Rule 1: The First Ten Thousand

Not exactly my best work.

“Your first ten thousand photos are your worst.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson

Cartier-Bresson knew a thing or two about good photography. From the late 1920’s ’til his death nearly eighty years later, he was responsible for some of the most iconic images in photographic history… all of which is rather a longish way of saying, the man knows whereof he speaks.

Your first several (thousand) photos won’t be your best work, and that’s okay. Photography, from the act of making an individual photo, to the learning curve associated with being a photographer, is a learning process that, if you’re lucky, never ends. That’s not to say that you won’t have some keepers, and maybe even an image somewhere in that batch that knocks the socks off nearly anyone who sees it. What it does speak to is the discipline and sheer repetition you’ll have to go through to be any good at photography.

That’s the good news. The better news is that technology is still growing at a dizzying pace (well, it’s better news unless you’re the type who absolutely must have the latest and greatest everything; in that case, prepare to be broke more often than not), with the end result that photography is now a more democratic medium than it’s been at nearly any point in its history.

Sure, photography has been accessible before. Innovations like roll film and Kodak’s cheap, easily-portable Brownie camera allowed increasing numbers of people to take advantage of what was, at the time, still a relatively young medium. But there were still additional costs and time associated with film processing, not to mention the fact that unless you took notes as you shot, and developed your film quickly instead of letting it gather dust on a shelf for months on end, you were likely to forget how you got your shots, for better or worse. Now, anybody with a digital camera – which, between compacts and phones with built-in cameras, is just about everybody – can see the results of their shots in something close to real time, with no need for additional processing or printing.

What this adds up to, of course, is that you can now get to those first ten thousand faster, easier, and cheaper than ever before. That’s the bad news, since the medium’s become so easy that it’s also a hell of a lot easier to fall into mindless pointing-and-shooting, or creating bad habits you’ll have to work hard later to unlearn. My aim in writing this blog, therefore, will be to help you get into those good habits early, and to learn what goes into making a good photo so that you can shoot with mindfulness, intention, and confidence. Your first ten thousand may not be your best, but they don’t have to be altogether terrible.

So. Let’s get started. Here’s to your first ten thousand, and to every ten thousand after.

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