What happens when we work on a skill?

I just want to point out that I do experience a difference in diving into something I already feel confident in, something I suck at, and the middle ground of curious and have no idea where my aptitude will fall. If you have been following me on social media, you would have seen that I am currently working very hard on my photography skills, which falls into the first category. Writing is in the second and running ads falls in the middle. But it is critically important to me that I engage in all three categories.

Digging into something I already have skills in or a good background for is easy, emotionally. But being willing to work on something that feels hard or may prove difficult reminds me to focus on the process with humility, and that I don’t have to be good at something to enjoy doing it. Also, if I can progress the skills that don’t come easily, then I am practicing the skill of improvement. Doing something regularly certainly has the benefit of getting comfortable or gaining muscle memory, and at the same time is only a partial skill. Having to face hurdles and come up with a way to make an improvement is a skill more easily learned by doing something challenging, which then carries over to knowing how to challenge myself when faced with something I can make strides in without as much effort.

As an aside, my sister pointed out that the author and researcher Carol Dweck talks about this very thing in her book Mindset. I’ve reserved it at the library and will let you know what I think when I receive and read it. In the meanwhile, a quick fix is watching her TED talk, The power of believing that you can improve, which I did watch and do recommend.

Actually, that is the whole point of this article, and Dweck says it better. But since you may be curious about the photography, I’ll continue.

The most important thing I’ve learned from this practice I’ve been doing is that photography is not like painting. I know, brilliant, right?

Ok, but seriously, here is what I mean by that. First a little context— I have an MA in Medical Illustration and that is what I did for a living for over 20 years before starting EcoPetites. When I am composing a painting or illustration, I can create a vision in my head, sketch, observe and then create what I want to and change reality as I see fit, if I follow reality at all.

In photography, I have to observe, frame the shot and then either capture what I see or intentionally create a vision that is not quite how the eye sees it. Which might sound the same, but in my head, I kept thinking about vision in terms of being able to place elements where I want them. With photos, creating a vision is very different and it feels more like manipulating light than about manipulating things, lines and colors. Not only is this about moving light sources and reflections, but about how the light enters the camera (via the settings) and where to position the camera relative to the light. And being ready when the moment is right. 

Admittedly, that is all very esoteric. I also learned and practiced a lot of the mechanics. Things like where are the buttons and controls without searching, what can be changed, which setting to shoot with, what to manually adjust and what to let the camera adjust for me, and when to use a tripod among other things. The mechanics need lots of practice so that my mind is freer to focus on vision.

I’ll share some of my favorites here, with the setting listed in case that is handy to you.

What have you been striving toward lately?


35 mm lens, ISO 100, f/3.2, 1/250 sec


Couple walking, Peace Park

35 mm lens, ISO 12800, f/22, 1/320 sec


35 mm lens, ISO 200, f/9, 1/60 sec


Pine Tree at Peace Park, Minneapolis

35 mm lens, ISO 100, f/22, 4/5 sec 


Cherry tree, late winter in the rain

35 mm lens, ISO 100, f/2.4, 1/640 sec


Stand of Birch trees, late winter

35 mm lens, ISO 3200, f/9, 1/800 sec