By Brad Beckstrom
Just over a year ago I embarked on a creative project I called my Big Audacious Quest. My plan for this ambitious creative project is to master something I’d walked away from years ago, photography. The idea was to have this quest be about more than just photography. I felt that I had gotten into a creative slump over the years and wanted to create a body of work that would not only help me breakout creatively, but also write about it, and share what I learn. I also wanted to see what kind of impact things like photo sharing sites, digital cameras, social media, and photo management tools would have on my efforts. These are all things that were not around when I was first passionate about photography in the early 80s. So, after a year at this, here are a few of the things I’ve learned.
- How to define mastery on my terms.
To start I needed to define what becoming a master photographer would look like and put some clear goals and milestones in place along the way. In many ways, my quest is an actual journey so I also wanted to add some geographic elements to my goals as well. First, I had to address this whole mastery thing. In his book Mastery, Robert Greene talks about the origins of master craftsman guilds as far back as the early Middle Ages. Green gives examples of journeyman apprentices and masters on their own 7 to 10 year journeys. Green, Malcolm Gladwell (Outliers) and others talk about the 10,000 hour rule as the time investment required to truly master something. There are plenty of people who poke holes in this theory, especially as it relates to creative fields, but I feel these authors at least defined mastery and gave readers an idea of the type of time investment required. For me, it was a great place to start. There’s no guarantee that investing 10,000 hours in something will make you a master but it allowed me to put some goals in place and begin the journey. So, I took the core elements of my quest: photography, geography, creativity, and time and put the goals down on paper. At the end of some crazy back of a napkin calculations on what 10,000 hours would get me, this is what the quest looks like.
10,000 photographs published
1,000 places explored
10 years in the making
1 amazing journey
- How to hit walls
Sometimes going gangbusters at the beginning of a project can be the kiss of death, especially when you hit a wall. I knew if I was going in to stay on track, I would need to publish about 1,000 photographs a year from 100 places in at least 10 cities per year. Publishing can include, blogs, websites, photo sharing sites, and photo books. After my first year, I’m ahead of my goal on certain items and behind on others. Over 2600 photos published, from 90 places, in 27 cities. Starting out I purposely kept the number of photos to publish goal relatively low as I knew i’d likely get ahead of the goal and later hit some obstacles that would slow me down, like a big work related project or the 3 months of crappy weather that we’ve had recently. Dealing with some of these obstacles has helped me put a daily practice in place so I can keep a few balls in the air and pivot between projects as needed.
- Don’t compare your beginnings to someone else’s middle or end
A friend shared this quote with me early in my efforts. When you’re embarking on a creative effort, it’s important to remember that you’re just beginning. As Ira Glass said “ In any creative endeavor. you’re probably going to be disappointed with your work for a couple of years but it’s only by completing that volume of work that you can live up to your ambitions.” It’s important to study the Masters but it’s counterproductive to try to compare your work to masters, or even professionals, as you begin. I like to think of myself as some punk kid who has everything to learn and is just getting started. I’ve found this helpful in tapping into beginner’s mind.
- Do the work and put it out there
I’ve been publishing about one out of every 8 photos I take. I feel like that’s high and it’s hard for me to put my amature work up on photography sites popular with professionals like 500px.com but it’s been totally worthwhile. I needed to create a workflow to share a steady stream of my photos across several sharing sites and social media. This workflow has helped me gather valuable feedback, learn to use new software like Lightroom, Pixelmator, and Camerabag. I’ve been using some of these tools to also share occasional images on Flickr and Instagram. This may not work for everyone but sharing my work motivates me to constantly improve what I publish while working towards that goal of 10,000 published images.
- A creative quest will lead to new experiences and discoveries
For years when I would visit a new city, my concern would be finding great local hangouts, restaurants, and dive bars. Now, I feel like I’m learning to see again. I have motivation to go for longer walks, discover a city, and learn something about the people who live there. I still like to pop into a great dive bar but that cold beer tastes a lot better after walking 6 miles, camera in hand. Instead of stumbling upon things on my phone or online, I’ve gotten very good at walking in no particular direction to experience things in real time.
- This will take time, and time is valuable so invest it wisely
Early in this endeavor, I felt like something would need to give in order to pursue this quest. I was concerned I would need to walk away from writing, client work, or neglect something else to find these 10,000 hours. After I laid out my plan and broke it into much smaller pieces, I was able to make this work part of my daily routine. I studied the work of other creatives in the book Daily Rituals and started to pay closer attention on times of the day when I was most creative. I went back to time management skills I used years ago to develop a daily practice. I couldn’t have done this without breaking this creative quest into something measurable. Numbers and milestones don’t always fit well with creativity but when you don’t know how you’ll find the time it’s essential.
- Finding convergence
Photographs have always been part of the work that I do even if they weren’t images I created. Early on in the project I wrote down the word convergence. I wanted to figure out how photography would influence and intertwine with my work and my writing. One of the biggest benefits I’ve found is that no matter what the task, doing is learning and I can bring all of the experience I’ll get publishing images and writing about them to my client work and vice versa. I’m only a year into the process and I already feel better talking to clients and partners about imagery and photo driven projects.
- What’s it all for?
Here’s the thing. The secrets of a creative endeavor won’t reveal themselves until you get started. I’ve been asked by more than one person what I’m doing trekking around, creating urban, street and abstract photography. For now the answer is I am learning to see.
The Happiness of Pursuit
Daily Rituals, How Artists Work