Many talented people who begin their day as a firefighter, an attorney, an engineer, a student, or a stay-at-home parent, have a dream of making photography a bigger part of their lives. They are deeply passionate about pictures and they are often more gifted than even they seem to realize. It’s amazing to see their joy when they discover that they can be the photographer they always wished they could be.
When a new year arrives, it always seems like the perfect time to look at where we are photographically and where we want to be. Can we become the photographer we dream of, and what do we need to do to make that dream a reality? My search for that dream began in elementary school.
“I was immediately fixated on the cameras in the display cases.”
When I was 11 years old, I happened to pass a store called Alfie’s camera. I was out with my mom during the holiday break from school and what I saw in the window was absolutely fascinating. I left my mom, wandered in, and was immediately fixated on the cameras in the display cases and all of the interesting darkroom equipment. The pictures on the walls of Alfie’s were amazingly colorful, crystal clear, and unlike anything I’d ever seen. When my mom came to retrieve me, I didn’t want to leave.
From that day, I knew that I always wanted to hold a camera.
The next morning I jumped on my bike and headed back to Alfie’s to learn more about those pictures on the wall. In a camera store selling fine photo equipment, an 11 year old wandering about is usually thought to be lost. But I wasn’t lost at all. I loved the place. The people behind the counter were understandably curious why someone my age was essentially lurking in their store, but they tolerated me as long as I didn’t ask too many questions. Pretty soon, I did ask too many questions and wore out my welcome.
The next day I embarked on a 20-mile bus ride to the legendary Studio City Camera Exchange where I hoped to find out more about photography—and, if I could reasonably put an expensive camera on my Christmas list.
I learned that a camera with interchangeable lenses was the thing to have—a big ask for a holiday gift. A few weeks later, my supportive parents surprised me with a 35mm camera and a 50mm lens. The next Christmas, I received an 80-200 zoom lens. These were not the pro-quality Nikon cameras and lenses like I use today, but they led to my first published picture while I was still 12 years old.
“Photography isn’t something you do, it’s often who you become.”
Every year since, January reminds me of how photography isn’t something you do, it’s often who you become. The quest to learn new things and discover new techniques is just as fresh for me today as when I first walked into Alfie’s. The desire to grow as a photographer simply never goes away. And that’s one of the greatest qualities about photography: It never needs to go away. Becoming the photographer you were meant to be is always a possibility.
Connecting with photographers and helping them become the photographer they were meant to be has truly become one of my greatest pleasures. Seeing the awareness in a photographer’s eye that they instantly understand a lighting concept, a composition technique, how to use a specialized piece of gear, or the recognition that their portfolio is exceptional, are wonderful emotions to witness.
Primarily through workshops, I plan to connect with many photographers this year. There is also a very good possibility that I’ll be mentoring a small group of photographers one-on-one. Both opportunities are deeply exciting because witnessing talented people find their path is unlike anything I experience through shooting.
My first workshop of the year is the Popular Photography Mentor Series in Austin, Texas March 24-26. The workshop is a fantastic opportunity to learn new techniques, meet other photographers, try new gear, and enjoy the food and weirdness of Austin. It may also be where you discover the photographer you were meant to be. I truly hope to meet you there! (The Mentor Series also offers a discount if you use the code JT50 when you register!)