While there may be no definitive answer to the question of what makes a great photographer, for me there is often an overlooked quality – an X factor if you will. And, photographers like Man Ray, Robert Capa, and Henri Cartier-Bresson had it in spades.
It is boldness.
What is boldness?
Dictionary definitions point to courage, conviction, risk-taking, and decisiveness.
It is hardly surprising then, that we typically associate boldness with people like polar explorers, mountain climbers, and astronauts.
As a UK-based street photographer I don’t worry about being shot at. I don’t have to transport my images across hostile terrain and through risky border crossings. The biggest physical risk I take each day is crossing the road. I think that goes for most of us.
So, what has being bold got to do with most of us mere mortals?
“Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.” – Albert Einstein
Being bold is not just about facing and managing physical risks, it embraces our approach to what we do each day. And, as Einstein counselled, an endless repetition of your daily grind does not guarantee success.
The healthy evolution of your talent, what you create, and the satisfaction you gain, will occasionally demand that you step out of your comfort zone.
Indeed, boldness is a magical part of human ingenuity. And how we each demonstrate it is our personal X factor.
How to demonstrate your boldness
Being bold is essentially about…
“The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
– Nelson Mandela
Without bravery we become bystanders. We keep our heads down and the world moves on without us.
Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop, once that said that ‘if you think you are too small to have an impact then spend a night with a mosquito in your room’.
Be brave and true to your calling.
This could mean taking a step towards starting a new business, a new personal project, learning a new skill, or even tackling a task that we’ve been avoiding but must be done to help us achieve our potential.
It could also be something we must challenge…within ourselves, our workflows, or our communities.
“If a window of opportunity opens, don’t pull down the shade.”
– Tom Peters
Go looking for opportunities. For example, opportunities to promote your work, to exchange ideas, to try something new.
Where would you like to see your work on display? Arrange a meeting with a gallery curator, talk to a web designer, call a retailer. You get the idea.
We can use these opportunities that we create to build contacts and gain valuable feedback too.
Opportunity may also come from collaboration – but don’t leave this to an invitation on your web site. Get out there to contact and meet fellow artists.
Time-out is healthy and opportunity packed too. Walk around town, have coffee, talk to strangers. Don’t forget to take your business card. Be positive when you talk about your work, ask questions/ be interested in the other person, and smile ?
“Chance favours the prepared mind.”
– Louis Pasteur
Being bold requires us to be more mindful of how we learn – what we read, watch, listen to, and do.
These days we are all conscious about healthy and unhealthy foods. Are we equally as conscious about what and how we feed our minds?
A restricted learning diet of say just reading new gear reviews, is likely to risk unpleasant side effects and do nothing to improve your photography.
Reading about great photographers, travelling, reading fiction, seeing things being made, visiting galleries, becoming a volunteer, attending talks, giving talks, or finding mentors. These are all healthy ways of learning and growing into our potential.
Commit to never stop learning. Always be curious. And always look for opportunities to share what you have learned.
“It is our choices… that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
– J.K. Rowling
You cannot avoid decisions, but you can avoid ‘analysis-paralysis’. Decisiveness is about being prepared to let go; to stop digging.
To paraphrase J.K Rowling, our choices define us.
I think they also define our work. Think about great painters like Picasso and Turner. To me the progression of their art suggests a decisive process of becoming less fearful, less analytic, and more intuitive.
Of course, not every choice leads to success, but each rewards us with new learning, which feeds our choices.
Aim to do the right thing. Be guided by your calling. Decide upon your key values and be true to them in your decision-making. Be bold.
“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it; Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.”
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
You can learn more about the author, and see more of his photography, at his website.
Derek Snee is an impassioned street, people and architecture photographer. He lives in England’s northernmost county of Northumberland with his wife and a rather large Bermudian cat. Derek loves travel, coffee, and helping others to improve their photography and Lightroom skills. Two years ago he found the answer to a puzzling question on PHLEARN’s YouTube channel and is still PHLEARNing lots today.