What Makes Me ‘Click’?

I am not sure how many times I have actually been asked this question, but for those that know me personally it may actually come to the top of their mind quite a bit when they see my pictures. A lot of this may come because most of my time is actually spent in an office analyzing data, and instead of editing pictures, I am working in Excel. By day I am a financial analyst, and I love it, and I also love taking pictures of anything that I can.

These two jobs are on very opposite ends of the spectrum, but maybe that is what makes me like them both so much. On one hand I live in a world filled with very specific sets of rules and standards that have to be met and maintained. The numbers and data are what they are, and my job description doesn’t allow for manipulation or added creativity – in fact getting ‘creative’ with numbers is often frowned upon. However, in photography there are some rules that are good to understand and follow, but oftentimes you get the best results when you break out of the norm and try something totally different and new. Photography allows me to express my creativity, and provides an ‘out’ when I feel constrained by anything else going on in my life.

My first real experience with a camera was with an old Nikon FG that was given to me from my dad. He wasn’t a photographer by profession, but bought the camera as he and my mom started our family. I always had some interest in taking pictures, but didn’t really know anything. Once I got that camera I started to take classes. I loved the classes, learning about the masters, the wet darkrooms, waiting to pick up the film, spending time looking at my negs on a light-board through a loupe trying to decide which ones to print, and eventually making the actual prints with all of the dodging and burning that I could handle. Just the other day I came across my old portfolio and while looking through the pictures I found myself thinking “that is totally overexposed” or “that composition is horrible” and sometimes “that is actually a pretty good picture.” I will admit that the first two expressions came to mind much more than the latter. The one thing that I did really start to notice is that I have really started to create pictures that are my own. My composition, processing, color, etc. have evolved over the years into something that is quickly becoming more and more my own.

To me, that is what photography (or anything that anyone is passionate about) should be…something that you make your own. I will even admit that all those that have worked with me know that even my Excel documents are recognizable in the way that they function and are formatted #nerdalert. Nowadays it seems that there are more and more websites, forums, discussions etc. that tell you how you should take your pictures, what rules you should follow, what camera you should use, what computer to do your post-processing on, what software you should do your post-processing with, etc. To me it is all noise. I don’t mean to say that those things don’t have their place; some tools are obviously better than others, but that is another discussion for someone else who cares. Ultimately what I want to have is a final printed image that I can look at and think “I took that, and it looks really good.” Really I don’t care how I get there, as long as I am able to get there with what I have. I will be honest that whenever I have had an idea of something that I wanted to take pictures of, I have ALWAYS been able to make it happen with what I have. Earlier today I watched a really good short documentary by Scott Schumann (The Sartorialist) where he said:

“My lack of knowledge in the beginning really helped, and really just made me refine what little I knew to make it work.”

If you don’t know who he is, check out his blog and read up a little about him. Instead of taking his approach many of us would instead probably say:

“My lack of knowledge in the beginning really hindered me, and ultimately held me back from making it work. If only I knew more.”

To me it made me think a little bit more about my current process, and maybe those things that I am waiting for (new camera, new lighting, new computer, etc.) and really look at whether or not I really NEED them. The quick answer to that is NO I don’t need those things in order to make a good photograph. The only thing holding me back from that is myself. Good pictures can be made at any time of day, in any weather, with any camera. So my new challenge to myself this year related to photography is to not make any excuses for what I do, or better…what I don’t do. If I want to be really good at what I do, then I have to put in the effort to get myself there. I am of the firm belief that NOBODY that is successful in any capacity got there without hard work. I can’t say “They are only successful because they already knew someone in the industry” or “He just got really lucky and was in the right place at the right time, that won’t happen to me.” The truth is that luck favors the prepared, and regardless of how lucky someone may have been in their career, the reason that they are still doing well is because they were prepared when luck came walking their way, and they continue to push the limits and prepare themselves for when luck enters their life again. If luck comes my way I have to ask myself, “are my skills honed enough to get me the job?”, “is my portfolio good enough to catch ‘luck’s’ attention?” If not, I’d better get working because it may have already passed me by…and again, that is my fault, and my fault alone.

Basically I love photography because it lets me use my creativity to freeze time, and share my perspective of the world as I see it with so many other people. That ‘world’ may be a serene landscape, a candid shot of my wife or daughter, or someone that has hired me to show them their own family through my eyes; but ultimately it is my vision and creativity that have been given a life, and that split second where I was able to freeze time will actually go on for so much longer. I also really like sharing my images with other people, receiving feedback, and constantly improving. An amazing story has been circulating for weeks now about a photographer in Chicago named Vivian Maier. She was a nanny in the mid to late 1900’s, and had a hobby of taking pictures. Her work is really amazing, but I say hobby because it was not a part time job, and from what has been found out so far, she never shared the images with anyone. In fact, nobody even knew that they existed until recently. There is a lot of focus on her work right now, and she passed away just as it began to surface…so sadly she never got to see any appreciation other than her own. It kind of makes me wonder how many other similar stories there are that have yet to be told. I don’t mean to say that your work isn’t any good unless you can show it to others, but for me that is part of the fun.

Overall, I guess this post could be limited down into just a few thoughts. I love taking pictures because it is a great creative outlet for me, and I can see that there is always room for improvement. However, I need to get out and take more pictures and quit making excuses for myself and get better at sharing them with other people. So, from a high level, that is what I plan on doing this year.

What do you going to do this year? If you can’t answer, hopefully it doesn’t turn into making excuses, it is an easy alternative to being productive.

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