The Most Influential Photographer of My Career (Not)
I recently got an e-mail from a young photographer wanting to know who was the most influential photographer was for my career. It got me thinking. The most influential person in my career hasn’t been a photographer at all. Rather, it was a motivational speaker named Brian Tracy. I have an audio book on tape, and now CD, by Brian called “How To Get Everything You Ever Wanted Faster Than You Ever Thought Possible”.
I have listened to Brian Tracy more times than I can remember and every single time I get something out of it. There are always nuggets that motivate me and fire me up for just a day and there are a number of principles that I believe, if followed, can’t help but make me succeed.
For example, one of Tracy’s tenets is that one should take a realistic assessment of where one is. A person needs to be realistic if he or she is going to make good decisions. This is an important thing I try to remember whenever I am making decisions, but looking back one particular instance comes to mind when that “reality check” made a huge difference in my career.
The year was 1990 and while I was coming off of my best year yet, the economy was tanking. It was like someone had turned off the faucet, I just wasn’t getting any work. I took a good hard look at my entire situation and in particular my portfolio. I asked myself who was going to hire me instead of my competition…and why. The answer was no one. I wasn’t doing anything unique, anything to set myself off from other photographers.
I had been dabbling with in camera multiple exposures. That experimental work was the only really interesting work I had. I committed to building my entire book around that technique. I spent the next two months going through my files finding images that worked together, and creating multiple exposure in-camera montages. Then I went out and started showing the work. Two things happened. First, it worked. I began to get assignments for that kind of approach. Secondly, it was one thing to find images in my book that worked well together, but an entirely different thing to get an assignment and have to create a montage from images that don’t work well together! Arrgh!
It was precisely at that time that a friend suggested to me that I look at this new thing called Photoshop. I did. As they say, the rest is history. Now at that time I was truly broke, but I knew I had to start using this program if my career was going to succeed.
I used the money I was saving for taxes to buy a used Macintosh computer. I called Adobe and asked if I could trade photography for a copy of the program. They agreed and even offered to give me some training. To make a long story short, I immediately began to train myself by making stock shots for my portfolio and soon began to use Photoshop in my assignment work.
Another Brian Tracy principle that I embrace is this: Ask yourself what is the one thing that you need to do better; more than anything else, to move your career forward. What is your weak spot? Find out that weak spot and then master it. Once you have mastered it, ask yourself, what is the one thing that you need to do better more than anything else to move your career forward…and so on.
Heck, how could anyone follow this principle and not succeed? BTW, right now, in answer to that question, I am learning Final Cut Pro. I believe motion is already an important part of the stock photo mix and the thing that right now is the most important skill to acquire to advance my career in stock.
To take one more page from Tracy, I have a plan and I write it down. There is something magical about writing goals down. There are some who believe there is something mystical about this process, and maybe there is, but what I ascribe to it is firmly planting the goal in your mind and giving you a much higher chance of actually taking the steps one needs to take to reach that goal.
The process is simple. Write down your goals and the dates by which you want to achieve them (push yourself but be realistic). Then write down the steps you need to reach those goals and assign deadlines for each step. If you miss a deadline, simply give it another deadline using your best educated guess. This plan is not set in concrete, and as you review it changes will come. Your goals will shift; the steps will come and go. But you will be making progress and success will breed success. I have followed this process and every once-in-a-while I pick up an old plan and…wow…I have reached so many of my goals!
One thing that never ceases to amaze me is how easily it is for me to lose sight of those important steps I need to take while I attend to all the piddling little things that vie for my attention. Reviewing my plan, the more often the better, helps keep me on track to actually do those important things. To that end, writing out my goals each morning is a truly powerful way to stay on track and reach those goals faster than I ever thought possible!
Well, happy new year and very glad to see you still pushing pixels.
I can add you to my list of 'most influential' photographers; to be more precise, many of my contemporaries are of that caliber since they seem to be a constant source of inspiration.
This isn't to say that those safely in the pantheon of the past; Adams, Cartier-Bresson, Avedon, aren't in the 'most influential' list it's just that there's a limited relevance to their efforts that have more to do with their times.
You seem to have a consistent knack about the next thing that keeps you up and running.
Way to go John!
Best to you for the new year.
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