from discovery to technique to tic

How often is what you do, more a ‘tic’ than ‘discovery’? I think that there are really three stages in approach to picture making:

  1. Discovery

  2. Technique

  3. Tic

Discovery is when we learn something new. Learning something new can come about by accident. While attempting to use a tried and tested formula, something may go wrong and we find out that the result is quite pleasing. It can also come about by simply putting ourselves outside of our comfort zone deliberately. Discovery in our art is what makes us grow and change, but it is not responsible for us fine-tuning what we do.


Technique is when we learn to do something well. We adopt new practices, or take on something we haven’t done before but we need to fine-tune it. Fine tuning comes from practice, from doing things many times so we learn to understand where the boundaries are in any new technique we have and where the sweet spot is.

The last stage is when any adopted technique becomes more a ‘tic’ than intentional technique. What I mean by ‘tic’ is that we stop thinking about it and we just tend to apply it without any thought. Sometimes this is good - such as muscle memory - we know instinctively where the right buttons are on our equipment for instance, or we simply know we need to balance a scene against a false horizon and not use a spirit level….

But there is also the negative-tic. The kind of tic you do all the time, the one that has no thought behind it except that ‘it’s what I always do’. This kind of tic in our working methods is dangerous because it can lead to our work becoming predictable, and to us falling into a rut with what we do. For example: always setting the tripod up at the same height (something I see with some participants - every single shot they make is always taken from the same height). This is a ‘tic’ - a practice that is done with no thought applied.

I think all three stages of Discovery, Technique and Tic are valid as they are natural parts of the life-cycle in us adopting working practices. But I think that Discovery is crucial to moving us forward, as too is Technique. Tic on the other hand needs to be watched carefully, because this stage of any of our approach can lead to a lack of thought or purpose in what we are doing.

It’s good to be aware of what we’re doing. And of understanding when something we are doing, is just being done, because it’s what we always do. Everything we adopt in our working practices has mileage: the Discovery period may last weeks or even years, and the technique period may be something we master in a day or so or perhaps we never master. But when all those stages are over, and we now find that any approach we have is becoming more a ‘tic’ to what we do, then I think it’s time to re-evaluate and see if you really need to use it any more.