Shuhari: The Stages of Photography Mastery2 min read

There is a sort of progression that serious practitioners of almost any craft might follow. I was first exposed to the concept of Shuhari in my day job leading coaches of Agile software development. Though the common convention is that shuhari has its origins in the martial arts. Let’s see how shuhari can help you to see yourself on your path to mastery of this craft.


Shuhari is often expressed into three discrete stages of progression on the path:

  • Shu To keep.
  • HaTo fall.
  • RiTo break away.

Shu – Practitioners are learning all of the rules and trying to obey them. You may or may not be very good yet, but ultimately your creativity is bound to the dogma of the right way to take photographs.

Ha – The student begins to break way from conventions, explore other ways of doing things.

Ri – The rules were like training wheels on a child’s bicycle. The camera is a natural extension of the photographer’s heart and soul. The images flow naturally, not according to any rules, but according to how the photographer’s mind sees the final image. The images transcend what the formal rules of photography might normally allow, because the photographer them self has transcended the need for such rules.

Allow me to draw your attention, while I have it, to the work of photographer Eduardo Asenjo. Asenjo has, so far as I can tell, hit a level of mastery to where he’s clearly breaking the rules and yet consistently producing excellent images that stir something within. Except I don’t think he’s breaking the rules so much as transcending them, bending them to serve his vision.

Some photographers will never break out of Shu or Ha. And this is okay. This is a journey. Reaching a Ri state doesn’t imply that you’re done learning or growing. Each of these states has a vast range of mastery. You also can’t just read a book on photography, toss it out, and jump straight to Ri. There’s a sort of intuitive mastery process going on that takes time to be internalized.

Where do you think you are on your own shuhari journey? And do you feel like you’re progressing?