Make it hurt!

23 04 2010

A few announcements, then on to the good stuff.

Critiques: If you happen to live in the Denver metro area, you’re in luck. While I love doing critiques with photographers around the world on Skype, I’m feeling the need to balance it out with in-person critiques over coffee or what-have-you. The first five to respond will get a special rate of $100. Check the website at for critique details, or drop me a line.

Austin, TX: We’ve had one cancelation for the workshop, which means we have room for one more person. I’m also accepting one more portrait session in Austin either this Sunday afternoon or evening, or Wednesday morning. Lemme know.

OK, back to the good stuff.


Make It Hurt

I got an e-mail today that reminded me of the time when I was five years old and fell down a full flight of stairs.

My mom had warned me not to horse around at the top of the stairs. She warned me many times that I’d end up taking a tumble. I didn’t listen, of course. I had to learn the hard way. So, after ending up in a crumpled heap at the bottom of the stairs, I learned the lesson, but only after it hurt. It left an impression, literally and figuratively.

Pain is good. Pain is also…a pain. Unfortunately, as much as we try to avoid it, there’s no way around it at times. It’s how we learn. The lessons that don’t hurt, don’t stick.

This is why this morning’s e-mail reminded me of falling down the stairs. I’m a big believer in asking questions, especially the ones we think are stupid. Those are usually the foundational questions that will cause cracks in our work later on if we’re too self-conscious to ask them up front. (Hence the reason I mixed my developer incorrectly the entire first year I started developing my film. Gotta swallow that pride and ask the question!)

There’s a difference, though, between asking a specific question and asking for an entire information dump. Specific questions are the result of trying something that hasn’t worked; that means you’ve made the effort in the first place, which is the only reason you now know to ask the question. That’s a lot different than asking, “I want to be photographer. What camera should I get, and how do I use it?” It’s not that I mind getting those e-mails; it’s just that it’s impossible to answer them in a helpful way. Unfortunately, the only time I can think of that anyone was able to gain instant expertise was in the movie The Matrix. The rest of us have to actually go through the learning (and suffering) process. That’s the way it goes.

We all learn in different ways, and at different paces. That’s a good thing. It’s important to remember that the process of learning is critical. That’s why I can’t answer the question, “What settings should I use on my camera?” You have to put in the time to understand what you’re asking, and why you’re asking it. If you don’t try and fail, you can’t gain the kind of rounded knowledge and problem-solving skills that a professional photographer should have.

Be willing to suffer for your art. Wallow in your mistakes. When you make them, put on your CSI badge and try to figure them out. Those that you can’t figure out will become really good, specific questions, and the answers will be much more useful to you.

All that said, I’m sure a few of my friends will be quick to point out that I did, in fact, fall down the stairs again a few weeks ago. It taught me a new lesson: never attempt to run down the stairs with one contact lens in. Trust me on that one.

– CJ

bed jumper

the Bed Jumper




14 responses

23 04 2010

So, does this mean you aren’t going to answer my questions about what camera to buy and what settings I should use?

23 04 2010

Silly Stacie, just get any old camera and put it in Program mode. What could possibly go wrong?

/sarcasm. 😉

24 04 2010

Oh my gosh this is beyond brilliant. I’m definitely bookmarking this and sending people over to read this from here on out. Thank you for saying it so perfectly!

25 04 2010
Stephen S. Mack

“The man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he could learn in no other way.”

(paraphrased) Mark Twain.

With best regards.


27 04 2010

THAT is a great quote.

2 05 2010

Like that.

27 04 2010

yes indeed, trial , error then sort it out !

27 04 2010

Your bed jumper picture, it is so wrong, but I love it. I have been in the Flickr community for a while and recently joined a local photography society. I think I am letting them both take me in the wrong direction. It feels so refreshing seeing pictures like this one you posted, thanks heaps for putting it out there

Oh yeah, your writng… yada yada yada… awesome as usual. Thanks

27 04 2010

Thanks, Tony. I believe sometimes an image has to be wrong to be right. There’s no such thing as “correct” in art; there’s only “effective” and “ineffective”.

2 05 2010

i love you! 🙂

2 05 2010

I think the bed jumper is so “right”. Your truth is so strong some times, it hurts, but like medicine.

28 04 2010
Ed Hamlin

Nice work! Oh to go with your thoughts, I have spent years of my life learning the right way and now I am figuring out how to break them all. I guess I am going back to my nature of taking things apart to figure out how they work.

The pain comes from not following the inner creative voice and missing the opportunity to catch …………….bed jumping ; ]

5 05 2010
Stephen S. Mack

Re The Bed Jumper:

Bounce, Wheee!

Bounce, Wheee!

Bounce, Wheee!

Repeat as often as you please.



6 05 2010

Thanks for the reminder.It’s a long process as soon I am over one hill I want to climb the next without really appreciating what I have learned and take it for granted. My father always said no vise man has ever fallen from heaven….it’s 99% hard work and 1% skill.

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