This is long but I need to share this.
I must confess that after Shutterfest ’18 I felt lost in my creative journey. For so very many years I have been trying to find a way to build a career out of my creativity…my art. When I was first introduced to this community I loved it right away and wanted to be a part of it. I thought I would, through image editing, but the more time I spent in the community, the more I learned, the less likely this seemed to be and that made me sad. I loved the energy from these creatives but I didn’t want to do exactly what they were doing. I learned that the original plan that sent me to Shutterfest ’17, editing for a family member, wasn’t exactly going to work, at least not in the way that she had first envisioned it. Honestly, I started to see that at SF ’17, then it started to become still clearer in the months leading up to SF ’18 when my relation was talking with me less about such matters. She was talking with other people and making plans for SF ’18 and didn’t say a word about it until it was nearly time for the conference and only invited me in passing to participate in some of those plans. During SF ’18 I went to a lunch time sales pitch for an editing service and that is when it came firmly home to me that my relation couldn’t use me, at least not as intended. I also knew that my relation was well aware of this long before I was and felt bad about it, she had invited me into this when she knew practically nothing herself. How do you tell a member of your family that you don’t need them? I played the part of the bigger person and told her and her husband that they couldn’t afford me, they didn’t deny it.
So there I was, roaming this conference, drinking in the creative energy but feeling disconnected from it and lost as to where I fit in. I didn’t want to give up but part of me was feeling heart sore, that maybe I had already lost out. One bright glimmer for me was the last class that I sat in on. My relations had urged me to take it, the guy, David Byrd, does brilliant composite work. My relations had met him back in Iowa when he was still just doing portrait photography and he took my nieces dance pictures. I hadn’t seen David’s work until that class but when I did, I just felt a sense of connection. He had taken to a fine art level what I had only dabbled with back when I first started learning Photoshop. David also happens to be a fan geek, right down to the extensive collection of sci-fi, super hero and gaming t-shirts. David was doing what I wanted, or something like it. He invited us to all join him for an after hours shoot he had arranged. I went fully intending to participate and get something that I could work with but when I got to the shooting location there was all of this light equipment and here I was, probably the only person there that didn’t know much of anything about off camera flash. I remember I asked David if that would be a problem and he said he would figure out a work around for me but as other people started to gather for the shoot I felt like there would already be too much time taken up without me making it more complicated with my lack of knowledge and equipment. I quietly got up and walked out and went back to my hotel room. I felt lonely and useless. I felt like I did as a kid, watching a group of people have a great time and desperately wishing that I could join them.
The next day my relation invited me to join her and a couple of other people for a shoot they were doing. I went, but honestly I was aware that I was bored by it. Essentially it was a group of people all getting the same sort of picture. I started just snapping off more behind the scenes type pictures, honestly , of the pictures I took at SF ’18 these were my favorites.
My feelings as I left Shutterfest last spring were very mixed. I was sad but at the same time hopeful. I realized that I didn’t want to give up on finding my place in this community so I registered for Shutterfest ’19 to get the early bird price and told myself that I had to spend the year figuring out how to make going worth while. To start with I needed to finish going through the class book on how to use Lightroom and Photoshop as a photographer. I admit that I procrastinated on that a lot, it was scary and it reminded me that I was learning something that I didn’t entirely believe I would ever have much use for. When I was able to work part that fear and learn I started thinking to myself that if I was ever going to make much of any of what I was learning I would have to learn more of how to use my camera so I would have images to edit.
Taking pictures was a lot of daunting thoughts. Everyone I know is learning to use all this expensive lighting equipment. I felt like I would have to do the same but I really didn’t want to. The equipment alone is so expensive and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to spend the money on it. Being me, I started looking for a work around. I could start with just getting a flash trigger for my camera so that I could work with other peoples’ lighting gear. This idea is still on the list of possibilities but as I was mentally problem solving the matter of lighting I started wondering to myself, how much could I do with available light? One of the teachers at SF ’18, Audrey Woulard, did a class on using available light, no reflectors necessary. I wanted to learn that and at first that just led me to thinking that I hoped she did the same class at SF ’19. In the mean time I would start looking for online articles on the subject.
Another daunting aspect of taking more pictures was what to take pictures of? Bill and Sherri routinely met up with local photographers, I have joined them, but it was the same thing as at Shutterfest, most of the time I was just bored with the fashion shoot approach. The few times I went sure I got some decent pictures but this wasn’t what I was interested in, this in no way would help me do anything with composite work. Which brings up another matter I gave a lot of thought about through the months, what did I want to do with photography and editing anyway?
I gave this question a lot of thought. I felt like I had to do something to make money. I could do “beauty” editing but to be honest, I wasn’t really into it. I had taken some great classes on that at SF ’18 but even as I was taking those classes I was asking myself, did I really want to be a part of what I see is a flaw in western culture, the artificial and unattainable standards of beauty fed to the world through media that uses a lot of image editing? If I was unwilling to participate in this then what was there for me in photo editing as a professional?
Through the months I followed a few Shutterfest Facebook groups where people often shared the work they were doing. Two people who’s work I found myself admiring were Jen and Dale. Jen does do portrait work, particularly weddings, but she is the photographer you want if you are having a fun, sci–fi or fantasy themed wedding. Dale does fine art photography, often surreal. My admiration eventually led me to thinking that I would like to spend some time with them at next Shutterfest. Eventually it occured to me that I should reach out to them in advance.
It took me a while to actually act on this, it wasn’t like it was really all that hard but there is the fear of rejection but then one morning, out of the blue I decided that very moment was the time to do it. While I was at it I also looked up Audrey Woulard, I wanted to connect with her, maybe see if she knew what she would be doing at SF this year. With Audrey I learned she has website where she sells video classes on a variety of topics so I sent her a private message and asked her what would be the best place for me to start. She got back to me quickly and was very nice and encouraging.
For Jen and Dale, I sent them a joint message asking if I could maybe spend some time with them at SF ’19. They both responded with so much warmth and enthusiasm. Jen immediately suggested that we meet up on Skype, which we eventually did. That was great! Essentially I am doing what Sherri did last year, finding my own mentors to work with.
Jen and Dale shared with me how they bonded over their mutual admiration for the fine art photographer, Brooke Shaden, who also dearly loves to help people find and share their creative voice. I have watched many of Brooke’s videos and I have found a kindred spirit to guide me while feeling encouraged to find my own voice.
So here is where I am at with all of this. I am going to Shutterfest and with Jen and Dale helping I am going to go with the objective of finding my own creative voice rather than what I have been, trying to figure out what people want and learn that. I need to start with what I want. It is no longer with the primary objective of making money from it, I might, later but for the time being I need to just focus on creating what I want to create. With that in mind I am choosing to focus my education on seeing what I can do with the equipment that I have. I want to see what I can do with available light. “Kit lenses”, the lenses that come with beginner level cameras, get a bad rap. I have taken some pictures I was really happy with and the using my kit lens. I want to see what I can do with what I have, I can always expand on equipment and stuff later.
I am in a better place going to this Shutterfest then I have been the two previous years because this time I am going for me.