“Change is the only constant in life.” From the ancient philosopher, Heraclitus (often attributed to Emerson). The two spring aspen photos here are from a day of fast change to the light due to stormy weather – a day of "action" landscape photography.
The changes we have seen in the last decade for photography have been huge! Truly revolutionary and not simply evolutionary. This is much more than just digital photography, and it includes changes in book and magazine publishing, the Internet, the popularity of photography, Facebook and other social media, and I could go on a bit because these changes have been wide-ranging and pervasive. This blog will be longer than usual, but not because I am going to talk about all of these changes in detail. I am not. I am going to talk about how I am adapting to these changes to give you a little perspective on photography today and how that might affect you.
They have affected everyone who photographs, and especially pros. Newspaper and magazine photojournalists have lost jobs due to layoffs and the challenges facing the publication industry. The work there has changed dramatically, from what it is to what people are paid (and this has declined) to the jobs available (including freelance). Books are more difficult to do with major publishers and get approved by publishers’ acquisition people.
Not all things are negative, of course. Digital photography allows us to do things we could only dream of in the past, including superb image quality at high ISOs … and I am not even talking about the crazy high ISOs, but the more generally used ones such as ISO 400 and 800 that few pros would have used during the height of film. The quality of lenses has increased greatly, even at low-price points. The LCD has given everyone the chance to check their photos to be sure they got them right, then correct them on the spot if not.
But I have often heard pros complain that the nature photography business is not what it used to be. That is definitely true. Even top pros that you would immediately recognize have commonly had their incomes drop precipitously. But that is a fact of life for today and isn’t going to change. One cannot adapt to such large scale changes by pining for the old days. One can adapt only by making changes yourself.
I find it very odd and troubling to hear politicians imply that changing one’s opinion is somehow wrong and just flip-flopping. Okay, I can hear some of you saying that some politicians on both sides flip-flop their stances just to pander to voters and not because it is right for either them or the country. That is not so good. But seriously, if I learn something new that changes my mind about something, why would I not express or act on that? A lot of people who thought digital photography was a terrible threat to photography are now passionate digital photographers and to call them “flip-floppers” is insulting to them and to how people really think deal with change.
Over the past few years, I have seen a lot of changes to the work I have been doing, changes at every level of my work, changes I cannot control anymore than anyone else can. Now admittedly that can be depressing to find your life’s work isn’t working the way you had planned, but on the other hand, if you want to continue to work, you have to find out how to adapt. This certainly applies to much more than photography.
One of the things I have learned has to do with the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and how we deal with live. We all are programmed to love stories. That is so obvious when we notice how hard it can be to learn or even pay attention to long passages of information compared to hearing stories about how that information either came to be or how it is used.
This recently really hit home when I was listening to an interview of author Elizabeth Gilbert by Oprah on Super Soul Sunday (an often thought provoking show). Gilbert talked about how we all have a journey through our lives that is our story and that we need to ask ourselves, “Are you the hero of your story?”
That got me thinking about how much work I have done over the years that had little to do with my story and a lot to do with supporting others’ stories. Most freelance work for businesses is about creating work for those businesses’ stories. I did this for many years when I lived in Minnesota and before I worked for Outdoor Photographer magazine. Even working on that magazine and others was rarely about my story, though my story could influence the work.
That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. One’s story can be about being a professional photographer who helps others tell their story. In fact, if a photographer strongly believes that, then he or she is likely to have more success working professionally.
Yet, for me, I have realized that this was not enough. I also at times had been so engaged with the stories I was working on for others that I lost track of my own story and who I was.
I have realized that I often have not been the hero of my story that is important to me. Nature and photography have been key parts of that story, though there is more to it than that.
I really believe that as nature photographers, we all have a story to tell through our images that we often neglect. I know this because I have been guilty of it, too! We start thinking we have to take a certain type of photo because that is what will be published/approved/liked by the camera club/liked or approved by dad or mom (and that can influence you far beyond childhood)/etcetera/etcetera/etcetera.
I would be dishonest with you if I said I had this all figured out today. Sometimes you think (okay, at least I do) that when you reach a certain age, you should have this all figured out. But that is a bit unreasonable because it assumes there is no change to the world around you. If the world is changing, and it always is, then it is pretty hard to “figure it all out” related to a moving target.
But I do feel that paying attention to my story, to becoming the hero of my own story is important, just as it is important for all of you to find your own hero story. Gilbert and Oprah talked about how this really was a key part of finding meaning in our lives.
I think this definitely applies to our photography. Does our photography represent our story and what it means to be the hero of our story? I think this is actually easier to do for an “amateur” who does not have to shoot for a client. Yet, often I see photographers not stepping up, finding that core of who they area, and boldly expressing that in their photography without worrying who “approves.”
I have been very impressed with the work of Todd and Brad Reed of Michigan because it seems so authentic to who they are and their story. This is a father/son team who has developed a wonderful body of work that celebrates their home state, and they have pursued ways to share that with others that fits who they are. Theirs is an inspirational story, not as something any other photographer can or should model, but a story that indeed has Todd and Brad as the heroes of their own story.
I have reached the age where I hear a lot of folks talking about retiring. When I reach that age, I cannot imagine retiring. I think I have a new story for my work that is just beginning and I can’t see stopping just because I reach a certain age. While the totality of my story is evolving and hard to fully articulate, I can talk about some of the work I am doing and why it is important to me now.
My blog – I have gotten so busy with projects lately that it has been hard to keep up with steady blog entries. I am even doing this one on Sunday because I felt passionate about the topic, it was fresh, and I could actually get it done! I will continue with my blog, but I am going to change what I am doing to make it shorter and easier to both produce and you to read. It will stay true to my story and my journey.
Podcast – I have started a podcast, the Joy of Nature and Photography, and I am quite enjoying doing it because it definitely is true to my story and who I am. It is now up on iTunes as well as at www.joyofnatureandphotography.com. My plan is to do a podcast a week. There is no question I am learning and improving as I go. I hope you will take a listen and then please add comments to the show notes for any show, all at that website. I would love to know what things you might like to hear about on that show.
Books – Books are still a very important part of who I am and my story. I am working on a book for Peachpit Press on Macro and Close-Up Photography that will be out in the spring. I am really excited about this book because it is the closest I have come to being the hero in my own story, and it is probably one of the most personal of my photography books. I will keep doing books, including exploring more eBooks, and that will include some children’s nature books.
Right now, that also means a free eBook if you are interested. If you go to www.joyofnatureandphotography.com, you will find a place you can sign up to be on my email mailing list and get this free book, 6 Steps to Better Nature Photography, in return. I have no intention of bombarding you or anyone else with emails. I have enough trouble keeping up with my blog and podcast! I just want to be able to connect with people to let them know of special things I am doing, books, classes, and I will always include something special to think about for nature and photography.
Classes and workshops – I am changing this quite a bit. I am tired of doing “expert” workshops like everyone else is doing. That doesn’t mean I won’t do them anymore, just that I will be very selective. I want to develop more classes for discerning photographers who want to take their photography to the next level through thoughtful mastery of craft and discovering their own story about nature and photography.
And I have other ideas for projects that will develop over time.
And, as I “state” in the title to my podcast and new website, joy of nature and photography, I want to further develop my own expression of joy of discovery and exploration in nature and photography as well as encourage others to do the same.