A few days ago, a mate of mine asked me “So I’m curious, how’d you get so good at photography? Like, who taught you? Or is there any tips you can share?” I started to think about it and realised it could turn into an essay… So here it is!
It’s hard being at the bottom of any industry, profession or goal and it often appears that opportunities don’t exist. You see plenty of successful people you aspire to be like but have no idea how to get started. Heck, I’m still at the start of my own journey towards reaching my goals as an aspiring photographer!
Some people are lucky to have had boost into their careers, many farmers grew up on a farm, some have parents in the industry they’re entering, others have had access to money many of us can only dream about. I started at zero on all fronts. My parents are amazing but they didn’t give me a tie for my suit when I started in a white collar job or a camera to get a start in photography. At the beginning, they gave me something more valuable, the confidence that by doing my best, I’ll achieve my goals.
I heard the phrase “gambatte kudasai” a lot as as a kid. It’s japanese for “Try your best”. But it was never said like what I hear parents say today “Just try your best, it’s okay if you don’t win“. My mum would say it like she’s on the sidelines watching me on a 100m sprint. “Gambatte Korske-chan Gambatte kudasai!!“. “Try your best” in japanese is to put in 150%, to be encouraged and it’s to succeed.
As I started to achieve my goals in adult life, my parents started doing something different. They bought me a Zegna suit when I succeeded in my first job and they gave me the family 4WD after I had made my preparations to become a landscape photographer. My parents taught me something really important, you have to put effort in to get something out. You have to dig the well before you get water. Thirsty? You have two options: Keep digging or ….
My tip to anyone looking to achieve a goal is to think big and grab every opportunity you can. If you can’t find any, create some. “Opportunity” should be read as “Hard Slog”.
I’ve been flat out the last 4 weeks but when a rather large company approached me to get involved in promoting one of my ideas, I replied yes. I had no idea how I was going to fit it in but I’d have to work it out. Are you knocking down opportunities because of fear or ‘lack of time’? Learn to prioritise. Do you really need that 1 hour of extra sleep on Saturday morning? That’s 2 days a year you’re sleeping away!
Most people start working at McDonalds or the local cafe. The first place that I wanted to work was an IT startup company in Canberra with 6 employees. They weren’t hiring but I wanted to work there so I asked for an interview. I had a chat to the Company Director who made it very clear they weren’t hiring. It was pretty hard for Australian Startups back then to get funding so I assumed that there was work but no funds . I asked a question: “Would you consider taking me on for ‘Work Experience’.” Four weeks later, the company director found enough money to take me on full-time at minimum wage. I resigned from that company 4 years later as an Infrastructure Engineer (Managing networks and developing systems).
My decision to resign was driven by my goal to follow my passion in photography. I transitioned from a stable career focused job to life eating rice and cycling to save on living costs. This journey continues 3 years later but I can usually afford some meat as well!
My goal then was to work in retail sales. I showed up to my interview at Ted’s Cameras in a $1,500 Zegna suit. Seriously, that’s all I owned. I chatted away and started working the next day. Why retail sales? I wanted to learn about customer service and sales. When you’re on commission, you learn quickly how to pitch products to customers. Today, I use these skills to pitch my ideas to other people and big brands like Adobe.
To build my photographic skills, I started photographing events for charities like Camp Quality and RSPCA. This gave me the opportunity to practice my photography and to build a portfolio. I used those portfolios to approach a wedding photographer (Amanda at Thorson Photography) to get experience in wedding photography. I approached friends to shoot portraits and I took on challenges I was almost too scared to commit to.
I’ve learnt the values of patience, dedication and trust in Agriculture where you ultimately don’t have control of the outcome. On the land, we pray that God will bless us with a harvest. I’ve seen the affects of floods and droughts on the land. In the city, the tap will always pour clean water and there’s always beef at Woolworths. If it doesn’t rain, our water runs dry. If it rains too much, we can’t make it to town. Patience, dedication and trust.
I’ve worked alongside incredible people washing dishes in a kitchen. I was once asked, “You’re 24 and washing dishes, shouldn’t you be working towards a career?” “What’s a career?” I asked “A real job” was the reply. Here’s the thing, a career is just a fancy word for a set of opportunities to progress though life. Ultimately, you might not even succeed. Would you rather ‘progress’ though life or succeed?
“A career is just a fancy word for a set of opportunities to progress though life. Ultimately, you might not even succeed. Would you rather ‘progress’ though life or succeed?”
Humility is a big japanese trait but washing dishes taught me even more humility. So many times have I been on the other side of the counter, eating a meal or ordering a coffee. Washing dishes is the least skilled role in a cafe but in the largest cafe in the city, being a dishie almost requires a degree in project management. Working in hospitality, I’ve seen the worst side of people (Rude, Arrogant and Ignorant). Too often have I seen the nicest waitresses broken down to tears. Washing Dishes, I learnt the value of people.
When I started World Photography Day in 2009, I had an idea, limited money and limited skills. What I did have was time and the ability to learn. Four years later, World Photography Day is being celebrated by thousands of photographers across 150 countries and I’m still limited in money and I’m still in way over my skill set. Here’s the key, “gambatte kudasai”.
You can learn a lot in 1 month. What can you learn in 4 years?
Want to achieve something? Set long term goals and take small steps. Grab every opportunity you can and create the ones that you can’t find. Consider alternative ways to learn the skills you need to achieve your goals. What skills do you actually need? Can I get paid to learn those skills?
Talk to people. Most people will be more than happy to point you in the right direction but it’s your choice whether you start walking. You might be walking for a while but if you keep going, you have more chance of finding a skateboard than if you stopped. Start skating and you might find a car. The foundation is that YOU are moving forward.
Another thing I learnt? Plenty of people will pull you down. They will essentially point out that in their view of ‘reality’, your idea isn’t possible. Just imagine the response when the Wright Brothers said, “Dudes, we’re going to build an Airplane”. Piloted flight was an idea that changed reality!
I’m not super smart, I’m still quite young, I didn’t go to university and I’m lucky to have finished year 12. I’ve just committed to trying my best, Japanese style in every single thing I do.
“Cascading” is also a word my mum used a lot. “My mother taught me this and it’s cascading to you. One day, you will have to teach this to someone too. It’ll keep cascading.“