Commitment To Your Work = Taking An Entire Year To Make a Single Image

Want to know about commitment to your art? Think you have what it takes? Listen up.

For the last 40 years, Sam Abell has worked as a documentary photographer, primarily for National Geographic. In this video interview for the Atlantic (created by Alex Hoyt & Ross McDermott), Sam recounts his year-long quest to find the perfect image for a story.

No excuses about modern timelines, budgets, or any of that. When was the last time you hunted for an image, a clip, a specific shot for a year?

Didn’t think so. Confession = me neither. #Inspiring

46 Responses to Commitment To Your Work = Taking An Entire Year To Make a Single Image

  1. tmophoto September 7, 2011 at 10:45 am #

    I have been trying to get to this viewpoint for about 8 years. finally got the shot this past weekend but the conditions were less than ideal.

    now i know where to get it from so i can go back when the moon is right.

    • Robin September 7, 2011 at 11:14 am #

      Nice work. Even doing a well balance time lapse is in it self an accomplishment. Nice job.

  2. adrian September 7, 2011 at 10:46 am #

    VERY moving. Beautiful story!

  3. Ollie Morris September 7, 2011 at 10:51 am #

    Thanks for sharing Chase .. inspiring viewing. In my opinion that is what photography is about, the idea, the planning, the waiting and finally the execution. This is what separates the vast number of photographers apart.

  4. jefgibbons September 7, 2011 at 10:55 am #

    Wow, that one moment got me choked up. Awesome.

  5. Henry September 7, 2011 at 11:06 am #

    I enjoyed that.

  6. Don Cudney September 7, 2011 at 11:07 am #

    One of the only photographers that I know that can talk about the spirituality of photography without sounding like a artist on acid.

    Abell rules.

  7. Kris September 7, 2011 at 11:09 am #

    Very inspiring, thanks for sharing.

  8. Lalabongo September 7, 2011 at 11:30 am #

    Lovely, lovely, lovely… thank you…

    veyr very very good advice…

    compose and wait… perhaps not a year, but pause to breath… and absorb…

  9. Mike Russell September 7, 2011 at 12:16 pm #

    Incredible story for a great photo. I’d love to listen to him tell the stories about the other 7 photos from that article! Truly inspiring. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Shawn September 7, 2011 at 12:17 pm #

    I actually stopped taking pictures because I feel like they are all the same.

    I’ve been watching my son long board lately and he has such a freedom that I’ve contemplated picking up my camera again. I use my iPhone all the time still don’t get me wrong. I think it’s when I pick up the camera people pose and I’ve actually been hunting for reality.

    I like that genuine smile or that look of calm on a persons face when they are basking in the sun.

    Yeah this was good to read today.

    Thanks as always.

  11. Giant September 7, 2011 at 12:18 pm #

    I’ve been on the hunt now for the last two years waiting for the perfect West Coast storm surf shot. I haven’t even found the right beach/shore yet. I’ll keep looking.

  12. RH Alexander September 7, 2011 at 12:33 pm #

    Thanks very much for this. It not only slowed my day, but deepened an internal conversation about what we are really after as photographers…the product…a compelling photograph….or the continued, deepening experience of the creative process, with all its challenges and surprises – and how that seasons us in the best of ways. Its both, of course, but this short film, I believe, brings us back to the true foundation of photography…the creative quest, and the art of the story. Thanks again!

  13. DanielKphoto September 7, 2011 at 12:37 pm #

    Very beautiful and inspiring! Thanks a lot for sharing :)

  14. Michael Montalto September 7, 2011 at 1:21 pm #

    “Well…..I took these pictures. Each one of them has a story, and I’d like to tell you each one of them!” There is just something so beautiful and simple about the human experience that is shared. This made me smile for today. *Bows humbly to Mr. Jarvis* -mM

  15. Trentin Shreeve September 7, 2011 at 1:29 pm #

    Sam Abell is one of my favorite photographers. If you liked this video you will love his National Geographic Live! interview. He talks about his book “Life of a Photograph”. Its free on itunes also. Very inspirational.

    • Amanda September 8, 2011 at 5:27 am #

      will def. check it out on itunes – thanks for the info! :)

      • Trentin Shreeve September 9, 2011 at 9:20 pm #

        Its also free. Its in the itunes U section.

  16. Kyle September 7, 2011 at 2:04 pm #

    Nearly as impressive was that he took 25,000 pictures to end up with the final 8! Wonder if it was the classic Kodachrome that NatGeo seems to love?

  17. Sean September 7, 2011 at 5:21 pm #

    I absolutely have – I have two spots in North America that I go to year after year and I have this picture in my mind that I haven’t been able to make with the camera yet. Someday the conditions may work out but not yet.

  18. Al-x September 7, 2011 at 7:16 pm #

    I thought I shot too much on location. I try different things, different angle, just knowing that I will only be happy with one or two. I just presumed that the Pro’s took one picture and it was immediatly lovely. I take solace in knowing how conservative a shooter I am in comparison…

  19. Jeremy Aronhalt September 7, 2011 at 7:32 pm #

    This was great. When I first decided to make photography a career 10 years ago Sam Abell was the first photographer to inspire me. I bought a National Geographic Field Guide and his Bio stood out to me the most. He talked about staying true to what he saw and using as little as possible to achieve it. I think all photographers can learn and adapt something from how Sam operates. Thanks for sharing.

  20. Jeffrey Friedl September 7, 2011 at 9:08 pm #

    I’m having a hard time believing your “me neither” comment… I would think anyone with a bit of artistic blood who often shoots the same kind of thing has kernels in their mind of shots they want to get, ones they’re always keeping their mind’s eye out for, waiting for an opportunity and perhaps trying to manufacture one from time to time. It may not always be as concrete and conscious as in the video, but it has to be there… having them is part of the artistic experience; without them, it’s just work.

  21. Douglas Robar September 8, 2011 at 2:07 am #

    “I took 25,000 pictures and only 8 are in here.” (at 10:15)

    If a professional National Geographic photographer with waaay more skill than I have takes that many (film!) frames to get some great shots, why do I take so few and yet still expect excellence?

    Humbling. Informative. Helpful. Thank you.

  22. Patrick September 8, 2011 at 3:45 am #

    Great interview.

    Inspiring stuff from a guy who produces some stunning images.

  23. Amanda September 8, 2011 at 5:26 am #

    amazing! very inspiring.

  24. Dennis Pike September 8, 2011 at 5:31 am #

    welll, I’m a pussy.

  25. fas September 8, 2011 at 5:39 am #

    Really unbelievable, that is dedication on to a whole new level.

  26. Daf September 8, 2011 at 5:44 am #

    Nice story
    Alas I’m not at the point of searching for “THE photo” yet.
    I think before that you/we need to find a story or a narrative – and I’m not there yet – still doing little (seemingly insignificant) bits and pieces – I need to find or should I say MAKE time to sit down, clear my head and think of a project I want to work on.

  27. kombizz September 8, 2011 at 6:44 am #

    What an amazing article.
    Thank you for sharing.

  28. Kevin Halliburton September 8, 2011 at 7:06 am #

    The living bison walking into the scene at exactly the right moment, in exactly the right pose, at the perfect spot in the composition, is a testament to the fact that God has a way of getting personally involved at that level of commitment. A fitting tribute to Charles Russel as well. He would have definitely understood and appreciated the honor, sacrifice and commitment that went into that moment. I can’t help wondering if in some supernatural, God ordained way, that living bison was the embodiment of Charle’s passion for telling the story of that majestic creature, and that majestic era, standing in for one final frame.

  29. Andy September 8, 2011 at 7:20 am #

    Wow, talk about serendipity!

  30. Andy September 8, 2011 at 7:28 am #

    “Friend, please slow down”

  31. Marcus September 8, 2011 at 7:39 am #

    I usually do it the other way round: I take about a thousand pictures until I make a good one. That is also dedication. ;-)

  32. Charlie September 8, 2011 at 8:11 am #

    My favorite post in a while Chase :) Thanks.

  33. arunima vj September 13, 2011 at 8:09 pm #

    great job..! n inspiring yeah

  34. Nick Hurst September 30, 2011 at 6:56 am #

    Fatastic video, I’m a patient guy and even I will admit it takes an exceeding amount of patience to create a decent time lapse video. It’s something I’ve not achieved. Great post Chase

  35. Zak November 1, 2011 at 8:01 pm #

    There is an aerial image I have been trying to get for the better part of 4 years that I have yet to capture just how I want…someday soon I hope!

    Thanks for being inspirational…

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