About a month after Calista was born, in 2011, you stood at Best Buy, sweating over the fact that you were ready to spend $500 on a camera that you had no idea how to use. Until then you had never used anything but a point and shoot, and that hadn’t been replaced in 7 years. I laugh as I imagine the sales guy rolling his eyes at this lady who paced the aisle, fretting over what seemed like a monumental investment. He explained what ISO was and you were floored that a camera could take a picture in the dark, without flash. It was earth-shattering!
Here you are, two years later, and I think it’s safe to say you’ve learned a fair amount, especially considering that you didn’t even know what shutter speed was. You’ve spent countless hours up to this point studying, taking classes, and attending conferences. Discovering this new passion has changed you. It really has. You’ve discovered the magic of light and the subtle contours of a face. You’ve never looked at a sunset or the laughing face of a child the same again. It’s like a veil has been lifted and you suddenly see beauty all around that you had never seen before. You still have a long way to go though, and no one knows that better than you do. I hope someday you’ll learn to not be so hard on yourself.
I imagine in five years from now, you’ll have learned a great deal more. I imagine you’ll have purchased some fancy shmancy, top-the-line camera along with an arsenal of new lenses and gadgets. I hope your image quality and artistic eye will have drastically improved, and hopefully you’ll be pursuing your true niche in photography. You know... the stuff that makes your heart soar and the endorphins flow when you work on it.
But it pains and frightens me to think of you becoming another game piece in this super-saturated and at times vicious industry. I’ve seen it happen to the best of people.
If you’re tempted to sneer at a rookie photographer who shows up with a cheap or out-dated camera, I want you to remember what it was like for you in the months just after you bought your camera, when you were just starting to get your feet wet. I want you to remember how humiliating it was to call a photographer and ask for help on a simple technical question, only to be ignored or treated like an annoying child. I want you to remember what it was like to cry into your pillow at night because of something hurtful someone said about your pictures or lack of experience. I want you to remember how terrified you were before every photo shoot, and how you prayed silently the whole time you were shooting, that you wouldn’t screw it up too badly. And then how devastated you were when you did. As painful as it was, I want you to remember… all of it. And as vividly as possible.
If a client cannot afford you or books with a cheaper photographer, for heaven’s sake don’t assume (or tell them!) that they don’t value memories, art, or their family, like you hear some photographers say. In the end, a picture is just that- a picture. People shouldn’t have to cancel their summer vacation or forgo buying their children school clothes to afford you. Think back on the days when Camden was a baby and you took him to JCPenney to have his portraits done. You paid $3.99 per sheet with no sitting fee. Are they less valuable than the pictures you take now with your new-found knowledge and fancy shmancy camera? Of course not. Think of the blurry, washed out pictures of your parents when they were children. They are worth more than all the gold in the world to you, and I guarantee there wasn’t a Canon 5D Mark III in sight when they were taken.
If you become successful, get over yourself. You are taking pictures, not curing cancer. The knowledge you’ve acquired, while time-consuming and hard-earned, is not rocket science. Encourage and empower new photographers by offering your knowledge as freely as possible. Withholding encouragement and knowledge does not elevate you into a better photographer, it only isolates you and embitters others. But value your time. Remember that your time is not only yours, it is also your husband's and your children's. When you give your time away, you give away theirs as well.
I hope you’ll never feel as though “you’ve arrived.” I hope you always feel the yearning to improve, but I sure hope you’ll have grown thicker skin by now. But not too much. Your sensitivity (as I write this, you call it wussiness) is part of what makes you you. But I hope you’ll have learned to take criticism better, and not so personally. Your hobbies and talents do not define you, or at least they shouldn’t. If you fail in photography, you are still you. Your value as a mother, a wife, a daughter, sister, and friend, are not diminished. And ultimately, that’s what’s the most important. I’ve never seen a headstone that read, “Beloved photographer.” Perhaps you should remember to read the captions on headstones more often because they remind us what really matters in the end.
So I guess what I’m trying to say is keep moving forward, but keep an eye peeled on lessons learned in the past. Remember what it was like to be where I am now.