I was never supposed to be a photographer.
You see, I’m a word gal. Always have been. I knew from the age of 6 that I wanted to be a writer, and more specifically, a journalist – and I worked very hard to achieve that goal, eventually holding two of the most coveted jobs in journalism – restaurant critic and travel editor.
Along the way, though, things changed. The world changed. Instead of being required to just write about the things I covered, increasingly I was asked to start posting on social media, and start blogging, and start taking my own photographs for everything.
I’m not going to lie: I was terrified.
The world of newspapers is a little like the world of restaurants. In most eateries, there’s a separation between the front of the house and the back of the house; the chefs and the service staff. Two completely different skill sets. And for most of the history of journalism, it’s been the same with editorial and photography – sure, you might have some people with some talent in the other discipline, but for the most part, each considered itself the expert in that field.
I don’t have a natural eye for capturing anything visual – in fact, everything I’ve learned about dressing myself came from my daughters.
But I knew that if I was going to keep moving forward in my career, I was going to have to add photography to my tool box, and I was going to have to be good enough at it to get it to pay for itself.
The Ultimate Photography Workshop in Tanzania was a revelation. Even though I had taken some classes in Denver and asked for feedback from photographers and page designers whom I worked with at the Denver Post, it wasn’t until the workshop this past January that I truly began to understand what I needed to do to become a successful photographer.
The really good news is, not only are my photos better – in fact, one I took recently appeared as the main art for a story I wrote on Saskatchewan for the Post — but I also have had my first sales in stock photography, something that five years ago, I never even would have dreamed of pursuing.
Here are the four things I did that you can do, too, to keep moving toward realizing your dreams:
1. Just jump in
The first time I was told that I had to take my own photos for my travel stories, my heart dropped into my stomach. But the bottom line was that I needed to make it happen.
So, I followed the rule of taking as many photos as possible to ensure that at least a few of them would be usable. In fact, I took more than 3,000 photos! And I got lucky that some of them were indeed decent enough to appear in the newspaper.
I listened to the feedback that the paper’s photo editors offered to help me get better, and slowly, I improved. But I never would have gotten there if I hadn’t just gone for it.
2. Get instruction and feedback
It took me seven months from my trip to Tanzania as a participant in Great Escape’s Ultimate Photo Workshop to this past month to get my act together and open stock photography accounts – and now I’ve sold more than two-dozen photos.
Between the advice and guidance of instructors Bonnie Caton and Daniel Nahabedian, I came to understand what I needed to look for and think about before I ever even picked up the camera.
That wisdom was invaluable in helping me to take my photography to the next level.
3. Practice everywhere
Have you seen the iPhone ads in magazines lately that depict stunning photos taken on a cell phone? Even if you don’t have a fancy, expensive camera, you can get great shots that are worthy of publication.
I’ve taken many photos of food that appeared in print and online – the truth is, a lot of times, you would need to have light meters and other gadgets on hand to get a good food shot in a dimly-lighted restaurant, and so sometimes the built-in lighting of a smartphone is even better – not to mention less disruptive to other diners.
Whatever you use, though, the important thing is to take photos everywhere you go. You never know which ones will come in handy later, and you’ll be surprised at how fast you improve.
4. Let go of and learn from the negative
That doesn’t just include any negative feedback from instructors or editors – that includes the negative stuff you have going on in your own head, things like, “I’m more of a writer, so I don’t think I can be a photographer,” or “I just don’t have the eye.”
It’s all nonsense. Even when an editor says that your photos need work, it’s important that you don’t internalize it. They’re not saying those things to make you feel badly – they’re trying to help you understand where you can improve so that they can buy your photos next time.