As I prepared to attend the #NANPA Summit (North American Nature Photography Association) this past week in San Diego, I learned from long-time members that Summit is a seminal experience for nature photographers. They told me about the insightful sessions and the worthwhile networking. They told me about the extraordinary professionals I would meet. They told me I would leave filled with inspiration.
From these tips, I developed a set of expectations that I carried with me up to the time I signed in at the conference center. As the event proceeded, expectations rolled into experiences, and I began to develop a set of questions that I carried with me throughout the conference.
Am I good enough to be a serious photographer (or put another way, will I embarrass myself)?
I came away with two answers: 1). I’m really fairly good, and 2). I have SO much to learn.
In a spectacular keynote address, world-renowned photographer, Dewitt Jones (#DewittJones), so eloquently shared the advice of his first boss at National Geographic—don’t work to prove yourself; work to improve yourself. Your daily goals should not be about comparing yourself to others. Instead, always strive to make the work you do today better than the work you did yesterday.
Mr. Jones also reminded us that learning is a lifelong endeavor. His eyes fairly twinkled as he shared with us his delight over his new iPhone 6. Even a world-class photographer can gain a new perspective on photography and refresh his desire and motivation.
Why don’t my images look as spectacular as what my eyes perceived?
Several of the sessions I attended helped me see that the limitations of my camera and lenses, the physics and dynamics of my equipment, the environment, and my choice of settings combine to prohibit the perfect transfer of the scene in front of my eyes into a digital code illuminated on my computer screen.
With experience, I will learn to mitigate or even take advantage of the physical limits of my equipment, improve my choice of settings to capture the nuances of a scene, and advance my postproduction skills to enhance the abilities of my equipment. The message here: practice, practice, practice.
Most important of all—Why am I photographing anyway?
I haven’t answered this question yet, but I realized as the conference days passed, a passion without a purpose is like wandering in the wilderness—a wanderer might accidently wander out into the light of day or remain lost forever while meandering without meaning.
My journey has been a relatively short one compared to the many photographers I met and heard from these past several days. I got my first DSLR in 2010, well after the digital revolution began. My stop-off at the Summit along this journey has helped me see that I need to define my destination; after all, how do I know I’ve reached my destination if I don’t know where I’m going? I’ve been inspired to define my purpose—why do I photograph? Mr. Jones spoke of leaving a legacy. Will I leave behind art to stir the spirit? Or will I create images to motivate people to travel and learn about the world and their fellow earthly creatures? Will that learning lead to loving, then the peace between peoples we so desire? Or will I teach others to capture images that inspire them on their journey toward a purpose-fulfilled life?
One thing is certain: I left with more questions than I arrived with. But isn’t that what learning is all about? As Ron Rosenstock, instructor and fine art photographer, shared with us during his presentation, real learning occurs after we have questions to ask and problems to solve. For the short-term over the next months, and then years until the 2017 NANPA Summit in Ft. Lauderdale, I have my homework laid out for me. When I attend Summit 2017, I hope I leave with even more questions.
ENDNOTE: The funniest observation I made was at the beginning of one session I attended. As usual, we had a few attendees trickle in after the presentation had started. One gentleman opened a door tentatively in the front of the room, and the presenter encouraged him to enter. At the same time, another gentleman entered the back of the room. They both walked to the center, passed one another in front of the projector, then the front door gentleman took a seat on the back row, and the backdoor gentleman took a seat on the front row!