Be one with your subject.
As the year hits the last day of its calendar, I'd like to share my thought on the photography learning process I went through (and still going) and I bet most of you will recognize some of the feelings I had.
When I decided to invest my free time to pursue photography, what at that time was only a hobby, I wanted to shoot everything. I would point my brand new digital camera to the world and start shooting like there was no tomorrow and hoping for the best. Doing it with little to no post processing and lots of guessing, the results were at best mediocre. I knew I like photography, I knew I want to make images like the ones I saw on the pages of the National Geographic Magazine and some of the (few at that point) photography websites, but I needed guidance and at that time photography workshops weren't as popular as they are today.
I'd say 1/3 of what I know now comes from the internet and its unlimited source of information and the other 2/3 come from workshops, lessons in the field, books, and practicing it.
At one point my dream was to be a National Geographic Photographer, to travel all over the world on assignments and have my pictures viewed by millions in the pages of the magazine, it would be the ultimate dream come true to pair my passion for travel and exploration and my love for photography. Since then I’ve learned enough to know that I can realize my dreams in many other ways.
I wasn't progressing much from my starting point, so I decided to go ahead and book a photo workshop in the hopes of advancing my photography skills.
When I Goggled the subject, the first one to come up was: www.photographyworkshops.ca. It was a photographer from Barrie, Ontario who at the time offered (and still does) day workshops and I decided to go for it since his stuff was really good, he offered what I was looking for and the price was just right. To make a long story short, I’ve participated in more than 10 of his workshops, we became friends and now we photograph together sometimes, it was one of the best decisions on my part because I’ve learned so much in a relative small amount of time and since we became friends I also learned the (sometimes) harsh reality of being a full time professional photographer, no matter which area of photography you choose.
It's like in sports or any other area for that matter; for every successful individual there are several others struggling to make ends meet, even more now that photography became very popular and there are more and more "professional photographers" out there charging a fraction of what they should just because they are not sure of what they can deliver but that is another subject all together.
Back to my story and the reason for this article, since my first workshop, I have participated in other international photo workshops and tours and I’ve learned a bunch of new important skills that cannot be learned thru a computer or books, if anything, they just lack the human interaction and the power of the spoken word. Anyway, at a workshop in Peru I was talking to, my now good friend, Karl Grobl, an internationally acclaimed humanitarian photojournalist, who also teaches workshops, and I asked him about my photography. He told me that there wasn't anything wrong with it, that at that point I was already technically sound and artistically prepared, so I asked him what I should do to become a full time professional photographer. Amongst other things he told me - "You have to find your niche." That answer stuck with me, and It was, maybe, the best lesson/advice of the whole thing. I started looking at my collection of photographs and realized that it was all over the place and they could never be put into a respectful portfolio, just because I didn't have enough images of any specific genre of photography.
Back from Peru I decided to find my niche and since I was serious about photography many questions started to emerge. Should I go with what I think I am good at? Should I go with what I like the most or should I go with something I can afford or make more money with?
I decided to go with what I liked to photograph the most and to develop my skills in that field to become good at it. So I went for Landscape and Travel Photography, decision that bears great influence from two of my best friends in photography Mike Guilbault and Karl Grobl.
Back to the learning process I want to assure everyone whose photography is their field of choice that, learning a new technique can be a great moment of revelation and can set you free but, it can also be frustrating. The industry is evolving by leaps and bounds and if you think you know everything and start to be complacent about new technologies, equipments and techniques, you will become a dinosaur and will spend lots of time trying to catch up.
Another thing that can be inspiring and frustrating at the same time is when you browse thru some photo websites and you see the amount of talented photographers out there. I have to admit that, sometimes, I feel like selling all my equipment and become a Buddhist Monk.
To put my mind at easy and kill my frustration I remind myself why I got into photography in the first place and this should be the reason of mine, and everyone’s motivation: not to compete with other photographers but to live our own experiences and share with others, things that are meaningful to us, to enjoy nature, places and people we meet along the way and have a great time doing it whether accompanied or on our own. Be the best you can be and be happy with it.
Photography is not about the perfect photograph, (which bay-the-way, does not exist) photography for me, is (and this was a revelation I had a few years back) about forgetting everything else around, be in touch with myself and be one with my subject. Remember that, the final result will keep changing as you learn new techniques and as you become a better photographer but the reason why you want to do this should remain the same.
To end this article I want to tell everyone out there who likes photography and wants to become a better photographer that there will be moments of frustration, (I still have those) there will be moments when you want to give it up, there will be moments when you hit a plateau in your learning curve, for this, is part of every evolutionary process. Do never forget however, why you wanted to pursue photography in the first place and remember my humble advice: "Be one with your subject", interact with it, learn about it, be passionate about it, connect with it and the rest will fall into place.
Happy New Year!!!