The Tyranny of Creative How To-ism

Once upon a time, I wanted to be a writer.  So I read a lot of Writer’s Digests books.  I visited all of the creative writing websites.  I checked out the magazines.  It didn’t take long before they all started to sound alike and say the same exact things.  It quickly became apparent that there was more money to be made in teaching writing than in writing.

It’s the same damned thing in photography now, isn’t it?  Check out the magazine rack at Borders or Barnes and Noble for three months.  You’ll see the same topics floating through them all.  Each month, one magazine will be devoting an issue to black and white photography, with the featured tutorial about how to properly convert a color pic to black and white in Photoshop three different ways.  You’ll see how to shoot better landscapes.  (Point your camera a third of the way into the scene, put the camera on a tripod, squeeze the aperture shut as far as you can, and only take pictures during the Golden Hour.)  You’ll see how to “paint with light.”  (This is a particularly British fascination, it seems.)  You’ll learn how to take HDR photos.  Then there’ll be the Macro Photography issue, complete with a cover shot of a really big flower, close-up, or perhaps a lizard’s eye reflecting the ring light.

They’ll all be reviewing the same “new” and “hot” item, which came out three months ago and that you grew tired of reading about on the web two months ago.

Over and over and over again.

And you’ll likely see all the same platitudes here on this website in the months ahead, if I continue to focus on photography. The magazines will have some pretty pictures, though.  And half of them will be critiqued for bad cropping, ignoring the rule of thirds, complicated backgrounds, and poor level adjustments.

I haven’t looked too deeply into it, but I bet there’s a similar circle for artists’ magazines.

The creative endeavors attract suckers who want to be that creative for a living, but who don’t realize that the “living” is more business than creative.  There will be more money and more work for top notch photographers in writing about photography, making DVDs about photography, and doing workshops than there will be in shooting.

If you’re just getting started in photography, by all means, indulge yourself.  (And buy the British magazines.  The ads will be useless to you, but the presentation is ten times better.) I did read all of those magazines when I started and I learned an awful lot that way.  I still subscribe to one, as a matter of fact, for light reading material.

Just realize that after six months, the snake will begin gnawing on its own tail.  Don’t throw bad money after good. Just walk away and learn, yourself.  Or spend that money on reference books you’ll use repeatedly and not throw away — like Lightroom or Photoshop manuals.

And, above all, get out there and take pictures.  It’s the only way to learn.  Everything you’ve read, everything you’re seen in a training video, and everything you’ve listened to on a podcast is all theoretical nonsense until you begin to apply it.

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