Right? Consistency is so boring.
Doing the same thing over and over and over and over an over and (you get the drift) and doing it consistently for a while. I’m a photographer so i’m going to talk about this with regard to photography mostly or may design. Anyone reading this might make the wrong assumption that I am a disciplined human in my consistency but they would be wrong. It’s like i’m writing this to myself. Or to highlight stuff I wish I knew earlier when I started photography.
Now, this blog post will include photos from 2010 till now that should perhaps show you my progress till now. I am nowhere near where I wanna be but I am nowhere near where I began, so don’t laugh at my embarrassing photos from when I started shooting in 2010.
2010. Nairobi from KICC. When I used to oversaturate everything and HDR everything. One of my first ever images of Nairobi though. It ignited a fire in me.
2010. Stanely Hotel, Nairobi. After shooting this, a security guy in a suit followed my friend and I saying I wasn’t supposed to shoot the hotel. First time I was ever harassed for taking a photo in Nairobi. Good times.
Most people who ask me about photography know that i tell them to practice more. Shoot daily to get better. This is one of the ways I learnt how to shoot and got my practice in. When I started out, I took part in a daily shoot challenge. The idea was to get tasks and have 24hrs to shoot, edit (if you have to) and post the photo. I did this for about 70 days (target was 100 days). I used to post on my Flickr (no longer existent). While my consistency with this was appalling, I did get into the discipline of daily shooting.
One of the things I learnt from having someone else make up a task and us shooting it, complacency doesn’t check in. You receive a task and have to shoot it whether it is your strong suite or not, whether you like the challenge or not. It becomes a challenge and so you grow. I learnt the power of, not just repetition but meaningful repetition. Many times when you decide what to shoot, you most likely shoot the same things, the things you find easier to shoot.
2012. Nation Center. I had come from shooting for a client (on a different floor) and snuck up here to this point from which I wasn’t supposed to shoot from.
2012. Nairobi University main campus. I think this is the library. I was doing a photographic study of the buildings in this campus when a security guard said I couldn’t. So I had to stop.
Some younger photographers who have asked me on Instagram to check out their images have, despite shooting daily, not made any growth. I always wondered why. In some cases, I thought they were lying about shooting daily. But after reading about meaningful consistency, it made sense. To repeat is one thing, but to repeat a mistake is to reinforce the mistake in your brain. Repetition is helpful if it’s mindful. Meaning, every time you shoot, you shoot with an aim to learn something specific, not boxing in the air with no target. how can you do this?
- Be honest with yourself about your weak points. If you’re a beginning photographer, understand that your weak points are everything, EVERYTHING. Start with basics, however basic they seem. Use repetition as a tool for learning. Read then try out something, then do it again. If you’re further on ahead, focus on your weak points. One of mine is talking to people to ask to shoot their portrait. When you identify your weak point, go in on it. Don’t be comfortable. Be mindful about your repetition till you get better at it.
- Do a daily exercise that forces you to achieve your goal. Design a logo a day, shoot a meaningful photo a day for a year. It will be tough as heck but when you get out on the other side, you’ll have acquired skills and thought way above where you were previously. My friend, Temi Coker is doing a poster a day for a year and he’s at Poster 158 last I checked. The posters are getting better every day and he’s selling them too. What started as an exercise in consistency is now a side hustle. Notable Kenyans are Diana Opoti when she did 100 days of African fashion or Miss Mandi with 100 days of African food.
2012. Sunrise in Nairobi as seen from the Uhuru park viewpoint.
2012. Swahili beach hotel in Diani.
2012. Mc Millan Memorial Library in Nairobi. Part of my study of Nairobi architecture.
So you’ve decided on a subject matter for a longterm project. How to keep it fresh;
- Read, then practice. Don’t read if you won’t put to practice what you read. Same goes for asking opinions then ignoring what’s said or catching feelings if it wasn’t your desired opinion. Focus on your goal which is to get better. Keep this the main thing. Forget what people say (for now). You will know if you’re improving if you’re critical of yourself. By shooting daily, you teach yourself to solve photography problems without involving other people. Before asking anything, research first. If you still have a question, make it personal. Something you need to learn from that photographer specifically that you can’t learn online.
- Post your work online. This is not just so that people see. You may feel like you don’t want to because most of what you do sucks for now but that’s ok. Posting one of the photos a day will help you keep a deadline (your friends can keep you accountable). It will also help in a critical photography skill, learning to pick out the good photos from the many you’ll shoot daily. You will have to learn to curate your own work and post only one. Also, at the end of the project timeline, you can see how much growth you made.
2013. Alba Hotel Meru. A commission from the architects that designed it.
2013. 14 falls from an expedition with Onetouch to explore and photograph the area.
2013. Nairobi city at dusk as photographed from the KICC rooftop. I go back here a lot to photograph. This rooftop started my love for shooting cities.
Finally, how to keep working even when there’s no client or inspiration;
- Don’t rely on inspiration or a client so that you can get work done. Show up and work, consistently. As Chuck Close said in Wisdom, “Inspiration is for amateurs, the rest of us show up and get to work. If you rely on a bolt of lightening to strike you, you will find that you don’t get a lot of work done.” Shoot, whether you feel like it or not. Some of the work may be crap but some of it will not. This is probably the hardest thing. When you can’t work and are online looking at people’s work instead of working. Give yourself room for inspiration, just don’t use it as a crutch.
- As Austin Kelon says, “Steal like an Artist.” meaning when you see a photographer who’s style you love, one of the ways to master it is to copy it. See work you love and copy the artist. You will soon find that you develop yourself and know yourself from this consistent working and the work transforms into something that is more you. Don’t wait to know yourself before you can produce work. Just work. If you’re lucky self knowledge might come from this. I love Jim Chuchu’s work. When I started out, I used everything he shot as my reference for shooting, editing everything. It’s interesting that now, Chuchu and I don’t shoot the same thing at all but copying his work helped me find me.
2014. Nairobi city at dusk from University way.
2014. Strathmore Business School architectural photography as commissioned by the school.
2014. MAC Store, Village Market. I was commissioned by the agency in South Africa to shoot interior images of the store for them.
2014. Shooting Thogi for GRVTY, an exhibition project with my colleagues at ProKraft Africa
The reality is that not many of us can do this. The discipline to get up and work doesn’t come easy, the fruits though are sweet and it’s what separates the pros from the amateurs. This is the boring part of our craft, most people may see the results of the shoots and it looks like the most exciting things happened at the shoot but it’s not as imagined. Don’t get me wrong, it is a lot of fun to think up these concepts and see them come to life but to maintain this lifestyle while getting better at your craft is boring. We have to master showing up and doing the same thing we did yesterday, and do it again tomorrow. Within this, the magic finds you. As Austin Kleon says “Be Boring, It’s the only way to get work done!”
2015. Sunset in Nairobi with a view of I&M building. This was the day I dropped my camera from the 27th floor and kinda broke it. Another significant day in my photography.
2015. Upperhill, Nairobi as the lights start coming on in the evening.
2015. 4th February is the day Gikomba market was on fire as the sun rose. I was on my to shoot from the Uhuru park viewpoint as I normally do when I noticed the smoke. No one else was there so this must be the only photo showing the fire and the skyline (I might be wrong).
In conclusion, to many of the creators starting out in photography, don’t just look for the explosion of excitement in every moment. Instead seek the “boring” moments in seclusion that grow your craft. Find joy in the consistent production of work that is meaningful to you and get the most joy from the exciting shoots that make it all worth it.
2016. Landsdown Center in Karen. A commission from the architects, AMA Architects.
2016. The Nairobi skyline. Probably my most consistent subject. In 2016 they added the lights and removed the Samsung billboard.
2016. Kenyatta Avenue from above. Cars and city lights.
Meanwhile, consistency is one of my biggest struggles. Is it the same for you? What do you guys do to stay consistent? Let me know in the comments. Do have a great evening, day, morning wherever you are. God bless ya’ll.