The time it takes...

When I first picked up a camera I knew I had a lot to learn.  Oh, I knew my days would be filled with fStop, shutter speeds, and a lot of technical things.  Easy enough, I'm a geek.  I was fairly aimless and just took joy in the process of taking pictures.  Because of what I didn't know, I thought I was pretty darned good.  My pictures were bright and clean and the model was smiling.  I look at those images from 7 years ago today and, well, they are pretty...damned bad.

Little did I know.  Literally! 

My work from then, to me, is painful to look at today.  I'd say the first two years were nothing at all like what I create today.  Heck, I can't even take one from back then and edit it because the lighting is so poorly done in 99% of them.

Do I regret those first years?  Do I feel they were a waste of time?  Not in the least.  I don't cherish them and I certainly don't want to relive them.  I would, however, love to have known then what I know now.  It would have been far less painful as I went through the stages of growth and self doubt that came after those first couple years.  BUT, I am positive it was a growth cycle most of us must go through to become wonderful artists.  There is no shortcut!

Now, consider that I have been living and breathing Photoshop, Lightroom, Cameras, lighting, and being creative (or trying) full time for 7 years.  No job.  No kids.  A super understanding wife.  Nothing to concentrate on but my passion for photography.

What I'm hoping to get across in this chapter of my blog is that being good, I mean really good, takes a long time.  And there are no shortcuts.  Oh yeah, every once in a  while there is a natural that just picks up a camera and everything they take is golden perfect.  I've never met one because they are rare.  I'm not one and it's a good chance you aren't either.

Yes, the chances are, you will get to that point of taking beautiful and breath taking pictures.  That's the good part, we can all do it but not be a natural at it.  It will eventually feel natural.  No one has ever picked up a bat for the first time and played in the world series even a year later.  It takes time.

Knowing what you have ahead of you can help ease the frustrations a bit and provide some comfort that what you are going through is the same as everyone else.  Although, what frustration you do go through is actually a part of that growth...just remember that.

What I didn't know.

I had no idea what style was.  I knew I had seen some work from some outstanding photographers but I didn't know that I thought they were great because of their style.  

I learned at about the 2 year mark what it meant to have something that was me.  Something that made my pictures look like, well, MY pictures.  I started renting out my studio and helping people with the lights.  By then I had some favorite lighting schemes I used fairly often.  I didn't understand that this was the beginning of my own style.  That light bulb was just beginning to glow. (pun intended)  After the people posted images they had taken where I had helped with the lighting, I noticed the images looked a lot like what I would have taken.  Because the lighting was my schemes.  Wait, what?  There was a way I could have my own look?  My own style?  

So, the light got brighter as I thought about the next steps.  Of course, I'd been going to seminars, scanning the net for amazing work by others for inspiration, and, of course, hundreds of hours retouching with Photoshop.  That has turned into thousands of hours over seven years.

It is important to understand there is no 'destination'.  Of course you will be moving and your work changing constantly.  But, even when you might feel like you are 'there', there will be something else to change up your style to another level.  A new technique learned.  A new tool added to your workflow.  Or a change in your personal life.  Changes come from a lot of places.  The moving slows down some after a while, but by the time you are feeling very good about your work, and that people are recognizing your style, you will have an irresistable  urge to see how far you can go with it.  Then it gets to be more fun.

Where does style come from?

As you grow with your photography, you'll find you need to consider yourself more an artist than a photographer.  You only use the camera and lights and gizmos to help you create that image.  First step, tell people you are an artist.

All your life you have been exposed to art and photos that you either loved or didn't.  Each one had at least a tiny affect on what you love.  What your mind's eye loves.  And of course there is no right or wrong in what you like.  Expose yourself to everything you can, even collecting up images you'd like to have around for inspiration and hold as goals to create like those.

Take a few million images.  Learn about lighting.  Challenge yourself with images you like and try to light up a shoot like those.  Learn to make the light do your bidding.  Eventually it becomes like muscle memory.  You will move the lights and KNOW exactly how it will look.  At that point you are a master of your light.  Oh, and the sun counts as a light.  Have fun moving that one.

Then edit.  Edit.  Edit more.  Learn your tools well and use them often.  Just like the lighting, you will start to see what the image will look like in your mind and then you will go though the steps to make it look like that.  And yep, it takes thousands and thousands of images coming across your screen for edit before every one you work on comes out amazing.  And, in your style.

As you are going through this whole process there will be peeks and troughs of creativity.  Some days everything looks great.  Lighting is spot on.  Editing is looking wonderful.  Then you hit a low point where nothing you do seems to be working well and you will have a lot of doubt.  Is this it?  Is this the best I can do?


I started looking forward to those low times.  They didn't signal that I was at the end of some journey and this was it.  That I couldn't do any better.  Nope!  It was a sign that something new was coming and my art was about to take a leap forward.  Not always a big leap.  Actually, the leaps get smaller as you grow, but are just as important and noticeable as they accumulate. 

It all takes time

When I hear someone, typically someone in their teens or 20's, grab up a camera and expect to take award winning images within a few weeks, I just shake my head.  Today so much is based on instant gratification.  Some things don't work that way.  The best things.  Things that take time to learn and develop are far more gratifying as you progress.  The very best things are things that grow to be who you are.  That makes us all unique. 

That 'style' I was talking about is a mixture of everything you have experianced, everyone you have known, love lost and found, art you loved as well as art you hated.  Your minds eye when it comes to art is a mixture of everything about you up to this point in time.  What you are learning as an artist is how to apply those experiances and that will be your style.

Give your style time to grow.  Don't look for reasons you aren't there yet.  It's easy to think the next new camera body will make your work pop.  It won't.  That seminar will rock your work.  It won't.  That new filter will be amazing.  It won't be.  Nothing will until you have developed that mind's eye and then all of the skills to create what that eye sees.  A little of all of those will become part of your style as tools to help you create art you will love.

Now you know what's ahead.  And if you've been doing this full time for years and years and have your style down you'll probably nod and think, yep.  If you are fairly new it might be 'Oh crap!' but stick with it.  It's well worth the effort.

Oh, and when do you know you are there?  After all, you better be creating things you totally love.  It's as close as the people who look at your work.  The complements.  The people who ask your rate.  The creations on magazine and book covers and hanging on walls.  That tells you someone out there sees something special in your work.  At that point you will find a certain feeling of joy in each image and an ease in creating it.  Each will be a part of you.  THAT is when you know you are there.  You will look and feel like it is all just natural.