I always say the Universe’s favorite hiding place for the most awesome stuff is right behind fear. Isn’t that a little unfair? Why doesn’t the Universe put the great stuff right before the fear, so everyone can enjoy pure bliss?
Although there are a million laws in the Universe, you only need to know one for your photography right now: it expands. Always. But what does that have to do with fear, being dumb and your photos? Let me explain.
If the Universe always expands, you have to comply or otherwise you’ll struggle: if all your friends try out new things and you don’t, you won’t fit in anymore; if the company you work for expands big time, you either grow with it and embrace the change or you’ll get fired.
As long as you have a relationship with something or someone, you relate to each other. Once you relate to each other, you are connected—if your friend tows your car, you better not hit the breaks.
It’s the same with the Universe, your life, and your photography. Since the Universe expands, you as a person and a photographer have to do the same. Otherwise you fight against an insurmountable force. I tried it multiple times and almost died, developing severe suicidal depression due to my ADHD.
You can take vacations, you can take creative breaks, but as soon as you stagnate (creative) depression hits you. Maybe it won’t hit you as severe as it did for me, but every one of us can become depressed. This is why I say you have to be dumb to become better at photography and life.
Of course, the definition of smart and dumb depends on perspective, but let’s try something. Decide for yourself whether you would consider the following person smart or dumb:
- Is it dumb to quit your well-paying job while in debt to become an artist with no savings and not one sale in sight?
- Would you consider it clever to go against the advice of hundreds of well-educated people to do so?
- How smart is it really to be homeless over and over again to just take photos all day that no one really needs?
As someone that studied statistics and goes by reason and logic, I have to say it sounds pretty dumb. So why the hell would you want to be the dumb photographer?
Well, it already makes you unique by default. If you always go where no one else goes, you’ll end up where no one else ends up. If you always do what no one else does, you’ll get what no one else gets.
Whether it eventually leads to your own photography paradise depends on how well you learn and improve from your mistakes, of course, but the insights, knowledge and skills you gain are rare and precious. It’s the road less travelled by, and that’s what makes all the difference—for you, for your photography, and for all the photographers you care about.
What’s more, being the “dumbest” photographer in the world is actually pretty easy. Although it may seem counter-intuitive, and a lot of people will judge you, this is the one rule you have to follow:
Always go where no one goes.
This rule has served as the ideal fuel for the motor of change in history. As soon as you feel that you are part of the masses, leave. Turn around, walk away, and forge your own path.
It may feel lonely and you have to trust your instincts more than ever before, but it’s the right way. How could you ever experience your journey as unique if millions of others have walked the same exact path before you? How could you grow as a human and photographer if you just follow the steps of others?
Now, this doesn’t mean that you should blindly walk where no one else is going.
Listen to what the photographers you admire advise you, and evaluate their advice based on how successful they are with their philosophy. If they are not where you want to be, don’t follow their advice… it’s as simple as that. They might have the best arguments in the world to defend their path, and it’s their right to do so, but you also have the right to learn from their experience and go elsewhere.
Why is this article not called “10 Crystal Clear Ways To Become More Successful”? Because abstract guidance, if done right, leaves you much more room to create your own thoughts, actions, and steps.
Any rule or advice you read that dictates steps and a path rather than helping you define and create your own, is almost certainly bad. It’s turning your unique creative soul into a bad remix of what’s already been done or someone else is doing at the moment.
I personally believe that you can only teach what you’ve personally proven with your own success. If you want to start your own business, from whom would you rather learn? A college professor that knows all economic theories in the world, or an entrepreneur who has already achieved your goal and runs multiple successful businesses?
If you want to check how “smart” a photographer is, just tell him this:
Pics or it didn’t happen!
If a theory isn’t proven by a successful photographic experiment, it’s nothing more than a hypothesis. Photographic scientist claim wisdom, but they don’t put it to the test themselves.
In science you always base your studies on the proven facts of other studies. Reason and logic are the driving forces behind it. But that doesn’t apply to photography or art. Photography is emotional. Period. As soon as you try to calculate it, it loses its heart and soul.
There are proven ways to run a profitable business, but where will proven strategies in photography get you?
Basic technical knowledge and composition rules is as far as “strategies” will take you in photography. This art is 10% logical and 90% emotional—90% you have to figure out yourself, and 10% you can learn from others.
Just compare photography to poetry or novels. The 10% is the ABCs and grammar, 90% is having a great (visual) story to tell from within. If it truly was the other way around, we would all take the same photos, wouldn’t we? Do 90% of the photos you see online offer you a unique perspective of the world? No, because having the honesty to look within yourself for inspiration is harder than looking left and right.
To be honest, I’d rather not even give you any examples. I would love to keep your creative soul free and independent.
Picasso claimed: “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” I know what he means, but I politely disagree. Good artists copy, great artists steal people’s hearts by pouring their own into their artworks. The answer is always within you, not around you. It’s not in the past or the future, it’s in the now. That’s where you are and that’s where your photography and art has the most fertile soil. Connect the dots from the past, but focus on creating in the now.
Don’t fall in love with your fellow photographers’ work, love yourself and let them fall in love with yours. That’s the true meaning of giving. Please feel free to steal the mindset behind the following examples, but create a unique journey and photography that can’t be copied. That way you become touchable and untouchable in the best way possible.
The following examples that were captured due to “dumbness.” not lessons to be replicated. In 2013, when I discovered street photography, I tried to educate myself on the subject to improve. No matter where I looked or whom I asked, the “golden rules” were pretty clear.
This is what happens if you’re dumb, don’t listen, and do the exact opposite:
1. True emotions come from strong facial expressions
2. Don’t capture people’s backs, it lacks emotion
3. People walking past buildings are boring
4. Black and white highlights structures and patterns best
5. Black and white brings out more “soul”
6. Zoom lenses are a big no-no
7. Eye contact attracts viewers most effectively
8. The quieter and smaller the camera, the better
9. Capture unique characters that stand out
10. The closer you get to the subject, the better
I hope this article inspires you to become a bit more hungry and foolish, as Steve Jobs once said. Be dumb, take risks, trust your instincts and create your own path, because that’s the only path there is. It may be more challenging at first, but it’s much more rewarding in the long-term. And even if we both walk the road less travelled, it doesn’t mean that we are lone wanderers without travel companions. We can always share our unique insights with each other. Whether it’s through social media, emails, or meeting up every once in a while in this insanely beautiful forest of billions of creative souls.
If you have any questions or ideas on how we could become dumber together, please reach out to me. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on this to re-evaluate my own. Let me try to finish this article with the dumbest last line I could come up with:
If you want to be dumb, follow my advice, but if you want to be the dumbest photographer in the world, please don’t and share your insights with all of us!
About the author: Marius “VICE” Vieth is an award-winning fine-art photographer, entrepreneur, and coach based in Amsterdam. His brand new label Eye, Heart & Soul empowers rising and established photographers worldwide. Connect with EHS on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to level up your photography game! This post was also published here.