It took me a long time to call myself a photographer. My journey with photography has developed hand-in-hand with my journey of creativity and my sense of self. My camera has become like an extra limb to me and my photos have become a manifestation of something deep within, but it has taken me a long time to find the confidence to say this and to put my photos into the world.
I often have friends tell me they wish they could take more and better photos, but, oh! they couldn't because, well, because they are no photographer like me.
When I hear this, I still giggle inside and think, You see me as a real photographer? Then I let them in on the fact that some days I doubt my own skill, that some days I wonder why I think I'm good enough to have a website, and that most days I end up realizing just how far I've come in my photography journey and I need to be my own best fan - and they should too! Like any other art form, I don't think photography should be about being "good" at it, but it should instead come out of a place of capturing what you love and seeing the reflection of your inner self through what comes out in your photos.
You see, I'm mostly a self-taught photographer and I began engaging in this art form slowly and shyly, with very little confidence. It's a journey I continue to walk through, and many friends don't realize just how little confidence (and skill) I had when I began.
There have been a few of resources and simple practices that have helped me slowly develop along the way. Today, I'll share those with you, along with my own story in learning photography. Even if your chosen art form isn't photography, I hope you can relate to some of the doubts that arise in our creative pursuits and I hope it can inspire you to keep creating through those doubts, to stop worrying about being "good" at something before putting it into the world, and to just focus on doing and creating what you love!
When I moved to Uganda 4 years ago, my only camera was a tiny point-and-shoot that could slip into my back pocket. When it was ruined because of water damage, I confessed to a cute guy at the office (who later became my husband) that I wanted a better camera because, well, maybe I'd like to try taking more photos. He did some research for me because he knew way more about cameras than I, and he helped me choose a Canon Powershot G11 as my starter camera - one I would highly suggest to anyone else interested in bettering their photography (although now you can buy the G12). This camera was not a DSLR (AKA fancy camera), but it gave me the ability to experiment with the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO and was also small enough to throw in my purse and take it everywhere, not to mention it produces great photos. A photographer friend who has captured conflicts all over the world once told me he uses this camera quite often since it's so small and indiscreet, but still capable of taking great pictures.
Inspired by my roommate, I secretly began taking a photo each day. It took me a couple of weeks to show someone what I had been doing because I was too embarrassed that my photos were total crap. I started taking pictures of designs that intrigued me, funny moments in my day, and the scenes on my street. I remember one night, I took a photo of my mosquito net against a woven mat on my bedroom floor. I was embarrassed about such a "silly" photo until a friend saw it and complimented me on being so creative in composing an image. He looked through a few of my other pictures and told me I should keep going with this and show them to more people.
Soon, I was cheered on by other friends and encouraged in this photo-of-the-day project. I began reading photography tutorials online and that cute guy at the office taught me a few things he picked up in his art and photography classes in college. One of the simplest and most helpful photography tutorials that I suggest to anyone who wants to learn how to take better pictures is from Darcy at My 3 Boybarians. Her tutorial, 31 Days to a Better Photo, along with its follow-up, 31 Days of photo tips, guided me along in grasping many of the basics.
In December 2011, I found an incredible online community of other people from around the world who are taking a photo each day and uploading them to an online journal at Blipfoto.com. This forum gave me two crucial things for my creative development: 1) encouragement from others and 2) the ability to follow other great photographers and admire their work.
Eric had a Canon T2i camera with a couple of different lenses that he would frequently let me use (ok, I practically held it hostage from him), which was a great first DSLR camera. That camera went with me all around the world for a few years and when I finally felt like my skill had surpassed its ability, I upgraded to a full-frame camera - a Canon 6D.
Now, I've been taking a photo each day for 3 1/2 years. I have three photo books in my library, one for each year, and when I flip through them, I am able able to visibly see my improvement in this art form while, of course, appreciating the documentation of memories a daily photo series provides.
I once read a piece of advice from Brandon Stanton, photographer of Humans of New York where he said that to improve your photography, you just have to go out and start taking a lot of photos - like hundreds or thousands. It's good advice because in doing so, you'll realize what it is you love to shoot. I've been through several phases in my own photography journey, developing different skills along the way and discovering new interests within me. Inspired by Brandon, I practiced my street portraiture in a project called Portraits of Kampala. For the first few years, I loved street photography, but lately I've turned to capturing wildlife and nature, improving my portraiture, and practicing product photography for this blog while also shooting events for others.
Again, my journey with photography has paralleled my journey with myself. Although I used to be too embarrassed to show my friends my photos, I now can look at the the work of another and confidently tell myself I could do that - maybe even better! There was one day in particular that I remember a shift happening. I was visiting my home in Indiana and I sat outside one evening, staring at the moon. I badly wanted to capture its beauty, but I certainly didn't have the right lens to do so. Soon, I found myself sorting through our basement storage and I dragged out the telescope my sister got for Christmas when we were children, and I used it as my lens.
That evening, I wrote this in my daily photo journal:
"Photography has become a kind of prayer for me. It's a way of remaining present, acknowledging what I am grateful for and what I find beautiful, interesting, or unusual. When I point my camera at something, that means I find it worthwhile. I've come to find The Divine in photography."
I've learned so much in this creative pursuit. As a recovering perfectionist, I've learned to embrace vulnerability and put my imperfect work into the world. As a planner and go-getter, I've learned to remain present and be grateful for the beauty that is in front of me in this moment. As a woman who struggles with negativity, I've learned to find beauty and interest in the midst of the ugly or boring.
If you're interested in taking better photos or just expressing yourself through photography, I hope the resources in this post are useful to you. Please check out Blipfoto! And overall, no matter what form your creativity takes, I hope you can boldly put it into the world. We need you!