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My Journey as a Photographer

My Journey as a photographer started back around 2012, with a entry level Canon t3i after 2 epic shots I took with my ex wife’s cheap Canon point and shoot.  The first shot was a stunning shot of a glass table reflecting insane clouds in the sky on the glass with a center piece.  In the back ground was the Coral Sea and beyond that were uninhabited rain forest islands, in Northern Australia very near the Great Barrier Reef.  I was walking by that and saw this insane image.  That was my first true artistic piece I ever had.

Officially hooked into photography

The second shot I took that truly got me officially hooked into photography was a close up and personal shot of a Jaguar in the rain forests of Belize, looking straight into the camera lens. I almost shit myself when I had seen what I actually took.  Truly magnificent and sensational, and those two shots were accidental and coincidental with a cheap point and shoot.  Yeah, the story sounds so much cooler as is but the truth of the matter is, I was in a rain forest in the middle of a jungle in the heart of Belize but I was also at the Belizean Zoo.  I just so happened to pay my way into a cage for humans inside of the actual jaguar cage.  We fed him chicken bones and were able to pet him with caution.  Then I saw an opportunity and stood there hunched over waiting and hoping he’d walk by, after about 10 minutes he walked about 3 feet away and looked right into my camera.

Canon 5DIV, EF Prime and experience

If only I could go back in time with my Canon 5Div, my EF prime lenses and the skill I’ve gained, I might just be a super famous photographer by now. Name your shots and make them personal to you; for example, the picture I took with the clouds reflecting on the glass table with the gorgeous Coral Sea and Rain forests I named, “Glass Sky.” The Jaguar in the Jungle I named, “Jaguar Jungle.”  Now I have a better way to organize my gallery in the future. Appropriate names are entirely your call as the artist and whether it is a good name or not is entirely subjective and should be personalized to you.

Lesson One

Lesson one, patience is a virtue so sometimes the wait is extremely rewarding.  I’ve heard of experts hiding in a tree house for months just to snag that picture of some exotic rare bird in ways you’ve never seen until programs like the BBC Planet Earth special came out with truly innovative perspectives of their time. 

“Photography is addicting, in fact it’s more addicting than cocaine and more expensive than golf.”

There’s always something just released that guy’s like me tell myself, “I just gotta have that!” So be intentional and think things through before you start purchasing things you won’t need or will not use much.  Ask yourself, what am I really into and build a decent photography kit that can get most jobs done in which you want to pursue artistically.  It’s taken me 7 years to build my gear to where it is.

“Art is not about money, it’s about the art.”  If you’re truly artistic, money won’t matter.  If you’re smart enough and strategic enough money and fame will come.  

Which brings me to a great point, don’t get snobby with success!  No one likes an asshole. Always be fun, humble and professional with subjects.  Unless you want them to feel stressed or uneasy to get an expression.  Manipulate your subjects and fuck with their head to get that shot, apologize after and buy them a beer.  And of course, praise the hell out of them after for doing such a great job.

Lesson Two

If you don’t have a natural eye for the art of photography it doesn’t matter how technically skilled you are, your photography is going to suck and you won’t know how to make an epic story out of one picture.  So, the bottom line is, know if you’re good or not before you try to start selling your prints.  That’s how artists grow bitter and resentful.

Lesson Three

I’ve met guys and had friends that make me look like an amateur when it comes to the technical side of photography, from the right settings to the right type of lighting at the right time. But…. Their photography sucks because they don’t have an eye for framing the right type of shot.  I see way more often than not, photographers work lacks substance or meaning. With this said, you can take great pictures with a phone camera or a simple inexpensive point and shoot, because story is more important than the technical side of things.

My feedback to help new photographers

Unless you’re established as a photographer making good money, it’s senseless spending $6,000 USD for a camera body. Unless you have money to burn and you get some great rewarding feeling inside your spirit taking incredible pictures with a full frame camera. Another thing I’ve found surprising, is meeting so many well-known photographers in my life that I felt was giving me horrible advice.  The advice I even heard from a famous photographer who was the guy that took the picture of Ana Nicole Smiths dead body that made mainstream media.  This advice was If you get into photography and love portraits then stick to only portraits and master portraits well.  Same goes if landscapes are your forte than only stick to landscapes, to wildlife photography or whatever other type of photography there is available.

I see way to much opportunity

For me, “I see way too much opportunity in the world not to want to capture it all as I walk around and capture moments that take my breath away.” If fact, one thing I do believe from the guy previously mentioned who took the picture of Ana Nicole Smith is, it’s better to use Canon glass on a Canon camera, Nikon to Nikon and so on.  Unless you have some type of specialty lens or vintage piece you can attach to your camera body to achieve a character or quality that can only be found with such a lens.  In my opinion, Canon’s EF glass is far more superior than others aside from maybe Leica which I know nothing about.

Take It from me…

Another horrible piece of advice I’ve been given time and time again from people more technically skilled than I am is, always shoot in aperture priority… Why?  Cause it’s simple?  I always shoot in manual mode as it challenges and stretches my skill side of things so I can have a much deeper and greater understanding of how my camera works.  Like, aperture priority is a safe place and the pictures you take will be consistent.  Just like every other fuckin schmuck taking something he thinks is epic.  The problem with this idea is your pictures won’t develop character, uniqueness or style.  

In order to be successful

People don’t want to see the same old shit!  In order to be successful, you have to think outside the box and be progressive with a fresh concept. When you try different things out in manual mode like motion blur or fast shutter speed catching a Hummingbird frozen in time, mid-flight.  Manual mode gives you complete control and you will grow so much as a photographer.  It’s always important to have a clear perspective of where you are in skill and ability.  Most people can’t recognize they do not have the eye for it or become deluded in their creative space.  If you just enjoy it than that’s great!  Understanding where you are with your eye and the skill level you’ve gained will help direct, your path.

Shoot with a full frame sensor

For me it’s monumentally important that I shoot with a full frame senor as you get loads more information sent to your pictures.  Secondly, I am a die-hard Canon advocate, and third, I always challenge myself to shoot outside my comfort zone.  I’ve committed to only shoot with anything below f/4 for 90 days.  Then I’ll spend another 90 days shooting in anything between f/4 to f/8 and so on.  90 days of portraits and another 90 days doing some artistic concept because it suits me and my needs well.  Find what suits you well!  Sometimes it’s a bokeh challenge for me and sometimes I want to get everything in focus at f/22.  At f/22, you’ll need to seriously make adjustments to your ISO or shutter speed depending on what it is you’re shooting or the amount of light around your subject.

Every lens tells a different story

Every lens tells a different story, or better said, every lens interprets the same story differently, so learn to evolve and manipulate your story in a shot, so you stand out as an artist.Don’t listen to everyone’s input and take everything with a grain of salt, meaning consider what they say and evaluate it quickly and move on.  Not everyone knows as much as they think they do, so fuck’em. So, go out there and take some damn pictures!  As long as you’re enjoying it you’ve already won in your pursuit of a contented creative headspace.  Pictures for me are therapeutic and relaxing, films are crazy stressful and I do both. If you’ve made 1 peso or 1 dollar from your craft as a photographer that makes you a pro, but being a pro doesn’t make you an expert.

Making money from a craft makes you a proffesional

Making money from a craft makes you a professional, being an expert means your skilled and gifted with that craft.  If 9 out of 10 people tell you, you’re truly gifted than chances are, you actually are gifted.  If 9 out of 10 people tell you’re your pictures suck than maybe it’s time to reevaluate your goals or direction.  Maybe become a secrete hobbyist or find something you’re good at.  Because that, “1 out of 10 person” kissing your ass, would most likely be your mother who can’t see things clearly about her babies.  You might have a face only a mother could love, and your mama will always tell you, you’re handsome or beautiful. A few other points, Prime lenses are always best for detailed sharpness vs. your “holy trinity” of zooms which are the 16-35, 24-70 and the 70-200 which gives you a lot of ability to do so much more.  I still prefer prime lenses and don’t use my other lenses much other than casual family pictures.

Beautiful models are always better than ugly models

Don’t just use what’s available, go out and scout for top shelf premium models, they’re worth the expense because you elevate your quality to another level and will be respected in your community.  Approach potential subject methodically, politely and make them feel comfortable.  No one likes a creep wanting to take their pictures, so for the love of God look presentable and speak intellectually. Build your network and relationships with people better than you, if you’re the best in your circles you’ll never grow.  Just don’t tell the best guy there this because you might lose him from your circle.  So, open yourself to being taught by others who have more skill.

Find the best camera store in town

Find the best camera store in town and build a relationship with them.  Be exclusive and become an advocate for them and you’ll get connected and most likely sweet deals.   Connections are everything!  When I moved to the Philippines, I found the best camera store in town and just started hitting them for every need I had.  I spent a few years and a lot of money buying from them and trying to meet the owner.  After a while I started taking things personal, like this guy might be an asshole and I started getting secretly and politely resentful that this guy never messaged me back.   I finally met him and it turns out he’s a busy guy, a wife and kids, a couple of business’s and the guy is swamped and some schmuck like me kept trying to contact him.  Eventually we became friends and he has helped me immensely building my gear to where I need it.  He’s actually a really nice guy!

Your network is your net worth

Build a business team or creative team when you’re ready, as of now I hate dealing with the business, sales and distribution of my work.  All I really want to do is just be creative and enjoy the art.  For the love of God, manage your own money, because at the end of the day the whole point of having a team is to make you money and help you enjoy the best parts! Never trust someone else to manage your money.  If no one manages your money than no one will be suspect. if money is an issue, find a sucker fresh out of school and offer him an internship at your up and coming fine art exhibit or some honest bullshit your chasing.

Traveling to other countries

Learn the laws where you are visiting, some places you are legally allowed to shoot anyone or anything at anytime as long as it is on the public.  You are not allowed to shoot inside someone’s private residence without their permission.  However, in other countries like the Philippines it is illegal to take someone’s picture without their permission.  Although it would be hard to prove in court that they didn’t give you permission, however in many countries it is rude or illegal to shoot someone without their permission. When you travel as a foreigner, the best advice is to be polite, mind your business, keep your mouth shut and blend in.  When you approach people to take their picture chances are people will always let you.  They get flattered!  Sometimes if you offer them a couple bucks to take their picture they’ll really be interested in countries where a couple of bucks goes along way.

Using my 70-200 to shoot candid portraits

Sometimes I’ll use my 70-200 and shoot candid portraits of strangers, from a far; do it too close to a stranger and it’s like having a dick in their face, people don’t like it. Expressions are genuine shooting them from across the street!  When I go home and edit, I look into these stranger’s eyes and feel like I see their soul.  It’s quite deep, and in fact inspires music I write at times wondering about peoples lives, their secretes or their past.  The eyes are like a deep ocean of mystery and secretes.  When you do these candid shots of strangers tread lightly, it’s only illegal if you get caught! When you shoot someone with a 50mm vs the 70-200 it’s a lot less threatening and in their face!  Somehow a pancake lens or smaller lens makes people on the street more comfortable from my experience.

Consent forms are important

Consent forms are important when trying to sell portraits of people!  Consider that before you start building your portfolio, and keep in mind it’s very hard to sell portraits in fine art photography. If you do attempt to sell portraits of fine art photography chances are, you’ll have to have extremely creative, abstract and artistic pieces using Photoshop, or shooting some tribal lady in the African bush to go with their Africa theme interior design on their home.   Now that I’ve said all this, let me lay it all down for you and be brutally honest.  I don’t know shit!  I’m an amateur and guess my way through everything.  I’ve learned the hard way on many things like shooting ugly models because they were available.  I’ve even shot hookers because they were available and reached out to me because they wanted some pictures taken of them for their profiles on dating sites trying to turn a trick.  Is that really want you want to represent your brand?  I hope you’re answer is no. 

I pride myself on professionalism

 When I shoot sexy girl’s I’m never alone with them and pride myself on professionalism.  I’ve never put myself in a place that would jeopardize my good character as a good man.  At the end of the day, what you choose to shoot gets collected on your portfolio so start smarter than I did. I think I do pretty well fooling people into think I’m some expert in this space because I take so many risks, chances and experiment so much that I’ll get few good shots in 1,000 photos.  No one see’s how hard I work to get these stellar shots.  If I fool the world then I’m doing something right!  I’m always growing and becoming better. There is, always things I’m doing to stretch my ability. With all this said, I’ll end with this; I am a business man, a man of faith in God and a true artist.  

The measure of a man’s success is money

An old business mentor of mine years back said “the measure of a man’s success is money.”   He also asked me, “how do you become rich? You hang out with rich people and learn from them.” He then said to me, in order to build real wealth, you have to make your money work for itself, so you can move on to the next idea that will hopefully become a self-sustaining source of income.  This is how you can stay at home all day and collect checks in the mail. My father who is a minister tells me, “true success and contentment is the right kind of faith and relationship with God.” Something I have also learned from my own observation, as an artist.

The measure of an artist’s success is fame and recognition

If others like your shit at the level of fame then your work is appreciated on a grand scale and is worth being proud over.  You know you’ve done well and you’re not crazy!  However, usually the most creative or artistic types are crazy.  Our brains work different then others.  We use a different part of our brain then someone who might be good with math, etc. I’ve realized these three things just mentioned are all right and all true!  You can utilize these three things in your approach to becoming a skilled fine art photographer or whatever it is you’re chasing.  As long as you get rewarded in your spirit then it’s worth it!

Feel free to check out my other articles or reach out to me directly.