At least once a day. That’s how often one of you (I hesitate to say fans, cause the thought of having fans blows me away) contacts me to tell me how much you love the work I post, how you are inspired by it, or how it makes you realize how much you have left to learn. Some of these messages lean towards the side of “I’ll never be able to shoot like that.”
That’s really what prompted this post. I love hearing from each and every one of you, but it makes me sad to think that some don’t have the confidence in themselves to achieve what they want.
I want to show you where I started. That’s the surprise I mentioned. So many photographers hide their roots, and I’ll admit…it’s hard to let you see how terrible I was, but I think it needs to be done. So, let’s get started!
A lot of my early work is missing info about when it was shot (and all of my early film stuff is just plain gone) so we’re going to pick a year where I think it started and if I’m off a little…so what. I’m going to take you from as close to the beginning as I can, all the way up to when this blog started.
I’m showing you this image first so you can see the kind of camera I had…a piece of junk (because I had no idea how to use it).
It’s funny to see that I still use rear-view mirrors to make self portraits though.
I didn’t have enough confidence to ask real people to model for me…so, I used…
ACTION FIGURES! I may go back to this method someday, they don’t talk back.
I did eventually go to some friends shows and try to take pictures of them on stage.
And then I discovered the self timer and managed to take a shot that wasn’t entirely terrible
I think I have those in chronological order…but suffice it to say, I was horrid.
It took me a while, and a lot of frustration before I finally figured out some of the settings on that camera, and when I did…boy life got a lot better.
I still wasn’t comfortable working with people yet. Back then I was beyond shy/reclusive so it was much easier to work with inanimate things.
A long time friend let me borrow her studio to teach myself how (I wanted to figure things out for myself, still do).
I was in and out of that place as much as I could be. I studied light constantly, often times using myself for the subject because I had nothing else.
At that point I hit the limit of what my camera could do so I decided to upgrade. My first dSLR was a 6mp Canon 10D.
That was about the point that I had decided to delay going to college at Art Center to figure out if I wanted to do photography more than concept art.
With my attention fully focused on exploring photography I really started to grow, both in my work and as a person. I surrounded myself with people that had the characteristics I wanted to be. By forcing myself into situations where I couldn’t be reclusive or silent I broke out of what felt like a cage, and my photography took off.
Danni Boatwright was the first actual model that I ever photographed. It was amazing, I don’t think I’ve ever changed as much, as quickly as I did during the few hours that we worked together. I’ll be straight with you though and say that I had absolutely no idea what I was doing and basically pretended to be a real photographer, but somehow it worked and her agency actually used her images. That one event gave me the confidence I needed to keep going further.
But, I still didn’t know the difference between high-key and overexposed.
Or underexposed for that matter.
The more I shot the more I understood, and every session got better. Don’t get me wrong, I still had some lemons for sure but the ratio of bad to good was steadily changing for the better. What’s even better is that I was making a living at it.
Well, I was making a living at it. In early 05 I learned some hard lessons about several things. I learned for certain that there are a lot of people in the world that just want to use you. I had what I thought was going to be a big break, with what I thought was a big agency and got completely screwed. But that was only one of many much larger speed bumps ahead.
Immediately after that I got to learn about the importance of budgeting and saving…I over extended myself and had to find a real job.
That lesson lasted a long time. Having to get a regular 9-5 job crushed me, and I didn’t shoot for a while I tried to survive. I recovered though and as time passed and I took a trip to Seattle that helped to get me out of my funk.
For me it’s always helped to get out of my normal environment if I feel stuck. I force myself into a new perception that way.
I still struggled with the repercussions of 2005 and still found myself trying to get out of the fact that I was stuck in a job rather than living my dream.
It was hard to find the time to start shooting again, but I wanted it bad…so I made it work the best I could. I planned mini-adventures over weekends to try to get back into the groove.
Not too long after that (late 2006-ish I think) I packed up and moved out of Kansas City, and got a job as a graphic designer/photographer at an ad agency. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted, but it was a step in the right direction.
From there I think you guys know the rest. In 2007 I put this blog up, started shooting advertising work, and weddings on the side.
You can see the progress from there just by going through the archives on here.
I’ve come a long way since I picked up my first camera and though this seems to have turned into a brief history of me rather than my work as I intended it to be…I think it offers some perspective on how much effort it took to get to where I am now. Which is still what feels like an eternity away from where I want to be.
I guess the message I want to convey here is that we all are beginners at one point, and I bet I’ve taken worse photos than any of you. What it all boils down to in my mind is how much you want it, and what sacrifices you’re willing to make to get there.
I’ve faced and still face those same challenges and self-doubts that you have about your work, part of me hope that it never goes away.
Don’t get discouraged when you look at other people’s work, get fired up! Let it drive you to grow.
All the best,