Oh, the places we’re going…

The backyard of the largest home in America
The backyard of the largest home in America

It’s been nearly two years since I restarted my journey along the winding and tumultuous path of photographic endeavors. Certainly it’s been fraught with perils, drama, and the occasional wayward moose. But the positive has outweighed the negative at every turn, and I can stand here today and say that I’m a better photographer–and a better person in general–than when I started.

I hit my 100th shoot in late 2017, just a casual fashion-style shoot with my lovely and extraordinarily talented wife at the fancy park up the street. We’ve both come a long way in our respective hobbies, and I’m so glad we’ve been able to progress on these adventures together. Shortly after that shoot, I went on a semi-nostalgic romp through some of my early portfolio, and I’m not sure how I didn’t bail out of photography within a month. Being my own worst critic, I’ll readily admit that I am quick to assess my new ventures’ viabilities perhaps a little too readily. That is, either I jump ship right away, or I recognize my potential and give myself an unreasonably short period of time to reach that “good enough” level whereby the whole effort wasn’t a complete waste of time.

Just another three percent shot.
But holy exposures, my early work was craaaaaaap. I know what you’re thinking: everyone has to start somewhere, and if you keep at it, moonbeams and rainbows will come leaping out of your face and you’ll be the best whatever-it-is in the world, or at least not totally an embarrassment to your species. But seriously, I look at my shots from two years ago through squinting eyes because of how dreadful most of them are. Composition? Nah, just aim in the general direction of the target. Lighting? Is there any? Good enough! Posing direction? Ha ha ha, I’m too terrified to say more than hello.

For me, the worst part was a quiet fear of letting down my friends and loved ones (and complete strangers!) who so readily offered themselves to the gallows of my camera. In particular, I worried I wasn’t doing my wife’s amazing costume creations justice. Fortunately, we’ve since collected a growing posse of photografriends, some of whom still more expertly capture her than I do.

If you’ve been following my work from early 2016, you’re probably wondering from where I’m getting these negative self-impressions of my early photographs. Well, I keep extensive metrics on my progress, and I can tell you that for all my shoots in calendar year 2016, my total of 37,292 exposures only netted me 1,178 photos I took all the way through the editing process. Totally understanding that not every shot is worth printing and framing, that’s still a miserable 3% “good shot” rate. My “Delete” key and I became very close friends, to be sure. But being my own worst critic, of course that meant I was squandering 97% of my time behind the lens.

Maybe I should stick with shooting waterfalls...
Maybe I should stick with shooting waterfalls…
Surprise: I almost quit. Sure, I was cranking out a solid photo one out of every 33 snaps, but I could feel an invisible hurdle tripping me up with every stride. And it was wearing on me. Somehow I progressed far enough that a few kind souls solicited me for paid work–aspiring models seeking the start of their portfolio, maybe a few headshots and family portraits. Exchanging currency for my creations was especially intimidating, and it only served to reinforce my fear of letting people down.

But then things happened, and anyone who knows me well knows that “things happening” is both my greatest joy and petrifying fear. Fortunately, these were good things, from good people. I continued working closely with a handful of familiar faces–cosplayers, models, friends–and I started receiving encouraging feedback from them. I’d never been one to seek the praise of others; I still get humble-embarrassed from most compliments. And some of it was silly–social media likes, reposts of photos I’d taken, or a passing wide-eyed glance at a back-of-camera shot. I started to feed on that positive energy, and once I finally let my guard down long enough to be receptive to it, I learned to get over stagnating from self-doubt and instead began to grow and improve from genuine appreciation of what I was doing.

So many of you have contributed to who I am today as a photographer. I could name you all, but then my full-time hobby would be this post. On the photographer side, I am deeply appreciative of the talented artists who’ve helped me improve and provided the facilities and encouragement for me to grow my craft; there are too many of you to mention, but I’m especially thankful to Dan Arango, Michael Louis, Olivia Jacob, Ernie Layug, and Norman Rule for their support and feedback.

On the other side of the lens, I’ll struggle even more to highlight everyone who’s contributed to my growth and growing passion for photography. Serah, Kelly, Amanda, Jennifer R., Gillian, Juan, Alexis, Amelia, Rachael, Kat, Michelle, Lela, and Maggie–you’ve all readily thrown yourselves before my magic picture box on multiple occasions, and words cannot express how grateful I am to each of you (I’ll keep using photos instead, if you don’t mind). Amber, your encouragement and friendship in particular has helped me stop worrying that midnight is coming and to just enjoy the ball while I’m there. Taylor, you’ve been my co-conspirator on so many photographic enterprises from the very beginning, and I’m looking forward to our next big venture coming together.

I have practical visual aids for the last two expositions of gratitude. For the first, let’s look at how I’ve evolved photographically over two years.

As you can see, I’ve progressed a bit from being shy, sniping, and generally incompetent. That one on the left of you is the earliest photo of mine the internet will ever see. The middle is from about a year ago when I was finally starting to overcome my personal insecurities and realized the biggest obstacle I still had left to becoming a decent photographer was myself. And on the right, we have barely a month ago. You are also the subject of the earliest photo that I considered to be “pretty good” at the time, and I still sort of do. (It helps that you’re astonishingly talented, but I’m still willing to take a tiny part of the credit for, like, pushing the button.) When I’m so particularly proud of a shot I’m editing that I call in Jenn from the other room with a “hey, come look at this one!” or “what do you think of this one?” there’s a better than 50 percent chance that it’s you or her in that shot–maybe both! Several of the opportunities I’ve had to advance myself in this quest have come directly or fortuitously from working with you. And anytime I’ve reached another milestone on my photographic journey, you weren’t far to be found. Sara, thanks for letting me and my camera tag along as you progress on your own personal journey in your craft.

Saving the best for last, naturally. Jennie–wife, friend, lover, confidant, washer of dishes when I forget to because I just have to finish editing this one photo, inspiration, model, living prop, source of endless encouragement, the singing voice of a goddess, the rockin’ body of a succubus crossed with a valkyrie, and the most talented and creative seamstress I know–I wouldn’t be doing any of this without your support.

I can coyly claim I picked up the camera again originally just to grab some shots of your incredible costumes, but you can see right through that and know that I’ve always had a craving to pursue this pastime as a larger endeavor. Whenever I pressured myself to edit your photos just right, you’d remind me that the “just right” part had already happened–that we were together on opposite sides of a little black box both doing what we loved. We’ve nurtured each others’ strengths, helped each other overcome our weaknesses, and kept each other going when the last thing we wanted to do was another stitch or another shutter press. I’m immensely proud of how far you’ve come in your journey, and I’m so grateful to have you by my side on mine. Thanks, sweetie.

The analytical part of me is pleased that my past six month “keeper” rate has increased dramatically to 13.5%–which I’m told is pretty darn good, but I’m also told to stop worrying about numbers. Still, I push the trigger less, I think about what I’m doing more, and I look at each shoot–each photo–as an opportunity to learn and evolve. I’m still a ways away from where I’d like to be on this winding road, and I expect I’ll continue revising my destination all the time. But even if I continue pushing out the target of my ambitions further and further, I’m confident I can keep moving along the path, and I am going to enjoy the hell out of every step.

As I take those next steps, and largely due to the encouragement of others who insist I am in no way simply a “photographer, ostensibly” any longer, it’s time for a minor update to the banner under which I continue to pursue my photographic endeavors. If you’ve come this far with me, I hope you’ll stay along for the ride as I expand these pursuits and progress further as a photographer… verily.