Friday, January 31, 2020

Photography Lessons from The Art of War

What can a book written 2,500 years ago teach us about photography?

It turns out, quite a lot.

Photography Lessons from The Art of War
Photo: kainet

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.

Sun Tzu saw into the heart of human competition and, 25 centuries ago, gave us lessons that apply in all manner of human competitive endeavours - even photography. 

Be Prepared

“To ... not prepare is the greatest of crimes; to be prepared beforehand for any contingency is the greatest of virtues.” 

- Sun Tzu

Lessons from The Art of War
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.

If you have a lot of equipment, develop a packing checklist to use when you're getting ready to move your equipment.  As you pack each item, check it off your list.  You'll find the final checklist, with everything complete, a rewarding site in itself.

Be Patient

"He who is prudent and lies in wait for an enemy who is not, will be victorious."

- Sun Tzu
The Art of War
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.

Remember, it's not about taking 100 good shots - it's about taking one great one.

Be Quick

"Rapidity is the essence of war."
- Sun Tzu
Photography - The Art of War
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.

The hardest part about being fast at photography is knowing when the moment has arrived.



Know Your Limits

"He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot will be victorious."
- Sun Tzu
Know Your Limits
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
Then Move Past Them
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.