Category Archives: Vision

Wildphotomag – my image portfolio and interview

Recently, I was very kindly invited by Andre of wildphotomag to be interviewed and to submit a portfolio of images for his wonderful online nature and wildlife magazine. If you haven’t seen wildphotomag, check it out. There are fantastic articles and images in there, by a lot of talented photographers.

The May issue is out and my portfolio is in there. Have a look and let me know what you think.


Not only was it nice to be able to have a selection of my images in the magazine, but it was great to be able to share some of my thoughts about photography. I am truly passionate about conservation photography. I think it’s an amazing tool for creating awareness and understanding of conservation and environmental issues and hopefully, for fostering concern and caring for our planet and all of its species.

Wildphotomag is loaded with great articles. Check out this month’s issue. You won’t be disappointed.



Leave a comment

Filed under conservation, Conservation & Environment, Creative Photography, Digital Photography, Featured Wildlife Photographer, Nature, nature photography, Opinion, photography, Vision, wildlife, Wildlife Photography

What’s on the web for photographers? Part I

I recently received a really nice comment from a follower, who said:

Greetings! This is my first comment here so I just wanted
to give a quick shout out and tell you I truly enjoy reading through your articles.
Can you recommend any other blogs/websites/forums that cover the same subjects?

This follower’s comment made the think of the photography resources I follow on the internet. There’s a ton of stuff out there and for me, the key is to limit my regular ‘surfing’ to the things I get the most out of or enjoy the most. I wish I had more time because the internet is packed with fabulous resources for photographers. But reality means I only have so much time in a given week to surf for all things photographic. And so, as an answer to my wonderful followers question, I’ve decided to list the top 15 websites, blogs and other resources I follow.

There are lots of others that I follow, some not-so-regularly, but I’m going to limit this to 15 sites – a three part series with 5 sites listed in each post.  This way, you won’t have a honking big blog post to read and you’ll have a chance to visit each of the 5 sites and have a look before the next ones come out. And I’ve tried to keep the descriptions really short and just highlight some of the things I like about the site. The best thing is for you to click on the links and see them for yourselves.

So I hope this helps my kind follower and provides him/her with some great resources to check out. And for everyone else reading this post, maybe some of these will be new to you and offer some great new things to follow.

In no particular order, here are  5 photography websites that I tune in to regularly:

1. Jim Bradenburg’s website and blog

One of my all-time favourite photographers is Jim Brandenburg. He’s been around for a long time, makes incredible images, and has such a connection and passion for nature that I can’t help but like him. His images are stunning. Many of them stir the soul and communicate the deep love of nature that he feels.

Check out Jim’s website. His gallery is full of soul-stirring, inspiring images. You’ll also see Jim’s passion for conservation – he has his own charitable foundation for the preservation of native prairie habitat in southwest Minnesota.

Jim Brandenburg's website

Jim Brandenburg’s website

Jim also has a blog. He doesn’t post frequently, but what he does post is fun reading. I especially liked his posts about the new Nikon D800 camera that Nikon asked him to review prior to its release.  I did my own blog posts on his review, which you can find by clicking HERE.

Check out Jim’s blog:

Brandenburg blog

I can’t let this opportunity pass without mentioning Jim’s iPad app. Definitely check it out! I have it and love it. It’s inspired me to make my own app (it’s in the works…). Click HERE to read my review of Chased By The Light.

2. Art Wolfe’s blog

Here is another master. Like Jim Brandenburg, he’s been around for a long time, but this is why he’s a master at what he does. Art’s images are nothing short of stunning. I love tuning into his blog because it’s always packed with images – some from his adventures, some from the workshops he teaches. He also announces photography contests, print sales and a host of other things.

Check out his blog by clicking on the thumbnail below…

Art Wolfe_blog

He also has some short instructional videos in his archive that are definitely worth watching…

Art Wolfe_instruct video


3. Photo News

If you haven’t seen this magazine, you definitely need to take a look! It’s a Canadian photography magazine – packed with tons of great info such as gear reviews, latest news in the photo world, photo tutorials,  and a some online photo challenges where you can submit images.  I just like this as a good, all-rounds newsy photo mag. You can subscribe to the magazine for FREE. To subscribe to the online version (saves on trees), all you need to do is type in your email address. Highly recommend you bookmark this site and sign up for the free online version of the magazine. Click HERE to visit the PhotoNews website.

Shell's List_PhotoNews


4. National Geographic Photography website

I almost feel like I don’t even need to write anything about this – NG speaks for itself. What I will say is that their site is more than  a collection of stunning photos – candy for the brain!  I love the video tutorials they have on their site. They are free and offer some great information from the masters themselves. I could easily spend have a day perusing NG’s photo site…..Click HERE to visit the NG Photo website.

Shell's List_NG Photography

5. Outdoor Photographer blog

Outdoor Photographer magazine has a great blog that I tune into. The blog posts are written by well-known photogs who know their craft well –  folks like Jay Goodrich, Ian Plant, Jon Cornforth, and Michael Clark. Some of the posts are instructional ones describing a certain technique such as sharpening your images in Photoshop, others are about a photo shoot  at a specific location, while in other posts, they present an image and talk about what they did to make that shot. Their blog posts are short and sweet and well worth tuning into. Click HERE to visit OP’s blog.

Shell's List_OP Blog



TO BE CONTINUED……  the next 5 are coming soon!


Filed under Creative Photography, Digital Photography, equipment, Featured Wildlife Photographer, learning, Nature, nature photography, Opinion, photography, technique, technology, Vision, Wildlife Photography

Earth & Light Digital Media for photographers

Earth & Light is a fabulous new website dedicated to selling digital media resources for photographers. The site has just been launched by acclaimed nature and travel photographer and writer, Richard Bernabe.

Earth & Light has only just been launched but already has 9 photography e-books for sale, with tons more coming!

Some of the e-books at Earth & Light Digital Media

Some of the e-books at Earth & Light Digital Media


Book topics range from lighting, composition and other instructional books…

Richard Bernabe's book on composition

Richard Bernabe’s book on composition


Ian Plant's book on great lighting for landscape photography

Ian Plant’s book on great lighting for landscape photography



… to those focused on specific subjects, such as my flower photography book and Justin Reznick’s book on photographing waterfalls and streams.

My fine art flower photography e-book

My fine art flower photography e-book


Justin Reznick's book on photography waterfalls and streams

Justin Reznick’s book on photography waterfalls and streams



There are also books focused on specific locations, such as Richard Bernabe’s books about Iceland, the Great Smokey Mountains, and South Carolina.

Richard Bernabe's book on Iceland

Richard Bernabe’s book on Iceland


All books are very well-priced at under $10 U.S. and are great value for the money.

Earth & Light isn’t just about photography e-books, it’s about a variety of digital media resources for photographers. The site has only just been launched, but coming soon are apps, videos, screen savers and tutorials. So check back frequently because a lot of fantastic new products will be added!


Earth & Light-1


I’ll be posting regular updates on the latest additions for sale on the website so check back here regularly. You can also keep on top of what’s new at Earth & Light by tuning in to Richard Bernabe’ blog.


We hope you’ll stop by Earth & Light for a look. It’s a great one-stop-shop for digital media resources for photographers.

Leave a comment

Filed under Creative Photography, Digital Photography, equipment, Flowers, Landscape, learning, Macro photography, Nature, nature photography, Opinion, photography, technique, Vision

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


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.


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.


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.


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!


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

NEW e-book for sale – Flowers: fine art photography techniques and tips

I’m happy to announce that my new e-book on fine art flower photography is now for sale. You can purchase it from Photo44 Press on my website, 44th Parallel Photography.

 Flowers is a 109 page full colour e-book available as a downloadable pdf file for only $8.95 CDN.

What’s the book about?

This book is all about teaching you how to make your own beautiful fine art photos of flowers.  It will open up a whole new world of image-making to many photographers, new and advanced. You’ll learn about key aspects of making great flower images (e.g. depth of field, focus, lighting etc). But this book is about far more than just  technical aspects of producing great flower photos. It’s all about illustrating creative approaches and providing inspiration, about getting you outside your comfort zone to broaden your photography. It’s about learning new ways of seeing, developing a photographic vision, and enhancing and honing your creative skills to make stunning fine art flower images.

I love to teach and I truly believe that people learn best by doing and by seeing concrete examples. So not only have I provided detailed descriptions of techniques for you to practice and master, but I’ve also provided loads of examples of how I have used these techniques and creative approaches myself, to achieve specific results. Each image in the book has a description of how the image was made, so that you can see exactly how certain techniques and approaches yield specific results. For some images, I explain my thinking behind the image-making process and what led me to achieve the final result. Understanding why a certain approach is used is just as important as understanding  how it is used. With this book, you’ll learn both.

What’s in the book?

I cover the following topics:

  • Flower portraiture

  • Depth of field

  • Lighting

  • Selective focus

  • Composition

  • Indoors vs. outdoors

  • Macrophotography

  • Image processing

  • Equipment

  • And…. a large section on creative photography techniques, including multiple exposure, panning, zooming, image overlay, Lensbaby and a whole lot more!

What does the book look like?

Flowers: fine art photography techniques and tips is a 109 page full colour pdf e-book that you purchase as a downloadable file. You can view it on any device – desktop or laptop computer, iPad, Android tablet, or even your smartphone.

The book is brimming with vibrant, colour images illustrating each technique and creative approach.

Here are some sample pages….

For more page samples, click HERE.

To purchase Flowers: fine art photography techniques and tips, click HERE.

Leave a comment

Filed under Abstracts, Creative Photography, Digital Photography, equipment, Flowers, learning, Macro photography, Nature, nature photography, Photo-impressionism, photography, plants, technique, Vision, Wildflowers

A New E-book, Flowers: fine art photography techniques and tips

This month, my new e-book, Flowers: fine art photography techniques and tips will be on sale through the 44th Parallel Photography website. Over 100 pages of photos, descriptions of techniques, examples, and inspiration to help you make beautiful flower images.

I’ll be posting an announcement in the next few weeks on how to purchase the e-book online.


Filed under Creative Photography, Digital Photography, equipment, Flowers, learning, Macro photography, Nature, nature photography, Photo-impressionism, photography, plants, technique, technology, Vision, Wildflowers

Creativity, Critiquing, and Clients: is beauty only in the eye of the beholder?

With a title like this, you know this post is going to be a ‘dog’s breakfast’ (as they say in New Zealand). And yes, in one sense, it is. But seriously, there is a coherent point to this post. And an important one too.

I thought I’d write about a recent experience I had. This experience was not a good one. It actually left me feeling disappointed and deflated. However, the positive side of it is that I was reminded of some very important lessons. And hopefully so was my colleague, the other character in this story.

There are three main points I want to hit home here, based on this recent series of events. I’ll elaborate on each of them below. And I’m going to apologize in advance because I know I may sound preachy here. That’s not my intent. I just want to share something important with you, so bear with me.

1. As photographers, we are artists. We have the freedom to create and our creations are inspired by what we see and feel, not what someone else dictates.

2. Although our images are the result of our creative processes and what we see and feel, we can all benefit from receiving constructive feedback on our images now and again.

3. All communication should be respectful. How you say something is as important as what you say.

You might be thinking, what the heck do these three things have to do with each other? Read on…

As photographers, we are artists. We have the freedom to create. Our creations are inspired by what we see and feel, not what someone else dictates. Nobody should be telling us what we see and feel and therefore, what we should create or how to create it. These things – the things that drive our creativity – come from within us. We shouldn’t be making fine art images simply to please someone else. Sure, it’s different if you’re shooting stock or commercial images, where you’ve agreed to produce something specific that a client wants. But for fine art images, our creations should be our own, not someone else’s.

Although our images are the result of our own creative processes, we can all benefit from receiving constructive feedback on our images now and again.The heart of this point has to do with the emotional connection we have to our images and whether or not we succeed in communicating this emotion. Sometimes we think an image we have made is really good, but for whatever reasons, it isn’t actually as appealing to other people as it is to us. That’s often because we still associate the emotion of the moment – the moment we made the image and the reason that inspired us to take the photo – with the image today. It’s like we have an emotional hangover with the image. This is where having someone you respect and trust to critique your image can be helpful. Have them tell you, in their opinion, what the good things are about your image, what the not-so-good things about it are, and most importantly, how you might consider doing things differently next time to improve the image, if they feel it needs improving. But ultimately, it’s up to you what you do with this information. You may agree with it or not. Or agree with parts of it. Don’t be defensive or arrogant. Take the comments on board. Consider them carefully. But… ultimately, the decision of what you do with those comments is up to you. It’s your creation.

A key point here is that criticism – the feedback we asked for – has to be constructive and it has to be delivered in a positive way. Hollow opinions such as, ‘this stinks’ or ‘it’s terrible’ or ‘I don’t like it’ or ‘…any magazine, art buyer, or art collector wouldn’t touch it!’ are not helpful. If that’s the kind of feedback you’re going to dole out, don’t bother! It’s useless and offensive. Think of how you would feel if that’s the feedback you received about one of your images from someone you respected and trusted!

All communication should be respectful. How you say something is as important as what you say. It doesn’t matter who you are speaking to or what the topic is that you’re discussing, ALL communication needs to be respectful. This is absolutely critical when you are critiquing a colleague’s image or in fact, in any kind of communication you have with your photographer colleagues, clients, prospective clients, or anyone, for that matter. If you are commenting on a colleague’s image and don’t deliver your feedback in a constructive and polite way, you will very quickly lose your credibility. They won’t bother to ask you for your opinion again because they don’t value it.

You might be thinking wow, don’t be so thin skinned. I’m not. Working in academia for 20+ years has helped me develop crocodile hide! But to be honest, I don’t really think there is such a thing as being thin skinned. If someone is offend by what you said to them or how you said it, then you are the problem, not them. You need to regroup and try again. Be sensitive to the person’s feelings. Delivery is everything.

I know I’m sounding preachy here; I don’t mean to. The reason why I mention these things is because I hope that these points serve as reminders to us all, of how we should conduct ourselves – treating our clients, our colleagues, our friends and our loved ones with the utmost respect that they deserve.

Maybe you’re thinking ya, I know all this stuff. But I think it’s worth reminding ourselves of these points now and again. Yes, even the ‘seasoned pros’ need to be reminded. Why? Because recently, a photographer colleague of mine provided feedback on some of my images. This is something I value very much because it helps me take a step back from my images (remove the emotional hangover), provides a different perspective and helps me to grow as a photographer.  In this case, I had been discussing with my colleague, my possible enrollment in his photography mentoring programme. Part of the programme involved image critiquing. Great! But sadly, I quickly discovered that the feedback I was getting consisted only of very negative opinions with absolutely nothing constructive contained in them. Frankly, some of the comments were downright offensive. And he treated me as though I’d only picked up a camera for the first time last week even though he knows that’s not the case. I think he really wanted my money, but his ‘overselling’ backfired. His comments were incredibly condescending. I mentioned this to him in a very carefully and politely worded email because I didn’t think he would want to be perceived in such a negative way and I figured he didn’t realize what he was doing. But all I got back was a very offensive and blunt email saying essentially, that I don’t have time to read your email; you are not my client and unless you pay me for my time, I have nothing more to say to you. Wow! I was stunned! I completely understand that paying clients have to be the priority – you have a contract with them and products to deliver on time. However, once those contracts have been fulfilled, you’ll need some new clients too. I just cannot fathom why someone would be so rude to a potential client (who was also a colleague and friend). He had been courting me as a client, but the moment I told him I was going to delay my enrollment in his programme for a while, I was not only dropped like a hot potato, but he was asking me to pay him to justify his earlier comments. That’s not the way to treat a potential client, a colleague, and a friend.

I don’t think I have to tell you that this is most definitely not the way to run a successful  business. And this was coming from a photographer who had been in business for over 15 years! Needless to say, due to a string of highly unpleasant and frankly, arrogant comments he made to me, I decide that I would not be his client. By this point he had nothing useful to offer me – no useful feedback on my images, no useful advice on how to treat prospective clients, and no useful advice on how to run a small business. His credibility was gone. I’m saddened by this. I don’t know what would compel someone who I think is ultimately a good person, to behave so badly. Everyone makes mistakes and one poorly worded email can be forgiven. But several downright offensive communications are over the top.

On one level, this whole situation still bothers me. But as with all bad things, good things can come of it. Learn the lessons and move on. I was reminded of how vitally important it is to treat people with respect and how ugly the consequences of not doing so can be. It can take many years to build a good reputation, but only one day to destroy it. Bad behaviour will catch up with you – eventually. And when you’re trying to make a living from your own small business, this can be disastrous.

I won’t forget the lessons I was reminded of with this situation. Arrogance isn’t pretty, nor does it ever result in anything good. Be honest, but be respectful. Treat people well and they will treat you well in return. I won’t forget this.

My attempt at a moody winter landscape. The clouds were so thick, blocking out all but that glowing sun in the sky, it felt like I was experiencing an eclipse! I tried to capture this mood. Was I successful or not? (copyright Shelley L. Ball)


Filed under lessons learned, Opinion, Philosophy, respect, small business, Vision

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.



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