Greatness doesn’t happen by accident. If you want to be like the legends, it helps to understand the habits that have defined their process. Sometimes, it takes tried-and-true daily habits to get the creative juices flowing or force you to get down to work. Here are a few examples of the unique and career-defining behaviors of celebrated photographic icons.
Ansel Adams is known for creating some of the most well-recognized landscapes in the world. What’s especially impressive is how long he managed to maintain his career. He noted that you should “keep yourself in shape so you can enjoy photography for a lifetime.” This is a motto that kept him engaged in the world of photography until his death at the age of 82. Even as a child, Adams could be found taking daily hikes through the then-wild Golden Gate area. These regular nature walks not only worked to nurture his body and clear his mind, but cultivated his passion for photography.
Adams’ insistence on physical fitness is something every photographer should take to heart. If you plan on continuing your photography for years to come, you’ll need to take care of your body.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Whether it’s an Ansel Adams-inspired walk through nature or an early morning yoga routine, make time for consistent exercise in order to maintain the level of energy and focus you’ll need to produce your very best work.
Gilbert and George
All human beings are defined to some degree by the rituals of their daily lives, but Gilbert and George practically turn ritual into an art. In a 2017 interview with Art Agency Partners, the duo revealed that every morning they wake up at the break of dawn, dress themselves in finely tailored suits, and eat at the same restaurants for lunch and dinner. They’re known to change their meal orders only once every few months and visit the supermarket only a few times a year. The duo claims that this tightly regimented lifestyle allows for more time to focus on their art, which is evident in their prolific portfolio and collection of awards.
The level to which Gilbert and George have structured their lives may seem extreme to most, but anyone can learn from their behavior. Photographers, particularly those who work as freelancers, often don’t have the structure found in more conventional 9-to-5 jobs.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Creativity can be very fluid, so try to establish a rigid schedule for your everyday habits to make more room for productivity when inspiration strikes.
With his phenomenal work featured on the cover of Asian Geographic and in multiple UNICEF calendars, Manny Librodo has worked tirelessly to grow his popularity. Librodo is known primarily for his travel and portrait photography in Asia. Photography is his life-blood, and it is this dedication to which he attributes his success. A Sony brand ambassador, Librodo explains that he makes a daily effort to continue to enjoy photography, stating, “If I am stressed out about my photography, life is also stressful.”
With recent studies linking stress to a variety of health issues, Librodo’s philosophy is something that can be beneficial to everyone, not just photographers.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: It’s a good idea to spend time daily reducing your stress levels. If a project is causing you anxiety or you find yourself hitting a creative wall, try to remember what originally captivated your interest. Breathe new life into your photography and don’t forget to have fun doing it.
Carolyn Marks Blackwood
Carolyn Marks Blackwood, known for her moody and evocative photos of the natural world and her photographic studies of the Hudson River, makes it a habit to shoot and post to social media daily. Every day, Blackwood takes the camera out to her backyard to capture some shots as a way to make herself feel better and motivate herself to post to Facebook and Instagram.
The images Blackwood posts are not typical of the work she would normally show in galleries, like abstractions in nature or her Story Series, but rather much more literal portrayals of the world around her. Maybe one day she’ll post a weather report or a picture of the view from her window. As she says, it’s not about exposure, but more like a “public service.” Her habit of shooting daily not only boosts her own mood, she has also received incredible positive feedback from people who see her social media posts, telling her how her views of nature make them feel better, too. Blackwood finds this so gratifying, and that’s what keeps her motivated to keep posting daily.
Turning a social media presence into a daily activity can help photographers connect with their potential fans in a way that is fun and engaging, rather than a chore. By posting photos in a digital environment without any outward expectations, Blackwood is free to enjoy her art for what it is without having to worry about the critical response. While galleries are a great way to build a reputation and make a living, creating and maintaining a personal dialogue with your audience is crucial in the digital age.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Make a habit of communicating openly and transparently with your fans; this will surely help you build a loyal base of followers.
Some artists have such an influence on a photographic style that they become the face of it. Such is the case with Henri Cartier-Bresson, whose commitment to capturing a “defining moment” made him the godfather of street photography. In a biography chronicling Cartier-Bresson’s early work, it’s noted that the photographer would often attend conclaves twice daily to discuss the then-emerging Surrealism movement. This level of immersion not only helped him create a unique voice for his artwork, but it also provided him with a level of specialization that allowed him to study his subjects in far greater detail. His style became such a crucial component of his art that when he lost interest in it later in life, he gave up on photography altogether.
Though experimenting with different genres of photography can help define your voice, many of the most famous photographers work consistently with a particular style or theme.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Twice daily meetings may not be possible for all photographers, but frequent and intentional interaction with like-minded members of the artistic community is a fantastic way to remain relevant.
The career of a photographer requires wearing multiple hats. You need more than a good eye and a strong sense of composition; you also need to be able to build relationships with your clients, establish trust with your subjects, and manage the business end of your job.
What these photographers teach us is the importance of structure in the life of any creative. Whether you follow their examples specifically or use them as a jumping-off point for your own routine, they can be a guiding light in your growth as a photographer and an artist.