Learning photography seems to be a never-ending process. Technology advances, the marketplace changes, photography evolves, and then we need learn something new. But it doesn’t always happen in that order. Sometimes it’s our own evolution that provides a path to learning about who we really are as a photographer.
I’d like to share a story that illustrates this point. It’s a story that changed my life as a photographer and might change yours as well.
In my earliest days of photography I loved each and every minute of picture-making, but I wasn’t terribly focused on finding a specialty. I worked in journalism at the Los Angeles Times followed by many years of architecture, commercial, and illustrative photography. I wasn’t sure where I was headed, but as long as it involved a camera, I knew to keep going.
As the years progressed my business expanded steadily, but my enthusiasm slowly began to erode. It wasn’t that I didn’t love photography any longer, it was simply that without realizing it, I’d drifted away from the reason I wanted to be a photographer in the first place. I ultimately ended up feeling so disaffected by the work I was producing that I was actually contemplating changing careers.
“After taking a hard look at my portfolio, I realized that it had been years since I’d made a picture that I was proud of.”
One day I asked myself, “If someone were to give me the complete freedom to shoot anything I wanted, what would that be?” It was an existential inquiry into who I wanted to be in the future as a photographer.
Six weeks later I left suburban Los Angeles to photograph cowboys in Wyoming.
The resulting experience left me giddy, exuberant, and very clear about what I wanted my photographic future to look like. A few months later, I took a second trip to photograph world-class athletes. The two adventures ended up changing my entire career through the pictures I made and the relationships those pictures helped me to develop.
Each trip was such simple action, but they led to an incredibly powerful result. Two photography workshops six months apart reignited everything I loved about photography and helped me to reimagine my future. Without a client to please or a layout to follow, I had rediscovered who I wanted to be as a photographer.
It also turned out to be one of the best career decisions I ever made. The pictures I captured at the two workshops gave me the types of portfolio images that I could show to editors and decision makers at the publications I wanted to work with. Those same decision makers later became long-term clients who also introduced me to many other clients—making it one of the best financial decisions I ever made as well.
“I discovered it was time to point the camera—and my future—somewhere new.”
Workshops are now a recurring and joyful part of my photographic life. They provide opportunities to learn, to grow, to risk, and to rediscover why I picked up a camera in the first place.
The camera can only see what you point it toward. Years ago, I discovered it was time to point the camera—and my future—somewhere new.