your photography goal? And you will be on your way to gaining the slight edge. This questions really helped me grow forward.
#5. Your images are right in front of your nose
A bad mindset I used to have was to have a definite idea of what a photograph was to look like. While it is good to have an idea of what you are doing, the biggest issue is that I would ignore the images that were right in front of me. Now I have a camera wherever I go, I’ve learned that your images are right there in front of you if you are attentive. If you think about a radio, all the radio stations are all present at the same time, but only the station that you tuned in to can you hear.
Likewise, I believe images are everywhere, and one needs to be in tune for them to start popping in your mind. You can find interesting stuff in the most boring spaces. Because truth of the matter is, an exciting place is only exciting for a little while and then becomes boring! Blame human nature. Another visiting photographer can come to where you live and find some nice images, so it means that they are there and always will be.
I always keep this principle in mind when I want to start complaining about where I live, I start focusing hard on my surroundings and tell myself to find some nice images. Because it’s not that images are not there, we’ve been desensitized to them when the visual novelty faded away. So put yourself in attentive mode and let this principle be true for you too!
So here you have it, 5 principles for photographers that help you focus on what’s important and go from there. I had to learn these on my own but I have found them true every single time. I hope they serve you well too!
About the author: Olivier Duong is a Haitian-French-Vietnamese documentary and street photographer. He is the editor, designer and co-founder of Inspired Eye Magazine. You can connect with him through Google Plus, Facebook, and Twitter. This article was also published here.