Category Archives: Life’s short….

Arctic Expedition 2014 – the story of our adventure… part I

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August 4, 2014 · 5:53 pm

A Must See! James Balog’s, Chasing Ice documentary

Yesterday, I went with a friend to see James Balog’s famed documentary, Chasing Ice. It had already shown in Ottawa, but unfortunately I’d missed it. But thankfully it came back for a second showing and I made sure to see it. I just wish I’d had the time to get a bunch of people together to see it. As a scientist myself, it’s the kind of documentary I wish EVERYONE would see. The message in that documentary is stark and I think any climate change doubter would be hard-pressed to refute the visual evidence presented in Chasing Ice.

Click on the image above to visit the Chasing Ice website to see when the film is playing near you.

Click on the image above to visit the Chasing Ice website to see when the film is playing near you.

I know climate change is a very controversial topic – still. The acerbic debates over the existence of climate change seem to have died down. The number of scientist speaking out against the data, saying that climate change is bunk, has dwindled from a vocal minority to nearly none. I think the debate has shifted away from whether climate change is real to a focus on the causes of climate change. Those are two distinct questions.

Franz Josef glacier in south island New Zealand

Franz Josef glacier in south island New Zealand

Is climate change real? I don’t think it’s possible to refute this anymore, at least not with a cogent and reasonable argument. Enough data have been amassed to show the patterns. The problem is that the average person doesn’t relate to data. If science doesn’t get packaged into a form that is understandable and digestible by the general public, then (in my view) some of the value of that science is lost. As scientists, it is our job to ensure that the public can understand the results of our research and the implications for their lives.

Glacier ice and rubble - the soil, rocks and material that get dragged along at the glacier moves.

Glacier ice and rubble – the soil, rocks and material that get dragged along at the glacier moves.

I think James Balog’s idea of letting glaciers tell the story of climate change, through still images and videos is absolutely brilliant. Most people can’t relate to statistics on changes in carbon dioxide concentrations over time. Parts per million by volume means virtually nothing to the average person. But watching a chunk of glacier bigger than Manhattan break off and roll into the ocean is something we can all relate to. The old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words still rings true.

Have a look at this trailer to Chasing Ice. See the largest glacier calving ever recorded….

Click on the image above to see the video of the largest glacier calving event ever recorded.

Click on the image above to see the video of the largest glacier calving event ever recorded.

I hear people say that they either believe or do not believe in climate change and global warming. Climate change is not about belief. It is about science. It is about data that show that it exists. Religion is about beliefs. Science is not. Science is about understanding what the data tell us – is our global climate changing. I just can’t see how people can answer no to that question anymore. I’m middle aged – old enough to look back on the climate in the city I grew up in – Ottawa, Ontario, Canada – and tell you that the climate here now is different then it was 40-some years ago. Yes, the changes have happened within my lifetime.

Vibrant blue of glacier ice at Franz Josef glacier in New Zealand

Vibrant blue of glacier ice at Franz Josef glacier in New Zealand

I think the bigger debate now is about the causes of climate change. Data have shown that the earth naturally goes through periods of climate change. Temperature and carbon dioxide concentration are highly positively correlated – in other words, they are tightly linked. As one goes up, so does the other. As one goes down, so does the other.

But the tools of science have allowed for the sampling of the earth’s atmosphere through the study of ice cores. An ice core is much like a tree ring. It captures changes over time. Where the width of a tree ring can tell us about the growing conditions during a given year, sampling the air bubbles trapped in an ice core can tell us about the nature of the earth’s atmosphere hundreds of thousands of years ago. But what the data show, is that since the Industrial Revolution, global carbon dioxide concentrations have spiked. Over the past 400,ooo years of the earth’s history, carbon dioxide concentrations have repeatedly been as high as 275 parts per million by volume (ppmv). But data show that the earth is currently far above that concentration and is on track to reach 400 ppmv, nearly double that of the natural cycles in the earth’s history. And when did this spike in carbon dioxide concentrations begin? It coincides with the Industrial Revolution.

Click on the thumbnail below to read about the data…

Chasing Ice data page

There are people who will argue that a correlation between the onset of the Industrial Revolution and the onset of rapid changes in carbon dioxide concentrations on earth are just that – correlations – and that one cannot attribute cause and effect through correlation. This is true. Correlation does not reveal definitive causation. This is why science relies on multiple lines of evidence – it’s like putting pieces of a puzzle together. In my view, we have enough pieces of the puzzle to tell us that global climate change is occurring and that humans have played a role in it.

Franz Josef glacier in New Zealand

Franz Josef glacier in New Zealand

Even for those who don’t accept the data – wouldn’t it be prudent to take actions to do what we can now, to curb carbon dioxide increases while we can? Does it make sense to wait until it’s too late to do something and then say, “oops, we were wrong, humans have played a significant role in changing the earth’s climate”?

If your carbon monoxide detector in your house started sounding you could hypothesize that it is sounding because of a fault in the device or that it is sounding because carbon monoxide levels in your house have reached a dangerous level. In that situation, would you not get family out of the house immediately – assume carbon dioxide is at dangerous levels that can kill quickly – get them to safety, rather than assume that the detector is malfunctioning and that it is giving you a false positive? The consequences to you and your family are too dire to assume the alarm is a false alarm. Carbon monoxide is odourless, tasteless and colourless – you can’t smell, taste or see it. So in those ways, it isn’t tangible. But it’s effects are – it can kill quickly.

How is global change any different from the analogy of your home carbon monoxide detector? Isn’t it prudent to act now and not assume that this is a false alarm? The difference between global climate change and the carbon monoxide example above is scale – temporal scale as we call it in science. In layman’s terms  – time. We can relate to the immediacy of the carbon monoxide situation. But for changes in global climate that occur over decades and the geographic scale of the entire globe, humans have difficulty relating to this scale – to changes over decades and over the entire globe. We relate far more easily to the scale of minutes and so our own surroundings; it’s just part of being human. But as humans, we also have the unique ability of foresight…

Now is the time to think of the consequences of our inaction. You may or may not experience catastrophic consequences of global climate change, depending on how old you are now and where you live.  But what kind of world do you want to leave for your kids, your grandkids, and great-grandkids? I think that is something we can all relate to – how our actions as a society will alter life for our kids and grandkids.

The consequences of being wrong about the causes of global climate change are too great not to do anything about it. I think the only ethical choice is to accept that human are having a very significant impact on global climate and to do something about it before we are past the point of doing anything except leaving our kids one hell of an environmental mess to mop up, courtesy of our current, short-sighted behaviour. I’m not saying it’s easy.  If it were easy, we’d already be well on our way to solving the problem. I think the key now is to identify ways that society can change its behaviour to reduce human impacts on the global environment. But change starts one person at a time….

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Not everyone will agree on the causes of global climate change. But  see Chasing Ice. A picture really is worth a thousand words.

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Filed under Abstracts, conservation, Conservation & Environment, Digital Photography, Landscape, Life's short...., Nature, nature photography, Opinion, Philosophy, photography

Perils aside… let’s talk about passion

My last blog post, a few days ago, was about the perils of following your passion, whatever that may be. In the photography world, many of us would quit our ‘day jobs’ in a heartbeat, to become a full-time photographer. That doesn’t necessarily mean you hate your day job. It just means that you have a greater calling. It just means that there is something you are really, really passionate about and that you wish you could spend all your waking moments doing it.

Like I said before, for me, photography (and the things associated with my photography such as writing, conservation, environmental preservation, and connecting with people) is oxygen. Sure, I find it hard that I can only ‘breathe’ part time. 🙂 But let me tell you, it’s better than not breathing at all!

"You conceive your world in your mind and then create it with your hands" - Chris Widener

“You conceive your world in your mind and then create it with your hands” – Chris Widener

To reiterate what I said in my last blog post, read Malcolm Munro’s article on the perils of following your passion. Then dial that message back one or two turns. I wholeheartedly agree with Malcolm. You NEED to be a realist. But at the same time, don’t give up on your passion. And don’t become disillusioned. Just be realistic about what you can do given your current circumstances.

The key is: find a way to make it work. Might not be the way you first envisioned it. But this is life. We don’t always get what we want, when we want, in the way that we want. So, instead, tweak your expectations. Trim your sail. Refine your course. You WILL get there. It’s just that the path you take may very well be different from what you first envisioned. But that’s ok. It doesn’t make you any less successful at achieving your dreams.

"Dreams express what your soul is telling you, so as crazy as your dream might seem - even to you - I don't care: You have to let that out" - Eleni Gabre-Madhin

“Dreams express what your soul is telling you, so as crazy as your dream might seem – even to you – I don’t care: You have to let that out” – Eleni Gabre-Madhin

Oh, and one more thought…. don’t give a rats fuzzy bottom what anybody else thinks about your passion for photography (or whatever else it may be that you want to do – as long as it’s legal and ethical). You’re following your passion for YOU. Not for them. For you. In doing so, however, just ensure that you meet your responsibilities to yourself and your family. You know, the important stuff like mortgages, food, vehicles, utilities. It’s hard to process images in Photoshop when your electricity has been turned off due to non-payment.

I’m only a part-timer, but I feel like I’ve been around long enough to be developing a pretty healthy view of what the photography world is really like and that, typically, it takes a massive boatload of hard work and long hours to make a living as a photographer, especially in the field of nature or wildlife photography. But don’t let that stop you. Be persistent. Be positive. Be determined.

Here are a few more great quotes – fodder to fuel your drive to fulfill your passion…

"The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can't fine them, make them." - George Bernard Shaw

“The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can’t find them, make them.” – George Bernard Shaw

"The most fortunate people on earth are those who have found a calling that's bigger than they are - that moves them and fills their lives with constant passion, aliveness, and growth." - Richard Leider

“The most fortunate people on earth are those who have found a calling that’s bigger than they are – that moves them and fills their lives with constant passion, aliveness, and growth.” – Richard Leider

"For the first couple of years you make stuff, it's just not that good. It's trying to be good, it has potential, but it's not. A lot of people never get past this phase; they quit. If you are just starting out or are still in this phase, you gotta know that it's normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work.... It's only be going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions." - Ira Glass

“For the first couple of years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. A lot of people never get past this phase; they quit. If you are just starting out or are still in this phase, you gotta know that it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work…. It’s only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions.” – Ira Glass

"The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can." - Neil Gaiman

“The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can.” – Neil Gaiman

"Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of other's opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary." - Steve Jobs

“Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” – Steve Jobs

"To practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow. So do it." - Kurt Vonnegut

“To practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow. So do it.” – Kurt Vonnegut

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Filed under Abstracts, conservation, Conservation & Environment, Creative Photography, Digital Photography, Dreams, learning, lessons learned, Life's short...., Nature, nature photography, Opinion, Philosophy, photography, Reflections, small business, Vision

The Perils of Your Passion….

A few days ago I read a really interesting article called, “The Peril of Following Your Passion”, by Malcolm Munro. In a nutshell, the article was about the perils of following your dream to become a professional photographer (or any other career path, for that matter). It’s about that ‘leap of faith’ moment, when you decide to quit your day job to pursue your photography passion, full-time.

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There’s been lots written over the past year or two about following your photography dream. In particular, David duChemin has written a lot about it. His takehome message is that life is short, so follow your passion. Be willing to take risks. Make it happen now.

I don’t disagree with David’s advice. Life is short. Sadly, there are events in life that remind us starkly of this reality. Do you want to go to your grave having a long list of unfulfilled dreams? Me neither….

However, I think that when we decide to make that career shift, to follow our passion, our dream, to break the chains of that job that is so deeply unsatisfying, well, we just need to be smart about how we do it. I think some of Malcolm’s message is maybe a bit harsh. The image that says, ‘don’t follow your heart’…well, I disagree. I’d tweak that statement and say, be smart about following your heart.

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I’m an optimist, but also a realist. However, I’m not a pessimist. I do believe that in the grand scheme of life, we should ultimately follow our hearts. But I think we need the foresight and wisdom to follow in a sustainable way. Would I love to quit my day job to become a full-time wildlife and conservation photographer? You bet! In a heartbeat. That’s nothing against my job or my employer. It’s just that for me, photography is oxygen. I need it. It’s part of who I am. I can’t survive without it. But I also can’t afford to quit my day job to do it full time.  So instead, I’m trying to be smart about feeding my passion. I do it part time. I do it in my ‘spare’ time. Is it easy? Nope. Is it challenging? Yup. Does it sometimes cause unhappiness in my family? Yup. It’s hard to balance your own needs with those of your spouse and/or your kids. But bottom line is that you need to feed yourself and your family. You can’t default on your mortgage payments.

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So, my opinion about following your passion is by all means, do it! If you don’t, you may regret it. Just find a way to do it that won’t lead you to future of grief. You have a responsibility to yourself and to your family (if you have a spouse and/or kids). But with the internet, there are a ton of ways you can get your photographs ‘out there’. Is it easy? Nope. Does it require a LOT of work? Yup. But that doesn’t mean you don’t do it. You just work your butt off to pursue the things that make you tick. You find a way to make it work. You might not have the fanciest most high tech dSLR. You might not have all the lenses you want. Just find a way to make it work for you. Build your equipment up slowly. Buy good used equipment. That’s what I did initially.There are a number of ways to be smart, creative, and successfully follow your dream. You just might find that you aren’t following that dream the way you thought you would. But that doesn’t make it less wonderful than your grand plan. It just makes it feasible and realistic.

I encourage you to read Malcolm’s article, especially if you’re just starting out in photography or if you’re young and trying to work out your career path. Whatever you do, don’t give up on your passion. Just be smart about how you pursue it. Be a realist. Read Malcolm’s article.

And then draft your plan to pursue your passion…

Shoot for the moon!

Shoot for the moon!

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Filed under Digital Photography, Dreams, learning, lessons learned, Life's short...., nature photography, Opinion, Philosophy, photography, Rant, small business, tecnhology, Vision

Scenic mountains and the drunken forest

During my recent whirlwind tour to the Yukon, my friend and I drove down Hwy 2, from Carcross in the Yukon, into British Columbia and nearly to Skagway, Alaska. Because I didn’t have my passport on me, we couldn’t cross the border, but we were allowed to drive along Hwy 2 just up to the border. What an absolutely spectacular bit of scenery along that road. If there’s one place to put on your Bucket List, that’s it. Well actually, all of the Yukon (and probably Alaska) should go on that Bucket List. But certainly that stretch of road between Carcross and Skagway should be near the top of the list. Truly spectacular.

Here’s a portion of a map showing Hwy 2. It’s not all that far from Whitehorse.

A map showing Hwy 2 between Carcross in the Yukon and Skagway, Alaska.

The scenery along this road is truly nothing short of stunning. It helped that the sun was out (the only sun we saw in 2 days), but there were hazy clouds in the background, adding a bit of mood to the landscape. It was definitely one of those landscapes that makes you stand there with your mouth gaping open, thinking nothing but, “Wow…..”.

The view from the roadside near Skagway, Alaska.

The forest cover at this altitude is spotty. It’s a harsh environment with high winds, snow, blowing ice crystals that damage young buds. And I imagine that avalanches, small and large, are frequent here. I use my 600mm lens quite a lot for landscape photography. The image below, which I call the Drunken Forest, was taken with the 600mm. It looks like this sparse tract of forest has been the recipient of high winds and avalanches, which have pushed trees, causing them to grow at odd angles. To me, it looks like some of these trees have had a bit too much to drink! 🙂

The Drunken Forest

The rounded foothills were covered with many snowmobile tracks. I imagine this is snowmobilers heaven! I was actually amazed by the steepness of some of the slopes that these snowmobilers had been up. I guess they make it an extreme sport here. I can see why people are attracted to this area to play. The slopes, the scenery… There’s even a pull-off at the side of the road where you are allowed to camp. One group had a few campers set up and clearly had settled in for a few days of camping and snowmobiling.

The foothills - snowmobilers paradise!

Every time I see majestic mountains like this, I get the urge to climb them. I’m not a mountaineer, so it’s not going to happen anytime soon. But it’s a bit of a throwback from the months I worked high atop the Colorado Rocky Mountains, studying the biology of and radio-tracking White-tailed Ptarmigan at the top of Mount Evans. We hiked the mountain tops around 14,000 feet altitude and due to the more rounded tops of the Colorado Rockies, we could hike to the top of many of the peaks. And so now, every time I see a majestic mountain peak, I get the urge to want to hike to the top of it. These peaks are just so enticing.

Enticing mountain peaks. Don't you just want to climb these?

My trip to the Yukon and surrounding area was very brief. But it was long enough for me to fall in love with the area. I want to go back. In fact, I want to spend several months up there, with my hiking boots on and my camera in hand. The five months I worked in the Colorado Rockies studying birds, I completely wore out one pair of brand new Italian hiking boots. I would just love to wear out a pair of boots in the Yukon. It’s on my Bucket List….

Be sure to tune back in here for more Yukon photos and adventures….

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Filed under Dreams, Landscape, Life's short....

Inspiration

This post doesn’t have any photos. It doesn’t need any. I know… you’re saying, “but wait, this is a photography blog – come on, where are the photos?”

Photography isn’t just about the images we make – the final product that hangs on a wall or gets printed in a magazine. It’s as much about where those images come from – what inside us has inspired us to make those images. Inspiration is fundamental to the creative process. It’s what makes us do what we do. It’s about the things that move us to express ourselves in our creative medium.

Some of the photography blogs I’ve been reading lately have posted about how to achieve your dream of being a photographer. Making a living at photography isn’t easy. Thanks to the digital revolution, there are tons of photographers out there and so the whole field has become orders of magnitude more competitive than it was. Many people balk at the idea of giving up a good job to do the thing they love – photography – the thing they’ve dreamed about for years, but for a variety of reasons, seems too risky to pursue.

About a month ago David duChemin posted something on his blog that really struck me. He echoed my feelings exactly – that you have to have the courage to live your dreams. Life is short. You can’t sit back and wait for your dreams to happen, or pine away for unrealized dreams. Make them happen. Get busy. Take risks!

I feel incredibly, unbelievably lucky in that I have realized many of my dreams. As a kid I was a dreamer. I’d ignore math lessons so I could gaze out the window and dream of all the things I wanted to do with my life. I spent a huge part of my childhood dreaming. I wasn’t your ‘normal’ kid. I didn’t swoon over Shaun Cassidy and Parker Stevenson, some of the heart throbs of my childhood days. Nope, instead I dreamed of other things – things that wouldn’t even be on the radar screen of any little girl.

I came across something lately that affected me very deeply, in a number of ways. I literally just tripped over it, unaware of the impact it would have on me. It reminded me of my childhood, filled with dreaming. It reminded me of the incredible adventures I’ve had during my life.  And it reminded me of the most important teacher, role model, mentor and friend in my life. The most incredible person I have ever known – my Mum. She taught me, by example, how to life a good life. She passed away last November, after a heartbreaking 15 month illness. I’m still struggling with coming to terms with that huge, huge loss. I’m still heartbroken. And I guess it’s made me very introspective lately. That’s why, when I tripped over this thing recently, it really struck me to my core. A quote from this thing I tripped over really resonated with me. It reminded me of my Mum. It reminded me of my own life. And it reminded me that we should not be afraid to dream and to work hard to achieve those dreams. Achieving those dreams involves risks.  But without that hard work and willingness to take risks, those dreams may very well sit on the shelf, unfulfilled. Here’s the quote that resonated with me so deeply –

“It’s not about how to achieve your dreams. It’s about how you live your life. If you lead your life the right way, karma will take care of itself. The dreams will come to you.”

Wow…. if you lead your life the right way, the dreams will come to you.  I wish I’d come up with those words myself.

Those words came from Randy Pausch.  I’m sure many of you know Randy Pauch’s story. I didn’t. I was living in New Zealand at the time and for whatever reason, I didn’t hear about it. If you don’t know his story – Randy Pausch was an engineering and computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University. The university had a tradition that at the end of the school year, one of its faculty would give a talk for their special lecture called, The Last Lecture. The idea behind the Last Lecture is if you knew you were dying and this was your last lecture – your last chance to say something important, what would you say. The irony here is that in fact, Randy Pausch was dying – of pancreatic cancer – one of the most lethal forms of cancer. He passed away at the very young age of 47.  My aunt passed away from pancreatic cancer 14 years ago so Randy’s story has even more significance for me.

I could spend the rest of this post paraphrasing what Randy said and talking about the significance of his words and what he did during the last several months of his life. But I think I’ll let Randy tell his own story. You can watch his hour long talk, The Last Lecture, on Youtube at:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ji5_MqicxSo

I would highly, highly recommend that you watch it. It’s profound. It’s fun. And it’s inspirational.  There is nothing I could say that would add anything to Randy’s message. Just watch it. And think about how you live your life. What dreams you have achieved. What dreams remain unfulfilled and what you are going to do about it. And more importantly, how you want to live the rest of your life.

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Filed under Dreams, Life's short...., Opinion, Philosophy

I just wanna be me….

Ok, so I promised myself no more ‘binge posting’. No more posting 5 times a week and then nothing for a month. But rules, like the rule of thirds in photography, are meant to be broken as long as you break them well. So, I’m breaking my own rule about only one post per week…. because I just have to.

My reason for breaking my own (newly legislated) rule is inspiration. You know – you just read or saw something and it got the thoughts and creative juices going and so now you just HAVE to say something or you’ll burst! It’s like being in grade school and the teacher asks a question and it’s one of the few that you know the answer to and so you’re just bouncing up and down in your chair, shoving your hand in the air thinking, “pick me, pick me!” It’s that kind of ‘I’ve just gotta share’ moments.

Where was I? Oh yes, back to inspiration. I follow David du Chemin’s blog. If you don’t know David, you should. He’s an incredible photographer. Check out his photo website. Has made a career out of humanitarian photography. Quoting from his blog, here’s how he describes himself: “David  duChemin is a world & humanitarian photographer, best-selling author, and international workshop leader. David uses his powers for good and not for evil.” How can you not love a photographer who describes himself as one who uses his powers for good and not evil? Ok, I’m digressing… Back to my point. Not only is David a fantastic photographer, he is also deeply passionate and philosophical about his photography – two thing I admire and that are extremely important to me – so David’s perspectives often resonate with me…. sometimes to the point where I buzz… like today.

David’s blog post today is short and sweet and hits me to my core. It tweaks a nerve in me. In a good way, though. He’s posted on a topic that (as I posted on his blog today) I have a real ‘bee in my bonnet’ about. It’s about originality. ORIGINALITY. His point is that “There is much talk in artsy circles about being “original”.” As he says, what exactly does ‘being original’ mean anyway? And why should we be so hung up on it? Don’t sweat it so much. Just do what you do. I love his statement, “If you aim for originality you may produce work that is indeed original. It’ll be unlike anything else, including you.” Well said, bro!

So why does David’s post today make me buzz? Because it’s something I feel so strongly about, myself. I think pressure to be ‘original’ is nothing but belly-button lint. Fluff. You know, like the stuff you’re supposed to clean out of your dryer filter once a week and don’t. It’s soft and lacks substance. I hear it all the time and I’m SO sick of hearing it. Why? Because firstly, it’s an exercise in futility, in my opinion. Secondly, it puts undue pressure on photographers, particularly new photographers who are just starting out and are just starting to develop their vision. I think it can derail people by driving them off into a fruitless pursuit. What is a fruitful pursuit is finding your own vision and style – something that will drive your photographic passion and help your photography evolve. I’ve been doing photography long enough that I have confidence in what I do. Am I saying my images are so great that they should be hanging on every wall in the country? Absolutely not! What I’m saying is that I have confidence in my photography and I shoot what makes me happy. I shoot what makes me buzz. I shoot what gives me that ‘high’ when I’m looking through the viewfinder. And I feel very, very strongly that, that is all you should be striving for – making the very best photos you can (technically) and shooting what your heart tells you to shoot. The rest will fall into place after that. If you shoot to please someone else, it will soon turn into nothing but soul-sucking drudgery.

I remember when I joined my first camera club in New Zealand. It was great. Being with like-minded people once a week. Folks passionate about photography. The club has a lot of competitions and I was encouraged to submit images for competitions because I was told it’s a great way to get feedback and consequently, to improve your photography. And they were right! I did compete. And I did improve. Immensely. I started to get acceptances and then, some honours. As these accolades started to accumulate, I caught even more of a ‘bug’ for competing. And then I took some photography courses, including  one of Freeman Patterson’s workshops. And I really started to develop my own vision. My own ‘feel’ for the kinds of images that I really loved making. Freeman’s course forced me outside my comfort zone. Excellent! Just what I needed. So I started shooting more of those images – the ones that made me buzz. I had a blast! I was on cloud 9. And then I started entering them in competitions. No honours. Huh? The acceptances started to dwindle. Eh? And my confidence started to dwindle too. But then I had a long, hard look at my images as well as the ones getting honours in our club competitions. And it finally clicked. The images getting honours (at least back then) seemed to conform to a certain style. Sure, technically they were very good. And some of them made me go, “WOW!”. But a lot of them made me shrug my shoulders and think, “enh….”.  Let’s be clear here. I am not criticizing my colleagues images or their approach to making images. Not at all! There are a lot of talented people in that club. What I’m saying here is that I broke out of the mold and did what made me happy.  I had a choice. Either shoot the stuff that tickled my brain or shoot the stuff that the judges liked. I chose the former, not the latter. I chose to be true to myself. I chose to do what I loved to do, rather than get more paper certificates to stuff in my drawer. And looking back, it was one of the best decisions I ever made.

So what does this have to do with originality? I think sometimes we get so hung up on pleasing other people or trying to fit into the latest fad or buzz word that we forget why we make images. In my opinion (ya, I know… who asked. Aren’t blogs great? ;o) ) the originality is already there! As I mentioned in my post (aka rant) on David’s blog… each of us is unique – our DNA, our personalities, our experiences and our perspectives on life. Why do we need to TRY to be original? We already are!

The key to ‘originality’ is to just do what comes naturally to you. Make the images that tickle your brain. As you shoot  and accumulate more and more experience under your belt, you will start to see your ‘style’ develop. The hallmark of an experienced and confident photographer is that their ‘style’ emerges. People can look at your image and say, “Hey, that must be a Shelley Ball image – sure looks like one of hers” (by the way, I’m still working on that, but I’m getting there). When you’ve achieved this, you know you were being true to yourself the whole time- shooting what makes you tick. Will your style always be the same? Nope, not entirely. Style is fluid, dynamic, not static. You’re interests will shift. But there will still be core elements that stay with your photography throughout your life. And so it should be – the ebb and flow of interests, foci, experiences, moods, philosophy, periods of your life….. they are all reflected in your photography, whether or not you are aware of it.

One of the arguments that I’ve heard, in favour of ‘originality’ is that, well, in the super saturated and competitive photography environment that we have today, you need to make yourself stand out. You have to be original. Otherwise you’re just like the other 1,297,301 photographers around the globe and nobody will buy your prints for their wall or hire you to shoot commercial work or portraits or whatever and you’ll starve and you’ll send up working at a place that has you saying, “would you like fries with that?”. My response… BULL!  Shoot was you love, fuel your passion and you will find a way to make it work, to make a living at it, if that’s what you want. As I said earlier, if you’re so concerned about bringing in dollars that you’re willing to sell your soul to the devil and do nothing but shoot in a style that someone else wants or… if you’re so bent on finding your ‘originality’ that you’re forcing it and making images that are not what you want to make, then you will be stuck in a hollow, soul-sucking endeavor. Take your pick.  Shoot what you love to shoot and find a way to make it work or force yourself to be someone you’re not. I know which one I’m sticking with! It’s a bit like that movie, Field of Dreams – “if you build it, they will come”. I think photography is the same. Do what you love, shoot images that come from the heart. Be true to your inner vision, and the successes will follow. That doesn’t mean you become a couch potato and wait for success to fall into your lap. Nooooo…. you work your butt off! But you stay true to yourself. And as your style develops you will find a way to set yourself apart from the hordes of other photographers, not in shooting the way clients want, but in the way you market your images and your style. There’s a big difference between gearing your photography business toward a niche market or marketing yourself in a way that stands out vs. forcing your images to be ‘original’.

Ok, I’ll end my rant. Enough said. But I feel a whole lot better now that I got that out! Wew! There aren’t a huge number of things that  ‘get my goat’, but the ‘originality’ thing definitely does. And I hate the effects it can have on inexperienced and emerging photographers. I think it can totally derail their path to success and happiness.

Life’s short. Do what you love to do. Do what feeds your soul. You’ll never regret it!

Here are a few of my images that I think define my my style. My style is still evolving, but I enjoy what I do and I’m always challenging myself and pushing myself in a forward direction.

 

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Filed under Life's short...., Opinion, Philosophy, Rant, Vision