Trust

From taking pictures, to developing them, to finding my place in the photographic community, I’ve never worked alone.  Everything, I have found, is a relationship.  I sort of know what I’d like to do, but the advice and consent of my “partners” needs to be considered.  These relationships are fundamental in guiding me along an unending path.  My route is perpetually uncertain, but I’ve learned that if I communicate effectively with my partners, I’ll visit some wonderful places and experience things that truly make me happy.  Generally that communication involves a lot of listening and then trusting that I’m being given sound advice. 

However, I should be clear that things like luck, chance, coincidence, and destiny are NOT what I’m referring to here.  Those words and several others like them are used to describe auspicious happenstance.  However, they fall short because they are external and one-sided.  Luck and coincidence, for example, are things that happen to you from the outside.  They are not words that describe an ongoing relationship.  Partners work together for a beneficial outcome.  Yes, sometimes it seems like good luck at first, but once you realize that you’ve been listening and participating in a relationship all along, you’ll see that it was the partnership that actually created the end result.  In other words, you were always part of it.  It was an inside job.

The partnership actually created the end result.  In other words, you were always part of it.  It was an inside job.

These “partners,” as you might have guessed, aren’t exactly real.  At least not in the sense that I can see, touch, and talk to them directly.  Neither are they spirits, ghosts, or even gods.  Yet, they somehow know more about me than I consciously know myself and seem to lead me in the right direction.  These partners solve problems in the middle of the night such that solutions are obvious when I wake up the next morning.  They find good friends for me who eventually lead me on new adventures.  They help me take pictures in places where I didn’t think good light existed.   More than anything, though, they are a continual source of inspiration.  Listening to these partners means I always have something to do and that I’m looking forward to doing it.  It’s a fortunate circumstance.

Every relationship requires a degree of trust, and, generally, the greater the trust, the stronger and more productive the relationship will be.  This is true with your photographic “partners” just like it is with your spouse or best friend.   But “who,” exactly, are your photographic partners?  And what does it mean to trust them?  Let’s take a look at three important examples.

Trust yourself

YOU are likely already the best tool you have for making better pictures.

Many photographers become photographers simply by virtue of owning a camera.  There’s not a lot of formal education, and in our search for better pictures we buy new gear, plan a trip, watch YouTube videos, and install new software.  However, once you know the basics of photography, YOU are likely already the best tool you have for making better pictures.  Your photography might indeed involve travel, different equipment, or additional instruction; however, these things should not be a substitute for the practice, experimentation, and personal dedication that will actually improve your skills and make a difference.  It’s your commitment to learning and the belief you can indeed acquire new skills that creates the desired results.   

Trusting your inherent human ability to change, adapt, and grow at any point in your life is the real key to improving your photographic IQ.  The trust relationship with yourself—the partnership, if you will—means you’ll seek, find, and understand photographic subjects and techniques that interest you.  You’ll acquire the equipment that suits your shooting style and be able to use it effectively in a variety of settings.  You’ll discover what interests you most about photography and find the right resources to improve your skills and share your creativity.  Trusting yourself, if you work at it, leads to new knowledge that is both practical and meaningful.  As you learn more about photography, you’ll also be learning more about yourself and what you are capable of doing.

Trust the light

By treating light as your partner and not your prey—as your collaborator instead of something to be captured—you are able to create images with more personal meaning that have a stronger sense of connection. 

Light.  There is no photography without it.  Understanding and learning to control light seems essential to becoming a good photographer.  And, indeed, familiarity with f-stop, exposure, ISO, and focal length are basic skills that most photographers acquire.  However, this aptitude only controls how the camera reacts to light; it doesn’t control the light reaching the camera.  Fortunately, we now have tools and technology that can help us predict and control light: a plethora of artificial lighting, apps that predict the movement and location of sun, moon, and stars as well as weather apps that predict what natural lighting to expect. However, even with all these modern conveniences, light remains forever wild.  What we expect and what we actually get may still be considerably different.

Approaching light with an open mind makes you ready to respond to whatever the light might have in mind.  Over time, being responsive to the light—listening to it—helps alleviate the frustration and repeat visits that come with trying to take a specific, pre-imagined picture.  Once you learn to trust the light, you’ll understand that it will always be there for you.  Maybe not in exactly the way you envisioned in, but rather in the way the light wants you to see it.  And this is where trust really pays off.  By treating light as your partner and not your prey—as your collaborator instead of something to be captured—you are able to create images with more personal meaning that have a stronger sense of connection.  You’ll never forget the places where the light gave you something unexpectedly beautiful, and there will be many of these unforgettable, special moments once you learn to trust the light.

Trust the world

Does the world really need more photographers and photographs? Well, yes, it does. In fact, that’s exactly what it needs.

There are millions of photographers, billions of photographs, and the number of each is increasing rapidly.  Does the world really need more of either of them?  Well, yes, it does.  In fact, that’s exactly what it needs.  That’s because the capacity of the world to absorb creative individuals passionate about what they do is infinite.  The world only gets better for all of us when people discover what really excites them and then strive to make it part of their everyday life.  Passionate people are the ones who give us something new and unique.  They teach us how to see things differently and show us what’s possible.  If you’re passionate about photography, the world will find a place for that enthusiasm to be expressed in a way that makes the world a better place. 

However, you still need to be alert for what the world is telling you; you need to listen to your partner.  The world will help you find the people you need to spread your ideas, and it will provide you opportunities that are available to no one else.  But you need to be open to the changes and compromises this relationship might entail.  Perhaps your goal is to sell your images in art galleries.  However, the world is currently looking for someone to lead photo treks to exactly the places where you’ve been taking pictures and offers you that job instead.  Or maybe you want to take glamour images of pretty models, but the world also sees your ability to teach and asks you to teach portrait photography.  Or maybe you just take pictures as a hobby, but your online gallery attracts lots of views and before long you’ve created a new community that wants to learn from you.  The point here is that in a world already crowded with photographers and overflowing with photographs, we don’t always get our first choice of assignments.  But that’s OK. Landing where the world wants you to be as a photographer, instead of where you thought you’d be, eventually feels like winning the lottery.  You’re happy with what you do, you’ve positively influenced the lives of others, and you eventually come to realize that you got lucky.  This was your destiny all along. 

Except, of course, that luck and destiny really weren’t involved.  It was you pursuing your passion, learning to trust the world, and then simply following the path that this partnership created.

Summary

Creating pictures that come from your desire to express yourself as an individual simultaneously creates partners that want to see you succeed.

Learning to trust is not always easy.  It requires some effort and perhaps some actual labor.  Fortunately, photographers have already developed their awareness and observational skills, and so, they are prepared more than others to recognize those moments when their partners show up and the relationship begins to grow.

Every worthwhile relationship has trust as its foundation, and a strong foundation is the basis on which new ideas and concepts can grow and spread out into the world.  Your photographic relationships, when they have trust at their core, will guide you in many different ways.  Creating pictures that come from your desire to express yourself as an individual simultaneously creates partners that want to see you succeed.   You just need to trust them.  They’ll keep you headed in the right direction on a path that never has to end. Enjoy the journey!

Your turn

I would enjoy hearing who your partners are in photography, and how have you learned to trust them? If you have any thoughts on these topics, please leave a comment or simply respond to the email containing this article.

A big thanks to Bob Hills and Jim Hill for providing feedback and editing for this article.

26 thoughts on “Trust

  1. Tony, I love this article and I whole-heartedly agree with every word you have written. Trust is the key, as you have so eloquently stated. I love this photography journey I am on and you have been so key in my development along with my partners. Thanks for all you do for the photography community and I wish you Good Light and a Good journey.

    Dave Kelly

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  2. My world is a much better place thanks to you, Sean Bagshaw, Dave Kelly and Carlos Castaneda. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

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    1. So, maybe we’re your partners, in a sense, huh? But don’t downplay you’re role. You were likely the biggest factor in making your world “a much better place.”

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  3. This is a very inspiring blog, Tony. Thank you for writing it and for sharing it.

    I never thought of photography that way; ie in terms of partnerships and trust. But the way you put it, it makes a lot of sense.

    I will have to continue to reflect upon it, but my first reaction is that trusted partners that I can immediately acknowledge are first of all myself – I have always enjoyed learning new things and going deeply into any subject that interests me; I cast a very wide net to capture all kinds of resources that can help me on my learning curve. After retiring from my job in mid 2017, I have put in a lot of hours informing myself about all things related to photography: theory as well as practice. Not only that, I have made significant incursions into digital drawing as well, in order to improve my understanding of artistic expression and the way different digital brushes work; something that many photographers seem to underappreciate.

    My second trusted partner is my software, especially Photoshop. Just a few years ago I knew nothing about it, but today I can confidently call myself “quite an advanced intermediate” user, if that makes sense. I have learned first hand that cameras don’t see the way we see the world. I have also learned that photography can truly be an artistic form of expression, not just a way to document a moment. Based on those 2 concepts alone, today I cannot conceive of producing a photograph that will fully satisfy me without some amount of post-processing.

    My third trusted partner is my wife. Without knowing any of the theory of photographic expression, she has a keen eye for composition. Furthermore, the way she perceives colors is nothing short of insane! She can quickly look at my photos and tell me something like: “I think it needs a bit more red”. Where does she get this from? I have no idea, but she is more often than not completely right!

    Anyway, I won’t burden you with more thoughts. Suffice you to know that you have really stimulated me to think about these concepts more thoroughly. And I thank you ever so much for doing it.

    Thank you, Tony.

    Best regards – Jorge.

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    1. Thanks for sharing this, Jorge. Once we start looking just a bit, I think we can all identify the things that have helped us along the way. I actually think some of these things we draw to ourselves are with us because they knew we would make good partners. Your wife seems like one such very special partner. It must be wonderful to be able to share photography with someone so close to you.

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  4. Tony, You are a great partner for us – along with Sean Bagshaw. As photographers we always emphasize ‘light’. You have provided the light – to open up doors to allow us to see. So, thanks! Light is always ‘talking’ to us – we just have to listen. Thanks again for an excellent article.. worth saving, worth sharing.

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    1. Thanks, Chandra. Partnerships are always a two-way street. They only happen if you’re open to the possibilities and then put in some effort to make sure they work. I’m sure “our” partnership actually reflects a lot about who your are and what you value.

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  5. Also very important: learning your tools and how to use them, and practice/exercise/investigating/trying/exploring; in both capturing a photo image and processing it to your final destination/goal.

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    1. Indeed. Relationships are much easier if you make the effort to fully participate . The better you know your partners, the easier it will be to work with them and create something beautiful.

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  6. Hi Tony,

    In this modern world where I receive a plethora of emails, there are certain people who I always read their emails, and you are certainly one of them! I was so pleased I read this one! You write so beautifully and have such a way with words, so a pleasure to read such well crafted ideas, thoughts and philosophies.

    I so agree with you on everything you said and it means so much more coming from someone like yourself, whose ideas, creativity and photography ability I have so learnt to respect.

    In a world where articles and tutorials on photography are churned out endlessly using any gimmick they can find to try and attract your attention (and money), this was just such an unexpected surprise and good read and pause for thought! It was like a gentle breeze , considered and thoughtful, simple, yet profound. A real stop and think moment. Thank you.

    Thanks so much for your newsletters and thoughts and especially for the huge step up your TK panel gave me. It still boggles my mind that someone could create such an amazing creative tool and am sure it has taken you in some amazingly different directions on your life’s (and photographic) journey as well.

    Salutations and best wishes,

    Lorna Stanton South Africa

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    1. Thanks for your comments, Lorna. I’m glad to hear you enjoyed this article. My blog is always a bit of snapshot of where I am at the moment photographically. Sometimes I get introspective, like in this article, sometimes I’m sharing new photo techniques, and sometimes I’m letting people know about my latest product updates. It’s definitely a mix and some things might be more interesting than others depending on what you’re looking for. The one thing all the posts have in common, I suppose, is that they reflect things I enjoy as part of my photography, and sharing what you enjoy is part of finding friends to share them with. That’s really one of the best things about the internet. Sharing what’s important to you in this vast community somehow does serve as a beacon for creating new connections with like-minded individuals that would be nearly impossible otherwise. I always encourage photographers to put up a website. It definitely helps the world create links that connect us in unexpected ways.

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  7. Hi Tony,

    My partners are my friends and family. When I retired, a friend suggested that I write a blog (when blogs were new) about retirement life. That did not stir my creative juices but the idea of a photo blog did. For over ten years, I have been sharing my photos (both new and “vintage”) together with commentary. My friends and family seem to enjoy it very much which spurs me to find new images to share. You can see a recent example here.

    Aloha, B. David

    >

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    1. That’s wonderful, B. David. Ten years is a long time to pursue a project like this, so it’s obviously something you love. And even though writing, taking pictures, and organizing them into a website and blog can be time-consuming, when you’re doing what you love, it’s really no time at all. So glad you found this pursuit and are sharing your images with the rest of the world via the internet. Just looking at your images I’m seeing a side of Hawaii I’ve not seen before. Clearly this is a place that has special meaning to you. Your connection is easy to see.

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  8. Hello Tony.

    Articles such as this are exactly why I look forward to each edition of the Good Light Journal.

    Thanks so much for all you do, you are definitely one of the people I look to for my inspiration in this wonderful realm of photography.

    Thanks always for sharing, Gord Roberts.

    Sent from my iPhone so please forgive my “thumbos” 🙂

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    1. Thanks for the feedback, Gord. In addition to my own experiences, this blog was also inspired by my conversations with other photographers and listening to them talk about their images. It was clear that more than art was happening when they were taking pictures. There’s a level of engagement with our “subconscious selves” that we’re able to tap into as we explore photography that’s hard to access any other way. However, finding a way to make that connection is also an important part of our humanity. We’re most alive when we’re fully engaged with something or someone that we love. It’s a concept worth sharing.

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  9. What an interesting and insightful essay. You really captured, I think, the essence of the source of creativity. Over time, some of these partners become quiet intuition.

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    1. Roger-Yes, I think intuition is part of it. We come to understand what’s important to us and can more easily develop a trusting relationship that reinforces our priorities. This probably does help us to be more creative overall. I think there are probably additional components to developing our creative competencies, but knowing you’ve found the right creative path with partners that can support you is no doubt an important part of it.

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  10. Quite the thought-provoking post Tony. Perhaps one of our greatest partners in photography are simply the aspects of visual psychology and our emotional reactions to the stimuli. We can listen to light as a form of romanticism, but in reality, it is simply just there – not cooperating or hindering. And perhaps you describe just another way of engaging and learning more about our own subconscious reactions to the world around us. Whatever partner is involved is just a mechanism for understanding more about the human mind.

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Mark. You are correct that the concept of “trust” is likely more a psychological construct than something that is actually real, but it still allows us to function differently and change our behavior in ways facilitate unexpected and oftentimes positive outcomes. Opening this pathway, at least mentally, can help us let go of preconceptions that kept us from seeing additional possibilities, or as you say, “engaging and learning more about our own subconscious reactions to the world around us.” However, I wouldn’t necessarily agree that this is just an exercise to understand more about the human mind. I think people can progress towards making their own lives more creative and improving the lives of others once they’re open to new possibilities. There are some practical outcomes that shouldn’t be ignored.

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  11. Tony, this is one of the best article I’ve read in a long time – Thank you. For me, my partners include:

    Nature. I trust that she will guide me while revealing her essence as we enjoy our moments together.

    Master/Mentors. Those who I’ve shared trust with/in – whether I know them personally or remotely.

    Thank you

    Kent

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  12. Dear Tony,

    I am replying to your newsletter when you talked about finding good “partners” for your photography. That isn’t exactly the way you put it, but I want to weigh in on this. I really liked what you said and want to share my thoughts about more or less the same thing.

    I think you were talking about “God”–the Holy Spirit to be exact. I don’t know if you are a Christian or not, or profess any faith, but it doesn’t matter. To me photography, especially nature photography, is like worship. No matter what images I come away with, the time spent outdoors is renewing, calming, stress free and spiritual. And I believe it is that way because God made humans to connect in relationships with Him and each other. And since He created everything, He made the rest of the world for connection and relationship, too. The landscape is His playground where He wants to have fun with us. The sky is His artist canvas, where He keeps trying out different styles and colors and shapes just to get our attention. And whatever gets our attention, whatever pulls us and fills our hearts, is His way of communicating, connecting and guiding us. You spoke about Light–and He is the Light, so it all meshes beautifully into one grand scheme. And there is no higher calling than to record the work of the Master! There has to be more than $$ involved with photography to really make life meaningful.

    Keep up with your inspiring work. You are a good messenger!

    Mary Lane Anderson

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    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Mary Lane. Have you ever considered that you are actually the “God” of which you speak? In other words, the “Holy Spirit” is you! Think about it. That would mean that Heaven is here and now and everything you do can be a prayer. You can pray simply by living. You feel so joyful about nature and photography, but did you ever stop and consider that this joy is a miracle you’ve created for yourself. I think it’s possible you’re not giving yourself enough credit for who you are and what you have become.

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