Our good friends Jeff and Kirk recently had Ben on their bimonthly PhotoActive podcast to chat about Ben’s new book:
What does it mean to really practice your craft? In this episode we welcome back photographer and educator Ben Long to PhotoActive to talk about his wonderful new book The Practicing Photographer: Essays on Developing Your Photographic Practice. We talk about why practice involves more than grabbing your camera every once in a while, about getting out of creative ruts, and the value of studying other photographers’ works.
It’s a lively and entertaining discussion on the topic; we’ve always enjoyed speaking with the guys at PhotoActive — their podcast is one of the few good ones that cover photography. You can listen to the episode directly from the PhotoActive website, or through all of the major podcast apps.
Here’s the official blurb on the book, from the back cover:
In The Practicing Photographer, Ben Long’s message is clear: if you want to become a better photographer, you have to think about practice. Musicians, dancers, actors and other artists incorporate practice into their work, yet most photographers want to talk more about camera settings and gear than they do about their practice.
The short essays contained within this slim volume are designed to help you develop your own photography practice. It lacks a single photograph between its covers, and there is no mention of a camera company, a camera type, or any other type of gear. The goal of The Practicing Photographer is to help you think about practicing your photography in a more holistic way, from field to print, and in between. The result is quite different from the standard “how to” photography book, but one that can be as important to enriching your craft.
At 124 pages, The Practicing Photographer is a small book, consisting of 53 short essays (1 to 2 pages each) that, when taken as a whole, are aimed at helping you build your own photographic practice. The book is divided into six primary sections: Practicing, Before Shooting, Shooting, Mind Games, Post-Production, Presentation. A final section includes specific ideas for practicing, as well as an essay on how to gauge the success of your practice. (See the Table of Contents for a complete list of the essays.)
The first essay in the book, “Why Practice?” can be read here on the CDP website.
Which formats will you offer, and how much will it cost?
The print version is $13.95 is now available from the CDP store; the ebook version is $9.95, and is available in ePub, PDF, and Kindle formats.
Amazon has both print and Kindle versions available for sale worldwide (Amazon link).
The Practicing Photographer, CDP Press. ISBN 978-1-7326369-4-1 (print); 978-1-7326369-5-8 (ebook).
I’m excited to announce that Ben’s next book, The Practicing Photographer, is currently in the final stages of production, and will be on sale here and on Amazon by mid-summer this year.
This book grew out of discussions that Ben and I had about his primary teaching message through the years: if you want to become a better photographer, you have to think about practice. Musicians, dancers, actors and other artists incorporate practice into their work, yet photographers talk more about camera settings and gear than they do about their practice. But when we talk about the concept of practice with workshop students, a light bulb often goes off, and it felt to us that a book about the topic just made sense.
The Practicing Photographer is a slim book (roughly 120 pages), comprised of more than 50 short essays designed to help you develop your own photography practice. While some of the essays are directly derived from Ben’s longtime video series of the same name on LinkedIn Learning (née Lynda.com), the majority have been specifically written for this book.
We’re excited about the result. It is quite different from the standard ‘how to’ photography book. It lacks a single photograph between its covers, and there is no mention of a camera company, a camera type, or any other type of gear. It really has been written to help you think about practicing your photography in a more holistic way, from field to print, and in between.
While we’re still finalizing the book’s content, we do know that it will be priced under $15 for the print version, and around $10 for the ebook. We’ll send out a note once we’ve ordered our first run, but if you’d like a sneak peek, we have posted the first essay in the book, “Why Practice?” for you to read. (The table of contents for the book is also available here on the site as well.)
If you’d like to be notified when the book is available for ordering, send an email to email@example.com. Your email will only be used once, to let you know that the book has been released. (If you’re already on our mailing list, we’ll send a note to you via our email newsletter.)
Since writing about Epson’s new photo inkjet line back in April, I’ve gotten a lot of email, mostly from readers curious about the SureColor P900, the 17-inch version (and its 13-inch sibling, the P700). I’m happy to say that the first shipments of the P900 appear to be dribbling into the States. Both models were supposed to be available by early summer, but it does seem that the pandemic wreaked havoc on manufacturing and shipping channels.
All that said, I’m not sure about how full the channel actually is at the moment. I have a P900 arriving today, but it was ordered five months ago. I also know of a few other folks who’ve received P700s in the past 60 days, but Adorama and B&H have both the printers back-ordered. My advice to anyone looking for these units would be to order one from your preferred source, to get into the queue. I believe that a big part of the reason they’re back-ordered is that most arriving units are being sent right back out to folks who preordered theirs.
When speaking with students, Ben and I will often talk about the importance of projects as an element in one’s photographic growth. While we tend to talk about this in the context of practicing, projects can take on a life of their own, and can help motivate you, either when you’re out in the field, or simply to get you out shooting. It can also be the type of thing that can fine tune your ultimate photographic vision.
A project can be anything thematic, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be of tangible ‘things,’ although it can be, like Ben’s tree project, which he mentioned in Chapter 9 of Complete Digital Photography (that chapter is available as a free download from the book support page):
One way to make yourself practice, and to breathe new life into familiar locations, is to give yourself an assignment. You can choose a subject—old cars, doorways, local flowers—or maybe a phrase or a word—contentment; no pain, no gain; a penny saved. The subject matter or word doesn’t have to mean anything to anyone else, and you can interpret it any way you want. The idea is simply to give yourself some way to frame your view of your location. Having a specific point of view or photographic goal will often make you see familiar ground in a new way. I like shooting trees, so I keep an ongoing tree project. Often, going out with the idea of shooting trees takes the pressure off; I don’t have to worry about finding subject matter. The world is a big place, and limiting it can make shooting much simpler.
In a world where photographs are everywhere, displayed largely via web pages and small screens, the traditional career tracks for professional photographers have fallen by the wayside. So what do you have to do to make photography your livelihood in today’s world? I recently moderated a lively discussion on this topic with two professional photographers based in Portland, Oregon: Hudson Henry and Dan Hawk. In this short, thirty-minute video, we talk about how each photographer turned their passion for photography into a career, how to keep your outlook fresh, and the role of diversification in building a successful business. Click the link below to watch.
(This is an excerpt from the introduction to the companion exercise book for the 9th edition of Complete Digital Photography. It can be downloaded free from the CDP 9 support page on the website.)
Throughout your life you have probably been told to practice one thing or another—musical instruments, sports, handwriting, whatever. If you’re like me, you were never thrilled with the idea of practicing, and though you understood that the exhortation to practice was true and important, you also didn’t really believe it. Maybe you clung to some of the popular cultural myths that we share—the myth of the “natural” athlete or the “gifted” musician—and so skipped practicing with the hope that you would turn out to be one of those natural, gifted individuals. The truth is that, while there are people that start with a skill level above the normal baseline, those people only achieve greatness because of their extreme dedication to practicing. The same is true with photography.
It can be difficult to understand how important practice is to the discipline of photography because the camera takes care of so much of the craftsmanship of making an image. There is, of course, plenty of theory to understand, as well as technical considerations to weigh when making a photo, and learning those things takes practice. What can be less obvious is that visualizing and seeing as a photographer also requires practice. The good news is that the process of seeing is something that you can learn and improve at.
Because we are constantly looking at things during the normal course of being alive, we don’t always think of “seeing” as a skill that can be learned, but I can offer two proofs that your ability to see changes with practice:
First, in addition to seeing, most of us are also constantly hearing things. If you’ve ever learned to play a musical instrument then you know that, through practice, you can train your ear to hear pitch, intervals and rhythm. Similarly, your eyes can be trained to recognize form, light, and many compositional ideas.
The second proof is something that might sound familiar: you spend an afternoon wandering about with your camera, searching for things to shoot, only to end up frustrated because you feel like you’re repeating yourself. All of the compositions you come up with are similar to other compositions you’ve made before, and all of the subject matter that you notice is similar to other things you frequently photograph. While this kind of photographic rut can be very frustrating, it’s also evidence that seeing is a skill that can be learned, because what has led you to this rut is repetition, and while feeling like you’re in a rut can be demoralizing, it’s also a valuable step toward developing something that all photographers need.
More about how to build a photograph
In Chapter 9 of Complete Digital Photography I wrote about how an aesthetic for light is critical to the photographic process and how all photographs begin with an impulse, sometimes slight, which the photographer must tune into and explore to make the best photo. No matter how you do it, occasionally, you will “solve” a photograph in a very satisfying, successful way. Perhaps that compositional solution also requires specific exposure ideas—dropping shadows into black, for example, or depending on shallow depth of field for subject isolation. When you find those satisfying solutions you will remember them and, because they were successful, you will probably find yourself deploying the same solutions in other situations.