What If You Thought You'd Done Your "Ten Thousand Hours" Only To Find That You'd Only Done One Hour Ten Thousand Times?
People ask me all the time, "Why do you change gear so much?" "Why are you constantly experimenting with new lights and new ways of lighting?" "Where do you find such interesting models?" But what they are really saying is, "Why don't you find a comfortable rut and stay in it?" The idea being that you get to have one big idea or style in your career and once you hit that point you should keep endlessly reiterating it in order to squeeze all the juice you can out of that particular turnip.
So much chatter on the web last year and the year before about Malcolm Gladwell's observation about the need to log ten thousand hours of practice before you master your (fill in the blank) art/craft. And I think, at the core, it's a useful concept with eddies of truth and substance. But it never ceases to amaze me how our western culture wants to distill everything down to quantifiable results, with a maniacally singular focus. But that seems to grow from our linear and metrically obsessed modalities of gauging business success and, by extrapolation, everything else. We tend to equate quantity with good and speed with success.
With the rise of corporations the general goal seems to be the reduction of any craft or art to a series of production steps that can be isolated and repeated, ad infinitum, always finding a way to cheapen or condense the product while remaining profitable.
This applies so handily to the craft and hobby of photography. In books, at workshops and online the constant demand from would be artists is for the "formula." It's always couched in these questions and requests: "What's the correct ratio?" "Give me a diagram showing me exactly where to put the lights?" What's the best (lens/camera/tripod/lightstand/modifier) to use for XXX?" And my favorite: "What is your technique for getting people to look interesting?"
Once many people have run the gamut of workshops and books and on line forae they narrow down the stuff they've learned about each niche in photography and then slavishly follow it. And if they follow the same course of action over and over again for ten years or ten thousand hours they are generally no closer to their goal of making their own art. They've done the hour or twenty hours of instruction and practiced the same small things over and over again.
The goal, perhaps, should be to abandone any sort of formula and rely on your own intuition and taste to augment your experimentation and your growth as a collaborative and empathetic human being. That might be the secret people are really looking for. And it has a formula: experiment and refine your own vision. Hold the camera your own way. Make the most of your ten thousand hours. Even if it means sitting quietly and listening to the person you'd like to photograph.