There are endless instructions and formulas out there you can choose to follow when working towards becoming a photographer. To say that it's overwhelming is an understatement. I know all too well how easy it is to let the discouraging cloud of options cause you so much anxiety that you fail to accomplish anything in a day. Our time, money, and attention spans are limited, but you do not have to let this stop you from following your dreams. I know, there's a lot of tutorials to watch and gear to purchase, but it's what you do every single day that will take you farther than anything. So, here's what I do, and I do it obsessively.
1. Be Ready and Take Your Camera Everywhere
Can you even count the number of times you wish you'd been ready? That moment when you exclaim, "Eureka!" "Serendipity!" There are thousands of moments when I suddenly realized that the perfect moment, the perfect memory, would slip through my fingers. Regretfully, I so often have thought, “I wish I had my camera right now!”
There are so many magical moments in our every day lives, seemingly simple, yet perfect at the time. Imagine a woman walking to work in editorial-ready wardrobe, the rush hour sunset setting atop the building just right. See the homeless man with that raw natural emotion in his eyes, the essence that often takes years for a model to emulate.
Cast your net wide. Photograph anything that catches your attention, whether it be the beautiful, the strange, and even the ugly, at all times of your day, indoors and outdoors, in the darkest of nights and the sunniest afternoons. Stay ready. You will end up with a computer full of images. You will then sift through your hard drives full of flowers, dogs, and random city streets. Maybe you will discover treasure. In the end, it doesn't even matter. I assure you that the process of attaining them will lead you to what you are meant to be. Success is not a place, it's a process.
The act of photographing will show you where your strengths and weaknesses lie. Over time, as you wax on and wax off, you will learn how to truly use your camera like a painter who has discovered how to skillfully imbue her work with the essence of creativity.
2. Get Out There and Start Talking
I know. I get it. It’s really awkward starting to talk about your work and to shout to the world that you are a photographer. It isn't easy, but how could it possibly be? Everyone is judging you, friends are telling you “you’ll never make any money," and your family scolds you for dropping out of college to be an artist of all things. Nobody ever tires of the starving artist joke. Seriously. Start a collection jar. Trust me.
Take your scarlet letter everywhere you go, let your camera display who you are for the world to see. Eventually, you will learn that the judgments, critiques, jokes, and insults will fade to a buzzing noise. One day we all hope to hear the gasps of awe, the good natured congratulations and exclamations of joy at a sensational memory, and even the silence followed with tears. Talking and walking as a photographer will forge you into a photographer.
It was only when I came out of my shell and started to photograph random people on the street that I became comfortable talking. To be uncomfortable is a trait that makes us artists in the first place, but you can morph that insecurity into strength. You can overcome that feeling in your chest, that racing heart, that fear of the unknown into a driving force that brings you success. Take a leap of faith.
It’s not about you or your gear, it’s about the faces, the places and the moments in our precious time that you feel drawn to capture for the world to see.
3. Take Risks (Sorry, Mom)
For five years nearly everyone who has crossed my path has advised against the choices I’ve made to become a photographer and all of the risks I had to take to get here. When I was eighteen, I picked up and left Oregon, I left my whole family, my tribe, what some would call a successful, on track after high school life. I moved to Atlanta, my decision was absolutely crazy. I had no money, zero real world experience, no job lined up, and I didn’t know anyone there. I risked everything for a dream I wasn’t even sure was possible at the time. That first journey has led me to so many more over the last few years and now I’m in a place I never imagined I'd find myself, Louisville, Kentucky, where I picked up and moved again last year for a life changing internship with Clay Cook.
I needed the extreme to truly find myself. You could even say that this journey was my vision quest, my own personal awakening. Find your own inspiration. Traverse the mountain. Become the photographer you are meant to be.