Let me start by offering a small nugget of wisdom: Learn from those who are or have accomplished goals that you aspire to yourself. I think you’ll find there are things about their work ethic, life perspective, or inner beliefs that allow them to do what others can’t or won’t. This is what allows them to move through plateaus that stop many of us at a certain point. I’m always on the search for the next piece of inspiration. I found just such a source of motivation from a message in a quote from the indomitable Bruce Lee. It goes as follows:
"If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them." –Bruce Lee
The underlying message here is powerful; a message that if we fully accept can impact and improve many aspects of life. The endeavor of photography is a great testing ground for such a belief. With the MANY different techniques and variety of subject matter available to the photographer, photography can offer endless plateaus to move through if the artist feels inspired. Think about your favorite photographers that you aspire your work toward; I’d imagine many of you are thinking of someone who has mastered more than one photographic skill and is often on the forefront of new and creative work. A current photographer that continues to inspire me is Ian Plant. His works stand out to me because he is continually pushing the envelope with new techniques and challenges.
When considering my own journey of creating images and where I am today, I can clearly see what I would consider metaphoric plateaus that I needed to move beyond to stay inspired.
The Beginning – Wide Angle Landscapes
In the beginning of my artistic pursuit I started out photographing a lot of wide angle landscapes. I loved the big open planes that were presented through a wide angle lens. It allowed me to compose a landscape scene that the viewer could move through from a close foreground to a very distant horizon. Initially, this was almost all I shot; the challenge is where my passion started. Inevitably, with practice and time in the field my skills began to improve and I felt confident in my approach to this type of photography. After a certain amount of time, the challenge wasn’t where it was when I began, and I began to lose a bit of the passion.
Wildlife with a Telephoto Lens
It was at this stage when I decided to invest in a telephoto lens and began trying to capture wildlife imagery. In this I had found a new plateau and a hell of a good challenge. This is certainly a plateau I’ve yet to move beyond, and I look forward to years of attempting to improve and capture unique, compelling moments of wildlife. Unlike landscape photography, the subject matter isn’t as predictable as when the best light of sunset and sunrise will be. Wildlife photography takes an incredible amount of patience, a solid understanding of the animal’s natural behavior, pre-planning and a lot of luck.
My latest and least successful photographic challenge I’ve been inspired to pursue has been night photography. Just as with the other plateaus (and almost any photography pursuit), this type of photography takes a great deal of patience and pre-planning. Understanding of the movement of the stars and your camera’s limits in shooting in very low-light are critical. As with wildlife photography, I view this as a new test and a new plateau that I hope to master.
The examples provided above have been provided by my personal passions and what has motivated me. A friend of mine, Chris Anderson, started out shooting digital landscape work and found his challenge in transitioning to shooting medium format panoramic film. You may find your own challenge in the form of architectural, conceptual, macro, portrait, still-life, travel or any of the other endless subject matter options available. Your next plateau may present itself in photojournalism and move you into a life-long career. The important lesson is to find and continuously move through these metaphoric plateaus. By continuing to accept new challenges we allow ourselves to remain inspired and stay ahead of the inevitable burnout. Here’s to not accepting limits and finding inspiration.
P.S. Another plateau of mine is writing and teaching; thanks for the opportunity Pictureline.
As always, feel free to ask any questions through the contact section of my website.