Coming off such an amazing year, it’s a bit daunting to think about the New Year already unfolding. Being a very fortunate photographer with the lifetime self-assignment of affecting the world as a visual storyteller, each day brings its frustrations and rewards, propelling me onto the next. As one who really hates calendars and loathes clocks, containerizing life in twelve-month blocks at times seems stifling. Like Mark Twain said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
The process of projecting the year to come in large part is based on the year(s) that has passed. It’s comparable to what I always refer to as the great blessing of digital photography. We need to go through our day’s images to see what we did right, and most importantly, see what part of the visual story we didn’t capture or we can improve. While these are questions I ask others when they seek my photographic business advice, I ask them of myself when looking to the photographic future. Where do you want to take your photography and where do you want your photography to take you?
Where do you want to take your photography? This question often befuddles folks because there isn’t a technical answer that quickly comes to mind. The usual quick answer is…make it better. But that’s a given and something you really don’t need to put conscious thought into because it’s going to happen without conscious thought. Your photography is always getting better as long as you constantly keep shooting. It’s probably just not as fast as you’d like but trust me, there is no race to win being better quickly. As a creative, you should take this question and look inward for the answer, for it’s in your heart that you’ll find the force that drives your photography forward. That’s right, the answer is your passion, that’s where you want to take your photography.
Dang, there’s no histogram that can help with that! And that’s really hard to put on a calendar or purchase at B&H, that passion thing. What you can put on the calendar are lots and lots and lots of shoots, especially ones that really make you sweat! “So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor” is really sage advice! You want to take your photography where it hasn’t been before, and from that exploration comes the growth that propels you to better photography. What can you look back on this past year that fits that description? How did you fare? Were there failures you can improve on? Are there successes you can build upon? You hold the answers inside your heart as to where you want to take your photography, you’ve just gotta listen to it.
April found me in an 8x8x6 plywood box with my dear friend for 18hrs on the very cold Platte River. Mark and I were once again going after the magical sunrise where we look out our wooden cell-like blind to the delight of thousands of Sandhill Cranes, dancing on the sandbars. And while we had an amazing sunset and lots of hours of conversation locked in our box (good thing Mark is such an amazing pastor), we awoke again to just empty sandbars. Not the first time for us, and not the last, but getting skunked is part of the photographic equation you’ve got to embrace. If I just shared the photos of the naked sandbars, sand isn’t that attractive. Wanting to grab heartstrings, I know the purdy sunset shot with all the reds will suck you in and is the one to share. Perfecting your storytelling is just as important in where you want to take your photography as the f/stop.
After a 13-year absence I headed north again to the Tundra of Churchill, Canada in May for one of the most amazing bird spectacles a photographer can witness. I went looking for one species, the Hudsonian Godwit, a bird that in all my previous journeys to Churchill eluded me. Yet on this summer’s trip, the first trip from the lodge and within a few blocks of the town literally on the side of the road, I nailed it. Go figure. When that happened I wondered to myself what I was going to do for the rest of the week. That’s when you reach down and look for the photos, the stories that sum it all up. Think about it this way. When you grab your iPhone and show folks photos that sum up your trip, how many photos do you show them? One, two, five or fifty? Often it’s just one or two that you find on your journey and put your passion into!
And no matter where you are in your photographic pursuits or career, you have to keep evolving or you parish (my version of the Darwin Photographic Theory). I pushed myself this past year into areas where I’m not only technically not as “sharp” as I should be but also personally very uncomfortable. In July, Jake and I headed to Oshkosh and while most naturally think of planes, I knew for my work that week, they would just be the backdrops. My focus was going to be people involved with aircraft and in particular, WWII vets. Shooting just shy of a thousand portraits in one day (and retouching), I thought I was gonna die! But I made new friendships and furthered others that I will always cherish. One new friend is Clancy.
Clancy and I struck up an instant bond from my very first click. You see him here standing in front of just one of the many aircraft he flew during WWII, a TBM Avenger. In his hands is a photograph of his and if you can identify the four aviation anomalies in the photo, then you’re OK in his book. You see, Clancy amongst his other hooligan roles during WWII, was a Navy photographer. Most of the photos we see in history books from WWII from the Pacific are his. After I got done taking this easy portrait (18-35AFS with the cement acting like a giant fill card and scattered skies above), I went over to shake his hand and say thanks. Clancy said, “You know light, you worked the situation perfectly.” Our shortest phone call since that day has been ninety minutes, he’s simply a hoot! And you could say I’m slowly, finally, getting out of my box working with folks.
And that’s what we all must constantly keep doing, following our heart to push our photography further. Because it’s in this pursuit we slowly, ever so slowly get the hint where we want our photography to take us. It’s not about a destination, but rather a journey. And more often than not, it’s not a journey we can note on a calendar and schedule, especially not in a twelve-month period of time and perhaps not even unfolding over a decade. I’m going on decade four, if that’s any encouragement.
I’ve been very fortunate that life has taken me on an amazing journey for which I can take very little credit for piloting. The last few years has included my longtime passion for aircraft. And fortunately I learned early on it’s not the aircraft but those behind them that is really the story. Sharon and I love to fly and when you get in the air with classic aircraft with dear friends at the stick, well there simply is nothing better (except a critter). Combining what I’ve come to do with critters and landscapes, seeking the light and wanting to tell the story, aviation photography has evolved into a big part of our lives now. All those WWII vets we’ve come to call friends tell us their exploits from the war, which coming full circle, with our friends flying their warbirds to turn those vets’ stories into living images. And while we think we know where we might want our photography to take us, the serendipitous nature of being creatives, you just never know where the magic will take you.
“We need you to take a portrait.” My good friends at the Texas Flying Legends Museum have carte blanche with me, whatever they need or want I’m there, so with such a simple request, I said yes. “Tomorrow at 1300, meet us in front of the XXX lodge, we’ll pick you up.” The next day with just the D4, 24-70, SB-910 and TTL cord, I was dropped off and walked across the street and waited at the XXX lodge to be picked up. Five minutes later two Escalades came down the road, the door opened on the second one and I jumped in. Greeted by the pilots of TFLM, we headed down the road. Ten minutes later I was in the personal office of Pres. George Bush at Kennebunkport, taking portraits. After it was all said and done I was asked if I wanted my portrait taken with the President. “Of course Moose does,” the President said (the autographed print is one of my most cherished). Moments later I was in the office all alone with the President having a conversation about my dad and the President’s time as a TBM pilot during WWII. You simply just don’t know where your photography is going to take you!
And like all of you, I now look back on the last year and ponder what this New Year has in store. We need to know where we want to take our photography and with reflection we can focus better where that is. The heart is a great guide, keeping in mind one important fact. What the world needs is not more technically perfect photographs, but rather more photographs with passion. And when you share those photos, when you visually tell the stories of your journey, we take the world along with us. Photography is still one of the grandest pursuits I know and I look forward to seeing how the year unfolds in your photographs. “Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
You can see more of Moose’s work at MoosePeterson.com and WarbirdImages.com, check out his iPad app MoosePress to keep up with his iBooks publishing, and follow him on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and YouTube.