Is Reading About Photography Slowing You Down?
How to know when to stop reading and start taking action?
Everyone wants to get better. We learn, we are curious. Artistic or not, everybody carries this trait since birth. Creatives recognize this urge and explore it. The best ones exploit it. They never stop learning. To them, learning is living. These people never retire, never quit.
When learning something new, you see creative people master the required skills quickly. You see them succeed often. How do they do it? It’s how they learn!
They take action. Whenever an idea strikes, whenever they get inspired, they act immediately!
Plunging into something new is terrifying. It’s always hard to take the first step towards new projects, relationships, or careers. We can’t predict the best possible outcome. We cannot evaluate all the options that happen when we act or when we don’t. Inaction in itself is an action on the other side of our decisions.
How do we overcome this fear? Many turn to reading. They study guides, how-to articles, manuals, or the ever-popular articles listing “X” amount of steps to achieve “something” really fast, or make something absolutely unique.
I do it too. My analytical brain monkey needs all the possible information, before taking action. Sometimes, I analyze so much, I forget about the original problem. When researching this article, I read up on how creatives make things happen, I read about different learning curves there are, I even looked up the law of diminishing returns (more on that later). Don’t even get me started on the amount of advice and Youtube videos there are on “taking action”.
Moments later, when I opened up my writing editor to work on this post, no words would come out for good 20 minutes. I just couldn’t get my thoughts organized well enough to start writing. So many angles to choose from, so many approaches to start this article with. Paralysis through analysis.
The more information we have on the subject, the harder and longer it takes to synthesize them.
Research is important, but up to a point. You have to take action.
Stop reading, take action!
By all means, do your research: learn the basic skills, understand the theory. You need to know how things work, what buttons to push. Reading up on things opens the world of new possibilities to you and your horizons broaden. Your brain absorbs all the information and new synapsis start firing up. Great! However, you need to learn to recognize the moment when continued reading provides less value than taking action.
One of the ways to recognize this moment is the law of diminishing returns. This law explains how every additional unit of resource generates a smaller return. Imagine you are very hungry. You order a large burger. The first bite of your meal is so satisfying — fireworks explode in your mouth and your brain surfs on sweet dopamine waves. Every sequential bite carries less and less satisfaction until you cannot eat anymore. Over time, the return you get from each additional bite diminishes.
It’s the same with reading. The first article about how to shoot street photography, portraits, or weddings is so full of information and inspiration, you just need to go on. You continue with second, third, and fourth. You divert your reading into the gear required for a particular photo shoot. Deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole. You read about things to do, not to do, and things that go wrong. You spend hours on hours reading and preparing until you are paralyzed with information and taking action seems more frightening than ever before. Paralysis through analysis.
Next time you’ll be starting a project and reading up on the ways to go about it, try one of the following:
Keep the law of diminishing returns in mind.
If it feels like it’s getting hard to find content with an adequate return, stop the reading, and take action!
Take it step-by-step.
If, after all the reading, the project still feels scary, take the first step: book a first portrait session, take a few street shots, work as an assistant before becoming a wedding photographer, practice at home, do self-portraits, experiment with still life, the list goes on.
Make it a process.
Include action in between things you read: as soon as you read something you like, go out and practice it — no matter if successful or not, you will have learned something from the attempt, and this will help you research more accurately next time you read,
Learn to enjoy failure.
Treat objections as sparks that ignite your learning. Your first attempts at new things will fail, you’ll come across hurdles you won’t know how to overcome — treat them as your guidelines for future learning.
Embrace the amateur status
Try things without reading at all. Reading may frame your thinking too much and creative ideas often arise from extrapolating skills from one field and using them in another
I fall for the “reading paradox” myself, very often. Call it procrastination or lack of action-taking personality. Doesn’t matter.
What truly matters, is how you continue with your creative efforts from now on. Read-learn-act-repeat. Take action, and good luck!
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