“I find that young people tend to stop too soon. They mimic something they’ve seen, but they don’t stay long enough. If you’re going to photograph anything, you have to spend a long time with it so your subconscious has a chance to bubble to the surface.” – Bruce Davidson
One of the problems that many photographers starting off is that they stop their photography projects too soon. They quickly get bored before really delving deep into their subject matter, theme, or concepts.
A truly great photography project require time, depth, consideration, hard work, sweat, passion, and endurance.
For example for Bruce Davidson’s “Subway” project, he rode the subway nearly every single day (at random hours in the day) for two years straight. By spending so much time in the subway, he became part of the subway. He learned the nuances of the subway, was able to capture different types of subject matter, and a variety of images.
The problem with modern day society is that we often suffer from “photographic ADD”; we can’t concentrate on one project, vision, or subject matter. We quickly flit from one fashionable type of photography to another.
Growing a strong photography project is like growing a tree. You need to start off with a strong foundation, and you need to plant a seed and give it lots of water, light, and love. It takes a long time for a seed to sprout into a great tree.
Look at all the great redwood trees, and imagine the thousands of years they needed to grow to the height they currently exist.
The mistake many photographers do is that they prematurely pull their seeds out of the ground. They don’t let their seeds germinate long enough to lay down roots, and grow. If you are constantly re-planting your seed, it will never grow to incredible heights.
How do you find a photographic project that is interesting? Bruce Davidson gives great advice for aspiring photographers:
”If I were a student right now and I had a teacher like me I’d say, ‘You have to carry your camera everyday and take a picture everyday. And by the end of the week you should have 36 pictures exposed. And then suddenly you’ll latch onto someone, maybe a street vendor- oh he or she is very interesting I might have to be with him or her. So things open up visually.” – Bruce Davidson
Dorothea Lange, the famous photographer of “migrant mother” also shares the philosophy of working your theme until exhaustion, and not giving up too soon:
“Pick a theme and work it to exhaustion… the subject must be something you truly love or truly hate. […] Photographers stop photographing a subject too soon before they have exhausted the possibilities.” – Dorothea Lange
When you’re working on a project, don’t stop too soon. Keep working your theme over a long period of time. The more depth you have with your project, the more unique and meaningful you will make it.
A practical tip? Think decades for your photography project, not years, months, or days.