Do you know the way to Carnegie Hall?
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Thursday, July 27, 2017
By David Margaretos
I recently had lunch with a photography student who sought my advice. She explained she felt disappointment in her work, that it was unexceptional, and she wanted to know what I thought she needed to do to become a really great photographer. I told her that the solution was fairly simple but that she would need to take a minimum of 100 photographs per week and that it would take ten years. My response surprised and stunned her.
Imagine a music student posing the same question to her teacher? "My performance of the Chopin Polonaise in A-flat major is somewhat ordinary, what must I do in order to have a truly exceptional performance?" My guess is that the instructor would have a similar response to mine. Although this seems like a reasonable course of action in music, for some reason the thought that excellence in photography comes through hard work and practice seems ludicrous to many. It shouldn't. Becoming good at anything always requires commitment and hard work. Perhaps it is the "You push the button and we do the rest" marketing that has always surrounded photography that has convinced so many that excellence should somehow come easier.
University studies of human expertise have attempted to understand how humans become experts in a particular field, whether it be performing music, speaking a foreign language, playing chess or writing fiction. The consensus from studying hundreds of experts in various fields seems to be that it takes 10,000 hours of study in order to achieve the skill necessary to be considered an expert... in anything. Ten thousand hours breaks down to about three hours of study per day for ten years. Researchers theorize that this has something to do with the amount of repetition and time the human brain requires to create the number of neural traces involved in developing the memory strength necessary to support expert knowledge and ability. Researchers also point out that other factors such as our emotional commitment or passion also play an important role in determining how effective study is for different individuals.

"Practice my friend, practice!". But we always knew this.
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