Quantity over Quality: Why I am pledging to do 40 portrait shoots

“I will take care of the quantity. The Great Creator will take care of the quality.” — The Artist’s Way

During 2020’s first lockdown, I did The Artist Way, a 3-month course (daily writing, weekly check-ins) remotely with a group of amazing people I mostly hadn’t met before, curated by Nikhil Shah. One of Julia Cameron’s founding philosophies is that in order to allow yourself to be creative, you have to start creating, to produce. Get it out of your head and into the world.

Your responsibility is the quantity only. No judgements around how good or bad it is. Simply start, and keep the flow going, and it will get better with time. I took up the challenge with making cocktails and used an accountability technique of creating little videos of myself trying to master flavour balancing ratios. The rules I created were simple: one-take videos made on my phone, no editing and must post immediately to a public platform. This process of being DONE and PUBLISHED before any judgement could seep in was very powerful. Rather than holding on to the idea of perfecting, the only choice was to reflect on what worked and what didn’t and move on with that knowledge to make the NEXT ONE (drink/video) better.

Last week I read a blog post from Austen Kleon (via The Story’s Newsletter). He retraced a fable about creative work that goes a little like this. A ceramics teacher splits a new class in half and announces one set will be graded at the end purely on QUANTITY (the more they create = higher grade) and the other set on the QUALITY (the better they create = higher grade). At the end of the course, the highest QUALITY work was from those in the QUANTITY focused set. Because they had been driven to DO and REVIEW and ITERATE and IMPROVE and REDO and GET BETTER. Whilst the QUALITY focused set had been trapped within the paralysing orbit of PERFECTIONISM and produced far less, let alone anything better.

This ‘ceramics story’ is from David Bayles and Ted Orland’s book, Art & Fear, but, as Austen’s blog post reveals, it was originally the methodology of a photography class, and has universal creative application. Austen reflects “the frequency of my work — showing up at regular intervals, without worrying about results — has actually lead to better results” with regards to his writing.

I want to learn how to take natural light portraits of people feeling confident but honest in their own skin. I need to master the technicalities of photography and light and style, learn how to direct shoots to achieve the kind of inner connection I want to make visible, work out how to use photoshop, sort out a DIY home /park studio set up and line up models to work with. I am doing some online courses to learn technique but really it is about PRACTISE PRACTISE PRACTISE. I can’t wait until I am the standard I want to be, but I have to start before I am ready. Put it out in the world, to learn what I need to get better at, and improve.

I have vowed to do 40 portrait shoots before the end of the next year. I did my first one last week and have lined up two more. The quantity thing is essential — do it again and again and again — but so is self-accountability, because in these current times (hello Tier 4!) the notion of keeping going with anything extra can seem too challenging.

I am hoping to use this (my first Medium post) as a way to anchor myself to this promise of keeping going across next year, regardless of the outcomes of any individual shoots, and where and how they have to happen. So if YOU would like to volunteer to have a natural light portrait photo taken by me please drop me a line (my name at gmail). It will, of course, be done safely inside (or likely outside in the short term), and I still have 37 slots open 😉

Published by Rebecca Frankel

Photographer born in London

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