Photo by Scott Diussa

Five Things I Know!

Have you ever gone on a great photography trip and then returned home to sit at your computer to review hundreds or even thousands of images from your grand adventure? Over the past few months I’ve reviewed many countless thousands of images from the great adventure of a 44-year career as a photographer! As Mark Twain once remarked, “Garrulous old people climb up on a soap box and tell the rest of us how they got there!” I’ll go ahead and plead guilty now for what I’m about to do, but I hope these things I’m sharing will have some lasting value for you, because these are five things I do know to be true…

1. The truth of Rod Planck’s quote: “Technique trumps equipment every time!”
The specific camera and lens used for any given photograph may be one of the least important factors that determines the success of your images! Far more important is the clarity of the subject, the effectiveness of the light, the arrangement of elements within the frame, (composition), and the specific conditions at the time of the exposure, all of theses factors carry much more weight! Even more important than even those factors is the story or message your image conveys! I believe a great image leaves the viewer moved, raises questions, or provides answers! No camera can do that, only you. We all love the gear, collecting it, and using it is so much fun, but cameras are only tools, tools for building things, building images.

The images above were all made with cameras that cost less than six hundred dollars. Top, glasses on the Bible with an Fuji X-10, middle, hubcap with pine needles with an iPhone 4s, and bottom, lines in a slot canyon, a Nikon P7000.

2. The true secret to becoming the photographer you always hoped you could be, only requires three things: years of study, years of practice, and perseverance when you fail (and you will fail, many times)!
In other words, when you fail, get back up, dust yourself off, and try again! Few people want to hear this, but hard work is the key that opens the door to photographic success. The rewards are far greater than the price of the hard work though. Jay Maisel said, “We only take pictures for two reasons… I want to show you something or I want to keep this for myself…” I’ve found very few of the images I’ve ever made that don’t fall into these two categories! When we share our images and the response is one of amazement or pleasure from the viewer, we’ve shown some one else our vision, and sharing our vision is always worth the effort. No amount of hard work is too much to allow you to enjoy this amazing craft!

Top, NFL game action shot, middle, sunset light rays Great Smoky Mountains N.P., bottom, single fall leaf on the forest floor.

3. Giving truly is better than receiving!
If you have been so fortunate to have received great talent, and then, keep it for yourself, you have missed a great blessing! I’m not sure that I’ve been gifted with great talent, but I’ve happily shared whatever I’ve been given with others seeking to learn! I can only speak from personal experience, but my greatest joy is seeing others share my passion about photography, and the wonderful subjects we have the opportunity to try to capture. I believe some of the most talented shooters we have today get their greatest joy in sharing their vast knowledge! There are many that meet that description, but Scott Kelby, Joe McNally, and Jay Maisel certainly are at the top of my list! If my name were ever mentioned anywhere close to that list, I would be proud indeed, but truthfully, that is not necessary for me. My joy comes from holding a camera in my hands, and attempting to capture the things that interest me! In giving the gift of photography, I have received the greater gift of sharing in others joy. When I look at the work of Jim Begley, Zack Arias, Richard Small, Matt, Moose, Brad, RC, and many, many other fine photographers, I share in their joy!

Top, Aerial photograph of the Daniel Boone National Forest in Kentucky, middle, Hudson name plate in Old Car City, GA, bottom, spices in a Paris market.

4.  The truth is, in the end, it will be the relationships that matter most!
Faithful believer, husband, father, grandfather, friend, teacher, these are my most important roles. I’m proud of my body of work, but some day when I’m gone, I’m one hundred percent sure that my relationships will be far more important than any of my photographs! A few years ago a very close friend died at too young of an age. He was a great photographer and I and all of his friends wondered what would become of his life’s work, which was considerable; he had authored over 26 photography books! That led to my considering what would become of my work! After some time and a lot of thought, I came to the realization that my photography has been a means to an end. It has helped support my family and been a source of great happiness for me, but in the end will not be housed in a college library somewhere preserved for the ages. It’s been great fun making the images, but they are just photographs. It will be the people that matter the most in my life.

Top, stream in Great Smoky Mountain N.P., middle, air cleaners Old Car City, bottom, my grandson’s snow covered bicycle.

5.  Some people make more than a career out of their work… They make a difference.
That was on the cover of congratulatory card sent to me by a dear friend upon my retirement from Nikon. He wrote a personal note saying I’d made a difference in his life. I certainly hope that is true. My most important goal in life has been that I leave situations, and people, in a better place, than I’ve found them. How can a mere human being do that??!! Only by living with faith in someone far greater than yourself. Having the peace that comes from knowing how much God loves us! Then we must share that love with others who come into our lives… and, that my friends, is the greatest truth of all.

Top, aluminum skinned airplane tail, middle, Mesa Arch, Canyonlands N.P., bottom, medals on a red military jacket.

It is a great honor for Scott to share you guys with me, I hope something I’ve shared here will be helpful for you! Don’t worry about what others think of your work, enjoy the process and rewards of being a photographer, there are many! Don’t keep this craft for yourself, share it! I will only be truly successful, when my students exceed my abilities. My hope is that your photographic life be as rewarding as mine has been for me! Blessings!

Bill Fortney

You can see more of Bill’s work at BillFortney.com, check out his classes on KelbyTraining.com, and see him live at Photoshop World Vegas!