“Knowledge plays a paradoxical role in an individual’s ability to discover. Firsthand experience supplies the raw materials from which new ideas are forged but can carry with it the potential to ensnare us in old ways of thinking and seeing.
Jack Ma tells a story about the Balinese monkey trap that captures the point. A monkey trap is made of rope and a coconut with a small hole and a shiny treasure inside. The hole is large enough to fit a monkey’s hand, but too small for its fist when clasped around the shiny object. The trap works because the monkey, after grabbing the spoon, refuses to release his grip.
We must be willing to unclench our fist to avoid old ideas from entrapping us. Much of what holds us back is our inability to give up past ways of doing things to consider new approaches. It all starts with an alert and questioning mind.”
-Amy Wilkinson, from her new book, The Creator’s Code: The Six Essential Skills of Extraordinary Entrepreneurs.
As photographers, we can easily become trapped by the things we already know. A long time ago I was taught how to use a beauty dish properly. And ever since then, there has been one way that I use a beauty dish. It was good advice then, and it is solid beauty dish technique, but that day was the day I stopped experimenting with beauty dishes.
I gained knowledge… about how to use a beauty dish in exactly one way, and I stopped trying to gain any new knowledge in that area.
I think this is something that happens all the time. At least, it happens to me all the time. I’ll figure out something really cool, like clamshell lighting…. and that is how I will set up my lights from then on. It’s one of those things “Oh, you know what works well? Clamshell lighting. I’ll do that!” and then I do. And it works.
But it also misses out on other potential ways of doing things.
The best way to fix this oversight in my opinion is to ask yourself “What else can I do with this?”. What else can I do with this umbrella, or this reflector, or this piece of black cardboard? What other possibilities are there for this speedlight, or this lens, or this tripod?
It’s tough. I find myself on autopilot a lot. I know what I like. Walk in the room. Set the tripod about eye level. Softbox here. Reflector here. Background light here. Done. The usual. The predictable. The boring.
Break out of that mode. Break those habits. The results are nice, yes…. but they are also staid, and unimpressive. Remember when you first started, and every result was a surprise? Get back to that place.
Try and do something you’ve never done before.
You never know, you just might like it.