Some Thoughts on “Grit” and the Landscape Photographer

August 21st, 2017 by Chip Phillips

You’ve heard the term “grit.” It seems like it’s everywhere these days; from podcasts and radio to magazines, to pioneering psychologist Angela Duckworth’s bestselling book “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.” What is it? How do we get it? And how do we use it to achieve our goals in landscape photography?

Wikipedia defines “grit” as “a positive, non-cognitive trait based on an individual’s passion for a particular long-term goal or end state, coupled with a powerful motivation to achieve their respective objective. This perseverance of effort promotes the overcoming of obstacles or challenges that lie within a gritty individual’s path to accomplishment, and serves as a driving force in achievement realization.” To me, it means resilience; the ability to focus on the long-term goal and not get discouraged by temporary setbacks. Not giving up when the going gets tough. Learning from mistakes rather than letting frustration and disappointment make you quit.

The older I get, the more I think that grit, rather than innate talent, is truly the secret to success. Long before I began my career as a landscape photographer, I was (and still am!) a professional symphony musician. Talk to any professional symphony musician and you’ll hear a common refrain: sure, I have some talent, but that’s a small part of what leads to success. What leads to success? Hard work. Not only hard work, but smart hard work. I consider myself fortunate to have started music lessons at a young age, and to experience successes and failures. Messing up a performance, losing an audition or a competition—these are opportunities to learn from mistakes, and strengthen one’s grit. It’s so easy to give up when things go wrong. Especially if the thing comes easy for you. You get used to success. So failure stings even more. This is when people often give up. And that’s such a shame!

I’ve read that the best way to praise a child is not to say “you’re so talented!” “you’re so smart!” or variations thereof, but rather “you’re such a hard worker!” or find a way to praise their tenacity and determination. Let your child learn that failure isn’t something to be afraid of, and that it’s okay to get frustrated. It’s what we do after these setbacks that determine success. My wife, a professional violinist and violin teacher, tells her student that a “successful mistake” in a performance is when a student makes a mistake but maintains their composure and keeps going. It’s so easy to get flustered and panicked when a note comes out wrong or a shift is missed, but to keep breathing, keep counting the rhythm, and pick oneself up and continue is the true success.

So how can we translate this grit into the world of landscape photography? I have some ideas.

The more advanced we get at our skill, the more difficult the skills can be to master. This is one instance where frustration can set in. Do we give up? Or do we ask for help, or try it a different way? Admitting that we need help is difficult and humbling, but is a gritty thing to do.

Inevitably, careers will plateau at certain points in time. How do we approach that? Do we let it slide, or do we try new things? Do we approach others for advice or insights?

Or what do we do if we find ourselves losing passion or inspiration? “Photographer’s block?” How do we deal with that?

I’d love to hear your ideas on the subject of grit.

Meanwhile, you can take a test to figure out how “gritty” you are at University of Pennsylvania psychologist Angela Duckworth’s website here.

  • Jens

    A beautiful photo, I love the flowers in the foreground and the alpenglow on the mountains.

  • Gale Rainwater

    Great job on writing this Chip. I love the grit subject you picked. I think having “grit” works for any long term goal or especially career challenges. I think you definitely need grit in landscape photography. Being an artist is such a difficult career choice in my opinion. Thanks, keep up the grit in life Chip!

  • Pete Miller

    Great post Chip! I pondered “GRIT” for a bit after reading your post, in context of my own photography.

    This thought came to mind a short while later:

    GRIT = Getting Results In Time

    Meaning, your perseverance (aka grit) will enable & empower you to achieve the desired goal…in time!

    – –
    Pete Miller
    USKestrel Photography