New photographers, especially those like myself who want to move from hobby to profession, face a unique set of personal challenges. Professional photographers openly share their recommendations, insight and guidance, but, for me, facing the daily journey of believing in myself and my work has been one of the most difficult undertakings of my life. As a new photographer, I have come to realize that I not only need to create art, but I also need to examine my own beliefs about my place in this world. Over the course of my life, my passion for the outdoors has become something that I want to share with anyone who will listen. Yet, I also now realize that photography gives me an outlet to share not only the beauty of the locations, but also the deep emotional connection I feel when I am in these places. Most recently I have come to understand that my greatest barrier as a new photographer is not my skill or talent, but only the fear and self-doubt that I have at times. I had this realization only after a rather unpleasant experience during one of my hikes.
"I'm in trouble." Those were the last words I told myself when my equilibrium became a Tilt-A-World, and my feet became entangled. I did the only thing that I could to control the situation -- not a damn thing. I simply closed my eyes and allowed my body to succumb to gravity. First, there was the touch of dry grass, followed by the solid projections of large rocks slamming against my legs and ribs. When the momentum stopped, I opened my eyes. As I examined the small pebbles and fresh abrasions on my hands, I felt cold mountain water soak into my shoes and a mild stinging on my left knee. "Dammit!" Just above me, my camera bag lay covered in dust to the left, and, to the right, my camera and tripod lay half-buried in the soft dirt. "I'm gonna be pissed if that's broken!"
I sat still for a few moments to take inventory of every finger, toe, tooth, leg and arm. When I started to move, the deep ache set in. I picked up my tripod and examined the front glass of my recently purchased wide-angle lens. Everything looked OK, but my shutter release was missing. "Dumb ass!" I shook the spider and caterpillar off my bag and climbed back up the embankment. At the top, I peered through the rips in my jeans and t-shirt to examine my wounds. A quick search in the tall grass and I found my shutter release. After I mustered the courage to crawl out of the trees and face any passersby, I scurried back to the Jeep. The only thing that was more bruised than my body was my ego as I saw my weekend plans slip away -- my last chance to spend time in my forest before the closure on Monday morning.
That was Saturday. It's now Monday, and 2 1/2 hours ago, the Santa Fe National Forest closed to all public access until we receive significant rainfall. My injuries have given me some time at home to reflect on what exactly led to the point where I found myself sprawled across an embankment at 10,000 feet. Only one word comes to mind -- fear.
Photography is not the first undertaking into which I have poured every ounce of my passion and determination. In my 44 years, I have had quite a few heartbreaking disappointments. My last pursuit was cave diving. My passion, talent and determination took me to a place where I had only 80 dives and was using mixed gas and diving with some of the best cave divers in the world. Just as I was starting to progress and felt my dreams within reach, a thyroid condition placed me at too great a risk to continue. My experience in the underwater realm that I loved since I was a child was over.
While photography holds my passion as fervently as cave diving once did, I can say that photography is different -- better, and in some ways, easier. My passion as a new photographer transforms into vision, and growth does not require me to have thousands of dollars of equipment and significant storage space. Being a new photographer really is as simple as learning to use a handheld device to tell the world who you are and what you see.
Beyond the practical lessons of this weekend, there is some insight for myself and other new photographers. Always, always follow your heart -- never look back. Yesterday does not determine tomorrow, unless you choose to sacrifice the future because of the past. What you perceive as failures may simply be those times when life is telling you where to pay attention -- where your passion will undergo a metamorphosis from private thoughts, dreams and wishes to become the gifts of creation that share the world through your eyes.
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