Fundamentals are boring. They often seem braindead-simple and unrelated to what you’re actually trying to do. That’s why I usually overlooked fundamentals in my pursuits to focus on the “fun stuff”. This resulted in short-lived progress concluded by hitting a brick wall. No amount of effort could overcome my lack of foundational skills. Enthusiasm was followed by frustration.
I spent six years following this pattern with photography. I wasn’t interested in learning the basics, I wanted to jump in headfirst and just shoot photos. I plateaued early and hard for a long time. I honed the technical aspects of photography — zone focusing, exposure and basic composition. That’s fine, but is moot if the photograph’s subject isn’t interesting. My favorite photographers tend create work with adequate technical execution but compelling subject material. The focus/exposure/composition were sometimes good, sometimes not-so-good. The subject held the photo up. These photographers are great seers. They see the interesting and capture it in a photograph.
The practice of seeing in photography seems obvious. So obvious that I never took the time to evaluate if I was actually able to do it well. This forced me to take a step back and focus on the simple act of seeing. It was clear that the technicalities of photography didn't matter if I couldn’t see what to photograph. It's easy to fall in the trap of focusing too much on getting a good photo that you forget to genuinely observe what’s around you. The order of priority makes all the difference. I now focus on seeing first and worrying about the process of capturing second.
This lesson applies to so many other facets of life. It’s easy to get ahead of yourself and ignore the basics. Yet, the simple, boring fundamentals of step one sets the tone for what comes afterward. The fundamentals aren’t a temporary learning opportunity to get to the "important stuff". Fundamentals are the quintessential important stuff that you can spend a lifetime improving. The better you are at step one, the better prepared you are for everything else.