Wow, what an honor to be guest blogging for Scott Kelby! When Brad called me up to see if I would like to fill this Wednesday’s guest spot, it was a no brainer – Of course I would! Later as I reread the posts of previous contributors it started to sink in, this talent pool ran deep, one could easily drown in there. As anyone who has read a guest post on Scott’s blog before will attest, it is not the usual cut and dry photo or lighting shtick. People really bare it all here. On top of that I’m following Dave Black whom I’d only just met earlier this year, but who had me on the verge of tears while telling his life’s story of toil and triumph at the Photoshop World closing ceremonies. (Does anyone have that on video somewhere?!)

This is really just a round about way to describe a feeling most photographers encounter a lot. Or maybe it’s just me, but I’ve heard the sentiment whispered in the halls before. It can be downright awe inspiring, intimidating and depressing at times to look around at the raw talent in this big & small photo community of ours.

Just browse a few websites or a couple magazines and you’re bombarded with some awesome imagery. It’s daunting to think that that’s the level your competition is at. It could be enough to make you think about throwing in the towel some times. Once we overcome that though, our peers quickly become our greatest assets in this life behind the lens. Every one of these guys has a history of bad images behind them and are still making more everyday; everyone has to put in their 10,000 hours of sweat equity.

I guess what I want to write about is community, and how it is especially necessary for a creative. As romantic the notion is of the isolated artist toiling away in obscurity, I don’t think I could live like that for longer than a short weekend. It’s awesome to be able to look to our massive online community of photographers from around the globe and to be inspired by how much great work is being created everyday.

I’m entirely self taught as a photographer. By that I just mean I didn’t have a scholastic community to help rear me, but rather a tight knit community of friends and family. They posed for me endlessly, helped me lug light stands and weren’t afraid to share with me what did and didn’t work for them as subjects. Then there was my small ragtag group of photographer friends, without which my photography might not have developed from avid curiosity into the obsessive pursuit of learning and taming light that it did. I’m a people shooter after all, and I can only talk to and about a still-life for so long before losing interest.

There have been two moves in my life where the need for a community really hit home, and it snuck up unexpectedly the first time. I had just moved back to the beaches after a number of years away and was experiencing my first bout of creative isolation. I didn’t know any other shooters in town that I could call up on a random afternoon to try out a new piece of gear with, or talk shop, or borrow a light stand from – it sucked! So when I heard about the Help Portrait event happening at a location down the road I figured it would be a great way to spend the weekend, giving back and possibly meeting some like minded photographers. (Help Portrait is an event where for one day a year photographers find someone in need and give a portrait rather than take one. By the way it’s coming up soon so check it out).

Just as I had finished setting up my lights one of the other guys grabs me and asks if I can lend a hand in bringing up some more gear that had just arrived. I said sure thing and headed down to grab what I thought would be couple more umbrellas and some background paper. In the door walks Scott, Matt, Corey, Brad and the whole Kelby crew. Plus they had brought an entire office & studio worth of gear with them. A weekend charity shoot turned into a high production event and our awesome subjects that day got the royal treatment, after all THEY were the reason we were there. Once the last lady’s portrait had been made, we all went down the road to grab a burrito and that guy who had asked my for a hand earlier turned out to be RC, who I count today among my best of friends. Plus it was pretty cool realizing that the the Kelby HQ was in my backyard all along and getting to watch those guys retouch in realtime is pretty darn impressive.

The following week RC invites me out to Tampa to meetup with his friend Kathy and their massive Strobist group. It was a blast flooding the streets with photographers and over the course of that week I went from flying solo to having a large creative community to call friends. Those friends have helped to challenge, inspire, push and prod me into becoming a better photographer and person. That’s what friends do, so thank you guys.

The second more recent move occurred when I relocated from sunny Florida to Detroit, MI‚ during the “Snowpocalypse” earlier this year. I did prepare myself for two things before the move and have been working through them daily. First, rather than wait around for serendipity to strike again, I immediately struck out to get engaged in the photo community here.

With sites like Twitter, Meetup.com, and the awesome NAPP community it’s not hard to get out there… like actually out there. I really dig the online conversations and tweet too much sometimes, but my goal was to get together in person, shake a hand, share a drink, and go shoot something. I took this same approach in establishing my business locally as well. Let’s just say the coffee shops and restaurants are loving me!

The second being a glaringly obvious issue once I walked out the door of my new home. Detroit is different. Different from what I’ve known as a shooter thus far. Gone are the sunny scenes ready-made to drop a model into. It’s been like an extended case of that traveler’s high you get when on the road; your brain is busy trying to process a new place and the possibilities are endless. Of course old habits die hard and I still love the light and colorful imagery that came naturally when working in Florida. It’ll continue to be interesting as my style evolves and I adapt.

I am a creature of habit though and have enjoyed lighting a scene to create whats there in my mind. I’ll be writing every month for the new Light It Magazine that just launched, and a lot of the techniques and tips I’ll be covering come from experiences and obstacles I’ve overcome while shooting up here this year. It’s amazing how with a couple lights and a gel you can turn a gloomy snowy day into a warm inviting afternoon, at least in camera anyway. The snow can’t keep this Florida boy down and all of the new friends and photographers up here go the extra mile to help each other get that next shot and succeed. It’s all about being there for one another with a helping hand, recommendation or referral. It takes a village.

That’s what I really love about Scott and the rest of his gang. They don’t just produce educational material.They develop and nurture a community of creatives around learning. I wish college had been more like that, I may have gone on and gotten a real job! Then again probably not :)

Thanks Scott and Brad for having me on the blog! I hope to keep shooting and sharing with you all for many years to come.

You can see more of Erik’s work at ErikValind.com, keep up with him on Twitter, and find him on Facebook