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.
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.
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!
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.