The Making of a Photographer
I must start off by stating that it’s a huge honor to be writing for Scott’s blog, given that I picked up my first Kelby-authored book back in 2003 while learning to use Photoshop 7. I should also note that I’ve been reading and envying the talented guest bloggers on Scott’s site for years, so it’s quite humbling to join the roster. I must admit it’s also a bit intimidating … because that very roster includes many of the photographers who inspired me when I picked up my first DSLR three years ago. However, as I reflect on my current work as a commercial photographer, I realize that my journey into photography started long before I ever picked up a camera. I can clearly recall key milestone events, as bizarre and trivial as they may seem, that helped to move me further along a path in the world of visual arts.
The first key moment in my journey took place within the first few days of elementary school when I got my first big art assignment. The teacher asked each of us to draw a picture of our family’s house. As expected, all of my classmates turned in the standard drawing of a square with a triangle on top. Now, I’m not sure if this was because they weren’t pumped about the assignment or if they each lived in a box with a parking cone on top… but I saw this assignment as an opportunity to get the creative juices flowing while busting out my new pack of colored pencils that my mother packed in my school bag. While my finished rendering was no Picasso, the teacher was thoroughly impressed with the amount of detail I captured in my first real art project. This was my first experience of turning a visual thought into a real creation and receiving accolades from another person. In other words, I just pleased my first client! This was something that really provided me with personal pleasure and was the first time I really discovered the joy of art.
My second milestone event took place in 3rd grade when my art teacher took notice of my work and asked me to do a drawing demo at the upcoming art fair. The demo consisted of me sitting awkwardly at a table while drawing ninja turtles as people walked by. It was a bit bizarre but it was a real confidence booster at the same time. There’s a saying that goes something like this, “You’re not an artist until an artist tells you so.” I never considered my own artwork to be anything special but that changed upon receiving praise from an artist with some credibility. It was the confidence booster that I needed to keep doodling, and that’s exactly what I did.
I never put down the colored pencils, and the doodling never stopped. Yet another notable incident occurred in middle school when I sold my first drawing. It was a full-color rendering of Beavis & Butthead for which a fellow classmate offered a whopping ten bucks! That was no chump change in middle school but the dollar amount wasn’t the key significance, it was the realization that art could be more than just a hobby. Shortly after, I started getting requests from more and more peers as I was beginning to see the business potential in my craft.
In high school, I took years of drafting class because architecture seemed like a great career choice that would take advantage of my passion for drawing. It was almost déjà vu when I was assigned to draw my family’s house once again, but this time a few rectangles and green blobs (trees) weren’t going to cut the mustard. I was to create detailed blue prints and even produced a scale model made of foam board. I didn’t end up fully pursuing architecture because it turned out to be a bit more technical and less creative than I had hoped. Nonetheless, the experience certainly helped sharpen my sense of detail. To this day, I am haunted by flashbacks of the T-square every time I create a new guide in Photoshop!
Now entering college with architecture out of the picture, I was back to doodling and wondering where I could direct my artistic capabilities. I still wanted to pursue a creative career but I didn’t want to end up a starving artist. Just as I hit this roadblock in my creative career path, I was introduced to the world of computer aided design. I was working at a small office on campus at my community college when I met the in-house graphic artist. I found myself constantly sneaking out of my office to see what he was creating with computer software that resembled science fiction to me. Either way, I knew it was time to merge my traditional art skills with technology and that’s exactly what I did. I started learning about computers and shortly after, I was building my first custom PC and getting enrolled into the Digital Media program at UCF.
Although my decision to get into graphic design was a bit spontaneous and not completely based on traditional career planning, I knew it was the right decision. I was soon learning about all aspects of digital media including computer illustration, game design, web design, 3d animation, photography, and video & music production. I continued focusing most heavily on graphic design and started freelancing before I finished college. Once I completed my degree program, I set out into the job market and landed my first gigs as a graphic artist which included work at a print shop, a small publishing company and a global accounting firm. I finally made it! Or so I thought…
After working in the graphic design field for several years, there was a problem. I wasn’t completely fulfilled and I needed another creative outlet. Up until that point, I had very little experience with photography with the exception of borrowing my Dad’s film cameras to record weekend rollerblade sessions with my friends back in middle school. In mid-2008, I made a purchase that turned out to be the biggest milestone of my life: I purchased my first DSLR, a Nikon D80.
I bought a camera because I was doing a lot of wake boarding at the time and wanted to capture our sessions just like I did in my skating days. After having my camera for a couple weeks, I met a photographer out on my friend’s boat who showed me some pics he took earlier that day during a fashion shoot. I was intrigued to say the least. He proceeded to tell me about a local Photography Meet & Greet that was two weeks away and I told him to count me in. I attended, snapped some photos of the models who showed up, and the rest was history. It’s been a little over three years since that event and I haven’t put down my camera ever since.
Becoming a commercial photographer was never my intended plan… but I can now see that it was life’s plan for me. The journey that started within my first week of grade school eventually led to developing a craft as well as a passion. With that said, it’s hard to imagine that I may have never discovered what makes me happiest had I missed any of those key moments. Either way, I couldn’t be happier with the way things unfolded and the best part is—this is only the beginning!
Joey Wright is an Orlando-based photographer specializing in swimsuit, beauty, and commercial fashion photography. You can see more of his work at JoeyWrightPhotography.com
Your story is both encouraging and familiar! I dove in not quite three years ago, myself, after wandering through various careers. I’m now a full time photog, and I just hope to have a portion of your vision by the time I retire. Thank you for sharing.
It’s great to hear that you can relate! I took this opportunity to sum up my background simply because I’d often hear photographers talking about their list of accomplishments when, in fact, I was always more interested in learning about what it took for them to get there.
Thanks for reading!
Joey, good luck on your pursuit of a career you love, that is what we all want but only some get to do!
Fantastic Joey, just checked out your website too and your work is exceptional. Love the background and the journey! Very similar to my own (not in your class of course) just picked up my first DSLR 3 years ago and fortunate enough to be earning a living doing something I adore. Kudos to Scott Kelby his photog books completely inspired me to take up a camera seriously and along with the likes of Joe McNally, David Hobby, David Ziser etc has provided an invaluable resource for us aspiring wannabees!
Reads like the classic Steve Jobs story of being able to connect the dots only when looking backwards. But perhaps Joey’s piece here may have clued me in to some of the challenges I face in trying to be more creative in my own photography. When I look back and connect my dots they’re more technical in nature than creative. It was the chemisty of the darkroom that fascinated me more than the art of the photograph, it was the spec of the camera I chased more than the vision behind the images I was producing.
Armed with this new insight I’ve now got a raft of ideas to follow to further ‘develop’ my own approach and style. Thanks Joey, for a very enlightening post!
Very nice work. Website looks great. You picked up your first DSLR in 2008?? Wow, I don’t know whether to be inspired or if it’s time I put my camera away and do something else.
I’m certainly no where, where you are in your career. My first DSLR was 2005 and for the first time, this year, I decided to showcase my work at a local coffeeshop and have sold a few pieces. I too have a background in art while I was in school. And went to college for a graphic design degree, but ended up going for Web design, which I realized was too expensive and It wasn’t what I really want to do after almost 3 years of doing it, so I quit with no degree.. So i’ve stuck with photography since. My ultimate goal is to own a studio/gallery and be self-employed. But, until then, i’ll gladly work for other companies to gain more experience.
Your article was inspiring and you’ve got some great work! You found your calling very quickly! I’m slowly finding mine..As Being a single parent makes things a challenge :)
Joey, I’m just glad you can make the career you want while based here in Orlando. I know many people think they have to move to NY or LA, which seems like those places must be a flooded market. It’s nice to know you can do what you want, where you want.
Hey Joey, really nice guest post and beautiful images. Finally, someone who shoots what I like to shoot, too! LOL Well, I love the guest posts every week…I ALWAYS come away with inspiration. Best wishes to you!! – Jeff
Really interesting and inspiring post! Thank you Joey. I’m just about to graduate as a graphic designer and looking at my options. Been interested in photography also for a number of years and always interested to hear about people who have switched professions from graphics to photography. I feel that having knowledge about design aspects has improved my photography and they compliment each other.
Thanks again for a great post!
Anyone who has seen your portfolio or has had the opportunity to watch you grow professionally over time would probably say that you are selling yourself short in this article. You are an artist, and your work is consistently outstanding. I’m inspired when I view your work, and that’s not something I say about a whole lot of artists. You called this article The Making of a Photographer, but a more fitting title might be The Evolution of an Artist.
Your story is great and inspirational. Your work is great! Thank you for sharing!
I’d love to hear how you set up some of those shots :)
It’s amazing! Your story hits so close to home, from your beginning as a child, right down to your first camera being a D80. Your an inspiration to me and I hope you have much future success!
Such an inspiration to look at these photo’s……Good luck with everything and give us more inspiration :):)
Great post and amazing work.