Another Kind of Circus

Camera in the Glen

It doesn’t matter what ring you’re in. Whatever it is, there those who watch, those who appreciate and those who apprentice.  There are students who teach, teachers who learn and people who just like to be “experts”.  I had a discussion with a friend the other day on Facebook on this topic in response to a blog I had written about kayaking and coaching.  You know, it’s the same circus in photography. Well, in all of life actually.. but today I’m going to try to stick to photography… 

Photography is a circus as soon as you start using the word “photography”.  Before you’re a “photographer”, you’re just taking pictures. That’s the fun bit.  I have always loved being outdoors and my camera is often just an excuse to go somewhere and “take pictures”.  I’ve also found that the camera forces me to slow down and look more closely at the world around me.  Over years of experience, I’ve become more aware of shapes and lighting in the world around me. I find better shots more easily now and I’ve also learned that “great photographs” are rarely necessary to tell the story you want to tell.  Although everyone appreciates a good photograph, people communicate and share ideas and inspiration every day with cellphone cameras and suspect composition.  I do too.  I click shutters on everything with a camera and post them all over the place regardless of how well “composed” they are. Again, it pays not to get too into yourself.

I’ve sold photographs for years. Recently more so. I’m also starting to do more workshops and presentations around photography. It’s weird. It’s similar to when you begin to coach in sea kayaking.  First you can’t believe anyone is actually listening to what you say and second you’re sure you’ve told them everything wrong and forgot the most important bits.  In kayaking, I got over that feeling when I realized that the most important bits to paddling were simply to have fun and stay safe.  Teaching to that end goal is not complicated.  You take an interest in what your students want to do and take it to heart that they will leave your class able or at least aware of what they need to reach their goals safely and wisely. You can have fun and be safe in a kayak with a fairly limited set of skills for the whole of your life. You may have to add more skills and education as your concept of fun changes of course and that is to be expected. The trick in my mind is to never let the “skill set” bit overtake the “fun” bit.

So back to photography.  Since I’ve started doing workshops I’ve found it rather odd  how many “photographers” have attended my beginners workshops.  I know I’m talking way below their knowledge base. I see all the gear and the big-ass lenses they have. In fact, at the end of a workshop not long ago, 3 different attendees gave me their business cards, links to their portfolios, etc.. They were “Photographers”. Wow, O.K. then! They were certainly more professional than I am! My guess is that if you’re “known” or somewhat known in certain circles, then what these photographers really want to know is how you’ve gained that recognition. They are looking for the “it”, not the technical education per se. I say that, because, well, “photographers!!” Chances are that they think my photography is crap compared to theirs. Certainly they’re convinced that I’m doing things all wrong and telling people a bunch of b.s. This is just the MO for many photographers. They just want to know why people like your crap and not their art.

And that’s what kills me about photography general. If you have the gear, you can call yourself a photographer. Again, like everything else, there’s this false process; First you get serious. (stop “playing around”) Then you get expensive gear.  Next you learn fundamentals and all the jargon. Then you get more gear. Then you seek recognition through contests and competitions which slowly mold and forge you into being just like everyone else. Then you get fussy, competitive, and judgmental. In the end most of them just get lost in a sea of good photographers who are so similar in style and backstory that they cancel each other out. Can anyone say HDR??

I think it’s obvious what a budding “photographer” has to do… have fun and carry no expectation. That’s it. You have to figure out what you enjoy without a camera first and foremost.. Then, just take your camera with and share the experience through your photos. Don’t be a photographer, be a story teller. Do it all the time and take a million photos. When your idea of fun changes, your photography changes with you.  Do what you love, do it all the time, take a million pictures…. and share your gift! That’s simple, right?

In time, with practice, you’ll learn better technique. Sure, take a class and attend fun workshops when possible. Read. Get better gear if you can, but don’t sweat it if you can’t. If you’re wondering why some photographers seems to be getting “buzz” or are getting more work than you or selling more stuff than you.. I’d guess it’s not really about skill or gear.. They are probably just doing it more often and having more fun in all aspects of their craft. That’s my spin on psychic photography, if you’re enjoying yourself, it tends to come through in the end product.  But maybe it’s just dumb luck?

Of course.. I say all this as I laid out nearly $2000.00 for lenses this year already…  You see, we’re all a bit two-faced… :)

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