Is it talent or hard work and experience or simply having the right equipment that counts most?

One of my quotes of all time is from Albert Einstein that goes “I have no particular talent, I am merely extremely inquisitive”. Now I make no claim to be anywhere close to the genius that was Einstein but I would say that  I too have no particular talent except perhaps for being curious.  And that can get you a long way sometimes but perhaps curiosity is not all you need (cos we all know that love is all you need).  I’ve, in the last couple months, been having a recurring conversation with a few different people on the topic of natural talent versus hard work towards a goal versus having the better tools on hand to finish the job and buying some luck with that.  The conversations seem pretty pointless because they inevitably lead nowhere because this debate is as old as time. I mean I’m sure even the early cavemen had hunters who made more kills because of a better spear or fishermen who caught fish easier because they were fishing 7 days a week.  But let me give you my take because you’ve already read so far in, you might as well read on…

On Talent

In what I am sure will seem juxtaposition to my opening line, I will begin with talent.  I know I say I possess no talent but people looking at my photos or reading this blog often beg to differ and point to me trying to be modest. But I think for the most part I have thought myself all I know about photography.  I do not have a natural eye for it like many of the best do. And when it comes to writing it may seem that words flow easily as I rattle away at my keyboard.  But my talent for words comes from more for my love of reading and in particular for the extremely descriptive works of in Stephen King from a very early age.  I spent more than half my life dreading the thought of running so lets not even go there.

When it comes to talent, many people are blessed with oodles of natural talent at their disposal.  We all know of people who seemingly do what they are good at with minimal effort.  The question often is then is it enough to just have natural talent?  For some things, I would say yes.  Public speaking for instance is something that you either have or don’t.  You can easily tell a well practiced speaker from someone who stands up and tells you stories like they’ve been made to do just that.  The same goes for most creative and artistic disciplines where talent alone can produce results most of us cannot even imagine.  But that is not to say that people not as naturally talented cannot make it in those disciplines which leads me to my next point.

Hard Work/Experience

I’m sure, just as we all know naturally talented friends, we also know people who have worked hard and applied themselves to a given task or discipline that it becomes second nature to them.  The people who have spent hours and hours making seemingly minute gains and eventually achieving the results they aim to.  Often they are mistaken for those who possess that natural talent I spoke of before because the observer very seldom sees the hard work and practice that goes on in the background.

Where many naturally talented people excel is identifying a talent early on and then working on it until they have reached as near perfection as they can get. Tiger Woods for instance, in most books, would be considered a natural talent.  He started picked up a set of golf clubs at the age of 2 after all.  But he has also been practicing all his life.  I mean he started hitting golf balls at the age of 2 after all.  Similarly Usain Bolt only needs to run for just over 9 seconds but spent countless hours so he could keep doing it over the course of the last 10 years or so.  Serena Williams, Michael Phelps, the list goes on and on. (Unfortunately I can only think of athletes for some reason)

When it comes to the artistic talents many of the greats also spent countless hours honing their natural talents.  Vincent Van Gogh picked up a brush aged 28 and in the next 10 years produced some 2000 pieces of art (painting and sketches).  Unfortunately many creatives often neglect the hard work side of things.  I see this in photography a lot where only minimal effort is made to fully understand the equipment one is working with and the rules and general guidelines often followed.  As they say to break the rules you have to first master them.  The other end of the spectrum can however also be detrimental in that having the fullest detailed understanding of equipment and rules may still not lead you to take good photographs or play a better game of golf or run better.

The right equipment

Funnily enough I got into this conversation not because of photography, where the brand one uses and the lenses one uses are often the subject of much debate, but because of a question on the role of shoes in running. I go through a pair of new balance running shoes almost every 9 to 12 months and a friend asked why do I run in the ones I run in and why not perhaps change.  I described in an earlier post how my shoe choice had been a journey through a few different brands.  On the camera side I fell into the trap of equipment envy (as I have also described previously on here) but it was also a journey of sorts trying out different equipment before settling on the combination I have now (for now).  Because equipment can get very expensive very quickly falling into that trap taught me quickly that always having the very very best is either very expensive and therefore sometimes not possible or sometimes not necessary and can be worked around.

When it comes to equipment it becomes a fine balance of whats the best that is out there for what you are doing and what works for you and what you hope to achieve.  If you aspire for instance to be a wildlife and nature photographer the camera body and lenses you use will be different in the most part to a portrait artist.  Similarly if your running form means you pronate or supernate you will require different shoes.  Using the basic equipment can only sometimes get you so far before it becomes limiting and needs to be changed, but you have to make sure that it is indeed the equipment that is limiting or if it is one of the two points above that needs more work.  The important thing is to start with what you have and develop from there.  Use your cellphone camera, but learn how the basic rules of composition and how to edit as well.  Start of with the shoes you own but make a point of getting your stride checked out so you don’t hurt yourself.

Lady luck

I know I didn’t set out to write about this but have to mention it none the less.  Sometimes, no matter how talented you are or how much effort you put in or what equipment you may be using, success can come down to being at the right place at the right time and knowing what to do when the time comes. Gary player said the more you practice the luckier you get.  Similarly some of your luck you make yourself.  You can’t finish a race if you don’t practice. You can’t get a leopard in a tree unless you are out where the leopards tend to sleep in trees.  And you definitely can’t get the sunrise if you are still in bed at 10am.

At the end of what turned out to be a very long post I don’t think it is either hard work or talent or the equipment you are using.  I think it is the combination of it all.  And having the will to stick to whatever it is you are pursuing.  You will work out what works for you and then you will be unstoppable!

To illustrate this blog a little bit I decided to use the 3 images that follow.  I am a morning person so to go catch the sun rising at just before 5am in February I had to firstly use my talent of getting out of bed early.  Then I had to get my 16-35mm lens on my 6D body, make sure the batteries were charged and SD cards had space and get my tripod and all my filters together and get going. First shot is a long 30 second exposure with the polarising filter on to get movement in the clouds and the water. Second shot I changed to ND filter and gave it a bit of time.  Last shot, filter off and just long enough to keep the men and dog as a blur.

The pink light before dawn with a longer exposure showing cloud movement
Still a long exposure but with an ND filter to allow directly shooting into the rising sun
Two men and a dog walked into the image and made for additional interest

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