5 Lessons Learned Looking For My *Why*

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Yesterday we asked you to choose one type of photography that you would shoot forever, and explain *Why*.

For some, the answer comes easily. They have figured out what it is about photography that fires them up, and can easily express it. They’re very lucky.

For others, the question might be a difficult one. But don’t worry. That’s not a bad thing. It just means you’re still looking.

And hey, that’s to be expected! As you may know, we believe that photography is for life. This a long time passion, and to know exactly what you want to do, and why, takes time.

So, today I want to share a few lessons I’ve learned as I’ve been figuring who I am as a photographer. I really hope they show you that it’s ok to not know, and part of the fun is the adventure of trying to find out!

Dive In

We fell in love with photography while we were travelling. When we decided to become pro photographers, we figured a career at National Geographic was the finish line.

But, you don’t just pick up a camera and start shooting for a big-time magazine, so we knew we needed to just dive in, and see where the current took us.

We started off doing a LOT of different stuff. Kids soccer photos, class photos, fine art, cat portraits, people portraits…you get the picture.

When we stumbled on the world of wedding photography, we thought “Hey! This looks exciting!” So we dove into that as well.

The Lesson: You need to try things out, to get in there, to dive in. Don’t hang back, wondering for years if you’d enjoy that type of photography, or that type of anything. Try it now! You’ll never know until you do.

Quitting Is Good

We spent four years as wedding photographers. We met wonderful people, and learned a ton. But after a while we started to feel that it just wasn’t quite right.

And believe me, that’s a scary feeling. You’ve just spent a LOT of time, energy, and money investing in building a business, to realize that it might not be the right one.

We were scared, but knew that the best thing we could do for ourselves as photographers is be true to our hearts. So we “retired” from wedding photography, to keep on searching.

Was it tough to say no to so many wonderful people who had waited years to hire us? Absolutely. Extremely tough. Was it difficult to turn our backs on a business that we had put countless hours of work into? You bet.

But do we regret it? Not for an instant. We’re happier as photographers than we’ve ever been, and are excited to keep moving forward, pursuing the parts of photography that we are most passionate about.

The Lesson: If you know that something just isn’t right for you, don’t be afraid to quit. You’ll be scared, but you have to move on. Things are much happier on the other side.

Get Out Of Your Comfort Zone

Sometimes it takes really pushing yourself outside your comfort zone to understand what’s deep down inside.

Like I mentioned, we began to love photography when we were traveling. So it would seem as though travel photography was something that we would always love to do.

Right now we’re in Buenos Aires, spending a month shooting, reading, and exploring. And I’ve learned a lot about my *Why* in the process.

See, shooting on the streets is something I thought I would enjoy. I love the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Vivian Maier and other wonderful street photographers, and figured I’d enjoy producing it. And at first I did. It was new, exciting, and a challenge. I jumped in. I had no clue just how much I was about to learn about myself…

The Lesson: It’s easy to get comfortable, and it’s enjoyable. But when you’re comfortable you probably aren’t learning much about yourself. Learning comes from new experiences, so make sure you get out of your comfort zone every once in a while. You’ll get valuable fresh new perspective.

Pay Attention To Yourself

After two weeks of wandering around, shooting the streets, I started to feel a bit empty with the work. It just wasn’t inspiring me to keep shooting.

And that scared me. Was I wasting my time? Was something wrong with me? Am I just not a very good photographer? Have I lost my passion for shooting?

When I recognized how I was feeling, I stopped and took some time to think. What was it that I was missing?

And I realized: it’s the connection with the subjects that inspires me. The stories that I get to hear as a photographer, and then retell in my work. With street photography you don’t know your subject, and I desperately missed that.

So, while I enjoy shooting in a new city, and exploring, I’m starting to realize what sort of travel work I’ll want to shoot in the future. And I’m realizing what it is about portrait work that I love so much. I’m excited to get home and start shooting.

The Lesson: If you’re paying attention to yourself, you’ll feel it when things aren’t quite right. And you’ll feel it when they are. You might not know the *Why* right away, but pay attention to your gut. Once you have noticed your reaction, you can stop and think about it, and sort out the *Why*.

Keep Exploring

When I first became a photographer, I was certain that I wanted to shoot for National Geographic.

Then I learned a bit more, and became certain I wanted to be a wedding photographer.

After time, experience, and yep, more learning, now I’m pretty certain I want to be a portrait photographer.

But, as history has shown me, there’s a good chance that will change in the future. And that’s ok. Photography is long term. I’ve only been a professional for 5 years. I’m a kid. I can’t possibly expect to fully understand the genre, or myself, just yet.

The Lesson: Keep exploring your role as a photographer. Don’t sit back and think you’ve solved it, because chances are you are limiting yourself. The most interesting photographers of history were fascinating, multi-layered, and deep in their understanding of photography. The more you search and learn, the more depth you’ll give yourself as an artist. That takes time, but the journey itself is the fun bit.

So, if you’re having a tough time of it right now, and aren’t sure if you’ve found your *Why*, keep searching. You will find it, and the lessons you’ll learn in your search will make you a stronger shooter.

And remember, you’ve got a long long road ahead of you. Enjoy the ride.

Lauren Lim

Hey friend, I’m Lauren! I’m a photography ninja here at Photography Concentrate. I’m downright obsessed with photography, and love sharing it with super cool folks like yourself. When I’m not shooting, or writing, you can find me cooking (and eating!), traveling, and hanging out with wonderful people.

Comments

15 Comments // Leave a comment

  1. I love you guys. Everything you share makes so much sense.
    I have a slightly off-topic question. Like you two, I decided to be a photographer prior to gaining actual photography skills. I noticed you said "I've only been a professional for 5 years." How do you know when you've reached "professional"? Or is it kind of subjective? And how long did you practice and learn and absorb before you hit that point of pro-ness?
    OK so it was really a bunch of questions masquerading as one…

  2. I'm picking up what you're putting down here.
    I also like to try it all. Architecture, automotive, fashion, glamour, travel, babies, families, weddings, couples, animals, birthdays/events. Who knows, maybe I'll even find someone to try boudoir out.
    I definitely think that it makes you a stronger photographer if you try everything out. Some of the styles and skills you grow in one style can be cross pollinated to another style. For example, anything you learn in architecture might transfer to travel. Fashion might transfer to wedding.

  3. *Erin:* :) Thank you so much for the wonderful comment! I'm so glad to hear this post made sense to you!

    You have some great questions! I'll take a stab at them here.

    So, _professional_ is generally just seen as someone who is in photography to make money. So that's a pretty simple definition. Once you've started to approach photography as a business, and regularly charge for your services, you're a pro.

    Now, how long to practice before charging for your work — that's another matter. And there's definitely no right answer! We spent a full year learning and practicing like _crazy_. We put a ton of work into becoming good photographers before we would charge someone. We really believe in respecting the investment of your clients, and being sure you can deliver.

    I know that wasn't a very direct answer, but I hope it helps! Practice a lot, especially in whatever genre you want to become a pro, and you'll get there!

  4. *Evan:* You got it, my friend!! Not only does trying out a lot of genres help you understand just what it is about photography that you love, but it helps you create a very unique style, thanks to that cross-pollination you mentioned!

  5. What a beautiful honest post! Thank you for sharing like this so openly.

  6. *Vinita:* Thank you so much for such wonderful words! It's always a little scary to share, but comments like yours make it worth it :)

  7. I just want to say how much I appreciate posts like these. You guys are awesome!

    It's not an easy task to be honest and upfront about feelings, doubts and questioning one's self. Though, sometimes when you do, you realize that there are other like-minded people out there that are going through the same things you are. And that is mucho comforting. :)

  8. Great post Lauren, thanks for taking the time to write it! It's incredibly freeing (and scary) to toss away the notion that we all need to pick a path or career and stick to it, that we should be scrambling for stability. Life is definitely a journey and it's such a beautiful thing to be in tune with those little cues and hints that help us grow as human beings.

    Well done guys!

  9. This was a really great honest read- thanks so much for sharing. <3

  10. Thank you for this amazingly true and honest blog post, it was just so inpsiring!

  11. Lauren, Thanks for sharing. I am at that point in my life were I too have made changes from where I thought I wanted to be shooting. I'm glad you have shared with others that changing directions is ok. I think life is to short to do something we don't enjoy even if we are making money at it. I also like the challenge of trying diffent avenues of photography and maybe someday when I grow up I will figure it out. But for now at 50 I am enjoying the journey. Thanks again for all you guys do to promote and teach photography I am always learning something. Cheers-

  12. I am new to your blog, but have been so encouraged. I just read your recent blog on fear and now this one.
    Just last night, I couldn't sleep because I just keep thinking I need to quit family photography. It doesn't inspire me the way children's and newborn photography does. When I started, I only shot children, but of course, clients want family pictures also. Sometimes the shoots go well, but more often than not, I feel awkward. And I'm not happy with the family shots. But the kids alone or with each other – I love those.
    However, when I think about denying family sessions I fear that it will stunt my business. But the worst that can happen is that it will stunt my business, but then I can spend my time shooting my friends' children, improving my artistic style and loving it!

    Thanks for listening and helping out with your honest posts.

  13. I am new to your blog, but have been so encouraged. I just read your recent blog on fear and now this one.
    Just last night, I couldn't sleep because I just keep thinking I need to quit family photography. It doesn't inspire me the way children's and newborn photography does. When I started, I only shot children, but of course, clients want family pictures also. Sometimes the shoots go well, but more often than not, I feel awkward. And I'm not happy with the family shots. But the kids alone or with each other – I love those.
    However, when I think about denying family sessions I fear that it will stunt my business. But the worst that can happen is that it will stunt my business, but then I can spend my time shooting my friends' children, improving my artistic style and loving it!

    Thanks for listening and helping out with your honest posts.

  14. loved this post. so honest!

  15. Thanks for this Lauren. The path of a photographer isn’t an easy one. You are right, some are quick at finding their metiér and some take their time. I am in the latter bunch as you are – first working as a photojournalist, then a wedding photographer and now comfortably photographing families in the Farmington Valley here in Connecticut. And, yes, that may change too, but I think I have found my “why” and I believe that feeds my approach to creating meaningful/mindful portraits for busy parents.

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