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Knowing how to use your gear is important if you want to be a better photographer. But your mindset is just as important.
That’s where curiosity and patience come in. Good photographers have plenty of both. If you’re curious about the world, it encourages you to get out and explore it. If you’re patient, you’ll get to see and experience things that other people miss. The end result is that you’ll make better photos.
This idea is powerful, so let’s explore it in more depth.
Curiosity and patience encourage you to explore
Have you observed what happens when somebody who isn’t a photographer sees something interesting? They usually stop, take a photo or two on their phone, then move on.
There are lots of photographers who do this too.
But a curious photographer thinks differently. When you’re curious you tend to stop, look and explore. You might take a moment to engage more of your senses. Breathe in the air, touch something that looks interesting, or listen. You might see something else that looks interesting and go check that out. Or have a look around that hidden corner you’ve only just noticed.
As you can imagine, if you have a camera in your hand, this process leads to getting better photos.
Here is a set of photos that I made of some farm buildings that I came across on a walk. It was unplanned and I only had my iPhone with me, so I used that to explore the subject.
Being patient encourages you to invest time
As a patient photographer, you’re willing to wait until somebody finishes what they are doing and moves out of the way. Or you might wait until the right person enters the frame and completes the composition.
You understand that the best results don’t always come right away. You might need to come back when the light is better (or more suitable to what you want to achieve). Sometimes you need to work the subject more.
Let me give you an example of how this works. I made the photo below when I was in Jodhpur, India with a tour group.
There are three things that caught my eye. The obvious one is the red bike against the blue wall. I also liked the metal bars across the window and the blue door.
I made this photo in a hurry because the others in the group were ahead of me. So I didn’t have time to explore the scene further. But now I can see other things worth exploring and wish that I’d had more time.
Let me show you what I mean by cropping to make some different compositions. It’s not ideal, but it gives you the idea.
Another issue was that it was getting dark and I had to use ISO 6400 to make the photo. It would have been interesting to return in the day, where there was more light, and to see how the light moved across the scene (and hope the bike was still there).
Thinking about this photo now I realize that slowing down and being patient and curious is a more mindful approach to photography. It’s about being in the present, and putting any distracting thoughts or worries out of your head.
Like most of us, you’ve probably got things on your mind when you’re taking photos. Try to put them aside and concentrate on the moment. Activate senses other than sight. What can you hear, smell and touch?
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Curiosity and patience help you connect
Photography is about making connections, both with people and places.
The stop, shoot and move on photographer I mentioned earlier doesn’t build a connection with the subject.
Let’s say you’re visiting somewhere new for the first time. If you’re spending a week or two on vacation, for example, it’s tempting to rush from one place to another, seeing as much as you can and making photos as you go.
The problem with this approach is that you’re just a visitor. It doesn’t give you time to stop and see. You can’t use all your senses and enjoy the moment.
But what if you visit fewer places, and stay longer at each one? You have more time to stop and see. To slow down and use all your senses. To talk to local people and learn more about them.
Another type of connection you make is with your local area. I’ve lived in Devon (south-west England) for nearly five years. We live in a town with the sea on one side and an estuary on the other. Our connection with our chosen home gets stronger as we learn more about it. That feeling of putting down roots is feeding through into my photography.
Here are a couple of photos I made on a recent walk along the river.
Connecting with people
Patience also helps you make connections with people. If you’re making portraits of somebody you don’t know it takes time to gain their trust and encourage them to open up and give you expressions showing character or emotion.
You need to make an emotional investment, a connection of some sort, for this to happen. You need to be genuinely interested in learning more about your model. An interesting conversation, a chat about shared experiences and interests builds connection.
The woman in the photos below isn’t just somebody who has modeled for me, she’s become a friend. And it started because I was curious about photographing performance artists.
You can apply these ideas about curiosity and patience better if you take a long term view. This encourages you to set yourself goals, create projects and think about the things you’d like to achieve over the coming months. Cultivating curiosity and patience, taking a more mindful approach to photography and building connections helps you get there.