Photo by Rod Mar
Like many people today, I love photography and photo editing. I also enjoy sharing my experiences with friends, so blogging about my passion has been a labor of love. However, I've been on a rollercoaster journey filled with great successes as well as moments of doubt. My reason for sharing this story is because I know that I am not alone in the quest for that creative outlet that allows you to do what you love the most. The path that I have taken and the pitfalls that I have faced will be familiar to many of you, so I hope you might get a chuckle out of my challenges. I also hope to inspire you to find your creative outlet so that you may continue your journey wherever it may lead you.
This is my story.
Ever since I was a young boy, I've loved mastering electronics gadgets. I enjoyed doing things with them that made my family and friends say "wow." This led me to become a computer programmer where the challenge of making mundane or complex tasks easy for everyone was a big thrill. The work I did was run on computers around the world, yet the thrill I got from programming waned. Depressed, and ultimately divorced after a long marriage, I longed for something to occupy my mind. I decided to return to my boyhood passion of photography and do something completely outrageous - I broke the bank moving to the world of DSLR photography!
The year was 2007, and despite a long history with film photography dating back to the early 1980s, I had never really mastered the mechanics of the camera. To address this problem, the geek in me began consuming photography books like they were potato chips. In fact, some of my favorite photographers have admitted that I was mastering photography gear better than they ever will. However, like most geeks, my pictures were horrible. It was not because I didn't know how to use a camera, but because I was only looking at the camera as an electronics device that I could master. I had mastered the machine, but I had not exercised one artistic bone in my body.
At first the harsh reality was okay because I had a great-paying day job with benefits. Like many, my only objective was to have fun with photography. If I took a picture of my dirty keyboard that made me say, "wow," I was happy. I also would come to learn from my pro photography mentors that the greatest photography job in the world is one where you only shoot for yourself to please yourself. However, something bad happened - people started telling me my photos sucked.
I was crushed but I also became defensive. I insisted that I meant to put the subject in the center of the frame, and that those "distractions" in the background were there because I thought they made the photo interesting. Seeking the validation I had enjoyed from my friends and family, I turned to photography forums where I'd show my work with pride only to have rude members tell me hateful things that made me want to give up on photography. I didn't quit, but I did get mad - really mad.
My frustration motivated me to wonder why my photos were "wrong" if they pleased me? At first, I took the geek approach of learning more about photography as an art form and the rules of composition. I also started to carefully study the works of my favorite photographers. It worked because I became so finely attuned to what a great photo was supposed to be that I could see "the wrong" in photos. In fact, every photo I looked at had something wrong with it! Even my favorite photographers' work began to look less impressive and everything I had ever done was unacceptable. Now I was the one telling myself that my photos sucked and that I should give up on photography.
As time has taught me, if I take something that I believe is perfect and I ask a room full of people for their opinion, I'll get a few people who agree with me, a few who won't say what they think, and a few who attack me and the things I hold dear. It's human nature, but it's up to me to filter the noise into something more constructive. This life lesson eventually taught me to listen to the rude people who had offended me to see if there was a valuable suggestion masked by their venom. Sometimes there was something useful. Sometimes they were just being rude. I then realized that this phenomenon in photography was really no different than my world as a programmer where magazine reviewers would do the same thing. As a programmer, I had learned to take the feedback and used it to make great software. This made me wonder, why couldn't I do that as a photographer?
In the last five years I've tried to adopt this philosophy to improve my skills. While I've had great success around the world as a professional photographer, I still look at every shot of my own like I would a computer program. I always see room for improvement. However, I also matured and now accept that it is okay if my work is not perfect as long as I have pleased my client and/or myself. While I may never please the web trolls, it's okay because my client that pays the bills is me. I have a great job, and I've experienced first-hand that greatness in the court of public opinion doesn't always pay the mortgage.
With this in mind, I began to accept my good fortune of having a job with a consistent paycheck and benefits. Many famous photographers made me aware of the not-so glamorous side of the business where a slow month could mean big debt and missed mortgage payments. I began to appreciate being able to take photos of things that interested me, and editing them at my leisure, instead of having to photograph things that didn't interest me and editing rushes to meet unrealistic deadlines. However, I need a goal and an outlet for my work. I needed something to motivate me to shoot and improve, and a place where I could interact with those who had passions similar to mine. This led me to the realization that I could have all the things I wanted, yet still keep my steady day job, by becoming a photography blogger.
I have enjoyed great success in my photography career, but nothing has been more rewarding than sharing what I have learned with my blog readers. It has allowed me to apply my goal-oriented nature to do things that I hope will help others, but it also helps me to exercise my creative energy towards photography topics that excite me.
I've worked hard to provide reviews that readers can trust at a time when some writers seem afraid to say anything negative for fear of the consequences. As a programmer, honest feedback from reviewers helped me improve my products, so I hope to extend that same courtesy to product makers who read my reviews. By providing honest feedback, I hope to help to provide suggestions that lead to product improvements, as well as help my readers make more informed decisions. It's the technology circle of life, and I'm happy that people like you let me be a part of it.
As I talk to so many friends and readers, I frequently hear of people who are quitting their stable jobs to pursue their dream of what it means to be a photographer. Unfortunately many people who try this discover the reality of inconsistent income and losing jobs to part-time photographers who will work for free. I can relate with this dream to throw it all away and live a fantasy. However, I'd like to encourage people in this situation to stop for a moment and focus on what it is they really seek. The thing many of us are looking to do is apply our creative energy and receive the satisfaction of being acknowledged for something we take pride in.
It is my wish for all of my fellow photography friends who have made it this far that you won't give up your passion. I encourage you to find ways to do it where you do not become a slave to your work. It saddens me to see friends who had so much excitement about being their own boss and living a life as a photographer hating their life as a high volume photographer because that's what is required to pay the bills. A better way is to maintain the job security that many of my readers enjoy, yet find a niche that allows you to use your creative side as purely a labor of love.
Your niche is out there and your path will be different from mine and the others before you. For some it will be the challenge of printing, for others it will be as a part-time freelancer, yet others will seek excitement out of sharing their passion with friends on weekend or travel adventures. The important part is to keep the fun in photography. This will let you photograph what you love in a way that sparks your emotions and your best photos are inevitable.
I have included images in this article with common tips that I share with my students. I chose these images because of the defining moment that many of them had on my career
Thanks for reading and for your support! I welcome you all to join me on RonMartBlog.com as my photographic journey continues. I hope my articles, discounts, books and tutorials will help you keep you as excited during your photography journey as I am with mine.
Gary Parker - My mentor who inspired me to keep going when the going got tough