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The recipe for creating good images is built from a good helping of skill and perhaps a certain degree of luck. But there's another ingredient I would like to address here this week: curiosity.

It's accepted without question that a good photographer needs to be skilled in their trade. Even the most sophisticated modern camera requires that the operator understand how to use the controls as well as the theory behind those controls. Granted, most any camera can be set on automatic, thereby relieving the user of making many of the necessary choices. But in so doing, it also relieves the user of at least part of their role as photographer. And no camera can truly find good images for you, even if once pointed in the right direction they can focus and create a serviceable exposure. No, the need for skill and proficiency in the tools of the trade are attributes that are hard to succeed without as a photographer.

And as I alluded to at the outset, it doesn't hurt to have a dash of luck come your way ever now and then. Even the most skilled photographer wouldn't pass up a lucky break. Granted, the more skill you have, the more likely you will be to be able to take advantage of a lucky situation, but luck has its place regardless of skill. Many of my most popular images had an element of luck in their creation. If something rarely happens and you are able to capture it for posterity as an image, it stands a good chance of being a compelling, or at least memorable, image. If that same something happens all the time, fewer people will find images of it worth their time. Few photographers would find it worth photographing either. When something unexpected happens, we call it luck. When someone has the wherewithal to capture an image of it, we call that skill. Both have their place.

But all that skill and however much luck you may be able to bring to bear would be for not if you never found anything interesting enough to photograph. To find new things to be interested in, you have to be curious. Curiosity is a key ingredient to success at being a photographer.

Without curiosity, you are unlikely to find subject matter to photograph unless you specifically went looking for that subject. Sunset a bust because of overcast skies? Without some degree of curiosity, you'll have a hard time finding alternatives. Without curiosity, you won't be too inclined to go exploring to find things off the beaten path. To really see the world around you and dig below its surface, you have to be curious.

Curiosity opens your eyes to new things and new ideas. Curiosity keeps you from falling into a rut with the familiar and the comfortable. Curiosity keeps things fresh and new. Curiosity keeps you from being satisfied with what you've already done. It keeps pushing you to do more and to find new image making opportunities

Even when photographing something ordinary, curiosity lets you see that thing in a new way. Don't take things at face value. Be curious. It may look like a bush or a tree or a mountain range but what else does it look like? What does it look like reflected in a stream? What does that stream look like photographed at varying shutter speeds?

Curiosity can drive you to crawl around in the dirt as you explore what things look like from other angles. There's a whole world awaiting your curiosity the exists outside of the narrow slice visible from standing eye level. The ordinary may be all around you, but curiosity can turn it into the extraordinary. If you let it.

Photographic technology changes too fast for you to keep up if you're not curious. New camera models come out all the time, and each one comes with a thick user's manual, even if they do now come only as Acrobat PDF files rather than weighty printed tomes they once did. Even more than new camera features, newfangled computer software gets released far too often to be complacent with the status quo. Comfortable with Photoshop? Surprise! Along comes Lightroom. Out goes Nik Color Efex. Along comes MacPhun Luminar. Yes, even us Windows users will soon get Luminar. It won't be just for Mac OS before long. Time to ramp up the curiosity before Nik plugins stop working.

So how do you become more curious? That's a hard question to answer. Curiosity is notoriously difficult to pin down. It has to be. If it weren't, it too would fall victim to the familiar and comfortable. Curiosity too easy to grab hold of soon turns into complacency. Curiosity has to be alive and active to thrive. Learn to follow it. Don't worry about putting it in a box and defining it.

Curiosity grows. It feeds on itself. Start with even a little curiosity and your explorations are apt to make you more curious. Everything you discover creates a new avenue for further exploration. My Google skills provide me the definition of curiosity as "a strong desire to know or learn something." And for everything you find, you will also find more you don't yet know. More that is waiting for you to explore. More to feed your curiosity.

Curiosity didn't kill the cat. It's what allows you to truly see that cat.

"The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity." — Albert Einstein

Date posted: August 20, 2017


Copyright © 2017 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
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Previous tip: The Dark Side of the Sun: More on the Great American Eclipse Return to archives menu Next tip: Two Minutes of Darkness: Notes on What Worked and What Didn't

Related articles:
Seeing Beyond the Apparent
Reality in the Eye and Camera of the Beholder
Where Does Creativity Come From?
Photography is Inherently Subjective

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