Having just come back from WPPI I'm still amazed at photographers who have only been out there a short time thinking they can rush the process of becoming a professional. I heard somebody comment as they were watching my good friend Michele Celentano during a live demo say, "That's easy for her to say!"
Not one of today's icons started out iconic. They didn't just wake up one morning as if the Success Fairy wandered in during the night and sprinkled success dust over them and *poof* they'd made it to the top. And, if you talk to any of those people who we define as iconic they'll tell you how they're still practicing, learning and experimenting.
Don Blair at 74 was once asked, "What's the most incredible portrait you've ever done?" He immediately responded, "I don't know, I haven't made it yet!" Even then, considered one of the finest portrait artists in the industry, he was constantly experimenting in his search for the ultimate image.
Roberto Valenzuela finds time every week to mix it up and practice his skill set. Michele is working with high-speed sync with lighting, something she hasn't done much with in the past. Tony Corbell, never stops changing his game and trying out things he hasn't done before. In fact, Tony talks very openly about how he first got started, "I may not have been the best photographer in town, but I was determined to be the nicest."
Years ago Michele spoke at GoingPro Bootcamp, a program Scott Bourne and I did together. Her opening comments said it all, "Twenty years ago I was sitting right where you are now, wondering how long it would be before my work didn't suck!" She then proceeded to share some of the worst bridal images I've ever seen. I got her to send me a couple of them above.
So, for those of you trying to rush the process, here are some tips:
Stop thinking it's your gear that will make you a success. While great gear does open some new doors for you, it's understanding the skills you need that's more important. Vincent Laforet said at a Skip's Summer School program a few years ago, "When you don't have that long lens you wished you had, stop letting it hold you back. Just move in closer!"
There are no shortcuts to becoming a great artist. Practice every day. Ralph Romagueara, past president of PPA, compares being a photographer to musicians practicing their scales every day or a ball player warming up swinging two bats. You've got to practice constantly.
Jealousy is a waste of energy. This isn't just about photography; it's about business envy. A lot of you need to give it a rest and stop thinking everybody else's grass is greener.
"Envy come from people's ignorance of, or lack of belief in, their own gifts."
And, there's the biggest part of the problem. There are many of you who are so gifted, but you've spent too much time following the icons. Just for a second today look in the mirror and if you want to envy somebody, check out the face looking back at you. If you've got the passion for the craft and the desire to be a great artist, then give it the time it deserves and start believing in your own gifts. Stay focused on what's in your heart and, accept as an artist there's no such thing as an overnight success.
Most important of all, know there are a whole bunch of us out here rooting for you and believing in your goals and willing to help when you need the support.
Check out "Why?" one of the most popular features on the SCU Blog. It's a very simple concept - one image, one artist and one short sound bite. Each artist shares what makes the image one of their most favorite. We're over 100 artists featured since the project started. Click on the link above and you can scroll through all of the episodes to date.