I’m not sure if anyone even notices these moments in real time but very often, it can be challenging to even gauge how far along the path you’ve come when you’re so focused on making sure each step you’re taking counts. Sometimes you’ll have some 3rd party chime in and remark on how you’ve flourished and yet you can’t seem to feel very different yourself but maybe you are in a much better place than you give yourself credit for. In any case, the one sure thing that’s worked for me as far as tracking any progress I’ve made in life in the span of a year is to actually write stuff down, so with that said, here’s 9 things I’ve learned in 2015 in no particular order:
1. Family is first
I read Zack Arias’ Photography Q&A book about 2 years ago and if there’s anything I distinctively recall from his vast amount of wisdom is the manner in which he pledged in the prologue on how there would be at least one sentence in this book that was going to directly impact your life as a photographer. For me that was comprised of him emphasizing the importance in how “cameras are always going to be around. Your kids aren’t. Don’t trade your kids’ youth for lenses and lights.”
As much as it pains for me to admit, there were instances throughout 2015 where a few photographic opportunities came up unexpectedly and I was put in the position to choose between spending time with my kids or venturing out at the expense of feeling guilty later in spite of the amount of good work that may come from that experience. So how can you enjoy what you do minus the guilty that may arise afterwards? Support from the family! If I failed to get my wife’s thumbs up to go out, I couldn’t focus as much as I would have needed to to create work I felt proud showing after. The phrase I kept having to repeat to myself over and over was “is this opportunity worth it?” Some were and some weren’t.
2. Sometimes you’ll work on projects that won’t turn out the way you expected them to
This is the worst feeling ever, especially if you’ve not only invested time in trying to translated your vision into something tangible but also if you’ve spent a good chunk of money on equipment and space rental to do it. In a perfect world, everything we set out to accomplish will flourish but sometimes reality tells a different story. In fact, it’s not uncommon for some projects to fail. I know because I put out a tweet a while back asking established photographers if this does indeed still happen to them and the response was a resounding “Oh, yeah!”.
The lesson to learn from this is to not let a failed project deter you from seeking out new ones. Yes, I felt like crap but sulking in my own sorrows wasn’t really doing anything for me other than soaking me deeper into a funk. Instead, I sent aside that batch of photos, cut my losses and reached out to more people to work with. This kinda ties in a bit with being a perfectionist and comparing your work too much to others. What about the project failed? Is it still up to standards to everyone else but not you because it doesn’t look like (insert photographr’s name here) work?
3. The value in challenging yourself
Photographer Melly Lee said it best: “as we grow, our environment isn’t always going to provide us with the necessary obstacles that force us out of our comfort zones. You have to seek out the challenges yourself. And if you take a moment to reflect you’ll discover countless ways to improve ourselves. It’s a matter of whether or not you decide to recognize your own inadequacies and then take action to change them.”
I feel as though I’ve come a long way with my portrait work. I really don’t let any adulation I may receive get to me because deep down I’m well aware that I’m nowhere near where I would love to be with my competency in taking them. To me, of-camera lighting is akin to some distant exotic culture you may have heard of but havent’ fully embraced because you haven’t taken the time to understand it. The moment you do, the more it'll begin to challenge and realign your perspective therefore enabling you to grow as a photographer and person. My sole goal is to reach the competency I need to produce better work using off-camera lighting to a point where the technical stuff doesn’t paralyze me anymore, so I can concentrate more on the subject and vision I’m looking to get across.
4. Meeting people never gets old
It really doesn’t. In fact, the less people I meet every week or month by virtue of my photography, the less I feel I’ve grown as a person. By meeting new types of people, by default, you’re exposing yourself to new knowledge. For me, I knew nothing about the struggle a painter goes through just to get their art notice, or what it’s like to be experiencing a second career after having established yourself so much in the first one, or about the process of conceptualizing, designing and building custom furniture. If I’m not learning, I’m not growing. Simple as that and the best way to learn aside from reading is through people themselves who do the very think you’ve been fascinated with all along from afar.
5. Investing in your craft
I kinda wrote about this a bit already. The cliff note version is this: There’s only so much you can learn and do for free. If you’re really vested on improving your craft and producing work that best represents your style and who you are, you should never feel guilty in spending money on stuff other than equipment.
6. If what you’re being offered doesn’t align with your vision, don’t feel bad saying “no”
A couple things happen when you say “yes” too much, especially when what you’ve said “yes” to strays a little further out than what you’re comfortable doing. You’ll be spending more time and effort trying to produce something marginally good and in the end, you’ll be loosing money because this is time that you could have dedicated to something you’re known for and excel at. In view of the portraits I share, I get ask a lot to shoot weddings. I’ve done it once and the mental stress was enough to avoid it from that point out regardless of how good the money may be. Now when I get asked, I easily say no because it doesn’t align with the type of work I want to be known for and I don’t care enough for just the money. For more in depth dialogue on How to Say No and Why it’s the Key to Creating Time, I suggest watching this episode of Seanwes TV.
7. Imposter Syndrome is real
In case you’re not aware of it or haven’t experienced it, Imposter Syndrome is essentially that feeling where, deep down, you can't believe that you deserve the job, title, or career that you've landed. In my case, the voice inside my head is saying, “do I even have the right to call myself a photographer?”
Research states that "folks who always feel like they're imposters are often also perfectionists, people who set "excessively high, unrealistic goals and then experience self-defeating thoughts and behaviors when they can’t reach those goals …perfectionism often turns neurotic imposters into workaholics.”
Yep, that’s me. The confusion and the often tale sign begins when people compliment you on your work and you invariably have a hard time accepting it because you never feel it’s good enough. Here’s an article on Learning to Deal with The Imposter Syndrome.
8. The value of value - don’t hide what you know. Teach!
Seanwes nailed it with this comment: "If you want to become good at something, teach others how to do it. The former doesn’t have to precede the latter. Teaching is learning.” I don’t even necessarly do photography for a living, so you can imagine how incompetent I felt at first with the idea of me teaching someone about something I often find the struggle to find the time to do myself. In spite of that mentality, apparently there are recurring things that I do that people often wonder and inquire about which in return incentivized me to write about Meeting People on Instagram.
9. Staying fit is worth it
This is a personal one. I think that the idea of being fit and healthy can be abstract and overwhelming at first for anyone but I learned that before one even commits to a gym membership, I strongly suggest you first decide what fit and healthy means to you specifically. In 2015, fitness became an even greater part of my life, not necessarily because I was putting in more time in the gym but ultimatley because I began working out smarter. I actually took the time to educate myself and really understand the purpose for each movement and make sense of the simple fact that if you’re not being active in any given day, there’s no reason to be eating as if you are. Much like photography like in the gym, if it remotely seems like I know what I’m doing, it’s because you haven’t seen the amount of time I’ve put into watching Youtube videos, reading material and observing people who have acccumulate substantial gains behind a camera and with weights.
If you’re serious about your health and are serious in wanting to make more of a concerted effort in understanding how your body works, I highly recommend 3 places to get started: Muscleforlife.com, Muscle for Life Podcast and Bigger, Leaner, Stronger book - all by Mike Mathews.