My friend Yves on safari in Kenya. Yves will travel with me to India this year too, and I can’t wait to hang out with him again. He’s a surgeon, but his passion for photography would humble many of the pros I know.
I think it was Zack Arias who recently said that if he hear the word “passion” one more time in connection with photography, he’d barf. I might be paraphrasing, and I might have the source wrong. So with love and respect for my friend, Zack you might want to grab the barf-bag.
I almost called this post: VisionMongers, The Short Version. It’s relevant to everyone for whom VisionMongers was written, but it’s also relevant to others because I want to talk about being a successful photographer and that word, “successful” means different things to different people. To some it will be a great business that replaces your soul-numbing day job, for others it means creating work you love even if no one ever sees it. For some it means both and then some. Whatever your definition, consider this the short course.
I’m reading a book called Crush It, by Gary Vaynerchuck. It’s not the kind of book I normally read. Gary seems cool, and I like his priorities and values, but I think if we were to go for coffee or a beer he’d tire me out in 10 minutes. He’s got a big, bold, personality. But the book already has me hooked. In part because he doesn’t come of like a huckster, in part because what he writes rings true. If you’re building a business you seriously need to consider reading this book. Seriously. But I’m digressing only because it’s this book that has reminded me again of something. And here it is:
If you want to succeed in your photography, whatever that means to you, then you need to fuel it with passion and hard work. If photography is the air you breathe, the thing that distracts you and not the thing from which you are distracted, if it’s the thing you most want to do, to talk about, to spend your spare time on, and if you work harder at it than you’ve ever worked on anything, you will make it. Why? Because passion, true passion is in short, short supply these days. As is hard work. Long ago we abandoned the idea of having a life’s work, a calling; those that still do their work from that sense of calling or vocation, will be unbeatable.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t an If You Can Dream It, You Can Do It sermon. Ugh. Your craft, skills, ability to translate your vision into the two dimensional image, these matter a great deal, and not everyone will take the time to make it happen. But if you’re passionate, and not self-deluded, you’ll seek out your weaknesses and work your ass off to bolster them. Passion, in the right machine, is a volatile fuel that burns hard and long. But more than all this, the reason I believe passion and hard work will make you successful is that passion and hard work are the end, not the means. If your passion and hard work takes you to a place that has you working hard at what you love, then you are already there. You don’t need to get anywhere else.
There’s so much pressure out there. Keep up with the latest technology, figure out how the hot new photographer does his post-production, get published, make a name for yourself. Whatever. If those are the things you’re passionate about and would do forever if money were no option, then go for it. But for most of us we picked up a camera because putting the viewfinder to our eye and expressing ourselves through the print was the most magical thing ever. Do that with passion and hard work. And don’t mistake that for counterfeit activities. Some of us are more passionate about finding a way to get that next lens or camera body. That’s not photography. It’s acquisitions. Some of us are more passionate about arguing about the merits of Nikon over Canon. That’s not photography; it’s sales, or geek-politics.
So what is photography? It’s less talk, more making photographs. Do that, and do it hard. And then tomorrow, do it again. And as long as you love doing that more than something else, you’ll have filled your days and fed your soul with something you love. And to do that, by almost any sane definition, is to have succeeded.