Monday, December 22, 2008

Photographic Eye

I've long thought that many people put too much emphasis on the concept of a "photographic eye" or someone's inherent "gifts" with regards to the potential one has as an artist. In my experiences, hard work has always been a greater determinant of success than "raw talent," and now Malcolm Gladwell has written a book that strongly supports my views.

Outliers is a book about how extraordinarily successful people achieve their success. Gladwell's general hypothesis is that while a degree of natural talent is certainly necessary for success in any given field, once a critical ability threshold is reached external factors become crucial in determining the ultimate outcome of one's efforts. One of the most important factors he discusses is the "10,000 hour rule."

In a study at Berlin's elite Academy of Music, the faculty grouped students into three groups:
A) Potentially world-class talent
B) Merely good
C) Less talented: unlikely to have professional success

They polled these students on their practice habits, and discovered something fascinating: while the "group A" students had accelerated their practice throughout their lives, the B's and C's had not. This sounds obvious, but they could not document a single case of a student who'd achieved "group A" status with less than 10,000 hours of estimated practice time. Further, they could likewise not find a single group C student who had failed to achieve brilliance despite practicing anywhere CLOSE to 10,000 hours. There weren't any students so gifted that they didn't have to practice as hard to achieve that level of ability, and there weren't any grinders who put in the time but just didn't have what it took.

Gladwell produces a number of additional case-studies demonstrating that people such as Mozart or Bill Gates, who most would consider prodigies, only had their great successes after about 10,000 hours of practice at their craft.

The author also uses some interesting data to show that so long as a person has a "threshold IQ," he or she is just as likely to win a Nobel Prize as a super-genius. Once a person is smart enough, many other psychological and situational factors become far more crucial to that level of success.

My point is that a "photographic eye" requires only a threshold level of talent. I believe there are very few people who honestly lack any knack for taking pictures. The biggest difference is the amount of time one is willing to put in: are you willing and able to make the sacrifice of 10,000 hours in pursuit of excellence?

For what its worth, my wife estimates that I spend about 12-16 hours per day seven days every week taking photos, editing photos, planning for future shoots, or studying photography. I'm not at 10,000 hours yet, perhaps, but I'm counting down!


Brian Kaplan said...

I saw this book in the airport and pondered its purchase, now I think I need to take a closer look.

Thanks for the knowledge Evan.

Lastly I think you're well beyond 10,000 hours.

mike cowart said...

Alright! I'm sold! I'm going to get it and let's race to the 10,000 hour mark dude!

Scott Andrew said...

Excellence is always won by those who seek it with diligence. You make sme great points here Evan.