Desiderata and photography

“Desiderata” (Latin for “desired things”) is a prose poem by American writer Max Ehrmann written in 1927. Over the years the poem has become quite popular and there has been a number of different renditions. My favourite is Leonard Nimoys reciting of the poem titled “Spock Thoughts” from his 1968 album, Two Sides of Leonard Nimoy. Have a listen:

Desiderata is a timeless and classic poem, it’s just as relevant today as it was the day it was written. It’s a wonderful philosophy for life and photography.

This is what I have learned about photography from Desiderata.

Go placidly amid the noise and haste

Try not to get caught up in the hassle and bustle of daily life. Try not to be in a rush. The best photography takes time and lots of it. Step back and slow down, you don’t want to miss the perfect shot because you are too busy rushing about. You may have to make time to go out and shoot. Sometimes you will come away with nothing, this is ok, it happens to everyone, don’t let it discourage you. Don’t feel like you absolutely have to get a killer photograph or any photograph every time you go out to shoot. Instead enjoy the practice of looking, seeing, and just being in the world.

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remember what peace there may be in silence.

Less talk more thinking! I have learned that the people that talk about doing something rarely do what they say, and the people that think about doing something, i.e. don’t talk about doing something, more often than not just do it.

Learn to enjoy peace and silence, it’s not a bad it’s good. I find that I do my best thinking when I’m inert and silent, silence helps me concentrate and  think because I don’t have a million and one things going on around me vying for my attention, trying to distract me. Get away from the computer, turn the TV off, put your phone on silent or turn it off too, get yourself away from anything that can distract your thinking and think. You don’t have to be somewhere where it’s dead silent. For example I catch the train to and from work, while the train isn’t always silent it is relatively quiet, specially late on a week night. I find it’s the perfect place to think because there are usually less distractions on the train and I can sit down and not have to worry about anything except for getting off at my stop. The toilet, shower, or bath are other great places of solitude and contemplation many people have had great thoughts on the toilet, in the shower, or bath. Sometimes thinking can sometimes be more important than doing, it’s not something I think (no pun intended) we do enough of. Find your quiet place where you can stop and think.

Also take the time to stop and think when you are out shooting, don’t just point your camera at anything and release the shutter. Stop and think about the composition, the framing, the light, the subject, etc… Otherwise you will end up with terrible or mediocre photos at best if your trigger finger gets too itchy and you snap anything without giving it any thought.

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Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

This applies more if you participate in forums or talk one on one or to groups about photography. Being loud and obnoxious is guaranteed to make people dislike and avoid you. Even if you think someone is dull and boring still listen to them they might actually have something interesting to say, even if it is only one small thing.

Listen to others also extends to reading. There are some quite trashy photography web sites/blogs and podcasts about that I still read and listen to because occasionally they will produce something of value, something that is of interest that will give me something to investigate which may or may not turn out to be worth while. If it turns out to be a dead end then at least I have looked into it. If the lead turns out to be something useful then great! Don’t always discount something because you think it’s boring or rubbish, give it a chance you just might find that you will get something from it.

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If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Don’t compare, instead enjoy great photography and take inspiration from better photographers instead of comparing you work to theirs. You should be practicing photography for yourself, not to become better than someone else. You should concentrate on bettering yourself. If you compare yourself to other better photographers (because you will absolutely find other people that are greater than you) you may become bitter, depressed, you might loose motivation and start to feel like photography isn’t worth the time effort and money you are investing gin it.

Likewise there will also be photographers that aren’t as good as you, looking at their work can make you feel superior and boost your ego but be careful that you don’t become vain, keep your ego in check otherwise you may start to suffer from the Dunning–Kruger effect.

Bad photography can be useful and inspirational too. When you come across bad photography don’t just dismiss it as rubbish and move on, instead analyse why it is bad. Your photography will improve if you know what bad photography is and actively try to avoid making the same mistakes that make for bad photos.

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There are probably other things you can learn about photography from Desiderata. I have only written about the parts of Desiderata that I have found applicable. Other parts of the poem are more applicable to life in general rather than photography. Everyone will take away something different from Desiderata, this is what I took away from it.

Have you heard Desiderata before? Have you taken anything away from it? If so what have you taken away from Desiderata? Does it inspire you? Leave a comment below.

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