I had an incident earlier this year that I felt perfectly illustrated the journey of a young or new photographer. Young meaning, “in the first few months or years of getting into photography”.
We were in San Diego, and I really wanted to get some inherently “California” shots, and nothing says California to me like a REAL LIVE SURFER. My friend Brad had brought his waterproof point-and-shoot, so I had the option to get out in the water and give it a shot.
I had three things against me:
1) I’d never done this before. Do surfers mind if you take their photo? How close can I get?
2) The water was FREEEEEZING, like take-your-breath-away cold—“I’ll never let go, Jack!” cold.
3) The waves were breaking really far away, so I knew it’d be a lot of rough swimming just to even get in a position to POSSIBLY get a good photo.
I stood on the shore with the camera in hand, full of both fear and ambition. I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t try. But man, that water was SO COLD.
Finally I just made myself run straight out into the water—the “band-aid” method, if you will. The problem with this method in this context is that you can’t just jump all the way into the water when you’re running into the ocean. The water hits your legs and works its way up as you awkwardly attempt to keep forging ahead at full speed.
Really dramatic, I know. But I’m telling you, it was COLD.
I finally get to the point where I’m not touching the ground anymore and I realize that I’m nowhere near the surfers. I begin swimming and immediately realize how out of shape I am. I quickly become tired as I try to fight through the breaking waves to get to the other side of them so I can try to catch one at the same time as a surfer.
This took forever. I quickly became very tired and even more cold. I thought that all the physical activity would warm me up, but this frigidity was too much to overcome. My swimming weakened and my breathing became more labored, and I started to struggle to even stay above the waves long enough to breathe. I started having really dramatic thoughts like, “What if this is how I die?” (My fears were later somewhat validated by a seasoned surfer who said, “You should be careful—it’s really dangerous to be out there without fins or anything!”)
I finally break through to the other side and there’s some calm water, although it’s still very cold. All that just to get here and not know what to do next!
I decided to try to track a surfer and body surf into the wave that they chose. Here’s my first attempt:
How funny is that?! haha…such a well-documented swing-and-a-miss.
And here’s a selfie I took of myself laughing at how badly I had failed:
I learned two things on that first try:
1) I need to get a lot closer to the surfer
2) I need to take a deep breath right before the wave hits
Ok, let’s try this again. I took a few more stabs at it and finally ended up with the shot I risked my life to get:
I really like it and I’m so glad that I took a chance and went out and gave it a shot.
Here’s the thing: every new photography opportunity I’ve had has followed this pattern.
- Fear and hesitancy
- Ambition that finally gets me moving
- Obstacle greater than I could have anticipated and made me think “this is EXACTLY why I was afraid to do this!”
- Feelings of inadequacy
- Determination not to quit
- “Ok I’m learning, I think I’m starting to get this now”
- And finally, “ok wow that was crazy but I love the shots I got”
That was the process at the first wedding we did photography for. And the first one we did videography for. You don’t want to see anything from either other of those.
It was the process I went through the first time I tried doing a photo session with a couple by myself. I found out that I only had two pose ideas: smile at me, look away and don’t smile. I freaked out and thought, “Man, I dragged them out here in the snow and I have no idea what to do!” I just kept moving, and eventually settled into some things that I liked.
It was the process I went through the first time I did concert/event photography at a big venue, wondering how do I get dynamic shots that stand out?
Same process for a photo assignment I took recently for documenting a university’s campus orientation, following tour guides around as they introduced freshmen to their new life on campus.
It was the process I went through earlier this year when I shot a wedding without Karissa for the first time.
My encouragement to you is that there are great photos and great learning opportunities on the other side of those crazy waves that are seemingly insurmountable!
Maybe for you it’s a family or newborn shoot, or even just portraits of your friends, or you’re taking a stab at sports photography…when it’s new to you, there’s just going to be a learning curve.
Keep swimming, push yourself farther, be courageous—this is the only way to learn and get better! And this is a process that every photographer has to go through—there’s no substitute for experience.
Keep clicking and keep learning.