No one is born with the gift of talent. However, each person has unique attributes and life experiences which can be developed into talent; some of which may make it easier for some to excel than others. Fortunately, photography is one of those activities that is physically possible for most people to excel in unlike say basketball.
So if photography doesn’t rely on extreme physical attributes nor is technically-difficult to produce; why is it so difficult for most people to put together a great portfolio or body of work? I believe it comes down to “the extra mile”. Many people are casually interested in photography or may even really enjoy photography but the percentage of people willing to sacrifice their social lives, evenings and weekends for the sake of developing their art is not very high. The comfortable thing to do after leaving the day job is to go to happy hour, come home and watch Netflix, etc… All wonderful things to do but ultimately they are things that will hold you back from achieving maximizing your potential. There is a certain grind element to any vocation that separates those at the top from everyone else.
Malcolm Gladwell wrote a famous book, Outliers: The Stories of Success, where his research concluded that having a world-class skill took a minimum of 10,000 hours of effective practice to achieve. Whether or not 10,000 hours is some magical benchmark is debatable but there is merit in acknowledging Gladwell’s point. 10,000 hours equates to 417 days; or 3 hours per day over 9 years*. Honestly, it probably took me a little bit longer than that to grasp the concept of what personal vision is. The point is that you can achieve just about anything you want with your photography but it’s not going to come easy. If you want it, then stop with the envy, put your head down and put in the work. Keep the distractions to a minimum and just focus. Everyone is gifted with 24 hours in a day; what you choose to do with it will usually correlate with what you get out of it in the long-run.
Dabbling in a lot of things can count toward that mythical 10,000 hour number but it depends. Are you learning anything by dabbling in a little bit of portraits, birding, weddings, landscape, still life and video? I would venture to guess that at some point you will figure out what you naturally gravitate towards and end up focusing your efforts on a narrower array of subject matter.
There was a time when I was shooting photos of everything. That was a great learning experience but I’m not a young man anymore. I’ve gotten that out of my system at this point and just focus on what I’m most passionate about which is primarily landscape photography. I’ve basically cut everything else out of my current repertoire for a number of reasons. Family life and time chiefly being among them. The other reason is that I simply got burned out by churning out work around the clock for ten years. With the stock photography market bottoming out there was little incentive to continue down that path if I wasn’t 100% passionate about everything I was shooting.
The truth of the matter is that Art Wolfe, Frans Lanting, Marc Adamus, insert your favorite photographer… are not special. They were just like you and me at one point. They shot tons of bad photos along the way. The difference is they were much more driven than just about anyone else and sacrificed everything else to get to where they are. They went the extra mile and are running lifelong ultra-marathons at this point.