What can a book written 2,500 years ago teach us about photography?
It turns out, quite a lot.
The Art of War is an ancient Chinese book about military strategy, whose lessons have been applied to the business world extensively over the past several decades. It's become such a hit because its teachings are not just about war - they are lessons in basic human psychology, specifically the psychology of competition.
Photographers are in competition more than you may think. Sometimes the competition is with other photographers, or maybe with our subjects, but more often with ourselves. Our shortcomings - our fears, our laziness, our lack of self-respect - work together to prevent us from achieving true greatness. But that's basic human psychology, right there in a nutshell - working to overcome our shortcomings.
“To ... not prepare is the greatest of crimes; to be prepared beforehand for any contingency is the greatest of virtues.”
- Sun Tzu
|Keep your gear prepared and organized. Photo: fensterbme|
The number one thing you can do to relieve anxiety is to get organized. Keep all your photography equipment in one location, get your batteries charged and your spares ready, and create an organized way to transport everything. Not having to scramble for something at the last minute will make everything go much smoother.
"He who is prudent and lies in wait for an enemy who is not, will be victorious."
- Sun Tzu
|The perfect shot may require you to sit and do nothing for a long, long time.|
When viewing photography, we may think that great shots depend on luck, but that's wrong. Most great shots are the results of careful, deliberate planning (see: Secrets of Professional Photographers). And a good deal of that planning is figuring out the right place to wait for the perfect shot.
"Rapidity is the essence of war."
- Sun Tzu
|When the time comes, you have to be fast. (Photo: toksuede)|
Don't confuse being patient with relaxing your guard. When the moment arrives, you have to be ready to seize it. If your subject is moving fast, or you're just pressed for time, you need to take a lot of shots quickly and worry about framing and composition in post-processing.
Know Your Limits
"He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot will be victorious."
- Sun Tzu
|Don't take the next step until you're ready.|
If you're just getting started in photography or trying to take your skills to the next level, you need to recognize your limits. We all have them, in all aspects of our lives - it's just part of being human.
While you should always be ready to push yourself, going too far too fast is just going to leave you frustrated.
Then Move Past Them
"Opportunities multiply as they are seized." -Sun Tzu
|And when you're ready, leap. (photo: Roo Reynolds)|
Finally, when you're ready, take the leap. Our all-too-human self-doubts keep us from moving forward too often, so it's up to you to recognize whether now is the right time to take the leap or not.
If you're in doubt, jump.