I’ve been reading Scott’s blog for quite a while, and a few years back would never believe that I would be asked to write a guest post for him. (Or … maybe he’s just running low on options? I kid, I kid.) :) I do a lot of writing about photography, and you’ll probably see plenty of “how-to” posts up on my blog and on Google+. This, however, is my moment to share more than just the how I photograph something, but rather why—my journey to becoming a photographer, so to speak. I learn so much from other’s experiences and I hope that by sharing my story I’ll inspire, motivate or maybe even help you make that one decision you’ve been struggling with. So, here goes nothing :)
My path as a photographer somehow seems to have “just happened”. I know, of course, that things didn’t just fall into my lap, but rather I opened doors and paved the path to get to this point. When I think about this path it seems like a straight line, but in reality it would probably be more in the shape of a labyrinth … a twisty-turny mess of a path that was a lot more difficult to get through at the time. I’m still finding my way, yet when I look back I realize that there were certain events, both big and small, which brought me to where I am today.
We all have those times in our lives where if we had gone another direction or made a different choice then things would, right now, be completely different. These moments may not solely determine who we are, but they have such a profound impact that they end up shaping, molding and pushing us to change small bits of our lives. These small bits get piled up to become big, life-changing, defining moments. Here are just a few of my very own “defining moments”.
I think all of us can reminisce about the story of how and why we fell in love with photography. I wish I could say that I’d been carrying a camera around since before I could walk, but I didn’t find photography until late into my teenage years. I’d always been a “crafty” kid who loved drawing, painting and making strange sculptures with popsicle sticks and pom-pom balls. When I was in High School I needed to fulfill an art credit in my Junior year and noticed photography was one of the options. I though, “Why not? This could be fun”. Oh, how my world was about to change.
I can remember sitting in class when we were learning about aperture and shutter speed, and I had a “lightbulb” moment. Holy crap, I GET IT! I realized at that moment that photography was my art, the method I could communicate my vision to the world (or, in the time of film and darkrooms, to my fellow classmates). If I had not decided to take that class who knows what my path would have been.
I’m a photographer today because I made a seemingly small decision when I was 16 years old.
Joining the US Navy
While I was in High School I wanted to be a professional photographer so badly, but knew it was extremely competitive. I also had this crazy idea that if I did something I loved for my job then it wouldn’t be fun anymore. So … I joined the Navy instead. Another subject I enjoyed and was fairly good at was languages, so I enlisted as a Cryptologic Technitian Interpretive. I spent the next two years of my life learning Korean and going through some pretty intense training (a.k.a. Aircrew and SERE school) and then flew off to Japan for my first duty station.
Now, I thrive in structured environments, but the military is structure like you would not believe. Rank, uniforms, inspections, endless training, fitness tests … you name it, I did it. And, I did it well. I learned responsibility, how to lead (and how not to lead), and also gained experience I would have never found elsewhere. I was exposed to a very large group of diverse people, both from within the military and from different cultures, and went to countries I knew nothing about. Throughout this process I learned that I can pretty much make it through anything—I just have to be persistent, knowledgeable and never quit. I’m a much stronger person today because I served my country.
At some point during my time in the military I bought my first digital SLR. I’d been using film for quite a while, but thought it was time to make the transition to digital. And, when it came to maneuvering my way around my DSLR, not to mention post-processing in Photoshop, I was clueless. So I looked for a local photography class to fill in the gaps for me, and also to have a focus for my photography. I looked, but couldn’t find anything that was at the level I was hoping for.
Then, one day while reading a photography magazine I came across an article on microstock. I was immediately intrigued by the whole idea of it … people would create photos, upload them to the site and then maybe make a few bucks from it. So, I signed up and started uploading images. Eventually I started creating photos specifically for my stock portfolio and ended up using microstock as a “focus” for my work. I was creating more images with more intensity than ever before, and was learning so much in the process. It was perfect! I didn’t even need a class—I was teaching myself, reading blogs and hanging out in the iStock forums and it was just what I needed to improve my images.
And then, I started making real money with my photography! Not a lot, especially at first, but enough to have another “lightbulb” moment … I might actually be able to do this as my job! And I was right. I separated from the military a few years later and now my sales from stock photography make up the majority of my income. Plus, it’s opened up doors for me I never even knew existed. Who knew that one article in a magazine could change my life forever? :)
Going to Photoshop World
I honestly can’t tell you how I found out about NAPP and Photoshop World. I probably read about it in a magazine, or saw it on a blog. Whatever it was, I knew it looked interesting. It was 2008, and at this point I was in my third year of stock photography, but I knew that I had a lot to learn and PSW seemed like the right place to start. So I bought my ticket, booked my flight and hotel and was on my way to an event that would, again, change my life.
It was at Photoshop World that I met people in person for the first time, mostly those I knew through Twitter along with several other iStock photographers, and I started making a ton of friends and connections. I learned just how much I actually knew about Photoshop (which was a lot more than I had realized) and that pushed me to want to learn even MORE. After this experience I eventually became an ACE (Adobe Certified Expert) and shortly after started actually working for NAPP as a Help Desk Specialist (I’m one of the folks who answer Photoshop questions from NAPP members). None of that would have happened if I hadn’t gone to Photoshop World. And I still go—every year. Where else can you get the best teaching about Photoshop and be surrounded by so many amazing people at the same time?
I can vividly remember the moment I first saw light … I was driving down the road and it hit me like a ton of bricks. I could see the light, the shadows … I knew which direction the light was coming from just by looking at the way the light wrapped itself around something. I honestly can’t believe that it took me so long to get to that point, almost as if I had been photographing while being blind-folded—after all, we need light to create a photograph. The key to good photograph is not the existence of light but the quality of the light. Now I can not only see light, but I can manipulate it, communicate with it and read between the lines. That moment was the start of shaping and changing my vision as a photographer and light is now no longer the mystery it used to be.
Moments like these, the “break-throughs” we experience often come from a daisy-chain of other events. It might be from seeing something in a book, or hearing an instructor say something. I don’t know what it was that prompted this moment, but I’m glad it happened. Every little morsel of information and learning we devour matters. I think of this moment when I’m teaching or writing about photography and keep in mind that anything I explain is always new to someone. And if it’s not new, it’s probably a good refresher.
Writing my First Book
It’s not everyday you get a phone call from a book publisher asking you to write a book for them, but that’s exactly what happened to me in 2009. Up to this point I’d been blogging regularly, but didn’t know I could actually write. So I signed a contract with Peachpit and started writing my first book, and a year later I was on my second book. A year after that, my third, and now (another year later) I’m writing my fourth book with Peachpit, and I even have a few eBooks with Craft&Vision under my belt. I honestly never, ever expected to be an author. I’ve learned a bunch in the process and hopefully have helped out my readers learn more about photography along the way.
I expect to be writing books and eBooks as far into the future as I can imagine, and hopefully nudge my way into other types of instruction and education if I can. Overall, writing has extremely impacted my life—I’m more passionate about photography because of it and I get to share that with so many people. Photography is my passion and I understand how important it is in creating and sharing memories, stories and beautiful art with those around us. I’m so happy that I get to spread what I know with as many people who will listen.
Joining Social Networks
Of all of the things that have impacted my path as a photographer, Social Media is at the top of the list. At first Twitter was the “place to be”. I made connections with other photographers and businesses and had many doors opened up for me in the process. Then, just last year, Google+ came onto the scene. I thought I’d give it a try, and even though it’s just over a year old it has, by far, been the biggest influence in my life in terms of social media. I’ve made a ton of friends (some of them are even the kind you actually hang out with in real life) and even met a great guy along the way. For me, social media is not just a place to post photos and casually interact with other photographers … it’s a community of people—real people—one that evolves and grows and becomes better because of the people who are a part of it. To say that my life is changed for the better from being connected on sites like Google+ would be an understatement.
The thing about all of these moments is that you don’t realize their importance until afterwards. Knowing this makes me really think about each decision and to take in and really appreciate each moment. It also helps me realize how important my relationships are and that I should do things out of love and respect instead of emotion and impulse. Everything I read, write, and photograph brings me closer to the people I meet along the way … which, if you ask me, is what life is really all about.