I derive motivation as well as enjoyment as a photographer by seeing continuous improvement in my work. In this article, I’ll share five factors that have pushed me further along in my photographic journey.
I’m a terrible guitar player. As much as I love the instrument and the idea of playing guitar, I have come to accept my limitations. On four occasions, I’ve made an effort to learn to play. I always get to the same level and then never progress further. This lack of progression destroys my enthusiasm and ultimately ends my attempts to learn guitar. I have been this way in most art forms.
Photography is different. Throughout my 14 years of photography, I have been able to incrementally move upward to the next level. This has kept me motivated to keep on my photographic journey.
Over time, hundreds of factors have helped move me forward in my journey. The most significant for me are the following five.
1. The Strobist
In my early days of photography, I was acutely aware that the photos that I wanted to make needed side lighting. I just had no idea how this was achieved. This was before YouTube was a thing and there was no easy way to simply watch a few tutorials to solve whatever problem you had.
Through many Google searches, I stumbled upon the Strobist, a blog dedicated to off camera lighting. It was the Strobist that introduced me to Pocket Wizards, light modifiers and the book, Light, Science and Magic. Through the resources introduced by the blog, I started to understand and notice light. Even though I am an architectural photographer using mostly available light, understanding of light is key to my work.
2. Live Photo Critique
In the early days of online photography communities, photography forums were the place to hang out. My initial foray into photo critique came from a forum called Steve’s Digicams. Members would post a thread with their image and ask for advice.
When I asked the established photographers in my town where they posted their work for critique, I found out that they were all part of a local club that met monthly for live critiques. I figured I was doing something similar online so I signed up. Live critique is like online critique in principle but the intensity is turned up to maximum. I still recall the terror of my first critique evening. On the flip side, there is nothing like the threat of a bit of public shaming to get you to up your game. Most of the photographers in the club had decades of experience and their critiques and suggestions coupled with the discipline of preparing images for monthly critique helped me progress as a photographer.
3. Always Be Shooting
One of the early blogs that I subscribed to was nickonken.com. Nick Onken occasionally dropped some profound words of wisdom. One such article encouraged photographers to ABS: Always be Shooting.
I remember going on a camping trip with a bunch of friends along the Wild Coast of South Africa. As a photographer, one of the draw cards of the site was a picturesque shipwreck nearby. Accessing the site required an hour hike along the coast and through forests. My friends visited the site with me, but one visit was enough for them. I was returning multiple times a day (including 4:30am sunrises) to get the best possible shot. During one sunrise trip, after a couple of minutes I started turning back to the campsite. The mantra ABS rang through my head and I carried on with my hike to the site. I decided in that moment that if I couldn’t be the most talented photographer, I’d be the hardest working photographer - a decision that served me well in the years that followed.
In my early days as a travel photographer, I was a generalist. Before visiting a destination, I would look at my shot list to research and practice the genre that would be most common. Before a trip to Brasilia, I looked at the shot list and it was just building after building. A realized that I needed some architectural photography know how, so I did a bit of research and I bought some key equipment.
During my shoot of Brasilia, I discovered that I loved architecture. Every day I would tell myself that I could spend the rest of my life doing this. When I got home from the trip, I immediately set about starting an architectural photography business.
These days I work full time as an architectural photographer. I can trace my career back to that trip to Brasilia that gave me an awareness of my interest in architecture.
5. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years
Another pivotal recommendation by Nick Onken was a book titled “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years”. This is a book about the story telling process. The take away for me was that I needed to be living an interesting life in order to tell interesting stories.
This impacted my decision-making process. In evaluating a choice, I would ask myself, “will this make for an interesting story?”. I started throwing myself into all sorts of weird and wonderful situations. When a window of opportunity came up to take an a travel photography contract, I threw everything I had into making the most of it, ultimately resulting an a 7 year stint photographing and filming the world for Expedia.
To this day, the potential for an interesting story still factors into my decisions.
Over to You
I’ve listed five key factors, a blog, a mantra, a book, a community and a trip that pushed me forward in my photographic journey. There have been hundreds of others over the years. If you can think of any that have been key to your own journey, please list them in the comments. I would love for this article to become a source growth and inspiration for us all.