I am a different person now than I was when I started in photography three years ago. Personally, professionally, mentally, physically. I have many people to thank for helping along my journey, and a few to say “told you so” to who were not so kind to me when I started. I love new beginnings, and I think a new year is the perfect time to reinvent yourself and follow your dreams. I certainly don’t think I have all the answers, and I have far to go on my journey, but I’d like to share what I’ve discovered so far along the way.
You Might Suck
If you are first starting out in photography, there is a good chance you suck. The great thing though is that you probably don’t know enough to know that you suck, you probably think you’re pretty darn good. That’s a happy place to be! If you ask for advice from other photographers on your work, there is a pretty good chance you might get some not so nice feedback that is going to hurt. They might criticize everything about your photography, everything about your equipment, everything about your pricing. What they should really tell you is that, as a new photographer, you are exactly where we all started and to just keep going. The good thing is that those mean words might bring you closer to the next stage, which is realizing you suck. This is when you are learning more, developing your vision, and realizing your skill set is not developed enough for you to bring your vision to reality. This is not a fun place to be. But it is normal. Just keep going. It is frustrating, you will question yourself, question your dreams, threaten to quit. These are growing pains. This is a good time to find some other photographers at a similar stage who can encourage and support you. As you keep practicing, reading, learning, trying, failing, and eventually succeeding you will find that you get closer to creating the image that is in your mind. You have confidence in your ability but are constantly striving for growth and pushing your boundaries. This is the best place to be!
Follow your own vision and find your own niche. Are there certain sessions you always find yourself dreading? Stop doing that kind of session. Is there a certain kind of session that you are always excited about, that you look forward to? Do more of that. When I first started, posed newborn was the big thing. Still is, really. I signed up for a posed newborn class because I thought that is what I needed to do to be a photographer. Luckily, our water heater exploded and I wasn’t able to pay for the class. I’m afraid if I had taken the class I would have felt obligated to do posed newborn to get my money’s worth. The thing is, I don’t like posed newborn. I just don’t, it’s not my thing. If it’s your thing that’s awesome! Be prepared for some negative feedback if you express a belief that is different from the majority. That’s true in photography or anything, really. Posed newborn photography to me just looks too unnatural. I said that in a photographer group once and you would have thought I said I sacrifice baby kittens in the basement! (note- I love kittens. I actually foster for the humane society). If posed newborn makes your heart sing, do it! I discovered that I liked doing family sessions that show natural interactions, love, all the little quirks that made each family special.
I still do family sessions from time to time. The thing that frustrated me with family sessions was that women were always telling me that everyone looked great but them. Family sessions don’t always show moms at their best, since they are worried about the kids behaving, their spouse perhaps not being thrilled about being in photos. I had a friend ask to do a boudoir session for her and she cried when she saw the images and said she’d never felt beautiful before. I felt my heart sing. I knew that was the one type of session I would put all my energy into being the best I can be. I think it’s difficult to be amazing at every type of session, if you do everything from weddings to posed newborn to families to product photography to boudoir. Put your energy into what you love and you will excel in that genre.
Do Not Compare Yourself To Others
Ever. In any part of life. If you follow a bunch of photographers on Facebook, consider limiting them to just your friends in the photography industry. If you are following a photographer on Facebook, you are only seeing their favorites. You aren’t seeing all the photos they took that ended up in their computer’s recycle bin. You are only seeing a facade. That’s true of everybody we don’t know really well. They are presenting an image to the world, usually trying to present one that is put together, that is confident and happy. But under the surface, regardless of how beautiful or put together they look, they have the same self-doubts, the same fears that you have. I’ve heard women joke about hating someone because they’re beautiful, but it’s only half-joking. Jealousy, feelings of inadequacy, hurt so bad. If looking at someone beautiful gives you those feelings, you aren’t going to want to be around them. But you are just looking at the surface. I’ve photographed all body types in my job, including those you might think are “perfect.” I’ve seen those bodies naked and vulnerable and heard the story behind them. Some struggled a long time to come to peace with bodies they have never felt comfortable in. Some are slim because they are undergoing chemotherapy and can’t eat. Some have scars that make them reluctant to show a lot of skin. Some have just went through painful divorces and are feeling truly ugly. There are sometimes broken souls in those beautiful bodies that desperately need to be told that they are beautiful, inside and out. I used to have those feeling of jealousy too. The cure has been connection- learning about the inside of people, realizing that they very best, the most beautiful, have days where they question themselves, that everyone at some point feels like they are just a little child playing dress-up in this big scary world.
In everything. Stop just existing. All those things that make your heart sing? Do them. If nothing makes your heart sing? Keep searching. Spend some time with kids, they are experts at listening to their hearts and they might show you how to listen to yours. Be weird. People tell me all the time they wish they were brave enough to do the things I do. Just do them! The things that make me come alive are boudoir photography, going to concerts- especially Pearl Jam- dancing-especially pole dancing!, helping others, spending time with my family. Find your tribe of people who love and support you in all your weirdness. I’ve had people criticize me for pole dancing, I’ve had people criticize me for doing boudoir photography. I find that the people who criticize the loudest are the ones who wish they had the courage to take chances and follow their hearts. If you are lucky enough to be able to make your passion your career, like photography, make sure you give yourself plenty of time to cultivate your joy. Only taking photos for others can turn your passion into a chore. I love photographing people, but sometimes finding some time to drive down a country road with my camera looking for beauty helps keep my passion alive. It’s never too late to find new passions in life. Take classes, meet people, read, wander, explore. Come alive.
Let people in. Let them see who you are inside the facade. Do things that absolutely terrify you. Be honest about who you are with yourself and with others. I have horrible social anxiety. I do not understand social cues well and I do not have much of a social filter. My son has Asperger’s, and in learning about it, I’m pretty sure I do too. Social situations are very difficult, and for my entire life I have tried to fit in, tried to fake “normal,” and failed miserably. I’ve realized that being open and honest about my weirdness is the best thing I can do. I quit trying to fit in. I’ll just be honest and tell people I’m uncomfortable in social situations. I’ll just say “If I act strange or don’t talk it’s because I’m uncomfortable here.” It leads to connection. People who look like they have it all together sigh and say- I’m not comfortable either, let’s go get a drink! When you let people in your soul there will be some who take a look around and are freaked out by your openness and leave. That’s okay, they probably are uncomfortable because they are so guarded themselves that they can’t handle someone being open. If showing themselves the real you means they don’t want to be your friend, they weren’t really your friend. But some people will come into your soul and make themselves at home, and find peace and comfort with you and connect with you in a way they never could have if they only saw your facade. These are the people you want in your life. You can only find them by being vulnerable.
It seems like “finding balance” is on everybody’s mind. I think it’s an unattainable concept. “Finding balance” just becomes another chore on your list of chores that’s way too long. There are so many times in life when balance is simply impossible and trying to find it will just make you feel like a failure. Enjoy where you are. Enjoy the wild ride of life, careening from one side of the road to the other, just when you feel you might fall off the edge you find the middle for a little while before you veer sharply to the other side. Let yourself fall completely into those moments in life that are so overwhelming they consume your every thought. Some of the best times in life are when you are completely utterly unbalanced. There are those amazing first few months with a new baby when you are completely sleep deprived and your house is a mess and you can barely function but you wouldn’t trade them for anything. The moments when you are falling in love and that feeling consumes your being. When you are excited to be working on a new photography project and disappear into your office for hours on end, ordering a pizza when the kids start to complain that they’re hungry. Embrace the times of being overworked and feeling crazy and out of control, and cherish the moments of silence and peace between the moments of craziness.
Give Up Control
This doesn’t really have anything to do with photography, but it has made such a profound difference in my life I have to include it. If giving up control sounds really hard to you, I encourage you to try it. Take baby steps if you need to. Wake up one morning with no plans and let your kids decide all of the activities for the day. Let your spouse plan every aspect of a date. I used to be a complete control freak. My marriage suffered horribly. I decided one day to quit controlling, quit complaining, and to enjoy life. It was as simple and as difficult as that. I think I was so controlling to hide the fact that I felt so out of control in my daily life. I have ADD and am always losing everything, forgetting everything, and it is so frustrating. I warn all my clients that I will probably forget their name and lose my camera a time or two inside my little two room studio during my session. They help me keep track of it! When I let go of control in my life, everything improved so much. My marriage went from barely getting by to blossoming into a deep love I never could have imagined. Letting go of controlling everything can make you feel so vulnerable, but vulnerability is the place where growth occurs.
Dear 2013- Thank you so much for all the lessons. Every smile, every tear, every hug.
Dear 2014- Bring it on!