The road we take

Everyone is different. Every photographer’s (or really, anyone’s) goals should be their own, as should the road to those goals.

Reading about how another photographer ‘got there’ or ‘made it’ (whatever that means exactly) does not always help us carve out our own road faster or better. Only in rare cases it does, if they are generous enough to let us in on the process of it, on both the bad days and the good ones. A great example is this blog by David duChemin, one of my favorite photographers and educators. Most of the times though it doesn’t, and we are better off charging ahead with full conviction to forge our own path.

Trained as a scientist, I am all for standing on the shoulders of the giants who came before us (paraphrasing Isaac Newton here). We get to learn a great deal about how to create great images from those who have mastered the art.

But when it comes to our path, what we choose to do with our creativity and vision, what photography means to us and why we do it, that path is our own.

Right now I am on a winding but beautiful forest path developing my photographic vision and identity, where I usually can’t see past the next turn. And that is perfectly fine  — for me personally, the path is the whole point.

Path in the Black Forest, Germany

Forest Path

© 2011-2015 Laura Jewell Photography. All rights reserved.

Little pieces of the puzzle

A week or so ago, I realized that in the entire collection of several hundred images I shot on a trip to the gorgeous Olympic National Park there was none that I was actually happy with. It turned out that this was a good time to remind myself of the following.

Out of many hundreds or thousands of images, we deem only a handful good enough to be framed and hung on a wall or put in a portfolio. And that is on a good day. Henri Cartier-Bresson even famously said:

Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.

From those words, we might even conclude that we might not get any worthwile images before reaching the 10,000 mark. This may not be true, but there is value in the thought that we just need a lot of practice to hone our technical and creative skills as photographers.

Sometimes the low ‘success rate’ can be very discouraging. However, all the other images that never ‘make it’ are not failures. Instead, they are the necessary little pieces that have contributed to and were essential to the creation of the images that did make it into a print or portfolio.

We needed those pieces to help us give form to our imagination and creativity, and to help us gain the technical skill to put that creativity into an image. It is all part of the process, and that is perfectly fine.

As an example of a piece of the puzzle, here is an abstract image of the lighthouse in Marina Del Rey, California. It was purely taken as a creative exercise – but one that I ended up quite liking, and it actually did make it into my portfolio.

Abstract Lighthouse in Marina Del Rey, California

Abstract Lighthouse

© 2010-2015 Laura Jewell Photography. All rights reserved.

Defining success

How do we define success as a photographer? For a hobbyist, success might constitute getting an image framed and hung on the wall. For a serious enthusiast, it might mean getting published in a leading magazine. And for a professional, it might be landing a freelance job with that big client.

This raises another question: when is someone a hobbyist, or a professional? In my opinion, these are mere labels that have more to do with whether that someone chose to make their living with photography, than with the quality of their work.

As I am redefining my photography at this very moment, I am also re-evaluating what I consider being successful. I am starting to set my sights on more than creating images for my own walls, but the exact answer to that question is a work in progress. Not to mention, I might give you a very different answer in a year.

And that is okay: we don’t have to settle for a status quo because “we always thought about things this way”; instead I find it incredibly motivating to re-evaluate often what it is that we want to get out of photography (or out of anything else that we do in our daily lives, for that matter).

We should all define success in our own way as a photographer, as long as creating images that we are passionate about remains the pinnacle of that success. This is something that should never change, independent of the label that we stick onto ourselves.

What do you consider success? I would love to hear your comments!

Professional or hobbyist or otherwise, this image is hanging on my wall.

Sun through aspen leaf, Sierra Nevada, California

Sun Through Leaf II

© 2009-2015 Laura Jewell Photography. All rights reserved.

The photographer’s voice

A new portfolio. A new blog. Just tweeted my first tweet. It is official: we have liftoff!

In the process of creating the new website, I had to very thoroughly go through my old portfolio. That was a surprising experience: however convinced I used to be that I had a tightly edited portfolio, tight is the last thing it was! Quickly reaching the conclusion that this should really be done regularly, I went about the business of cutting the weeds.

This led to yet another realization: to find your voice as a photographer, a good hard look at past work (especially the portfolio-worthy part) is crucial. Why only the part that we deem portfolio-worthy? That is the body of work that we are excited about – because it contains our creative vision. I learned a great deal about my photographic voice doing this. In bold colors or high-contrast black and white, I am seeking distinction in the ordinary, and quietude in the extraordinary. More concretely, this could mean finding striking abstract patterns in an ordinary street scene, or a clean and unusual view in a spectacular landscape for example.

Seeking distinction in the ordinary, and quietude in the extraordinary.

A few years ago I visited Upper Antelope Canyon near Page, Arizona. This has to be one of the most photographed scenes in the world; not the easiest spot to create an original image! One of the things people look for are beams of sunlight coming into the slot canyon:

Beam of sunlight in Upper Antelope Canyon in Page, Arizona

Beam

A nice image, but not exactly original. With thirty-odd photographers lined up to take exactly this shot, I decided to turn the other way, where not a single soul was looking. And there it was: this stunning and tranquil scene of a large tree branch turned into driftwood, lit as if on a Broadway stage, going unnoticed by the crowds. I found my original image, my quietude in the extraordinary.

Driftwood in Upper Antelope Canyon in Page, Arizona

Sunlit III

Copyright © 2010-2015 Laura Jewell Photography. All rights reserved.