It’s funny how much can happen in a year. I’m still in some disbelief that I’m writing for Scott’s guest blog series. With that said, I would like to thank Scott and Brad for this opportunity. I’ve been a longtime fan of this series and it’s a real honor to now be a part of it myself.

Often times when I write about a topic related to Photography, the difficult task is not determining what my point is but rather how to most effectively communicate it. How do you even opine over something so subjective without instantly alienating at least a portion of your audience? I think the best start is to propose certain axioms that I try to live by with my photography:

  1. Unless being commissioned by a client, engaging in Photography is totally self-motivated. You frame, compose, shoot, and process for yourself and to your own taste.
  2. Growth of one’s ‘vision’ is not academically taught so much as it is shaped and evolved by experience, failure, success and repetition.
  3. The gift of a photo being ‘done’ according to the photographer is that it can, and should, be shared with the rest of the world.

Now, because I can only accurately talk about my own personal journey, let me share how I came to establishing these three statements for myself.

From One To A Million

For the sake of brevity, let’s just say that my growth as a photographer took many years (I started in 1997) and involved a lot of money spent developing images that were oh-so technically flawed. The first steps were relatively straightforward: learn and appreciate the holy trinity of Photography (aperture, shutter speed, and ISO), start practicing different methods of framing and composing a shot, and stop shooting in the ‘tourist’ position.

Growth was slow and it was very solitary. Shoot the film until empty, develop it, and study it. The Internet was around back then but Social Media and blogging were far from reaching that spark of critical mass. I had never enrolled in any photography classes, so feedback was really limited to the handful of college photographer friends with whom I felt comfortable enough sharing my work, and myself. But, I did grow from it. It was slow and frustrating but I did gain meaningful experience from it in terms of what my style was. I was the one determining what worked and didn’t work within my ‘vision’.

Flash-forward to ‘Today’ – we live in a time where the barrier to entry for an unprecedented amount of self-exposure is virtually non-existent. An Internet-connected device, a blogging platform & a few social media accounts and you are ready to broadcast yourself to millions of people. What’s more is that there are millions of other people also jockeying to broadcast themselves to millions of people. Blog posts, Twitter streams, and Facebook walls are riddled with everyone vying for everyone else’s attention.

Who Do You Do The Voodoo That You Do For?

There was a period of about three years when I gauged my personal success as a photographer by analytics, metrics, followers, comment numbers, and unique visitor counts because it seemed like these were the critical measurements to focus on. I had also enveloped myself around learning and trying to master the galvanizing technique of HDR Photography and tone-mapping. Everything I shot, discussed, and wrote about revolved around HDR. I even began a ‘365’-photo project where I posted a new HDR image every day on my blog. I was consumed and for a long while, it was very good to me. Slowly but surely, I was seeing stats go up, my media exposure was increasing, and I was being regarded as a bona-fide resource in this area of Photography. I was making a name for myself.

And then something happened around halfway through 2010. I began having this feeling of stagnation and automation. There was something missing from the equation that had previously always sparked my love of Photography. I had a routine: shoot, tone-map, stylize, blog, tweet, and post on wall.  The blog comments and retweets came in and grew in frequency but even those began feeling automated. It was in this automation and routine that I realized it was stifling the growth and evolution of my photographic vision.

I let all of the exposure I had recently experienced give me a false sense of real growth as a photographer and I convinced myself that perpetually tone-mapping HDR images was the only way I would maintain this exposure. I was shooting and processing to feed that growth and not to feed my vision. At the time, I couldn’t begin to remember what it was like to shoot without bracketing or carrying a tripod and like all addictions, I really couldn’t see beyond it and then the tunnel vision set in.

And like an addict, I needed to find a significant ‘event’ where I could turn my life around. We were nearing the end of 2010 by that point, so I figured New Years Day would be as good a time as any to turn things around.

Evolution By Way Of Regression

For the past several years, my sole goal with my images was to retain every detail from the shadows through the highlights and everything in between. I convinced myself that my images had to be representative of what the human eye would see at the moment of exposure and not be limited by the digital sensor. I also focused exclusively on urban and abandoned areas, almost wholly abandoning any sort of landscape, portrait or nature scene because, hey, it seemed to fit this distorted formula for online success that I had.

So, I figured the easiest way to start growing was to go cold turkey. I began going on personal shoots with a camera, a lens or two, and nothing else. No tripod, no shutter release cable, no bracketing. I began focusing on appreciating and embracing blown out highlights and dark shadows. I was seeing shapes in the lack of tonality, rather than in the presence of it. I began learning more about Black & White Photography and enjoying the use of neutral density filters for Long Exposure Photography. I started embracing and really falling in love with the beauty of nature and landscape scenes, along with the nuances and complexities of portraiture work.

I was returning to the world I had forgotten when I was first starting out.

With HDR Photography, I got to a point where I was no longer experimenting in-camera and rarely made mistakes in terms of processing. I didn’t stumble and, as a result, I stopped learning. I forgot what it felt like to have that ‘Aha!’ moment when you figure something out that you did not previously know.

The Not-So-Trivial Pursuit of Photography

Writing this blog post gave me good reason to take pause and think about what I’ve done as a photographer, reflecting on my failures and accomplishments. When I first started out learning how to use a camera, I didn’t have any delusions about ‘going pro’, appearing as a guest blogger anywhere, or making a dime off of my work. I did it to become a better photographer. I knew that photography was what I was built to do and so, initially, it was all about the experience and gaining that second-nature, knee jerk reaction when working the camera. Ultimately, it was about being able to consistently make photos that I was truly happy with and nothing more.

Photography is very much like the playing piece in the game Trivial Pursuit in that it is comprised of many different ‘wedges’. You get these wedges through experience and knowledge. The key is not to stop when you think you’ve gotten that first wedge and all along the way in this pursuit, keep asking yourself “What is it that I’m trying to do here?” and “Who am I trying to do it for?” It wasn’t until I took a step back and really questioned myself that I realized what it is that I really want to get out of Photography.

Ask yourself these questions often and honestly. The answers may surprise you.
And please believe me when I say, “that is a very good thing.”

You can see more of Brian’s work at BrianMatiash.com, follow him on Twitter, “Like” him on Facebook, and email him at photos@brianmatiash.com.

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63 Comments

  1. Brian, great blog, looking forward to seeing you at PSW again this year. Brian is officially CAKB!!

  2. Great post man! Really enjoy your work, you definitely have your own style. Nice to see you featured in RC’s book as well. Take care :)

  3. Great post Brian. It was great seeing you on Scott’s blog today. Your photography has always been inspiring, and your advice has always been helpful. Stoked to see you again in Vegas, and can’t wait to see what you’ve got cooked up.

  4. Brian, I’ve been following your work for a while. I admired your HDR photography, but I LOVE what you’ve done since you broke free of doing it all the time. You have an excellent eye, and it needs no tonemapping. Thanks for a great post, and I look forward to more from you.

  5. Wonderful post Brian. Overcoming stagnation may be the biggest challenge in what we do – far more so than learning technique, composition rules, etc. Maybe in the end it is the mere act of moving forward or at least off the current point in some direction that is the purpose of it all.

  6. A great post Brian – thanks for sharing. I’ve only recently started to ‘follow’ your work but really enjoying your daily posts and seeing the beautiful images you craft.

  7. Excellent post. Very enjoyable.

  8. Hey Brian, very nice Post, thanks for reminding me/us to look left and right and not only strait ahead.

  9. The true seeker follows the winding path, not the straight one. I was fascinated by your “urbex” work but I adore the purity of these newer images. Keep on delighting yourself and you will surely delight your many admirers.

  10. You my friend are the man…love this post and the words ring very true for me right now, as you know. Stay true to who you are and what you love and you’ll find that inner peace, that right path and know who you do this voodoo for.

  11. Beautifully written Brian. It’s great that you are going back to the roots, finding new ways to learn and making it happen.

  12. Wow Brian. Awesome post. I literally went from looking at my WordPress stats plugin to reading this and had one of those ‘a-ha’ moment there. Thanks for putting things in perspective. See at the next Photowalk!

  13. Funny you wrote what you did Brian because I’m going through the same thing with HDR (without 1/10000 of your exposure or success :) ) It’s interesting to read your experience as you start to explore other avenues to spur your personal growth. Thanks for all the good advice over the years too.

    • Thank you, Tom. Like all good things, they are best enjoyed in moderation and when appropriate. The most important lesson I found was having a keen eye to determine when automation starts taking the place of innovation (for the individual).

  14. Brian, excellent post and so true. I attend as many of your webinars with OnOne that I can. I always find what you have to say useful and informative. Thanks for yet another one!

  15. Great post Brian and well deserved to be here. I first became aware of you a couple of months before Photoshop World Vegas 2010 and was lucky enough to get a place on your Old Vegas ACP Photowalk which was my first introduction to HDR. Although I only had my trusty old Sony you and Jacob were both super patient with me and I learnt enough that day to embrace HDR into my photography learning curve (and come joint 3rd in the overall competition!!).
    Watching and reading your progress is equally interesting and inspiring. I look forward to crossing paths again and will continue to enjoy your personal work & blog as well as the content you provide for OnOne.
    Thanks again bruv ;)

  16. Great stuff, Brian. Well-thought-out and written; you definitely speak the truth. Keep up the great work, dude.

  17. Wonderfully written post accompanied by some of my favorite images of yours. It’s been a treat to watch you grow day in and day out and never being satisfied with the status quo. Thank you for all the advice over the past year and keep on keepin on.

  18. Really good Post, Brian. I follow your work since a while and could see how your style changed. That’s good! Nothing is more boring than a photographer without a vision. Keep it up!

  19. Great points, Brian. I’m still an HDR addict but things do take on a cookie-cutter feel after a while. It makes sense when you think about it. It’s like any other effect you might create that is repeated over and over. The better approach is to get good shots and then apply the appropriate processing, HDR or otherwise.
    Thanks for the reminder… :)

  20. Congratulations and well-said, Brian! It’s interesting to see how many of us HDR fanatics are spending time this year broadening our portfolios with different (and traditional) photographic styles. While I still love HDR, I’m very conscious of the fact that it made me a technically sloppy photographer (I never needed to shoot any single exposure that was “properly” exposed, after all) and getting back to basics has been enormously helpful to me. I’m thoroughly enjoying watching the widening variety of images on your blog this year too.

  21. Thanks for your continued inspiration on the photographic community and beyond. Your skill behind the lens and the pen are equally as great.

  22. Oustanding post Brian! It’s easy to forget that photography is about personal vision, not stats. In my short journey, I have found myself sticking to those comfort zones and ‘safe’ shots that would be received well by viewers. Your words have helped me re-center and strive for more (or less in some cases) in my photography. Looking forward to seeing what you have in store for us in the future!

  23. Wonderfully written, Brian! It seems there are a number of us encountering the same feelings. As Dave W., Tom B., and Mike O. mentioned above, I’ve also been straying away from HDR-only, and find that playing around with different styles is a very rewarding change.

    Your words are inspirational, as is your photography. Thank you.

  24. You are truly one of the great ones! It was truly a pleasure meeting you in Vegas last year at PSW. The advice and teaching that you provide is truly priceless. I still have the Photoshop User magazine that you reluctantly autographed for me! lol
    thank you so very much for all of your hard work and willingness to share your knowledge. I will see you in Las Vegas at PSW again this year my friend!

  25. Great post, Brian. You make some very good points here, and your work is lovely.

  26. Beautifully written, and just as good a read the second time around. Your story rings very true for me and I’m really looking forward to following your ever evolving work. Thanks for being such great source of inspiration and friendship for me over the past year…here’s to experimentation and growth!

  27. Great Post Brian. I really enjoy your work and I have to add I’m a big fan of you and your onOne Webinars. You are an inspiration.

    Hope to meet you in person at PSW Vegas. Just a thought maybe we can go for a shoot at Valley of Fire?

  28. Excellent write up man. Also, that phone booth photo is freaking amazing! Loved it.

  29. Wonderful piece Brain, thoughts really hit home over here, thanks so much for sharing -;0)

  30. i am glad you have come full-circle on your journey. it is important to remember and consciously know why we do things – whatever they may be…the introspective nature of your post really illustrates how much you think about, and love, taking pictures. none of us should forget that. so now i have all the gear to do HDR, non-HDR, ND, non-ND, and everything in between. and while i am having an absolute blast with HDR, UrbEx, shooting all over the world, i still come back to loving the purpose that a single image captures…a person, landscape, architecture, street scene, or whatever is the action happening where i am shooting. really great post, it made me think….and i know, deep down, you really like people.

  31. I think you describe what many other photographers are feeling or have gone through themselves. There is a difference between being in a groove and being in a rut. Sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference. I think you highlight some good reasons why it is good to try different things now and again.

  32. Good post. It’s always a problem in the arts to get a “formula” down, and when successful to just keep doing it. Fans and shows and galleries encourage it because they “know what to expect from you.”

    But as Picasso has said, “God is really only another artist. He invented the giraffe, the elephantand the cat. He has no real style, He just goes on trying other things.”

    In other words, these comfortable “styles” are usually just traps that hinder your creativity and diminish your joy in practising your chosen profession.

    It is very refreshing to see a working pro travel the journey back to his/her joy. Thanks for sharing your story Brian.

  33. Excellent Post Brian. I learned a great deal from your “Walk” last year at PSW. And, like Ken above, can’t wait for the next 55 days to pass for this fall’s PSW. Hopefully we can do another HDR Walk to maybe somewhere different.
    Thanks for a great read today,
    Mike

  34. Hey Brian,

    Just wanted to stop by and say thanks for your honesty in this post; definitely hit home.

    Look forward to watching how things move forward and hopefully catching up with you at PSW in 2012.

    Cheers,
    Glyn

  35. Awesome post, Brian. A lot of food for thought. Thanks for sharing!

    –John

  36. One of the better posts in this guest series. Great stuff Brian, good food for thought.

  37. Great post Brian! Really inspiring, and its amazing how hardwork, passion and drive really pay off in the long run. Great work!

  38. Suffice it to say that I’m humbled, flattered, and overwhelmed with all of the gracious thoughts that all of you have shared with me about this post. You really hope that putting yourself out there in this light is well-received – I just didn’t expect such a warm response.

    So all I can say to you readers is, “Thank you so much!”

  39. Oh my friggin’ gosh! I am so happy for you/proud of you! You’re so big time Brian. LOL. :)

    Anyway, great article and of course amazing images. I’m glad to see your amazing work featured here on Scott’s blog. Keep up the great work and inspiring us all. :)

  40. I’m late to the party, but just want to echo so much of what everyone else said. This is a fantastic, introspective post. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your great images. And thanks to Scott for inviting you!

    Watching your journey, following your work and shooting with you over the past year has been a great experience. And continues to be tremendously rewarding and educational for me. Looking forward to more good times.

  41. “The gift of a photo being ‘done’ according to the photographer is that it can, and should, be shared with the rest of the world.”

    Well said, for what is the sense of beauty if you only see it with your yes and not let others see and watch also that beauty. However, a photographer must also have the appetite for learning and learning more, for we as humans, have a lot of tendency to be on status quo and sometimes to be in a routine. Learning is living, and when we stop to thirst for learning, we are eventually stopping ourselves to live. Many thanks to this post, eh. Your photos not only captured me but even your words. Somehow I can relate, but nor in the essence of photography but on the essence of doing a job without finding the reason why you are working on that job. Thank you.

  42. Hi Brain
    this was a really great read, with very nice lesson’s and to me a kindly reminder to do the work for myself foremost and worry about he rest of the world later. thanks for taking time to write such a thought provoking article. I always appreciate your work, as I always learn from it.

  43. Obviously, Brian’s work is fantastic and he’s a gifted teacher. But for those of you who don’t know him on a personal level, he’s truly one of the most genuine and humble people I’ve been lucky enough to know. He lends his expertise in photography and strength of character wherever he goes.

  44. I could go on an on about Brian and his portfolio of work–it speaks volumes about the range of his talent. What seals the deal for me, though, is that the person shooting behind that camera is also one of the most gracious, kind, and decent people I know. My hat goes off to Brian, and my thanks goes to Scott for giving Mr. Matiash the opportunity to tell his story.

  45. Thanks for shooting straight with everyone.. not bad.. not bad at all..

    See you at Kowloon!
    RC

  46. Brian…what a confession of the soul. While the majority of the world aimlessly wanders you have intelligently organized your existence for the last several years. Its a great start for your biography. Your spirit of sharing your life is a fountain that many drink from regularly. Thanks for sharing your life and knowledge.

  47. Thankyou for posting this gallery! I’m hoping to catch one of your tours…any chance you will be coming through Denver?

  48. I am definitely late to the party but really wanted to mention that this post is a shining example of Brian’s incredible writing ability combined with his passion, talent and love for photography and creativity in genral… You have been an inspiration, my friend, beyond words, and it’s an honor to call you my friend.

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