At a recent art show this summer, I was talking to another photographer that had been in the business for a while, and I went into some lengthy explanations about some of my techniques. He thanked me, but quickly advised me not to give away my “trade” secrets so easily. I responded that I believed there were no real secrets in photography, and that I had learned much of my photography from others who had shared their knowledge. He disagreed stating that I deserved to keep my hard earned knowledge to myself, and let others follow the same path. Our conversation ended, and he went on his way to other booths in the show.
Yet I couldn’t stop thinking about what he had said, a sentiment I have heard so often from other photographers in general, and I found myself deep in thought about the whole issue. On a sudden impulse, I left my booth and started walking in the same direction he had taken because I wanted to share one more thought with him. I spotted him just ahead, quickly approached him, and when he recognized me, I said “You know, I just had to tell you, you were right, there are secrets in photography. Do you know what the secret is? “Humility.” He thought about it for a moment and then smiled, not expecting what I had just shared with him. We parted ways once again, and I returned to my booth, realizing I had learned something about myself and why I enjoy sharing both my photography and my “secrets”.
What does humility have to do with photography you might ask? Landscape photography is an extremely demanding and competitive profession, fraught with both physical and mental challenges. Insecurity and self-doubt is always a constant distraction (I refuse to allow it to be more than that), and a healthy dose of blind ambition is necessary. It is getting more and more difficult as technology levels the playing field and makes the same amazing tools available to both amateurs and pros.
I also realize that what I do for a living is a tremendous privilege, a fortunate situation that I have worked very hard at achieving, and continue to work at each and every day. It is through dedication and perseverance that I am able to enjoy my passion, not through some secret or hidden knowledge. At the core of my “passion” is a reverence for nature, its boundless beauty, and its ability to make me feel both alive, present, and insignificant at the same time. Conveying that in a photograph is a humbling experience when you realize it is a) an immense challenge, and b) much more than just the sum of equipment, techniques, and guarded trade secrets.
The same scene can be interpreted a million different ways, so when someone reacts positively to my particular version, I know not to take that for granted. So I don’t conceal my locations, or camera settings, or processing “secrets”, because that would then become more important than the moment itself when the light is just perfect, and the feeling is worth remembering.
Perhaps this is why I enjoy teaching workshops as much as I do. Explaining a particular technique, pointing out my favorite views, answering questions, and seeing students lost in the moment is personally gratifying, and the easiest part of my job.