ira glass is dead on right : i wish someone had told me this when i was 20. i've had some thoughts swirling for a while about talent vs. blood, sweat, + tears... here's a few ponderings on my journey as a photographer... 10 years+ into the game :
i'll be honest + hope this doesn't come off sounding prideful.… but i hear people say "you're so talented" a lot when it comes to my photography. i have very mixed feelings about this because I don't feel talented at all. Talent is a natural aptitude for something… something one has a gift for without necessarily trying. my first efforts at photography showed no such thing as talent i assure you. this is not a skill that i was born with, or excelled at with little or no training. in fact, during my first photography course, my photos were some of the weakest images in competition with my classmates. believe me when I tell you, there was NO talent lingering somewhere in those images. they are just plain terrible. what i will tell you though is that my photography is something i've worked at + tried at for over 10 years now. i used to pour over the annual photography issue of communication arts just trying to figure out how "they" got those images. those colors. those effects. i used to call up photographers i didn't know at all, + ask if i could take them out for coffee, pick their brain, find out how they got to be where they're at. i started with film. my first real camera was a canon rebel 2000. i learned how to set up a darkroom in closets + bathrooms, + develop my film (tri-x 400) + make prints. i spent hours + hours of my life in darkrooms. i went with a very accomplished photographer to iceland in 2001 to learn how to use a 4x5 linhof techinka 70 + a hassleblad. i followed him to his darkroom to learn how to develop large format film, + print on fiber based paper, + how to dry mount the warped prints. someone gave me a mamiya 645, a canon AE2, + a polaroid transfer kit. i shot slides, developed them, learned the importance of exposure latitudes, + made a lot of polaroid transfers. i spent pretty much all of my spare money on film, paper + chemicals. i saved and saved and saved for a canon 20D. then i saved + saved + saved for my first L-series lens. then i saved and saved for an external hardrive, + a laptop, + a printer + a scanner… my first website was predominately my film prints scanned. i didn't have the money to pay for a website so I built it my self. i assisted. i asked questions. i googled. i studied. + i shot. + shot + shot + shot. i took my camera everywhere. i spent hours in bookstores photography sections + studied manuals, + lighting + terms. i studied henri cartier bresson, + annie liebowitz, + alfred eisenstadt, + elliot erwitt. + diane arbus. i read her biography. i read photographic essays. i started going to ASMP meetings, i went to every photographic exhibit that I was ever in the vicinity of. i went to the BFA photography exhibits at local universities… i prowled craigslist for jobs. i took photos of my friends. all of them. i had + still have some very photogenic friends. i submitted photos to contests. i hardly ever won. then i won once… $1000. + bought my second L-series lens. i decided i would only shoot the best glass… a shot a wedding on film for $300. this barely covered the cost of the film, + developing + travel to the wedding. i didn't have a back up camera. my battery nearly died during the ceremony. i didn't have a spare. i was working full time through all of this. not in photography. in little restaurants + cafes all over Seattle. i woke up earlier than all my restaurant friends. i worked on photo stuff all day… + then I'd work to pay the rent at night. i was determined to do this all debt free. i paid only cash for my equipment. i bought gear used. i got a gig shooting graduations one summer. it was brutal + i hated it. they were boring + long… we had to get the shot of the handshake + diploma retrieval… without getting the tassel flying in the face. i started shooting marathons + triathlons. i hated that too. we'd have to be at the start line at 4:30 or 5 am. we'd shoot thousands of runners crossing the finish line. i'd shoot for 6 hours straight. but i was getting paid + getting experience. i learned how to perfectly frame an action shot. a runner, filling the frame from head to toe while crossing the finish line. this too was a good learning experience. i shot marathons in Hawaii, NY, Seattle, Arizona, California, Idaho. i was getting paid.. travel was getting paid. + i was getting experience. i got a gig freelancing for a national wedding photography company. i took every job they offered my way. i hated it. the pay was pathetic, the hours were long… the weddings were cheesy to the max. so i took the opportunity to really learn my flash at those boring receptions. i'd experiment… try all sorts of different settings. + i was getting some pay + I was getting experience… + my flash skills were getting good. i bought a 5D. i got an offer to travel to turkey, + take photos… + get paid for it! now things were starting to look up. i was shooting + i loved it + i was getting paid. I went to turkey 5 times… + got paid for every trip. i answered a craigslist ad to intern for a local magazine. the editor liked me. i shot for free for 6 months. but my work was getting published. my name was getting some cred. after 6 months I still shot for the magazine, + I got paid. GQ called, they wanted one of my images. I had an image published in a national magazine + i was paid for it. i came back to hawaii for 8 months. i started a small wedding photo biz with a girlfriend. we split all the jobs + what we made. i was getting more + more experience at weddings. i learned how to expose for a sunset properly with my camera while also exposing the couple properly with my flash. i learned metering. i landed a huge assisting gig in oahu with a big fancy pants NYC photographer. I got $300 a day for assisting. I learned more lighting. i got another assisting gig in Kauai shooting a lifestyle piece on world champ surfer andy irons. i peppered the photographer with questions. i took note of his gear, his lenses, his technique. i absorbed it all. i kept shooting for myself too. my portfolio was growing. i built another website. i started a blog. my style started having some definition. i curated a look for my editing. i was building a brand. i shot some really organic + creative weddings. i submitted these to some wedding blogs. i didn't know anything about the wedding blog industry. i was inundated with inquiries. i was terrified of pricing. too high, too low… not enough. i thought i should have a contract in place. i copied one from a friend. i kept shooting for myself. i planned photoshoots. i would study for them like it was homework. i still study for them. i prepare the shots i want. i make real + mental shortlists. i check my folders + sites + bookmarks for inspiration. i research weather, lighting, sunset times etc. my new site was predominately comprised of shoots i had created for myself. the subjects were my friends, my family… people i knew. no one else had to know that. i got more + more bookings. i started learning more about the business side of "the business of photograph". i learned about write-offs + workflow, + good client communication… underselling + over delivering. i bought backups for everything. i bought more lenses. i kept reading magazines. searching for inspiration. i quit my night job. i took a leap. i had 2 months worth of savings to live off of, a burgeoning portfolio, + a burning drive to make this work somehow. amazing how driven a little ambition + hunger + bills can make you. i shot more + more. i showed more people. i submitted work, i did some advertising. i refined + retooled. i moved to NYC without knowing anyone save my roommate. i booked a full season of weddings almost right away. i got an agency to rep me. i am a full fledged free lance photographer. this is all i do, + i'm lucky enough to pay a steep brooklyn rent each month with the work i'm blessed enough to keep have coming in. i am booked into 2012 with more inquiries all the time. this is more job security than many many people have. so now you can understand why i brush off the talent comment. i'm no prodigy. i'm really not all that talented… i've just worked really really hard for a really really long time to try + be the best i can be at something i really love + feel very committed to. + i still have so far to go.
i scour the web for photo related inspiration all the time, but try to stay clear of too many wedding related sites + photographers in order to keep my vision fresh... i found a ton of inspiration this week in watching Annie Liebovitz's Life Through a Lens documentary... i particularly love her early work. i also found the story of Vivian Maier incredibly inspirational. a 1950's nanny that privately did street photography on her off time... to die penniless + unknown, only for her amazing collection of 100,000 negative to be discovered in 2007 in an auctioned off storage locker + for her work to skyrocket to fame only now years after her death. have an amazing weekend. xoxo, brooke