A Photography Lesson I Learned From Coconuts

Coconut photo

“As I have practiced it, photography produces pleasure by simplicity. I see something special and show it to the camera. A picture is produced. The moment is held until someone sees it. Then it is theirs.” — Sam Abell

I spend a lot of time in sunny Florida where I was first exposed to Palm trees. Palm trees are very different than the trees near Seattle where I lived on and off since the early 90s. Palm trees are all kinds of cool. And one of the cool things they do is make coconuts. (Yes I know not ALL Palm trees make coconuts – but the trees near my place on Ft. Meyers Beach did.)

Now believe it or not, there’s a guy at the condo complex whose job it is to drive around in what I call the Coconutmobile – picking up the coconuts that fall to the ground every day. On some days, after a big wind or rain, there are lots of coconuts. In fact, it’s kind of overwhelming. There are hundreds of palm trees there and each of these produces lots of coconuts.

As I watched the man pick up the coconuts and put them into the Coconutmobile, it dawned on me – there is a lesson here for photographers who want to turn pro or who are already pros and who want to grow their businesses.

You see it would be very easy for the guy who picks up coconuts to say, “Wow – there’s just too many of them. I don’t know where to start.” He could give up, park the Coconutmobile in the Coconutmobile garage and go have a drink on the beach. That would be very easy.

Instead, the man just rolls up to the first tree, gets out, brings out his bag, and starts picking up coconuts. He doesn’t seem to fret about which tree to begin with. He doesn’t even seem to have a pattern. He just stops where he happens to be and gathers the coconuts that have fallen to the ground. He gets back in the Coconutmobile and drives to the next tree where he does it again and again and again. It usually takes him about four hours to pick all the coconuts off the ground. When he’s finished, he takes them somewhere, I am not sure where. But I know the next day he’ll be back to do it all again.

As an emerging photographer, perhaps you’ve looked at all the things you need in order to master the craft of photography. There’s which camera and lens to buy, learning about exposure, composition, light, etc. It would be very easy to say “Wow – there’s just too much to learn. I don’t know where to start.” If you talked the coconut guy into quitting, you could join him on the beach for a drink. But if you take a lesson from him, you can accomplish your goals. Just pull up to the first thing you need to learn and learn it. Don’t worry about all the other stuff. Stick with that one thing – that tree if you will – and learn what you can before you move on to the next. You’re going to have to learn all of it eventually, so just go for it. Start somewhere. As the old saying goes, every journey starts with the first step. Be willing to take it.

Move along from one thing to the next, learning what you can. Don’t concentrate on what you DON’T know. Concentrate on what you DO know. If you look only at the negative – well that would be like the guy picking up coconuts spending his day counting how many he has left to pick up. It’s much more productive (and satisfying) to say “Wow – look how many coconuts (pearls of knowledge) I’ve gathered!”

If you need help getting off the couch and going for a ride on the coconut mobile, leave a comment on this post. Maybe I (or someone else who reads this) can try to lend an encouraging word.


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