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The Best Source Of Advice For Your Photography Career

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In a world overwhelmed with photography advice on YouTube, Instagram, or even articles like this one, it can be hard to know whose guidance to trust when building your career. However, chances are, you may be overlooking the most valuable source of input that will always guide you in the right direction.

The other day I was re-reading one of my recent screenplays. I know this article is about photography, not filmmaking, but bear with me as you’ll quickly see how the story relates. The script in question isn’t particularly old, only about two years, and I was just giving it the customary once over before sending it out to a producer who had requested to see it.

I’ve been writing screenplays since I was 15. I am now, decidedly, no longer 15. So, there is a very deep archive of material on my bookshelf at home, spanning pretty much every genre imaginable. Sometimes for work, sometimes for curiosity, I often find myself plucking one of the scripts off the shelf to give it a read. The thing that has always stuck out to me, regardless of whether the story is an action film or a romantic comedy, is that every single one of them paints a picture of where I was in my life at the time I wrote it. Not physically, but mentally and emotionally. Like most artists, a great deal of me goes into my writing, whether I’m conscious of it or not. So, when I re-read my material, it is like viewing myself through a microscope. Whatever ideas I was struggling with at that time in my life will be laid bare on the page, translated into fiction, but only barely disguising the facts for anyone who knows where to look.

What struck me so much upon this recent re-reading of the script, which was only two years old, was how clearly I was struggling with my own career. Not in terms of immediate bookings, but larger questions about long-term planning. In this particular story, my protagonist was a photographer. I know. I was really stretching there, wasn’t I? But, because I am a working professional photographer, the similarities between my real life and the character’s life were even more evident than usual.

Re-reading the script was like reliving the conversation I was having in my head two years ago. I won’t bore you with what that conversation was about. But what was fascinating to me was when I compared that fictional conversation to my real photography career today. I haven’t completely solved the issues I was debating two years ago, but when I consider how I’m living my life and career this year versus then, my own choices become far more understandable. Looking at this time capsule from a distance, it becomes clear the evolution I was going through at that point that landed me where I am today. Just like, more than likely, two years from now, I’ll read this article and see it as yet another plot point on the way to wherever I will ultimately go.

While it seemed as though, at the time, I was struggling to decide what path I wanted to follow, when I re-read the script it became clear that I knew where I wanted to go all along. I was just struggling with finding the courage to take a chance on what I really wanted. In my head, it was a rational debate about two different potential game plans. In reality, it was my heart trying to win its battle over my fear impulse. In short, I was trying to talk myself into believing what was always true.

Because I’ve been both a filmmaker and a photographer for as long as I can remember, I often take lessons from one side of my life to another. The more you grow as an artist, the more you realize the symmetry between life’s decisions, even when the worlds may, on the surface, seem so different.

I remember, early in my photography career, one of my first major creative successes came when I took a year away from thinking about my work commercially and purely dug into what I wanted to do creatively. This sabbatical resulted in shooting a series of fine art nude studies (the art kind, not the other kind). Those images ended up getting me my first major exhibition and still form the basis for many of my aesthetic approaches today.

But, even as I was starting to finally build some success in the photography world, I was beginning to grow a bit tired of the nudes. I wanted more. I’d always tended to shoot at least a handful of clothed shots of my model at the end of every nude shoot. I get bored easily, and this was a way of getting more variety from my time in the studio. But, as time went on, I realized that more and more of my shoot time was being dedicated to the clothed shots. Pretty soon, it became clear that, while I was hiring the models for the nudes, what I was really interested in shooting were the portraits.

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ust like looking back at my old screenplays, I can look back at my old photo portfolio from the time and 

see my work changing. Not because I was following a market trend, but because I was changing. And that innate creative impulse inside of me was demanding it be expressed in a different way.

I’ve had a lot of these impulse changes over the course of a long career. One simple rule about life is that as soon as you think you have everything figured out, that usually means there is a massive change just around the corner. It can be confusing to deal with change. It can be confusing when you face a fork in the road to know which direction to turn. It’s natural to turn to others as an example of what choices you should make.

But the truth is, you already know the answers. For the important questions, at least. Sure, an advisor can give you some inside information. A video can add to your technical understanding. But larger questions, such as what you should do with your career or what path will ultimately lead to your own happiness, can only be decided in one place: your heart.

If you listen to yourself, you will get the most valuable advice you’ll ever receive. You just have to trust yourself. You won’t steer yourself wrong.

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