Throughout my photographic career, at every turn where I found a bit of success, there was one constant. One thing that set me apart. And I’ll let you know right now it wasn’t because I was talented. Oh I had a modicum of talent. I was more proficient than talented. But the thing I had going for me was that I was fearless. I was willing to risk myself. I was willing to put my work out there for all to see. I was willing to do it unapologetically. I was willing to say this is what I can do with a camera. I was willing to be vulnerable. I was willing to be rejected. And rejected I was. Over and over and over. BUT there were just enough times where I was accepted.
The pain of failure never stopped me. I guess I have always benefitted from the fact that I am too stupid to know I could fail! And that right there, folks. THAT is the difference. Take a look at some of the people in the industry who’ve found success and whom I admire. People like Scott Kelby, Rick Sammon, Neil Leifer, Jay Dickman, Larry C. Price, Matthew Jordan Smith, Dixie Dixon, Jerry Ghionis, Joe McNally, Bob Davis, David Hume Kennerly, and John Shaw (just to name a few – if I left you out it wasn’t on purpose I just have to get this post done on a deadline and my mind is mush.)
These people all found success because they had something to say. They had a point of view. And they were willing to stake out and own that ground, come what may.
In my own case, I found moderate success every time I made a move, but when I really hung it all out there to dry and said “screw it! This is what I want to do!” That is when things started to gel for me. I started out photographing motor sports because someone offered to pay me to do it. I then morphed to portraits and weddings because there was more money in that. I then moved to “outdoor” photography, to include landscape and wildlife because my knees and back were shot from doing weddings. I then started to specialize in JUST wildlife because I enjoyed it more. And finally, after all that time and messing around, I gave up. I risked everything and said. “I am a bird photographer!” It’s what I really wanted to do all along. That was harder to do than it sounds.
Everyone I knew at the time said, “What? A bird photographer?” Their concern was well-founded 🙂
Almost everyone needs a wedding photographer at one point in their life. Everyone probably needs a portrait photographer, but few people NEED a bird photographer.
Yet I would look around at television, books, magazines, etc., and I would see images of birds. It dawned on me. SOMEONE had to capture those images. SOMEONE had to do it. SOMEONE got paid for it. Why not me? So I risked the easy money and went for the thing I needed to do. I took a risk and it gradually started to pay off. I wish I could tell you it paid off immediately. It didn’t. It took a few years, but I saw enough steady progress to convince me to stay the course.
Now I am doing some of my best work ever. I have started to receive recognition for that work. I have received international accreditation for my bird photography from both the east and the west. I am an Olympus Visionary. My bird photos have appeared in many books and publications and even been licensed for advertising campaigns and motion pictures. The U.S. Army licensed one of my eagle photos for a campaign honoring veterans. My work hangs in the homes and business of more than 200 patrons who generously support my work. I am regularly on the faculty of some of the largest photography conventions and shows in the world. I have several books published, training videos at lynda.com, blogs, podcasts, etc. etc. etc.
But that modicum of success isn’t because I am the best photographer in the world. It’s because I worked hard, was willing to be lonely when necessary to perfect my craft, was willing to risk myself and accept rejection, until the rejection turned into yes. Then I worked even harder!
Why am I sharing all this with you? Simple. I wish someone had shared it with me when I was just starting out. If I could have found the courage back then to just skip ahead to the thing I really, really, wanted to do without concern for anything else, I believe I would have found success much sooner and I am hoping to encourage YOU to do the same, for the same reason. If I can do it, literally anyone can do it. I am rooting for you. Now go take some risks.