Consumption Vs. Production – A Balanced Approach To Proficiency

Hello friends, I’m going to share with you my approach to continually striving to improve as a photographer/artist. I won’t claim to have invented this concept but hopefully I can articulate it in a way that will resonate with you and compel you to apply it to your own craft. I’ve broken down my process to two simple actions… Produce and consume.

What is consumption?

To consume something in regards to photography is to receive it (It being knowledge and/or inspiration). You consume when you read a book by another photographer, watch a photography tutorial, peruse photo sharing sites, walk through an art museum, or any other activity where you actively analyze other works of art. I regularly analyze impressionist paintings, abstract art, and anything else that inspires me. In fact, some of the work from my most recent project was inspired largely by cubism paintings by Pablo Picasso. Consumption is required in order to move beyond the boundaries of our own mind.

BridgeLock Pano

Bridge Lock Pano by John M. Barbiaux, installed in the historic Union Trust Building in downtown Pittsburgh, was inspired by various art styles including cubism and Impressionism.

What is Production?

To produce… Well, this is kind of common sense. We produce anytime we put the camera to our eye, manipulate a photo in post processing, or sit down at the keyboard to share our thoughts and feelings for the world to read. When I think about the balance between production and consumption I think of paint. If all you do is produce, never consume, it’s similar to trying to paint a masterpiece with one color. Let’s say red… If you spread red around on a canvas long enough you’ll certainly get all the different shades of red but that’s it. Using the same analogy, consumption would be equivalent of introducing other colors (outside influences like other artists, paintings, photographs, etc.) with your red and mixing them to make an entire rainbow of other colors to produce a truly magnificent piece of art.

Look, I get it. It can be difficult to sit down and read a photography book, even one by a photographer you are fond of, when you could be out with your camera doing the thing you love. It can be especially difficult if you’re competitive like me… I see these great photographs created by incredibly talented photographers and while I appreciate them I immediately want to grab my camera and try to do it better. Which brings me to my next point, life is all about balance.

You’ll have to come up with a method that works best for your personality type but here is what I’ve found that works best for me. I typically emphasize production for three weeks and consumption for a week. Rinse, wash, repeat. I’ve found this to be the best approach for me personally because I find it difficult to switch gears quickly. Once I’m in production mode I want to go, go, go until I feel like I’ve got something to show for my hard work. On the other hand, when I consume I turn into a bit of a poindexter and can quickly get lost in my enjoyment of edification. This doesn’t mean that I abstain from one or the other at any given time, I just make sure that I emphasize whichever one corresponds with where I’m at in my balanced schedule.

I hope this makes sense to you and you’re able to apply it to your own proficiency.  Have you got a process that you find helps you improve that you’d like to share with us?  Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Featured Image by Patrick Tomasso

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