Taking my Bearings, Plotting a Course


When I was a kid, I had the good fortune to have parents and grandparents who loved me and wanted to give me as many opportunities for personal growth and learning as possible. They found a camp for me; a month-long, sleepover, boy’s camp founded on Christian values and building self-confidence in young men–you know, typical camp stuff: making men out of boys or some such. Though I am not particularly religious, the core of Camp Sea Gull’s message was always to be a good person, to have a firm handshake, to believe in yourself.


At camp, an only child learned to live with others, to share, to play nice, to be patient and kind and forgiving. He learned to try new things, to work hard, to tuck in his sheets and make his bed nicely every day. He learned to shoot a bow until the arrow sailed true. He fell in love with the sea, and with sailing, and with his roots.


The most important thing he learned at camp, however, was to periodically check his compass. He learned that at regular intervals, one should stop, take a breath, take a reading, and plot a course. That way, he can see where he has been, and knows where he’s headed next. Though the wind may at times be foul, other times it will be fair, and many times he will find himself off course and have to make corrections.


When I pushed off at the beginning of this year, I’d left a good job to take some time to travel, soul search, visit friends, and try to transition into a new profession: professional photographer. I turned up the marketing machine, I tuned up my website, I tried to make compelling blogs and photos and to tell interesting stories to go along with them. I taught a workshop, I shot weddings, I traveled and made some wonderful new friendships with people all over the place. It was an uncertain time–and, to painfully continue the forced sea analogy, the seas were rough. I started to measure my success as a photographer by the bookings I was or wasn’t making, equating my self-worth by the number of phonecalls or emails I received… or didn’t. A failed booking meant a failed person. I wallowed in the middle latitudes, the fair winds of optimism having faded in the night.


I went back to working my old job part-time. I stopped and looked at my compass, saw where I’d overestimated the ability of my beautiful, handwrought sails, and charted the course ahead. I learned that sometimes not even the best of sails can carry you through a rough storm at sea–a strong rudder, a sturdy wheel, and strong rigging also matter. As my journey progressed, I found that the sailing itself was becoming more and more of a chore–less fun, more work. I set down my cameras, put my head down, and ground through the days.


Through it all, though, I was still afloat, still sailing, still improving. At some point, I decided to stop forcing things, and gradually, the wind returned. I sold off my trusted and true camera gear and bought into another, new and untested system. I reminded myself that the gear only matters so much, and can only take you so far. I thought about all the wonderful people that taking photographs had brought into my life, and of the richness of experience.


The new gear is lighter, smaller, and sublime. It’s freeing, and takes me back to the very beginning of my journey with a camera, when I let myself be guided by my own intuition, and when I measured success by the satisfaction I found in looking over my own photographs and reliving those slivers in time. I remembered again what it feels like to travel through time, to be transported through dimensions to familiar, cherished places. I started to feel hopeful.

Carolina Beach, NC

As 2013 draws to a close, I’m taking the time now to look at where I started and where I’m headed next. The sea is vast and the trip far from over, so it’s important to get my bearings. I vow in 2014 to force less analogies, to mix fewer metaphors, and to continue to try to take compelling photos that meet my own standards, and hopefully work as time machines for others. I promise to continue to write neurotic blogs as if this website were my MySpace page, as if my adult self is actually my teenage self, spewing self-indulgent emo effluence out into cyberspace. Because one of the changes in my course was to take photography back for myself, to take writing back for myself, and to allow myself to be vulnerable and show through.


Photography for hire is a hard business, and I greatly admire those who can make it work. I know that part of the journey isn’t over for me–I am still out there, taking photos because I need to, and making connections with people with wonderful and intriguing stories to tell. I don’t know which tack will ultimately work best for me and will see me back to land, but follow my heart I must, and hope that somewhere along I’ll pick up some folks that share my vision.


Thanks to everyone who helped make this an incredible growth year for me. Though it has at times been painful, I’ve gained perspective on a lot of things in my life, and can see the path ahead more clearly. I am mostly happy, content, and incredibly thankful for my family and friends. It is not all roses and puppy dogs, but I feel better equipped now to corral the energy of the highs into the vacuum of the lows, and to maintain my course with strength and conviction.


To that nebulous ‘you’ I’m always writing to: if you’ve been following along, I hope you’ve been entertained along the way, and maybe even learned something. I appreciate you stopping by, I really do, even though I am so quick to descend into nerd-talk about cameras instead of talking about the things that are really important. You know, things like moments, light, and composition. Things like evoking feeling, or creating mood.

I’ve checked my compass and plotted my course. The sails aren’t reefed and the wind is blowing steady. She’s clipping along smartly, heeled over, the water running along the gunwale and splashing onto the deck.

I look ahead, feel the breeze in my hair and smell the briny sea. It’s going to be a good year, so cheers–here’s to hoping we all navigate through smooth waters, and that we are prepared to handle the inevitable squall!


Add A Comment