Ya Gotta Shoot Pictures to Be a Photographer

WB IMG_6265

Basilica Cathedral de Arequipa – Arequipa, Peru

1/1250s @ f/8 ISO 100 @ 105mm

Just say’in if you want to be a competent photographer you gotta get out and shoot the pictures. Ogling the latest gear is all well and good, but if you’re not out shooting it’s all for naught. The equation is simple: the more you shoot the better you get. If you’re still part of the daily grind I know (from my experience) how difficult that can be. Photography is like any other perishable skill, if you’re not practicing (almost everyday) you start to lose your edge. When you stop using a muscle it starts to atrophy (it gets progressively weaker with disuse).

I know my camera and lenses about as well as anyone can, but I find if I’m not shooting everyday even I start to lose my edge (and that’s with 62 years of shooting experience under my belt). The same equation holds true for any skill (especially creative skills): writers must write, painters must paint (well you get the message). It takes discipline, but it also takes time. Time is often an under appreciated commodity until you don’t have enough of it. I can remember the balancing act: long hours at the office, relationship and social obligations, and general maintenance chores around the house.

I never seemed to have the time for my art, it was always my photography (and writing) that had to be sacrificed to keep everything else on even keel. What the job didn’t gobble up, marriage and social obligations did. And if there was anything leftover there was always the endless honey-do list. My wife didn’t support my art, and was a very real impediment to it. She resented the time it consumed, and clearly communicated that resentment. When you fail to follow your dreams and your creative inclinations you are committing slow and tortuous emotional suicide.

Five years ago that all changed for me, and I hit the wall after almost fifty years in the corporate meat grinder. Overnight my thirty-year banking career went up in smoke, and my twenty-four year marriage along with it. It was one of the best things to ever happen to me. Now I had time, my time, to live the remaining years of my life on my terms. I had paid my debt to society and my prison sentence was over; I was now able to live my life as a free man.

The mass of men live lives of quiet desperation – Henry David Thoreau

Never again will I allow myself to be imprisoned. I have no one to blame but myself, my years in prison were of my choosing. I take full responsibility for the decisions I made, and the consequences of those decisions (both foreseen and unforeseen). Now I live for me, and don’t suffer a single pang of guilt. What my wife used to call my hobby (in a very derogatory way) has since flourished into a profession. I have the luxury of time, and I use it in pursuit of my craft. I don’t know how to be a part-time artist, you either are or you’re not.

There’s no such thing as overnight success. Success comes from diligence, discipline, and hard work. This is true of photography like everything else worth pursuing. To become a better photographer you have to shoot pictures, lots of pictures. There is no shortcut. You have to figure out how to do that. It means taking responsibility for your life (it is your life after all) and prioritizing what’s important. Is this selfish behavior? Maybe it is. Maybe art demands selfishness. But if your soul is slowly rotting away I don’t know how you can be good for anyone else.

You have to answer those questions for yourself. I have to take my pictures, I have to write, and I have to travel. I sacrificed my art, for too many years, at the altar of the false god of Capitalism. That god is voracious in its appetite and will literally and figuratively eat you alive.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

The above quote is often attributed to Mark Twain (erroneously). The real author is unknown, but the sentiment is still valid and worth heeding. The title of this article, Ya Gotta Shoot Pictures to Be a Photographer, suggests one of those regrets ( . . . being disappointed by the things you didn’t do). Do you need to take more pictures? Are there impediments getting in the way? Can you realistically overcome those impediments? It isn’t easy (worthwhile pursuits rarely are). I had to walk away from everything to reclaim my life. Was it worth it? For me the answer is yes. My mantra is: To live simple, to live cheap, to live free. Subscribe to my free, monthly email newsletter at Indochine Photography e-Newsletter


Stephen F. Dennstedt

Photographer, Writer, and World Traveller


Arequipa, Peru


4 responses to “Ya Gotta Shoot Pictures to Be a Photographer

  1. It’s like a slow death to have a partner (especially a spouse) that does not support your dreams or pursuits. I know this all too well – my ex wife was just like that. I used to teach high performance driving (closed course tracks, of course) for various car clubs. I got so much grief from her that I just eventually quit. She’d killed that passion along with my love of photography, hiking, camping… Now I have a partner that supports all of my rekindled loves and we nurture each other’s dreams. I think I should probably keep this one.

    I’m loving these beautiful images of Arequipa, Stephen!

    • When a person kills your passion they also kill your love. For a man, a woman can literally make him or break him. My ex was much younger than me, and was drop dead beautiful (spitting image of Catherine Zetta Jones), we were married 24 years. Although still physically beautiful she turned ugly in my eyes. I will never allow myself to be imprisoned again. If you’ve found a woman who will support your dreams and passions, grab her and hold on tight. She would be a keeper for sure.

  2. Hi Stephen, I’m far luckier than you in the wife department, my Sharon never says that costs too much, or don’t go there, she likes what I shoot, but she is NOT an outdoor person, I tell everyone that her definition of pristine wilderness is any town that doesn’t have a mall. Next month we will celebrate our 47th anniversary on a Alaska cruise. If all goes well you will be getting some Bald Eagle shots from there.

    • I loved your comments Tim, obviously you chose better than I did. Looking forward to some Bald Eagle photos for sure. I would love to re-visit Alaska. My brother Joel lived there for 15 years, and I enjoyed visiting. My one and only scary encounter with a big Moose was in Alaska (he didn’t want his picture taken).

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